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What do I do when next task is not a "Next Action"

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  • What do I do when next task is not a "Next Action"

    I'm new to this GTD and I think I'm missing something.
    Lets say I have 3 projects that I can do at my desk, at work.
    (call them project A,B, &C)
    each has 3 or more steps involved.
    Project A is very important and due on Friday,
    B is due next Friday,
    and C at the end of the month.

    I've put the first step of each of the projects as the "Next Action"

    I get to my desk on Monday, and look at my "Next Actions", I see A1, B1 and C1.
    Knowing A1 is important, I do that first.
    An hour later, I look to see what to do next, and my "Next Action" list says B1
    Even though A2 is really the next thing I should do.

    If I review my projects in a weekly review, than I wont get to A2 until the end of the week.

  • #2
    NA is a bookmark, not a to do-list

    your NA list is a bookmark, and not a complete to do list.

    This means that:
    - during your weekly review last friday you've reconfirmed that project A is important this week.
    - when starting to work on monday, your NA list will tell you where you were within project A.
    - result (of both): you will know A1 is the important one, and you need to do that first

    After finishing A1 you have a choice:
    - either you're satisfied with your working on that project for today, and you add A2 to your NA list (new bookmark) for the next time (maybe tomorrow) you will work on project A
    - either you continu in the work flow of project A, also executing A2, A3, A4 (so they never get on your NA list), and then finishing by putting A5 on your NA list (by the end of the day, of when you have to leave for a meeting, or when you get tired of working on project A)
    - either you continu in the work flow of project A and finish the whole project, then nothing goes on your NA list

    By the way: in the situation you describe maybe B1 or C1 could be more important than A1. If B1 or C1 take more time, or after them you will have to wait for feed back from someone else, while the whole A-project would only take you 20 minutes and could be finished any time during this week, even on friday afternoon, ... then you might want to start with B1 or C1. But you are right that your weekly review will tell you which one to pick.

    Myriam
    Last edited by Myriam; 12-02-2010, 07:13 AM. Reason: typing mistake

    Comment


    • #3
      thank you

      ok, I had thought that the NA list was my goto spot for tasks.
      Thank you for clearing this up.

      Comment


      • #4
        Next actions are indeed bookmarks for your projects; I learned that's the best way to view them. When you define next actions you must define discreet atomic actions that you can see yourself doing in one step and park the reminder in the appropriate context list.

        These verbs (by no means a complete list) describe many next actions:
        • Brainstorm
        • Buy
        • Call
        • Draft
        • Email
        • Fill out
        • Find
        • Gather
        • Load
        • Measure
        • Organize (e.g. a drawer, purse, anything you can do in one step)
        • Print
        • Purge
        • Read
        • Review
        • Take
        • Talk to
        • Waiting For

        Another important thing to note is that next actions must also have no dependencies. You must be careful not to put or leave projects in disguise on your action lists.

        For example, my security system once alerted me that a motion sensor had a low battery. I tossed a note about it into my inbox. When I processed it I defined the action "Replace motion sensor battery" and put it on my @Home list. However, when I went to do it, I discovered that the sensor uses a type of batteries that I don't have on hand. The next action that I defined was no longer a valid next action--it became a project. I moved the reminder to that list and decided the next action right there: "Buy batteries for motion sensor" (I knew exactly where to get them).

        Comment


        • #5
          what's the next next action?

          One thing that can be helpful is to get into the habit of, when you complete a next action, asking yourself whether you need to generate a "next next action" for that project. There may be times when the answer is no -- you've either already got other next actions for the project (ones not contingent on the step you just completed) or you're comfortable waiting until the weekly review to think more about next steps for the particular project. More often than not, however, you won't be able to do more on the project at the moment (because of time, context limitations, or other priorities) but you don't want to wait until the next weekly review to make more progress. Asking the "next next action" question covers you in those situations.

          I've developed the practice of reviewing my completed actions at the end of each work day to check and see if a next action needs to be generated for any of the involved projects -- I've found that it serves as a good backup check to make sure you haven't lost the thread of next steps for a project in the rush of the day.

          --Marc

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          • #6
            If project A is due on Friday, then there should be an action for project A due Friday on my calendar. Each day I look at today's calendar, and glance at the rest of the week to help select today's actions, and a due date on Friday would trigger more project A actions.

            Comment


            • #7
              Start with the most important (A1) and do till done. Then start the next. Any problems with this approach?

              Comment


              • #8
                My own take - you dont only make decisions about next actions during the weekly review - thats the minimum frequency.

                I find in practice that most projects, maybe 95%, tick along quite nicely with decisions being made weekly. There's just a few, normally ones that arrive and need completing within a day or so, that cant go with the cycle. So I quickly look through my projects list and NA list each morning just to be sure.

                BTW as an aside, if something is really urgent, i.e. in the next couple of days, the NA list may not be the best place for it - the calendar might be a better bet.

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                • #9
                  Where Did You Leave Off?

                  I've always loved the bookmark analogy.

                  Personally once I finished with A1 and decided that I wasn't going to do A2 I would immediately put A2 on my next actions list so when I came back an hour later A2 would be there as an option.

                  Or, if pressed for time put A2 in your IN box.

                  At "black belt" your next actions list should always be a complete inventory. Sounds hard but it's not that bad and the payoff is huge.

                  Best,
                  Mark

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    So there is no, once place that I turn to for the roadmap of my day?
                    I still have to check my next actions, my projects, and my calendar
                    each time I want to decide what to do next?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Calendar

                      I think having to check my NA list, my calendar, and my projects list (for ALL my appropriate projects) every time I want to see what to do next, doesnt seem to be streamlining anything.

                      If I've got 30 projects defined, I have to judge the priority of the actions on each of those projects against the other projects (taking in length of time to complete task, energy level, etc), compare that with my calendar tasks, and NA list (which I am assuming would be a repeat of the next action for each project) every time I want to see what to do next?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Jabmist View Post
                        I think having to check my NA list, my calendar, and my projects list (for ALL my appropriate projects) every time I want to see what to do next, doesnt seem to be streamlining anything.

                        If I've got 30 projects defined, I have to judge the priority of the actions on each of those projects against the other projects (taking in length of time to complete task, energy level, etc), compare that with my calendar tasks, and NA list (which I am assuming would be a repeat of the next action for each project) every time I want to see what to do next?
                        Pffiew, put like that, it does seem complicated...

                        When it really comes down to:

                        Step 1. What time do I have?
                        Logical start of the day (or end of the day before) = check your calendar (what does my day look like? meetings, etc...). This tells you how much time you have to work of your lists.

                        Step 2. What priorities do I have?
                        From your weekly review you sort of know which projects will be mostly "active" during the week, so that will also tell you on which projects to work (probably even without looking at your projects list)

                        Step 3. What actions to perform?
                        Look at your NA list.

                        It might seem complicated in the beginning, but it really is very logic. With or without GTD, you will ask yourself "how much time have I got to spend now, what is urgent, and what action could I work on now". GTD just helps you to get an answer faster. After a while, it kind of comes naturally. What seems odd now, will go with the flow. Those steps 1 & 2 for example: you don't have to perform them every time you need to pick a next action.

                        How it works for me:
                        - the weekly review sets/refreshes my priorities for the upcoming week
                        - my calendar tells me where I will spend my day and when I will have time to work on things. I am a consultant, so I will either spend time with clients (mostly full days) or work at home in my office. I never need to check my calendar during the day to see what is in there.
                        - my NA list is in Excel, with a link to the project every NA belongs to (in 1 column), and a due date (if there is one) and/or a wish date (when would I like to work on it): so by sorting my NA list, automatically the ones that are tied with projects with deadlines will show up first
                        - during the week I almost never look at my projects list (I only look at it if I need to add a project), I just work of my NA list

                        Myriam

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Jabmist View Post
                          So there is no, once place that I turn to for the roadmap of my day?
                          I still have to check my next actions, my projects, and my calendar
                          each time I want to decide what to do next?
                          I try to check everything at the beginning of the day and then make a day list of stuff I MUST do that day, plus whatever else I fancy putting in the (limited) time that's left. I'm not obliged to stick to it - it just a way of summarising what is really on my mind for that day.

                          Ruth

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                          • #14
                            Simplify it

                            On the train in I review lists in detail on my phone.

                            When its time to do I look at two types of lists each day
                            1 - calendar list (includes mtgs,appts & actions for today). I usually do these first.
                            2 - context actions list sorted by time then priority (and I have icons indicating next actions and energy levels).

                            Sometimes there may be multiple context lists for each day, as I have a computer and an office list that will apply on the same day.

                            Admittedly I do have actions on my list that aren't next actions, but that works for me and my system, because there are often several actions I could do in any order, they're not all sequential.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Suelin23 View Post
                              On the train in I review lists in detail on my phone.

                              Admittedly I do have actions on my list that aren't next actions, but that works for me and my system, because there are often several actions I could do in any order, they're not all sequential.
                              If they all can be done now, then they ARE next actions

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