A little background first: I have been practicing GTD for a couple of months now and although I'm certainly no black belt yet, I cannot image how I used to keep track of anything without it. My girlfriend on the other hand does not really feel like taking up the system, so she uses her own 'system'.
A couple of days ago, we had a discussion on stress. She says she feels quite overwhelmed and stressed by all the projects and assigments she has to do for her courses at the University. I replied that it might not be the fact that she has to do so much that causes the stress, but the fact that (a) she does not know what she is actually trying to achieve, (b) she does not know what the next action is how to get there or (c) she does not have a system for keeping track of those NAs (as DA suggests).
When we tried to analyse her situation in order to feel some stress relief, we discovered that (a) she can tell quite well what she needs to accomplish for her courses, and (c) that she has some system to keep track of actions that need to happen, but that the biggest problem might be that she is not yet clear on the Next Action, the next physical visible thing she needs to do to get the project forward.
When we tried to come up with some NAs, we found that the NA is actually "search for literature on the internet". She needs to do this in order to come up with enough information to base a research paper on. However, searching for literature can be such a 'big' action, it might take her a couple of days searching before she has found the right articles that form a solid base for her paper. And probably because this duration and outcome of the NA is rather vague, she feels no stress relief at all, even though the NA is defined, the outcome is defined and she has a reminder of this NA in her own system.
I've been thinking about this for a while, but I can't quite grasp how to 'best' apply GTD, refine or break down the NA, etc. I was hoping some black belts on this forum might be able to give some insight!