Skip Navigation
Angelo State University
Small Business Development Center

Search Site

Information for:

Nonformal thinking often the most productive

August 06, 2012

Does your project need an extra push to move forward? Many people are good at the beginning stages of developing an idea, but they tend to fall off when it gets to implementation.


By Peggy Hodges


SAN ANGELO, Texas — There they are, on the back of an envelope, your plans for the next big project you’re planning to do for your business, or the fundraiser plans for a nonprofit where you volunteer or even the vendor company picnic of which you’ve been put in charge.

Whichever project you’ve been assigned, this quick, non-elaborate, nonformal type of thinking “tends to be the most productive kind of planning you can do in terms of your output relative to the energy you put into it,” states David Allen in his book, “Getting Things Done.”

“Formal planning sessions and high horsepower planning tools can certainly be useful, but too often the participants in a meeting will need to have another meeting — a back-of-the-envelope session — to actually get a piece of work fleshed out and under control,” Allen said.

There is a productive way to think about projects, situations and topics that creates maximum value with minimal expenditure of time and effort. Allen classifies it as the Natural Planning Model. The brain naturally plans everything; getting dressed, going to the store and even having a conversation. Allen contends the mind must go through five steps to accomplish any task: Define purpose and principles, outcome visioning, brainstorming, organizing and identifying next actions.

Begin your project planning by defining purpose and principles. Define your purpose by simply asking, “Why?”

“It defines success, creates decision-making criteria, aligns resources, motivates, clarifies focus and expands options.” Allen states. The purpose is complete once you can identify a viable directive by being able to identify when you are “off purpose.”

Principles of the project are of equal value to purpose. Often times we don’t consciously think about the standards and values of our company, but they are always there. Allen challenges you, as project manager, to ask yourself this question, “What behavior might undermine what I’m doing, and how can I prevent it?” Allen combines purpose and principles through this statement, “Whereas purpose provides the juice and the direction, principles define the parameters of action and the criteria for excellence of behavior.”

The second step in accomplishing any task is outcome visioning. How would success look, sound, and feel? Visioning provides the blueprint for the final result. Allen calls it the “what.”

“What will this project really be like when it successfully appears in the world?” Allen identifies three basic steps for developing a vision: “View the project from beyond the completion date, envision ‘wild success’ and capture features, aspects, qualities you imagine are in place.”

Brainstorming continues to be an important aspect of many activities and that is also true for planning. Allen put a twist on brainstorming by using it to fill in the gaps from what it is that you have envisioned the result to be and the gap to get there from your current reality. Brainstorming in any form or fashion is only as good as your ability to capture the information.

A British researcher coined the term mind-mapping, which enables ideas to be placed in a graphic format. A mind-map allows you to connect your thoughts. Allen identifies three basic brainstorming principles:

1) Don’t judge, challenge evaluate or criticize.

2) Go for quantity, not quality.

3) Put analysis and organization in the background.

The final two parts of Natural Planning Model are organizing and next actions. Once you have “data dumped” your brain during the brainstorming phase, you will be able to see natural relationships, structure and organization emerge. Allen suggests basics key steps of identifying the significant pieces, sort by (components, sequences and priorities) and detail to the required degree. Each project will evolve differently and Allen reminds us the goal is to get things off people’s minds and moving successfully and all projects need a dose of creative thinking — “What’s the plan?”

Finally, managing next steps/actions for each moving part of the project helps move the project into implementation. Allen states a project is sufficiently planned for implementation, “when every next-action step has been decided on, every front that can actually be moved on, without some other component’s having to be complete first.”

“Getting Things Done” by Allen identifies two more steps to be explored, practicing stress-free productivity and harnessing the power of it all.

“Business Tips” was written by Peggy Rosser, rural business development specialist and certified business adviser IV of Angelo State University’s Small Business Development Center. Contact her at

© 2012 San Angelo Standard Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.