How the Indent Will Revolutionize Your Projects

How the Indent Will Revolutionize Your Projects

Efficient project management (in fact, life management), is about getting things done or GTD. So, how on earth does the indent help you?

Managing projects is about managing the day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year. To achieve anything, you need to be able to effectively articulate your goals and the actions needed to deliver them and then track them through to completion. It's an essential skill that you need as a photographer, whether as a pro managing your business, or as a semi-pro/amateur organizing wedding shoots or planning a competition entry. Understanding how you can begin the process of workflow management is critical.

How It Works

I first came across the process of simplifying how I do things in David Allen's articulate book on the subject, "Getting Things Done," and it revolutionized the way I organize myself. What follows is based in large part on this.

So, where actually is the problem in getting things done? Perhaps surprisingly, it's in making a decision. Most procrastination stems from not actively pursuing a concrete course of action when you have a choice: it's the mental energy in progressing to the next step. Once you realize that, you can tackle the root cause of the problem, then, well, things get done!

There are three broad steps you need to follow. Firstly, define what it is you are trying to achieve, usually in a statement that makes it clear what you mean by successful. So, for example: "prepare for and shoot Roger and Denise's wedding, deliver a final set of processed images." Next, you define the steps you will need to take to achieve this. This could be the pre-wedding meeting, shot list, equipment list, timetable, travel arrangements, gear check, post-processing, post-meeting, and delivery. Others might have more or less steps they want to include. Note that with such a top-level objective, your planning stages tend to be top level too.

If these are your series of top-level tasks, then you need a series of sub-tasks to allow you to plan in more detail. Go into the fine detail: spell out step-by-step actions that need to happen in order for each of these steps to be achieved. If you are planning the timetable, then you will need to get a draft copy from the couple, details for the on-point contact on the day, locations of hotels, location of the church, timings for the church, seating plans for the church and reception, etc. The fine details matter and it's only when you have listed them and crucially, how you are getting them, that you can be confident in completing the tasks. Tick them off as you go along and file them appropriately in whatever paper or electronic system you use.


And there's the key word: list. Yes, most project management is about organizing lists to allow you to track when things are complete and getting things done (GTD) is the same. How it differs is in getting you to recognize where decisions are made in order to enable you to progress to subsequent actions. This is where the real power comes in in maintaining your lists.

Of course, the elephant in the room here is email. I reckon that 95 percent of my actionable workflows operate through email, which means there needs to be an effective way of managing the deluge and believe it or not, there is a relatively simple solution that stems from the mantra keep your inbox empty. Yes, that might seem unlikely given the 2,136 emails currently in your Gmail inbox ,but it is possible.

All emails require decisions: reply, delete, file, defer. Scan them one by one and then delete the dross and file the straight information. If you can reply to an email in under two minutes, then do it. That leaves the remainder, which you'll need to defer to when you have more time. And this is where an incredibly simple system enters: create two new mail folders called "waiting" and "deferred." The first is for filing all sent emails that you are expecting a reply to with the second for all deferred emails. The waiting folder is the single most powerful element in my organizational arsenal; in one stroke, I am able to easily track and chase down outstanding actions. It's utterly brilliant. On your list, you can then simultaneously mark actions as complete, deferred, or waiting a reply.


As you would imagine, there is a whole host of software vendors eager to sell you their products in order to get things done. Fstoppers Writer Mike Briggs produced a great review of a couple of packages, including Evernote and Omnifocus. I've dabbled with ToodleDo in the past, which is very good, but didn't quite match the way I worked. I now use a version of the free, versatile, and immensely powerful TiddlyWIki.

This all brings me back to indents: perhaps the most popular list software in the world (because it's ubiquitous and free) is Google Keep (on iOS and Android). It has some neat features (like dictation, sharing, and searching), but is pretty simple on the list front, with checkboxes being the extent of its sophistication. I use it because it's simple, flexible and great for quick lists. However, this month saw Google introduce, with little fanfare, indented list items. These are great, because they now enable you to generate sub-lists that can then can be grouped and moved around as sets. Keep isn't a replacement for a fully-featured getting things done product, but it's a great starting point. Just swipe right to indent your current check box and you're ready to go.

Getting Things Done with Keep

Getting things done with Keep

If you only do one thing after having read this article, then create a waiting mail folder and put your actionable sent emails into it. It will change the way you manage projects. If you do two things, then follow that up by creating a title, set of tasks, and sub-tasks (perhaps using Keep).

Lead image courtesy of TeroVersalainen via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.

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Mike Smith , I was coincidentally looking for a software to organise my indented tasks lists. I haven't found one that suits me well yet.

What I want is a something like a Gantt chart but not quite (and simpler).
In the first column, an indent-able list, just like in Gantt chart softwares.
But then, corresponding to each task, I do NOT want ONLY ONE corresponding duration block (which is proper to Gantt). I want something where you can draw SEVERAL corresponding duration blocks to each task.

I tried to do that in excel, but really indenting and grouping is a pain in excel. And you can simulate duration blocks but it's not the same. So it's tedious.

Any idea of a (preferably desktop) software accomplishing this ?


Deleted Account's picture

Try Open Project.

Mike Smith's picture

Not seen this before - great heads up!

Deleted Account's picture

GTD. Love it :D

Graham Glover's picture

I use a tool called FreeMind. It's a free mind mapping tool. I use it for organizing many things - calendar, photo gear, even planning shoots. I took the list from your article and did it in freemind to show how it would look. I also added some lower detailed steps to show how I use it during the evolution of a project or task. David Allen also uses mind maps in his GTD approach. At present I have 8 mind maps open in freemind.

Karl Johnston's picture

I forward my gmail to Outlook - vastly better for PM. Calendar, task, bring forward system built in along with One Note and Excel. all for 80/yr for office. So much easier. Have not logged into gmail in ages.