Using Project Templates
An introduction to project templates and the areas that I have found them very useful.
I’ve seen and read about people using project templates for a while, but I’ve never adopted them myself until recently. Mostly I found many of the means of managing project templates to be bothersome and I never dug into it further. That has changed recently, and I think many systems now support robust ways of importing projects and using them as templates.
What is a Project Template?
A project template is a set of actions and tasks that can be brought into your task management application. It’s significantly more powerful if the templates allow for some variable substitution for words or dates so that it can be customized for each use. It is even better if you can do some minor calculations on things like dates and indicate that one task is deferred or due relative to the date of another task.
I have found project templates to be particularly useful for three types of projects.
The most obvious use case for project templates is for recurring, relatively frequent events. At the office, I have multiple meetings that happen on a certain schedule, such as a team all-hands. Each time I do one of these meetings, there are a set of tasks I need to do. Determine agenda, prepare a draft, get input from others, arrange a guest speaker. Using a template for these events is very helpful.
Business trips are another good example. Each business trip has a series of before, during and after actions. I put these in a template with the proper variables and relative dates to help with trip planning and preparation.
One area where templates can be great is when you have multiple instances of the same thing with a slight variation. The best example I have for this is doing performance reviews. I have to write several of them, and each one has multiple steps. They are mostly direct copies of each other, but the person is different and possibly the dates. To make this easier I create a template and then run it for each person and can quickly build the multiple sets of projects that I need to get done for this process.
I have found project templates to be a good way to make improvements to things that I rarely do. In fact, this is probably my favorite use of templates. It feels like a way to apply continuous learning to things you do once a year.
The template I made for Daylight Savings Time adjustment is a great example. I do this twice a year, and every time I tend to forget one or two clocks. There are also a couple of clocks that are tricky, and I often end up searching the Internet each time for instructions.
This year I made a project template for this that helps in many ways:
- I put them in walking order so that I can optimally move through the house and not backtrack.
- I made sure to capture the clocks that I tend to miss, like the timer for the aquarium lights.
- For a couple of clocks that are very confusing to update I put the relevant notes directly in the tasks so I don’t need to search.
- We have some clocks that update themselves, like our thermostats. They are not on the list so I don’t have to try and remember which ones I can ignore each time.
Now that I have a template I can do it faster, more efficient and know I didn’t forget anything.
A similar example to this is a recent template I made for Apple OS Upgrades. I have Macs, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Apple TV’s that all need upgrading. I now have a template so I can easily capture those activities when needed.
Another example that I’ve come to like a lot is project templates for major holidays. Christmas is a perfect example of a very fun time of year but also a complicated time. Sending Christmas cards out, traditions and getting presents add up to a lot of things to make sure you get done and don’t have a bunch of last minute things to do.
I created a template for this and was able to capture all of the main things that we do each Christmas. This let’s me have more confidence that I do not forget anything. The last item on these templates is usually a task that suggests to “Update template with any changes from this year” which is a great way to get better for next year.
Project templates are handy, but often you want them to get setup on a schedule. I’ve decided to keep this out of my task management system and instead I have a task list in the Reminders application called ‘Project Reminders.’ This is where I set the annual triggers to create various projects from their templates.
I purposefully kept this post independent of the tools that I use so I could just make a case for using project templates in your personal GTD system. In a future post, I’ll talk about the tools that I use to implement this.