Suppose I have over 100 items on my next action list, and the context is the same - I have to do them in the office, how do I determine which one to do at the beginning of the day?
First and foremost, crete more contexts. If I get 100 items in a single context I can't deal with it, about 25-30 is my max. So I'd look as separating the office context into something more reasonable for you. I separate my @computer context by program I use to do the task. I also separate by specific machine I need for the task. I separate my work contexts by what field or barn I need to be in to do them.
Last edited by Oogiem; 02-05-2014, 07:24 AM.
Reason: fix quote typo
When I'm in that situation (often!) I find linking back to projects helps to refine the list. If a group of next actions are for one project there'll often be some implicit dependencies or natural ordering which means you can move some of the actions to the project plan until earlier ones are complete. And even when this isn't possible, I find you can split them into 'critical for project' and 'nice to have'
I find linking back to projects helps to refine the list. If a group of next actions are for one project there'll often be some implicit dependencies or natural ordering which means you can move some of the actions to the project plan until earlier ones are complete.
Yes, strictly speaking those dependent actions are not even next actions yet. But it can sometimes be convenient to have a few of them handy, especially if the actions that need to be completed first could well be completed very soon (e.g. just waiting for a go-ahead or a missing address, or just need to make a few quick calls first). What I do in my current app is keep some of those in Next, flagged as "no priority" (a white color bar) to help me see that they are not possible just yet, but could become possible almost anytime now.
And even when this isn't possible, I find you can split them into 'critical for project' and 'nice to have'
Absolutely. I do that a lot. I use the app's priority feature to help me remember and find which next actions I need to consider more frequently (more critical now). I even keep some project actions categorized as Someday/Maybe within the project if they are typical "Plan B" actions, or "nice to have" etc that I am not even sure I will ever need to do.
I would advise against basing your structure on likelihood or time frames. If you are sure that you definitely will do the task, and nothing other than your overall workload makes it inappropriate to do it right away, then it is a next action. Period.
But if that makes your lists so long that you don't use them, then the fact that they're full of useful information isn't, well, useful. I think this is another issue where it depends on the person. And there are, IMO, many cases where the extra tasks in the active area aren't useful at all--mostly when there's a big workload for a specific context.
As an example, if I have twenty programming changes/features ready to work, each of which would take at least eight hours, each of which I could be doing in parallel (I probably had forty or sixty before I removed the ones that can't be worked yet), I don't want that four weeks' worth of work in my active lists--I want most of them in my project support material, even though I (1) am going to do them all eventually and (2) could do any one of them now.
Having them all in my active lists would distract me and wouldn't do me any good--if I pick two or three easy ones and two or three hard ones, I have plenty to choose from based on mood and time and brainpower. As they shift out of the "new programming" context and spend time in Testing or Documentation or Research, and the "new programming" buffet gets a little sparse, I can go get more from project support material, which is just a few extra clicks away. If an urgent bug comes up and the buffet gets overfilled, I can throw some back. So I'm looking at all forty only when my smaller list needs adjusting, rather than every day.
The same for sewing. I firmly intend to make (lemme think here) three pairs of pajama pants, two cooking coats, two shirts, and two skirts over the next three months or so--and those are just the definite decisions. But three sewing projects are more than enough, so there's no value in the others being in my lists. Now, this is another "different for each person" thing--if I were different, I might spend six months looking for the right buttons, the right fabric for bias binding, and so on, for each project, so purchasing next actions for every planned project might be appropriate. But I don't work that way, so for me, the extra actions aren't useful.
Sorry for all the examples, but I can't seem to explain without them.
But if that makes your lists so long that you don't use them, then the fact that they're full of useful information isn't, well, useful.
I totally agree with everything you said there, and in the the rest of the post, too. And the sad truth is that GTD does not really provide clear and thorough instructions for how to deal with this effectively. Either you have a huge and perfectly correct next list, or you hide away perfectly viable next actions among all the maybe actions in Someday/Maybe, or you hide them away in "project support" among all the subsequent/dependent tasks that cannot yet be started. Or, as some will suggest (if they use paper or a simple list app), use a separate list for those "Someday/Maybe" that are not really Maybe, they are just "Later Next".
I think this is another issue where it depends on the person.
Indeed. And also on the app that the person uses. Different apps allow for very different "solutions" (workarounds). Mine (Doit) has a very neat priority feature that I use for this type of purpose. Other apps may have features that lends themselves well for treating these tasks as subsequent. Other apps have excellent tagging/filtering features. Etc.
If we look at this in purely practical terms, but independently of app features, I think it is fair to say that if you have several next actions that are "identical" in terms of what location, tools, energy, mood, time-of-day etc they require, then there is usually very little harm in serializing them, and bringing them out of "hiding" one at a time (perhaps even automatically). The exact opposite is true if you need them all to be available for selection depending on what what mood you are in, what the weather is like etc.
I personally primarily use the "priority" approach. I keep these tasks as low priority next, which gives them a little turquoise bar on the left, and which makes it easy enough for me to either look at them or ignore them. And I usually keep them sorted in priority order, too, both within their respective context and "globally" for all Next. But I do use the "subsequent" approach, too, for some true next actions, if I am convinced that, for whatever "arbitrary" reason, I will not want to consider doing this anytime in the foreseeable future despite the fact that the task is both perfectly possible to do and that I am fully committed to getting it done. But I never mix them up with my "maybe" actions (which I have not even "approved" yet).
Notice at what times of day you usually have more energy or are better able to do certain types of tasks. Then do the more difficult tasks at times when you have more energy. I have more energy in the morning and late afternoon.
You could select some actions (e.g. 10 actions) that you'll do first. I like Gardener's approach: "if I pick two or three easy ones and two or three hard ones, I have plenty to choose from based on mood and time and brainpower." You could move some to Someday/Maybe; or you could keep all on your "next actions" list and create a short-term "hot list" or "to do today" list which is a subset of that; or you could put a star next to some of the items on your next actions list. These are all rather similar ways to separate out a few to focus on first.
If all the actions are pretty much the same in terms of priority level, context, etc., then my approach is: don't waste time trying to decide which to do first; just do them in the order they appear in the list.
This is one of the more frequent questions around the "doing" phase of GTD and before I say how I deal with it, I want to give a hunch as to what I think is the underlying cause for the problem.
Not necessarily the length of the list, although generally spoken it is naturally easier to review a shorter list. However, often times there is a false sense of urgency towards the context lists, caused by putting onto the context lists items that are too urgent to be left there. If I want to make sure that I do a specific item today or in the next few days or otherwise in a pressingly short time frame, chances are that item finds a better home elsewhere in the system.
Others have already mentioned shortlists (in the form of highlighting etc etc pp)... I happen to believe that urgent stuff belongs into the Tickler. If you keep in mind, that the fundamental idea behind the GTD lists is NOT one of a program for a given time period, but one of a set of reminders...
..reminders that ought remind us of things we want to be reminded of, when we want to be reminded of them.
Looking at it from that perspective, the answer to the question when I want to be reminded of the urgent items becomes clear: in the morning (or whenever I start to work), when I check the calendar and the tickler. Not some time later when I maybe have a minute to engage my context lists.
In other words: if I do not get the chance to look at my context lists all day or all week, that should be okay in terms of anything starting to bum.
And if that's the case, then it should be cool with you to just pick one N/A out of the list, without out checking them all.
Whereof follows, if you are courageous, you could just work the list top to bottom and be done with it.
Having said all that, I know the feeling of sitting in front of a very long context list, and suddenly even the task of scanning the list seems overwhelming...
So, how do I deal with along context list (stripped from all the urgent items of course)?
I follow the advice I've read on this forum years ago: