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  • How to choose the right next action out of 41 on the list

    I have 41 Next Actions at my @Mac context. I have to choose the most important because my day is only 24 hours, my workday is 9 hours (with lunch and commute), my time with next @Mac action lists is 1 hour daily (the rest are meetings and processing).

    And completing a Next Action doesn't mean it's done I mean completing "Read 5 pages of War and Peace" still leaves me with another 1000 pages to read All that means I'd better choose which of those 41 next actions should be done today, during this particular 1 hour.

    David Allen suggests to read through all of 41 next action (tough but ok, done) then use your gut feeling to choose the first one to do. My gut feeling tells me: "Are you nuts? There're 41 next action. We are reading in the middle of the list an next action #23 and I already forgot what were the ones we started to read with. How do you want me to choose? You have to remember all the items to be compared to make the right choice and I remember only the last 7 you read"

    Is there any more reliable method to choose the next action other then gut feeling?

  • #2
    Is there any more reliable method to choose the next action other then gut feeling?
    Why is your gut not reliable?

    Two specific questions that may help you when scanning your lists are:
    • What's the value in getting this done?
    • What's the risk if I don't?

    And you may get a clear gut feeling on the 3rd one down that it's the best one to do and not go any further down the list. Trust that.

    Comment


    • #3
      I can give 2 comments based on my experience. When I started with GTD I was hoping that it would be in a sense telling me what to do next. I've since read quotes from David Allen to the effect that such hope is misplaced; GTD is not a Mechanical Turk where you can input your next actions along with some contexts and so on, turn the crank, and out pops the answer to what to do next. It is a reliable system for tracking your commitments, but not more than that.

      The 2nd comment is that when I started I had something like 50 or 60 Next Actions. I, too, felt overwhelmed. The insight I had was that my list was not reasonable. As you point out, there are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. All the NA's I had simply were just not going to get done in the near future, and some of the stress I felt arose from in effect promising myself that I was about to do much more than I could ever really accomplish in the near term. So at my weekly review I sat down and honestly asked myself what really needed to be done right away and what could be deferred. I created a new Someday category I called Someday Soon and moved the things I wanted to do sooner rather than later into it; this way when I review I can look at those things first and move the ones I'm ready to commit to doing into Next Actions.

      As I read this forum I get the sense that people start with the GTD framework and adjust it to what works for them; this is what I've done, you may want to do something like it or something completely different.

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      • #4
        First, I assume you're in the "what to do now" mode instead of the "responding to fires" mode that our jobs sometimes force us to be in. If that's so, in the very near future (before your next weekly review) I would start by moving one step up on your Horizons. Look at your projects (within your context), instead of your next actions, to give you a little sense of perspective. One of your projects will probably grab your attention. Trust that intuition but be mindful of where your attention goes if you later feel you should be working on something else.

        In your next weekly review, be honest with yourself and your commitments. Don't be afraid to use your Someday Maybe lists to put stuff on the back burner for a while. If you do that though, make sure you review the Someday Maybe list every week in a fresh new light to see if there's something that needs to move back.

        For me, I've come to realize that GTD is not about getting things done. It's about being comfortable with the choices/commitments you make and noticing what grabs you're attention and taking care of that appropriately.

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        • #5
          Thank you all. All you suggested was right and correct! And what do you think about Julie Morgenstern's approach. She suggested to write down all next actions (that is part of GTD), then put down time required to complete it, deadline and ROI. Then based on that choose what to do. It sounds like a reasonable approach.

          You can take into account how much time you have till next meeting, coming deadlines and if all were equal then the ROI. Though I tend to choose based on RoI only

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          • #6
            What does "ROI" mean?

            You can use the approach described in the book Getting Things Done
            (plus details added by me): Take your list of actions for the context. Select the ones you have time for at the moment. (You could read through the whole list and put check mark next to the ones you have enough time for.) Then select the ones you have enough energy for at the moment. (You could read through all the ones with check marks, and put a second check mark next to the ones you have enough energy for.)

            Then sort the actions that have two checkmarks by priority. Actually, you don't have to do a complete sorting! All you have to do is select one highest-priority action. It doesn't have to be of higher priority than all the other actions. It could be at about the same priority level as some of the other actions.

            You can do it like this: Read through the list of actions that have two checkmarks. At any time you only have to remember one action besides the one you're looking at. Remember the one that's the highest priority so far (or that hasn't been knocked out
            by any higher-priority action). So, you can look at the first one and think "Maybe I'll
            do that." and memorize it. Then you might read through the next few actions
            thinking "yeah, yeah...", still considering doing the first action. Then you come to
            one and think "wait, this is higher priority. OK, maybe I'll do it." You then forget
            the first action and memorize this one. And so on. If you come to actions that are
            about the same priority level as the one you've memorized, you can skip them; they have to
            be higher priority to knock it out. Unless you feel like substituting one of the
            same priority level for some reason.

            Here's how I do it: I write the actions on a page, with the ones taking more time
            and energy at the top, and the higher-priority ones at the left. Then when it's
            time to select one, I don't have to look at the whole page.

            Comment


            • #7
              It may also be helpful to break down such a long list into some smaller categories. Allen talks about having some next actions you can do when you are brain dead, so you could use that as a way to break them down OR by type of work: writing vs. spreadsheet vs. email or whatever you do.

              Comment


              • #8
                I think you might be overestimating the time it takes to scan your list. 40 items can't take more than a minute to look through, two if you are slow.

                However, I suggested in another thread something that helps me with long context lists. I start each action with a verb and try to limit the number of verbs. For example, everything I have to look up online is Google. I've just moved house and most of my DIY tasks break down into Remove, Assemble and Install. My system sorts tasks alphabetically so that groups similar actions within a context.

                For me it makes the list easier to scan. Maybe the most important task one day is to google for something. It makes sense for me to check off a couple of the others while I'm already doing that kind of thing. It also means I can skip part of the list if I know I can't do it. For example, there is no point in even looking at the Assemble part of my DIY list if I can't find my screwdriver.

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                • #9
                  Warning! Unclarified stuff on NA lists!

                  Originally posted by cfoley View Post
                  I think you might be overestimating the time it takes to scan your list. 40 items can't take more than a minute to look through, two if you are slow.
                  I agree. A quick scan of NA lists takes longer if the items are NOT Next Actions but still unclarified pieces of incoming stuff.

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                  • #10
                    That's a very good point.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Mishina View Post
                      David Allen suggests to read through all of 41 next action (tough but ok, done) then use your gut feeling to choose the first one to do.
                      This is just me, but I usually stop as soon as I find something I want to do. I'm not sure if that's strictly a deviation from GTD or not. Anyway, it works for me.


                      Originally posted by Mishina View Post
                      Is there any more reliable method to choose the next action other then gut feeling?
                      No, there is not.



                      Cheers,
                      Roger

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Light-bulb moment for me!

                        Originally posted by cfoley View Post
                        ... I start each action with a verb and try to limit the number of verbs...
                        For me it makes the list easier to scan. Maybe the most important task one day is to google for something. It makes sense for me to check off a couple of the others while I'm already doing that kind of thing. It also means I can skip part of the list if I know I can't do it. For example, there is no point in even looking at the Assemble part of my DIY list if I can't find my screwdriver.
                        LOVE this. It never occurred me to use 'keywords' in my action items... I am so still in the chaos part of this all and I often can't find my 'screwdriver'...
                        I love the idea of 'Google x to see if...' 'Google y' etc

                        Thanks, Allie.

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                        • #13
                          When I have lots of options in a given context I filter by taking a look at roles and responsibilities. If I see one area that has been neglected or needs development, the next action in that area is the one that I will choose.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Mishina View Post
                            David Allen suggests to read through all of 41 next action (tough but ok, done) then use your gut feeling to choose the first one to do.
                            Actually, I think the method described in the book "Getting Things Done" involves a lot more than just gut feelings. See my post earlier in this thread. Also, besides gut feelings, you can also use previous decisions you've made about what's more important. When I'm tired, my gut feeling might not tell me much, but I can remember what I'd decided earlier.

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