Geek lessons learned from suit-productivity book

Merlin Mann's 43 Folders weblog is a site where he's been chronicling his efforts to adapt the lessons of the stupendous productivity book Getting Things Done (I've bought and given away 10 copies since reading it earlier this year) to a technological workflow: in other words, he's porting suit productivity to geek lifestyles.

He's just posted part one of a roundup of his lessons learned from a year of pursuing the lessons of Getting Things Done (more to come tomorrow). It's really good stuff, and it's helped me make sense of my last decade's work.

In a previous life as a producer and project manager for some good-sized web projects, I once approached my work with a completely baseless optimism and sense of possibility that I had absolutely no business feeling--let alone foisting off on others as way to guide big projects. Especially given how extravagantly long-range I now realize most of those projects' aspirations really were. Yikes. Simpler times.

The reality is that projects change, and projects break; that's what they do. It's their job. The smaller your project is, and the shorter the distance there is between "here" and "there," the less likely you are to have to chuck it and start over for reasons you couldn't possibly have foreseen when you were knitting up them fancy GANTT charts for Q3/2007.

You know how it works with The Big Plan. Projects kick off, a series of heavy documents with 4-color covers is produced and distributed, everyone gets pumped for a week or two, and then somewhere, somehow, along the way, changes start to rain down, and the pretty, pretty plans for the next 3/6/9/12 months go completely to hell, often taking team morale and productivity right along with them. Say what you will about the volatility of go-go dotcoms and the nature of venture IT projects, but two bald facts won't wipe away: things always change, and Big Project Plans make great door stops.

Since picking up GTD, I've gotten more comfortable with employing informal, "back of the envelope" planning to derive very short-term goals and actions. Clients in particular seem to really like this. It helps them keep a handle on the tab, plus they all enjoy seeing one piece of the work rolling out every month or so. All without the need for endless commitments, rosaries, or finger crossing.