View Full Version : DA staff clarification on next actions needed
02-21-2003, 02:09 PM
I am confused on what belongs on the next actions list and what doesn't. I realize there have been a number of posts on this and I would like to hear from a DA staff member if not DA himself as this is a central principle in GTD and there seems to be much confusion:
Does GTD dictate that all independent next actions should be on your next action lists regardless of when you expect to get to them (assuming that if you had nothing else to do you would want to and be able to execute the action)?
I believe the answer to this is Yes and results in huge next action lists which is rendering the system ineffective for me and for others. Many people on this board have compensated for this cost of downplaying prioritization by arguing against putting next actions you don't think you'll get to in the next week on your next action lists and moving them to someday/maybe lists. Maybe this is a good idea, (I have found it helpful myself), but this goes against a key GTD principle so I think its fair to ask for a clarification from the staff here that is targeted and precise.
02-22-2003, 06:43 AM
This is also an issue that has been a problem for me. I ultimately solved it by using life balance. When using this software you tell it how important each to do is as you enter it. Then you can view the to do list by context (e.g. work, home errands, computer...) and the software presents the to dos for that context in order of priority (based on what you've told it). I do not follow this priority list at all strictly, but it does give me a place to start and helps me avoid getting lost in mountains of to dos.
Bob Pankratz has posted a a very useful beginners life balance set up on the lifebalance board
While this set-up will make life much easier for you, keep in mind that life balance is a complicated piece of software and does take some time to learn how to use (their posting board and the people on it are great resources)
Other things that might be helpful to you:
--only the very next action for each project gets put on the next action list
--I agree that if your not going to get to it in the next e.g. week then put it on someday maybe and make sure to review that list in your weekly review.
--I used to use the system someone mentioned on one of the boards (don't remember if it was here or yahoo GTD) using the native to do list and using priorities:
1= must to today
2=must do this week
02-23-2003, 08:53 AM
I'm not a staff member but I've been using GTD for a good year or more now, so I'll throw my few cents in :)
1. If it's a Next Action not associated with a project, it goes on the appropriate NA list.
2. If it's the *very* next action associated with a project, it goes on the appropriate NA list.
3. If it's a project action, but it's not the *very next one*, then I put that either into the project details, or into a project support note. I have a separate project support category for this in the todo application of my Palm.
A good analogy I've heard in the past for figuring out the very next action is to think of it as a bookmark. Writing down your NA is much like placing a bookmark where you left off. That way you can pick up at the right spot the next time you tackle this project. At that point you may blow through 10 actions at once... so you'd then put your "bookmark" at the very next action -- i.e. action number 11. Because of this, you don't usually need to write down all actions. That one bookmark is generally enough to jog your memory, and spur you into the additional actions. So essentially, a Next Action is a reminder of where you left off.
Technically according to "straight" GTD, non of the above applies if the item will take less than 2 minutes to do. I don't personally use the 2 minute rule often because I'm too easily distracted, so a 2 minute item would turn into 2 hours without my realizing it.
I also don't use the "this week" theory that many here do. Part of the reason for this is that I have several perpetual client projects, and several projects that take weeks to complete. So, I simply decide if this is something I'm commited to doing, and if so, it goes on my lists. If I'm not sure, or it's just an idea, or whatever... it goes on my Someday/Maybe list. That list is pretty big for me. My NA lists however, are not overly large. Part of the reason for this is that I took stock of what's important at the beginning of this year, and I purposely cleared a lot off my plate.
My Tickler list is the biggest next to S/M. And that's only because I use that to trigger reminders about routine items.
Hope that helps a bit,
02-23-2003, 10:30 PM
That way you can pick up at the right spot the next time you tackle this project. At that point you may blow through 10 actions at once... so you'd then put your "bookmark" at the very next action -- i.e. action number 11
Very interesting, sure keeps the NA lists lean. How do you decide when to move on a project, and when to do 'singular' actions? I find myself falling in either ditch of focusing solely on my 'big project' at hand, or refraining from the same because I know the next action will lead to consecutive ones, getting me on the go for the project all right - but leaving those other actions untouched.
Maybe this is more of an attitude issue, as stated before 'GTD won't help you decide, let alone act!'.
More 2 cents anyone? / Kjell
02-24-2003, 03:55 AM
Going back to the original post, creating a "huge next action lists which is rendering the system ineffective for me and for others" is not what GtD is all about. One of the staff members has already weighed in on this issue:
David said somewhere there your lists "either attract you or repel you." If your lists are so long that you hate to look at them, it's time to decide what stays and what goes. There are basically 3 other places it could go: 1) the someday/maybe list (and by "creatively procrastinating" on some of this stuff, you may later circumstances may change to where you decide the some of the items are not worth doing at all, which is a good time management tactic); 2) give it to somebody else and put it on the waiting for list. You can only do so much yourself. If somebody else can help you out, utilize him/her. This takes a little planning, but it's worth it; 3) dump it.
David talks about stress coming from what we have allowed to cross our "psychological 10 acres." In an age when informatin is plentiful, we have got to get really good at deciding what we are NOT going to commit ourselves. If we can't make that decision, there's not a time management system anywhere that's going to do us any good.
02-24-2003, 05:32 AM
I take the term "Next Action" to mean exactly what the phrase says - the (singular) NEXT action.
I put only the very next action for a given project on my contextual lists, and any future actions I know will need to be taken go into my project notes (or project support material).
When I complete a next action, I go back to the project and see what's next - if it will take less than two minutes to complete in my current context, it's likely I'll go ahead and do it. If not, it gets parked on a Next Actions list.
I do not put only Next Actions for "this week" on my lists - every project that is not on my Someday/Maybe list has a Next Action on my contextual lists. Often I find that during the week circumstances prevent moving on a project I wanted to do this week, and I like to have plenty of other things I can move towards completion without having to do a mini-weekly review again.
02-24-2003, 07:06 AM
Very interesting, sure keeps the NA lists lean. How do you decide when to move on a project, and when to do 'singular' actions?
To be honest, I'm not entirely sure... but I think it's a mental discipline thing. This is a little on the hollistic side, but it's partly a "feel like it" kind of thing too.
My office is a cordoned off area of the living room, so there aren't any particular contexts I have to worry about. I do however, have a fairly regular work schedule, and that tends to help quite a bit.
Like you, I pay the most attention to client/income generating projects. And I have the most mental discipline during my "work hours" which generally range from 7:30am to about 2pm. So, acting on those NAs doesn't usually become much of a problem for me.
The one-off items, and those that aren't associated with a client project, sometimes get pushed back. For instance, I have a NA on my "What's Next" list that says "Clear 5 items from desk inbox". That sometimes sits for two or three weeks before I actually act on it. It stays on the list though, because it is something that needs to be done and I'm committed to doing it. I also know that the act of clearing 5 items is oftentimes enough to spur me into clearing the whole thing.
Another example is "register autosync" (Palm application). This has been on the NA list for several weeks, and I'm starting to think I'm not committed to doing it. Each week when I go through the review, I'm noticing more and more that I've questioned myself about whether I really want/need it, do I really want to spend the money, etc. In the beginning the answer was a consistent "yes". Lately the answer is more like "let's give it another week". I suspect that I'll soon be moving that one to the S/M list.
So, sometimes my NAs sit awhile, and sometimes my personal projects do as well. Other times though, I'll jump into a list and just decide to start clearing all sorts of misc small things that have been hanging around.
Not a lot of rhyme or reason to it so it may not help much, but there you go :)
02-24-2003, 08:29 AM
Very interesting, sure keeps the NA lists lean. How do you decide when to move on a project, and when to do 'singular' actions? Kjell
1. Use the Bookmark analogy (I wrote about this on Yahoo! Group) - without it I would have given up on GTD completely, when my problem with GTD was just the confusing use by DA of the everyday word "project". Think of Projects as things that arise because you started out towards a desired Outcome but had to leave off before you achieved it, so there is remaining Work. I don't use the word "Project" - it's just the wrong word for me. (I do keep the list - I just use a different name.)
2. Don't schedule your time based on Next Actions, but on Outcomes. If you only schedule from your Next Actions List, you are not looking at all of your Work (things that need to be changed). Decide by reference to the importance of the desired Outcome (sometimes you have to add the words "by the deadline" to something that wouldn't be important if it weren't time-sensitive) and schedule whatever time it takes. Maybe Step 2 of Outcome A is more important than Step 1 of Outcome B. If one Outcome is extremely important, set aside a block of time to work towards the Outcome, doing as many steps as you need to. Then write down where you will start up again, just like when you are reading a book.
02-24-2003, 04:50 PM
At the end of the day, the most workable answer to how many next actions is how many works for you. There are clear pros and cons to each position, and if you're getting things done, you're getting things done.
Academics (and one of my professional roles is one, so I'm not poking anyone's eye :wink: ) get a bad reputation for debating things like whether GTD advocates having more than one next action for a project. (I maintain the "schoolhouse exam" answer is "yes"--see pages 76 and 77--if there really is more than one "movable part" that you **could** do without doing something else first; see also page 41, where DA mentions that 150 next actions is in the "typical" range, and given a typical project list of 60 or so items, that'd take a lot of single-action items to make up the difference.) The "true" answer to that question ("yes") could open up other interesting discussions, like what the DA staff recommends to their in-person clients to combat the overload that multiple next actions engenders for some of us.
I think it's a fair question (academically speaking) to ask the DA staff how they advise their in-person clients when they get this question, and what they've found works to combat the "overload" that many of us are feeling. That--to me--would be very useful information!
But it's also very fair that if people are in fact "getting things done" by modifying the system, then "cool". That probably addresses differences in psychological makeup.
Now I'm wondering just what I've contributed...? :lol:
02-25-2003, 02:42 AM
Don't schedule your time based on Next Actions, but on Outcomes
I like that thinking, seems to be just what I needed to release me from 'not seeing the forest because of all the trees'. Thanx!
Given this, why does it say in the book: 'When you have discretional time, choose an action based on Context - Time - Energy - Priority'. In the NA list I can't see deadlines etc. Also, the book seems to emphasize not scheduling unless you really have to. In real life I find that's what I'm doing anyway, i.e. I know what big project needs a lot of work - but it doesn't seem like its really 'in the system'. Perhaps I'm missing something around the scheduling issue.
Nuff fer now / Kjell
02-25-2003, 08:57 AM
[quote="K_Hensman"] why does it say in the book: 'When you have discretional time, choose an action based on Context - Time - Energy - Priority'. In the NA list I can't see deadlines etc.
I think that the book assumes that your Processing is so thorough that anything in your NA list is self-explanatory to you - you know the Outcome and you have decided that it's important enough to make your NA ASAP, rather than Someday. The Weekly Review picks up any gaps in the Processing phase. It's a nice theory, but I find it hard to do it right in real time - so there will be things in the NA list that will have to be re-thought out. Kathy Burns describes this well in her posts, e.g., in deciding whether to buy a piece of software.
Also, the book seems to emphasize not scheduling unless you really have to.
I think that DA is just warning against the negative emotion that accompanies setting schedules that you can't control, because of interruptions and unforeseen events. But for some people schedulling provides benefits that may outweigh what DA is warning against. It's personal - everyone has different triggers that work for them. I schedule and call it tentative as a hedge so that I won't feel let down if I have to change it.