In this section, we are going to take the Activities that you gathered in the previous session, and reorganise them to represent a project flow.
A key concept in David Allen's "Getting Things Done" method is the "Next Action". A Next Action is something that can be done without waiting for anything else, or doing any other preparation or information gathering. If something else needs doing first, then it's not a Next Action by definition. One of the biggest weaknesses of typical to-do lists is that many of the "action items" listed are not actionable.
For example, "Get car serviced" is not a Next Action, because it is made up of several distinct actions, such as finding the telephone number for the garage, picking a suitable day, arranging a courtesy car and so on. So "Get car serviced" is really a little project in its own right, and splitting it up into action items that really are actionable is the secret of making progress. Otherwise, you will look at this action item many times and think "I really must do something about that". Defining the "something" is the way to start.
In addition to Action items, ResultsManager understands two other organising items: "Projects" and "Results". A Result is an intermediate stage in a project, and a Project is a collection of action items and Results. In the above example of getting your car serviced, we could say that getting the service booked in at the garage is a "Result" - a milestone or clearly defined point within the whole project. Working towards a series of shorter term Results is often easier than trying to stay motivated towards a more distant outcome.
ResultsManager also understands the distinction between "Actions" and "Next Actions". An Action is something that needs to be done as part of a Result or Project. A Next Action is something that can be done now. ResultsManager usually only shows you Next Actions, and does not show other Actions on your to-do lists until they become Next Actions themselves. It does this by understanding the structure of your project when you draw it in a MindManager map. So by visualising projects in MindManager maps, you score a double benefit; not only do you get to "see" how your project flows and fits together, but ResultsManager can look over your shoulder and work out which bits can actually be done next.
You can separate your project thinking from delivery of the individual elements, and you can go back to review, re-organise and re-prioritise your projects.
When ResultsManager reads MindManager maps, it looks for Project and Result Topics, and understands a technique called "Funnel timelines". This is a way of drawing activities in MindManager maps so that you can see what has to be done before something else can be done, which is the key concept in project management. If you have ever thought that project management software was more complex and cumbersome than the projects it manages, then you will enjoy project planning in MindManager - you can create a solid, workable and reasonably sophisticated plan for a project in an hour, or maybe two for a bigger project. But the real bonus is the amount of thinking that the plan captures, and the way that you can mix activities with information. Project Management software rarely allows you to also keep brainstorms, half-baked ideas, undecided issues and research material in the same document as the "plan". In the world of project management, a plan is a plan. In the slightly more practical world of planning with MindManager, the plan is just one part of a collection of related information and work in progress, something that is alive and being constantly updated or developed. ResultsManager keeps track of the activities embedded within MindManager maps, so that you can manage their implementation through the GTD process.
How Funnel Timelines work
Funnel Timelines in MindManager
The example above is part of a small plan to prepare for a Conference event. The final completion point is at the right of the picture, called "Conference Ready". Actions are marked with the "Task not started" Icon, as none of them have been completed yet. They are connected up so that dependency of one on another is shown by their relative positions. For example, the action "Set budget for conference" cannot start until "Review last year's costs" is complete. We can also cross-connect across the tree using Relationships, so that "Check venue facilities and cost" cannot start until we have finished "Define what facilities we need", "Make venue shortlist", and "Set conference dates".
By using this simple convention, we can represent reasonably complex project structures in a very accessible format. The "logic" of a project, showing what depends on what, can be used to answer the question "What can be done next?". In the above picture, we can see that there is nothing preventing the activity "Review last year's costs" from starting today. However, it would be premature to begin with "Visit at least 2 potential venues", since we have not done enough homework to make this a worthwhile activity. The diagram visualises this in a simple form, and is very quick to construct and negotiate with the project team.
ResultsManager understands maps drawn in the above way, so it can easily work out what the Next Actions are within a project. You can draw several sub-projects inside the same map, or can have a map per project. By default, ResultsManager expects a map to contain one or more complete projects or sub-projects.
Applying Funnel Timelines
You can now use this technique to reorganise your Project maps. So far, you have just gathered activities in your maps, without organising them very much. Now you can reorganise them to visualise the way your project flows towards its outcome.
Working with lists of Activities
If you have a lot of activities that must be done in order, the Funnel Timeline technique can make maps wide and thin, and not very easily viewed.
ResultsManager also allows you to define lists of actions that are treated as a top-to-bottom sequence, instead of as parallel activities. You tell ResultsManager that the subtopics of an Activity are a list by adding the word "(list)" to the topic text. (Although an icon or some other visual marker seem more obvious, we chose this method to ensure that the logic was always visible regardless of where the activity is exported to, e.g. the Tasks folder in Microsoft Outlook).
Identifying lists in your maps
In the above example, the word "(list)" tells ResultsManager that the subtopics of the activity "Complete tax form" are to be executed in order, from top to bottom. When calculating what the next actions are, ResultsManager interprets the sequence of work as follows:
The actual sequence of activities
So in this part of the map there is only one Next action: Collect last year's figures. None of the others can be done until this is complete.
The Power User mode Edit dialogue provides a shortcut for adding or removing the word "(list)" from topic texts.
ResultsManager ignores any non-activity (information only) topics in lists. You can include items in lists that are not activities, and ResultsManager will just skip over them.