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bookmark next actions, but work at the project level

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  • bookmark next actions, but work at the project level

    I just had a great Saturday utilizing one of the 4-hour workday guidelines: pick the most important one or two goals for the day, and tackle each one start to finish until it is done!

    Before deciding on a goal, I looked at my next action list, identified the projects each one was a part of, picked a couple of achievable goals from those projects, and dove in.

    My 'take-away' -- it is crucial to remember that the 'next-action list' is a list of BOOKMARKS! You do not necessarily plan your day at that level, nor do you just exectute a series of next actions from your list. You could even say that the next-action list is CONDITIONAL -- that is, first I decide on my goal for the day. IF I decide that project X is the most important thing to work on today, THEN what is the next action for that project.

    So -- based on one day of experience, I like this approach very much. Any thoughts or refinements? Anything I am overlooking that could get me in trouble?

    Thanks,
    Rob

  • #2
    Originally posted by ArcCaster View Post
    My 'take-away' -- it is crucial to remember that the 'next-action list' is a list of BOOKMARKS! You do not necessarily plan your day at that level, nor do you just exectute a series of next actions from your list. You could even say that the next-action list is CONDITIONAL -- that is, first I decide on my goal for the day. IF I decide that project X is the most important thing to work on today, THEN what is the next action for that project.

    So -- based on one day of experience, I like this approach very much. Any thoughts or refinements? Anything I am overlooking that could get me in trouble?
    Yes, you can have a very productive day with this kind of tactic. However, it will probably lead you into trouble eventually if pursued zealously. Too much emphasis on projects can distract from next actions, and a focus on a few projects can lead to neglecting other projects. In fact, there are several tactics for organizing your work on a daily basis: most important, most recent, oldest, et cetera. They all have value. Some people appear to have an obsession with finding the right algorithm, but there's no silver bullet that works all the time. An awareness that there are these different approaches can help us be productive in different ways each day.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
      In fact, there are several tactics for organizing your work on a daily basis: most important, most recent, oldest, et cetera.
      A couple questions: what are you organizing? Are you going through your next action list and filtering it using the above algorithms? Are you going through some higher level list such as projects or goals, or perhaps looking at your calendar? Or perhaps an outside influence has come in (a conversation with an important customer, a new idea that occurred to you, something you read)?

      That is, before you even look at your next action list, is there a question, conscious or unconscious, that you ask yourself, that will influence how you sort those next actions?

      Or is all that questioning done at the weekly review, and then, on a daily basis, you just react to what you decided at the weekly review by always starting with your next action list?

      Wondering,
      Rob

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by ArcCaster View Post
        That is, before you even look at your next action list, is there a question, conscious or unconscious, that you ask yourself, that will influence how you sort those next actions?
        I always look out the window or at the weather radar if I am inside or to the west if I am outside. Weather will determine which context I can be in so that is often the first criteria and question I ask myself. Plus if I see bad weather coming in in the afternoon and it's morning I may decide that I need to focus on my outside tasks first and save the inside ones for when the storm hits.

        I can typically change contexts almost at a whim so deciding which context to be in is the first question I have to ask myself.

        I use my weekly review to remind me of the possible things that I might work on. Not every next action I do was on one of my current next action lists by context but they are always on a list somewhere in some form. Often the serendipitous things I get done are things that were on my someday/maybe list and circumstances arose that allowed me to push them forward and do something in between weekly reviews.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Oogiem View Post
          I always look out the window or at the weather radar if I am inside or to the west if I am outside.
          Love it! So, before diving into my work for the day, I should take a quick look for possible storms. I should also look for the 'perfect days' -- opportunities that just must be leaped on because they don't appear all that often.

          Trouble is, my "weather report" mainly comes in via email, which can take an hour or two to 'scan'. I use the 2-minute/email rule -- but this is for handling, not for scanning. I wonder if anyone has a technique that allows them to do a quick 'weather scan' of the email, postponing the actual handling until later?

          Thanks Oogie
          Rob

          Comment


          • #6
            Project-Centric work

            Hi ArcCaster,

            I agree wholeheartedly with your approach! This is how I operate -- project-centric work in the mornings per how you have suggested, utilizing my actions list as bookmarks only. One must have focused, hard work on major projects. In the afternoons, I am more in my next action list mode to keep all of the balls in the air on my many responsibilities.

            So continue your focused work approach -- it really does work and is not at all at odds with GTD!

            -Longstreet

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Longstreet View Post
              Hi ArcCaster,

              I agree wholeheartedly with your approach! This is how I operate -- project-centric work in the mornings per how you have suggested, utilizing my actions list as bookmarks only. One must have focused, hard work on major projects. In the afternoons, I am more in my next action list mode to keep all of the balls in the air on my many responsibilities.

              So continue your focused work approach -- it really does work and is not at all at odds with GTD!

              -Longstreet
              Me too, and I have structured my weekdays so that I can work at home most mornings. However, I am mindful that most people don't have the luxury that we academic types have. Every type of job seems to have its own rhythm.

              Comment


              • #8
                Follow Up Q to your approach...

                Originally posted by Longstreet View Post
                Hi ArcCaster,

                I agree wholeheartedly with your approach! This is how I operate -- project-centric work in the mornings per how you have suggested, utilizing my actions list as bookmarks only. One must have focused, hard work on major projects. In the afternoons, I am more in my next action list mode to keep all of the balls in the air on my many responsibilities.

                So continue your focused work approach -- it really does work and is not at all at odds with GTD!

                -Longstreet
                Do you keep the Next Action for each project on one master Next Action list? or do you have them separated some how on multiple context lists? I like the concept of 'bookmarks" . That was helpful.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Subject & speed read

                  Originally posted by ArcCaster View Post
                  I wonder if anyone has a technique that allows them to do a quick 'weather scan' of the email, postponing the actual handling until later?
                  I have my e-mail from all accounts come in to a single main e-mail inbox. I use SpamSieve to sort out obvious spam. I use mail rules to sort messages directly from some e-mail lists into separate list folders. When I do a scan of e-mail I do these things:

                  First I scan the spam folder, I have have far too many real messages get caught as spam so I don't trust even the excellent SpamSieve to get it right all the time. I have my spam folder sorted by subject. I look at the single line headers. Most of the real spam that might be confused is identical, i.e. I'll get 2 or 3 of the exact same subject. If I see any duplicates I gloss over them as they are almost always spam. If I see any that look possibly real I click on the header and speed read the first few lines of the message. If it is a real message I drag it into my e-mail inbox and move on. At the end of the scan I select all with a hot key sequence and delete them so my spam folder is never too big. For about 50 spam message per day this takes me about 5 minutes. I typically get 1-5 real messages caught as spam per week so I cannot leave this scanning to a computer. Clearing out the spam folder by trashing the spam each time keeps it clean enough for me to sort through quickly.

                  Next I scan the real inbox looking for spam and any I can handle really, really fast. Possible Spam get opened and if they are real I move on. I typically get 5-10 spam messages sent on as real each week so again I cannot let a machine do this part for me. As an example of a message I can handle really quickly I get a daily comic e-mail, I usually open it, look at the comics for the day and immediately trash it. 30 seconds tops. I can also easily see if I am one of a bunch of CCs on a message and depending on the sender I may not care to read it so I trash it. For the 20-30 messages a day that are coming in here this takes about 3 minutes. I also have a few key people that if I get an e-mail message from them I process it immediately. They hardly ever e-mail and are family so if one comes in I need to know what it is they need or are asking as it may change my entire days' work plan. It's the e-mail equivalent of a phone call.

                  Then I look at my list folders, there are two that if I get any messages I do the quick scan on them as well. One is because I am the monitor for the list and people can't post unless I approve them or the messages and the other is a board of directors list for a group I am an officer for. These lists don't get much traffic so this scan can take anywhere form zero time to a minute or so depending on whether there are even any messages in the folders.

                  The remaining 100 or so messages I get daily are automatically dumped into their appropriate list folders. They are all non-urgent and non-critical for me so I just wait to deal with those until I do the full e-mail processing. Some of those list folders only get processed once or twice a week as they are recreational reading not anything critical.

                  So usually within about 10 minutes I can quickly scan and sort roughly 200 e-mail messages a day.

                  My list messages are way down as a lot of lists have moved to forum software. When lists were more active I'd get 400-500 messages a day from lists but I still did the same process. Just when I did finally go to handle the list folders there was a lot more there to deal with.

                  Does that help any?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    DebbieG -- yes, I have a single file of next action items, divided into contexts. As for projects: my work action items are prefixed by the project they belong to. For home, my projects change so quickly that I simply start the next actions with nouns, rather than verbs -- so "find ice scraper and snow brush" becomes "car find ice scraper and brush"

                    OogieM -- yes, that helps -- sounds like you use various clues to quickly filter -- I imagine I could add one more and filter by sender

                    Thanks,
                    Rob

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by ArcCaster View Post
                      DebbieG -- yes, I have a single file of next action items, divided into contexts. As for projects: my work action items are prefixed by the project they belong to. For home, my projects change so quickly that I simply start the next actions with nouns, rather than verbs -- so "find ice scraper and snow brush" becomes "car find ice scraper and brush"

                      OogieM -- yes, that helps -- sounds like you use various clues to quickly filter -- I imagine I could add one more and filter by sender

                      Thanks,
                      Rob
                      I'd be curious..what contexts are working well for you?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by debbieg View Post
                        I'd be curious..what contexts are working well for you?
                        I only have three active ones and one semi-active: @computer, @errands, @home. Plus one context for storing current next actions that I don't want to think about this week: @NotNow (this is shorter term than SomeDayMaybe).

                        Given this 'work on the key project first' approach, I think what will really help is prefixing everything in my next action list with the project it belongs to. So, if I decide a particular project is my focus, I can quickly find the next action for it.
                        So, sample next actions would be 'archery renew charter', 'christmas brainstorm', 'product x post mortem', 'product y create errata', etc.

                        A note: I use Outlook Tasks for my lists. I have 5 semi contexts at the top of the list: Purpose, Vision, Goals, AreasOfFocus, Projects. I am thinking that I should 'focus the elephant' by glancing at these before deciding on my course for the day As I get better at this, I may not have to do this every day.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          It means there's no need in next action list?!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            On my projects list I also have a code I've given to each project, 2 or 3 identifying letters.
                            eg Mixing Zone Assessment - MZA
                            Bioaccumulation Study - BS

                            write this at the start of the action, it helps to sort the actions by project.

                            I have a lot of email rules setup. Outlook automatically puts IT emails in one folder, media notifications in another, etc. I also use colour coding, eg my boss's emails appear in red text in the inbox. Also ask people to use the importance field, as that's helpful too.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by tima View Post
                              It means there's no need in next action list?!
                              I remember David giving a couple of examples of what may influence your choice of which next action to pick: immovable events on your calendar that must be prepared for is one. Another is energy level. If your energy is high, a difficult next action may be appropriate -- if it is low, pick a next action that can be done with that level of energy.

                              Starting your day by working on the two most important things to be done is a variant on this. Maybe we give it a context of 'highly motivational' vs a context of 'yes, I guess I probably should take a step forward on this'. Start with the 'highly motivational' -- if I want to feel 'productive' at the end of the day, and if I can only accomplish two things, what should I work on? My point is that the 'things' that are highly motivational often are NOT next actions -- they are higher level -- maybe projects or even goals. And, in the course of the day, you will take MANY next actions towards those one or two projects or goals.

                              Once you accomplish those one or two things, THEN look at the next action list.

                              So yes, the next action list is still important. It gives balance to your life, keeps you moving in all aspects, keeps things from falling through the cracks, gives you peace of mind that you are addressing all needs, and prevents emergencies from erupting. But I can get lost (and de-motivated) in all that detail.

                              I bet somebody can tie this in with the weekly review. If the weekly review is done properly, maybe I will be content with my next action list.

                              Rob

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