GTD – The PigPog Method

Last Update: Added a link for Gretchen (one of the people who helped create the PigPog Method), to her new site – Girls Can’t WHAT? – inspiration for girls who can.

This article describes how I actually implement the GTD system using my iPaq and Microsoft Outlook, though it could be done just as well with almost any computerised lists. It’s my solution to the GTD problem of linking next actions to their project. If you don’t know what GTD is, you’d probably best start with my introduction. If you do GTD, but use paper and pen, have a look at MarkTAW’s Cascading Next Actions method – similar, but designed for paper users.

GTD is all based on David Allen’s excellent books. You’ll get far more from reading the books than from any web site.

Introduction

This article covers how I implement the GTD system – there’s quite a few other ways, which you may want to look at before reading this one.

The Problem

There’s a few problems that people have with GTD…

Actually Doing Things

GTD is great at organising what you have to do, and keeping you on top of everything, but if you don’t actually do any of the things, it’s only of limited help. Anyone who knows me could vouch for the fact that I’m probably not the best person to advise on that ;)

If you really want my thoughts on it, see my post on GTD’s Dirty Secrets.

Weekly Reviews

A lot of people resist doing the weekly review. It’s pretty much vital for GTD that you don’t skip weekly reviews, but it’s a problem for many people. My system reduces the impact of missing one a little, but only a little. By making the review a bit easier, though, it might make you resist it less. It might not, but it’s worth a shot.

Connecting Projects to Actions

Ah. This is the one for the PigPog Method. This we can help with. Read on.

The PigPog Method

Background

I should point out before I start that the PigPog Method was produced through a long discussion between quite a few people on the GtD_Palm Yahoo! Group. It’s by no means all my idea, and in fact even the post where I started it all off was just me pulling together a few ideas I’d picked up from the group. Too many people to remember had valuable suggestions that, put together, made this method, but special thanks should go to James Cameron, Gretchen, Ricky Spears, Harold (I think?), and Teri Pitman.

The Basic Setup

Personally, I implement this using Outlook Tasks, but you should be able to apply the PigPog Method with almost any setup. It wouldn’t be a convenient system with paper, though, it really needs a computer of some sort. I’ve used the same system in the past with Palm PDAs and an iPaq hx4700. Both worked well.

For the most part, my lists are pretty close to the standard ones David Allen recommends. I keep any non-action stuff in the Memos / Notes, rather than Tasks, so Someday/Maybe goes there. My @Action lists are…

  • @Anywhere
  • @Home
  • @Internet
  • @Other
  • @Waiting For
  • @Work

There’s also ‘Agendas’ at the bottom of the list, for things I need to speak to somebody about.

What? Where’s the Projects List?

David Allen says we need a Projects list to keep track of all of those things we need to do that will take more than one action to be complete. That way, when we have ticked off the first action on that project, we won’t forget about it altogether. However, these things will only get picked up once a week at the weekly review. There is the risk that you’ll end up forgetting about something for up to a week, that really needed doing before. Also, I always found the ‘projects’ part of the weekly review to be annoyingly difficult and time consuming. For every project on the list, and it can be quite a few (David reckons 40-70 is common), you have to search for a matching action on one of the six (in my case – however many you have) @Action lists. If you don’t find one, does that mean you just didn’t look carefully enough, or is there really no action in your lists for this one? How do you know it when you see it? It’s not so bad if you look at the project and can remember what the next action was – then you will probably know where to look for it, and can make sure it’s there pretty quickly. If you can’t remember what the next action was, though, you could have a tricky time trying to find one.

In the PigPog Method, we get rid of the Projects list entirely. In a computerised system, it’s just not needed any more, and keeping track of it is a big waste of time. Using the example we used when forming the method on the GtD_Palm group, if your project was ‘Conquer Albania’, and the first action was ‘Place Army Wanted Ad’, the item on your tasks list would be Place Army Wanted Ad {Conquer Albania}. Your project and its associated next action are there together on the one line. This item goes in whatever @Action context list it belongs in. If you are going to place the ad on eBay, it would go in your @Internet list. Once you’ve placed the ad, you just edit the item to Responses to Ad {Conquer Albania}, and move it to your @Waiting For list.

Planning and Keeping History

If you like to plan your projects a bit further, you can put planned future actions in the notes for the task, and just copy and paste them into the subject line when you’re ready. I use a template that I inserted using Pop! (costs a little) on the Palm. You can also use TeikeiDA (free) if you know enough about Palm DAs (Desk Accessories) to be able to deal with the Japanese documentation (or if you can read Japanese), or use Shortkeys Lite (free) for Windows. Anyway, the template…

>=Outcome=
>
>=Plans=
>
>=History=
>
>=Notes=

Outcome is a statement of the desired outcome – how we’ll know when the project is complete. I’m actually completely hopeless about filling this in. Plans is for any actions planned in the future. History is for actions that have been completed, or notes of things that happened that were connected with this project – I timestamp these using another Pop! (or Shortkeys Lite) shortcut. I keep less history now than I used to – it wasn’t something I used often enough to need it, but you may be different – if so, remember to copy the information to somewhere else if you purge your completed tasks. Notes is for any other information. In the case of things like these blog entries, the notes will contain the actual article as I’m working on it. This is being typed into the Notes section of an Outlook task entitled Write {Blog: GTD: PigPog Method} right now. That way, all my work in progress is always with me in my Palm, ready to be worked on anywhere.

Advantages

The biggest advantage for me is that I never have to worry about projects not having a next action. I’m forced to think about what I’m going to do next with a project before I can update the system to the fact that I’ve just done something. That helps to keep things moving. I’m slightly encouraged to do more than one thing, as that saves changing the item as many times. The Weekly Review is less daunting, because the hardest part of it is automatically taken care of. There’s one less list to look at. When I find the item that says that I should write a blog entry about something, the notes from when I brainstormed about it are right there in the task item. When I come to review and proofread one I already wrote, the written article is right there ready.

Disadvantages

There’s only really one major disadvantage to this method – there can only be one next action. If you often have the sort of projects where you could do several different things next, depending on where you are when you have the time and inclination, this may be a problem. There’s nothing to actually stop you from sometimes making a separate action that isn’t physically attached to the project, but if you have to do that a lot, the PigPog Method may not work well for you. When you’re new to the PigPog Method, there is also the danger that you could tick off a whole Project on ‘auto-pilot’, when you only intended to tick off the action. To work around this, you can keep completed tasks visible, and purge at the end of each week, so everything gets an extra check before it’s actually gone. This also gives you a second chance to copy any history you want to keep to the calendar where it won’t get purged.

Conclusion

I find the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages, but then again, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this at all, would I? It takes away a lot of what I found unpleasant and difficult with GTD, and makes it all feel much more fluid. I’m a born fiddler, and I do keep trying different methods, but the simplicity of the PigPog Method has lured me back every time.

So far.

Other Resources

GTD Wannabe has made some macros especially for doing the PigPog method with Outlook – I’m honoured…

27 thoughts on “GTD – The PigPog Method

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  6. May I suggest you make this part more prominent on your web page: maybe put these words in bold, or repeat them at the top, or put a heading “Here’s how to do it” immediately above them:

    “if your project was ‘Conquer Albania’, and the first action was ‘Place Army Wanted Ad’, the item on your tasks list would be Place Army Wanted Ad {Conquer Albania}. Your project and its associated next action are there together on the one line…. Once you’ve placed the ad, you just edit the item to Responses to Ad {Conquer Albania}, and move it to your @Waiting For list.”

    I had read your page before, and was skimming it before giving someone a link to it, and had a hard time finding what I considered to be the essential gist of your method (i.e. the part above) which on your page is hidden in the last part of the last paragraph of a section.

    Just a suggestion.

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  8. Thanks for the link to my outlook macros! I’m still using them everyday; absolutely love them. Outlook is so much easier to deal with when you have macros to eliminate the dross :)

  9. I have to admit it’s a bit of a problem. If you get a kick out of the process of crossing out or ticking off tasks, this trick kind of robs you of that.

    What system do you use?

    • For Outlook, there’s the macros that GTD Wannabe has made (linked in the article) that automate duplicating the task so you can mark the duplicate as complete, and carry on with the original.
    • With paper, I guess you could always keep a seperate list to write down your ‘achievements’ or ‘wins’ each day/week/whatever.

    I found I never really looked back at the history anyway, so I just stopped worrying about it. It would be nice to have, but the extra overhead to keep it didn’t seem worth it.

  10. That Outlook macro sounds great, I will have to check it out.

    In The Ten Natural Laws of Time and Life Management by Hyrum Smith (founder of Franklinquest, who made the Franklin dayplanner), he said a study found that the process of checking an item off a todo list actually causes your brain to release endorphines. If this is so, I’m missing out on a lot of brain candy by not putting a little checkmark in a little box! However, I have a feeling that the same process in your brain that recognizes the little checkmark as something accomplished would also recognize that the changing of one action to another signifies that something has been accomplished…

    Hmmm… It just occurred to me that I can get high by drawing checkmarks into a bunch of little boxes! There goes my afternoon!

    Thanks for the macro tip.

    Warm regards, Marshall Sontag

  11. I did try LifeBalance for a while, and quite liked it. In the end, I wasn’t keen on having it just magically tell me what to do next, but it did seem oddly magical.

  12. I’m a GTD follower, well try to be :o) Just read about your pigpog method and think I understand what you mean about not seeing the next action problem and how some projects require you listing them if they take place in a different ‘place’ or ‘context’. As thats the pretty much the basis of GTD I found a program called lifebalance, I have it on my palm and on the desktop. Maybe worth checking out. I love it! http://www.llamagraphics.com/

  13. I appreciate your site and the info and discussions here. What about the idea of assigning multiple categories to an Action in an Outlook Task? One category is for the proper context (@Work) and another category for the Project (~Conquer Albania). Then sort the Task list by categories, and you can view them by context and also have a distinct list of Projects, all starting with “~”, for example.

    With my type of work, I can have multiple Next Actions for the same project, plus I have to admit I don’t purge my Outlook Tasks (but need to at some point), but this way I have a list of planned and completed Actions that I can view under a Project list. Does anyone see any disadvantage to using multiple categories to include Projecs as categories? Thanks.

  14. I think the only reason I kept away from that was that I was always syncing Outlook with a PDA. Palms only supported 15 categories, so this idea just wouldn’t work there. Windows Mobile does allow for more categories, but the handling for them is painful. It handles them in a similar way to Palm, picking from a list, not allowing you to add new ones without going into a different screen to manage your categories.

    If you’re using Outlook without a PDA, that method sounds like it would work well.

  15. My life is organized around my Treo synched with my computer. I use “Tasks” for projects; I create a new category for each project (“Conquer Albania”) and then break the project down into actions, which may or may not have a due date. I include “waiting fors” here as well (“Joe to procure aircraft carrier”). I also use Tasks for reminders and miscellaneous single tasks with due dates (“Make dentist appointment” — my dentist only accepts appointments 30 days in advance), which I include under generic categories (“Personal, Business”), as well as for a tickler file for items with due dates. I use memos for lists, reference items, single tasks that don’t have a due date (with context), and someday/maybe for items with no due date (“Fly around the world in my beautiful balloon”). I use the calendar in the standard GTD way. If I need to sit down and input a lot of data into my system I do so on the computer and sync with my Palm.

    Whatever my context I take a moment to go through my memos and projects and see what I can get done in this context. So I am continuously reviewing, skipping the formal weekly review. My GTD system includes the calendar, contacts, memos and tasks, which applications I keep in a separate category (“GTD”) for easy use.

    This works for me but admittedly I don’t have a huge number of projects and contexts, far fewer than the average 40-70. Which is by design: Half the battle, for me, has been getting things done, the other half has been having fewer things to do.

  16. You can filter the Outlook task list to not show the completed tasks.

    Don’t delete tasks or you loose your history … and you need that when preparing for your next performance review with your boss!

  17. A hierarchical system like MyLife Organized (“MLO” for short) has all the advantages without any of the disadvantages. Try it…

  18. I noticed MLO when I spotted that they were sending people over to PigPog as one of their recommended GTD resources. I tried the freebie version very briefly, and it did look good. Looks like the full version is probably quite similar to Life Balance (but a fair bit cheaper, I think).

  19. Just hold down the ctrl key and drag a task to a new location, in the same task folder or another one. Works in my old Outlook 2000 at home, and it’s a pretty intuitive gesture, so I’d be surprised if it didn’t work in other versions.

  20. Yup, it’s very good. And each person is indeed different.

    I like how you’ve eliminated the weekly search from the projects list to next actions and have condensed things down to just one list. I just think it’s too many dimensions for a newbie to take in at once. It’s likely I’ll move away from a project list in the future, for I cannot logically see any difference.

    CD

    Think you’re a good person? Yeah, right! ;-) Prove it and get ten thousand dollars: TenThousandDollarOffer.com

  21. Another disadvantage: It doesn’t work well for newbiez (well, at least it didn’t work for me).

    I learned all about GTD just this weekend. Yesterday I did a full mind sweep, dumped my old TODO list into my “in” box as well as old email, voicemail, etc. Yesterday afternoon I began processing that massive list, one item at a time. I’ll probably finish today.

    I fully intended to use just one task per project and not have a separate list of projects, as you recommend. I started out that way but found it greatly cumbersome for someone whose paradigm is still in the process of shifting (couldn’t resist).

    I find I need a separate place to list out my projects. For now. Since I changed back to the original GTD recommendation I’ve found I’m able to process my “in” box much faster.

    I’ve taken your =OUTCOME= (etc.) template for my projects, AND I use MarkTAW’s suggestion of adding to/for and a very brief project name to the next action item (which is sorta like your { Project Name } format). But I’ve stuck to the separate projects page. I’ll rely on Palm’s search if I need to find a next action to associate with a TODO but I usually know right away what an action is for.

    I’m not exactly sure why I had a hurdle, as I can see how the PigPog method makes sense. I just know it was too cumbersome for me.

    However I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t return to it one day as my process becomes fluid and automatic.

    Thanks for your contribution to keeping my world moving toward my goals!

    CD

    Think you’re a good person? Yeah, right! ;-) Prove it and get ten thousand dollars: TenThousandDollarOffer.com

  22. Well, I’m glad you got something out of it, anyway. It works for some people, and doesn’t work for others – you’ve just got to find what works for you, and use that. At the moment, I’ve got a separate projects list myself, so it even varies from one time to another for the same person.

  23. Am I missing something here?

    Create a ShadowPlan file, @Proj+SomeDay:

    1. @ : Items (Tasks)

      • @ {context}: todo 1
    2. @ : Projects

      • @ {project1}: goal
        • @ {context}: todo 1
      • @ {project2}: goal
        • @ {context}: todo 1
    3. ? : Some Day / Maybe 3.1 ? : Items (Tasks)

      • ? : todo 1 3.2 ? : Projects
    4. Archive

    @ = has next action. ? = Some Day

    Most 1. goes directly in to todo/tasks. May never hit ShadowPlan at all.

    1. has each project (and they have to be significant enough to be worth the data entry here rather than directly in tasks).
    • Each project has sub-tasks, perhaps including Outcome, Plans, History, Notes.
    • Descriptive text can be placed in Shadow itself, or the notes, or the line linked to a memo to proceed as you describe.
    • As each step becomes actionable, link it to tasks so it shows up for daily review.
      • As each step is completed, by checking off in tasks it’s checked off in Shadow.
    • Any line project not( checked and todo link) is a project needing the next step to be assigned a task link.
      • tasks get dated, just to show up, and usually hit with Roll Over in Agendus.
      • a filter should list them, to pick off the next steps and check the todo link box.
    1. Is just a place to dump the open loops. When a Some Day project gets real, cut and paste up and change the ? to @.

    2. Is a place to cut and paste to keep 1 and 2 short.

    ToDo/Tasks have things you’ve decided to do. ShadowPlan has things you’ve thought about doing, and a project hierarchy for things you’ve decided to do.

    ToDo/Tasks get reviewed daily. Shadow gets reviewed only at weekly – except to slip in and ‘task’ the next project item, as necessary. [Also allows multiple project steps to be active at a time.]

    So what am I missing? This must have been thought of, and various pros / cons debated. Links?


    I admire what I read here, and most everywhere else. Except … I live in front of the computer. I want to take advantage of the big screen and keyboard. I type – fast. It seems to me the memo involving methods do data entry on the Palm itself, which I avoid at all costs – the Palm is a reference tool, not a ‘spreadsheet’.

    Problem: Almost nothing in Windows links, let alone translates down to the Palm and its links. Nor do they come back to windows. Solutions: I know of none. Not even wikis that sync. the way memos do, rather than two different apps., one for each platform, and odd ways of syncing. [I’ve looked at ListPro, Bonsai, LifeBalance, etc., but none seem to offer anything significant beyond what I have now with Agendus and ShadowPlan.] The only solution I can think of is something like opengroupware.

    … So I enter the above in ShadowPlan on Windows, sync, then filter: @Date!PIMed – TargetDate Present is true – Datebook Link Present is false – ToDo Link Present is false – Checked is false – Title Matches contains “@”

    The ToDo checkbox is visible, and after applying the above filter, I just go down and check them all. Sync again, and Agendus has them.

    All my reading leaves a big open loop – none describe the Shadow process above, and I’m not egotistical enough to think I’ve come up with something new. So the open loop is … what am I missing (in my understanding)?

    Cheers.

  24. I think the important thing is to use whatever works for you. If your system works ok for what you do, then you’re not missing anything.

    When I was using Palm, I used the built in Tasks app, syncing with Outlook. I used ShadowPlan for a while, but using it alongside Tasks never quite felt comfortable for me, and using it on its own never quite seemed to work either. Most of what I was doing then, though, wasn’t really ‘project’ things – no panning needed, which was where ShadowPlan did best.

    Now, I don’t have a Palm, and although I do have a Windows Mobile phone, I don’t really use it for planning. At the moment, I’m using paper for capturing and ‘thinking’, and MonkeyGTD for the lists.

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