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How far do you break down your NAs?

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  • How far do you break down your NAs?

    I struggle sometime to decide how far to break down my projects and NAs.

    For example, say I have to create a web page. So that's the project, but wait, I have to review the current site. Within that I have to look at the page, make a call about it, etc. So, is the reviewing the current site a project or NA? It seems that anything could ultimately become a project if you break it down far enough. At what point do you say that one of the "milestones" within your project could technically be a project but that's breaking it down too far?

    Also, I find myself second guessing what is really an NA. It's a related issue. For the sake of argument, if I have to call someone, the NA could technically (this is pushing it, I know!) be "pick up the phone." How far do you break down your NAs while staying sane?

    This may be a bit nit-picky and ridiculous, but hey that's how my mind works!


  • #2
    Oh yes, the rabbit holes we can follow...

    The thing to remember is that a next action is really just a bookmark--something to remind you where you were when you last stopped working on a project.

    For me, 'Review existing website' is a perfectly fine next action. This, of course, assumes that you have everything you need to actually sit down and start reviewing the existing site (if you don't know what the URL is, 'Ask boss for the current site's URL' is actually your next action). Once you start doing that, you may discover that you have to stop reviewing the existing site so you can make a call. 'Call so-and-so about the login page' becomes the next action. After you make the call, the next action becomes 'Look at the stuff so-and-so told me about on the login page.' You may not actually complete any of these next actions before you have to stop and bookmark the project with a new next action. Or, you may complete the whole project in one sitting without ever writing down the next 'next action'. Either way, it's OK--as long as everything that needs to get done gets done, and as long as you don't lose track of where you are when you take a break.

    That said, I tend to try to make my next actions bite-sized--something I can complete within a single sitting and within a single context. If it spans contexts, then it's a project (for example, changing a lightbulb is probably a project because I have to go to the hardware store to buy a replacement bulb before I can change the one that burned out). Likewise, if it spans multiple sittings, I tend to call it a project. Sometimes, though, I don't even know it's a project until I get halfway through and realize, "oh, I can't quite finish this next action today".

    Now, if a next action is just hanging around for weeks... like 'clean the bedroom closet'... In this case, I know I can complete the whole thing in one sitting and in one context, but it's a cringe task. I just don't want to start. So, it gets promoted to a project, and the next action becomes something very, very small; something like 'throw out the dry cleaning bags that are still on clothes that I picked up from the cleaners last week'. It's a two minute task--one I won't mind doing--and it moves things forward. It may even get the juices flowing to the point that I'll actually complete the whole 'clean closet' project.


    • #3
      Hi Kevin. Good question. Your web page project is made up of actions, as sketched out in your plan (review, examine, call, etc,) and reviewing sounds like a great next action to start with. If your project is very complex, and you want to have multiple actions operating concurrently, it can make sense to split them out into sub-projects. But don't do that unless it's really necessary (for example, not in the web page case).

      Regarding how far to decompose the actions, I use a heuristic similar to jknecht's: Can it be done in one sitting (say within an hour or so)? If yes, then it's a good candidate. Going in the other direction, it *can* be useful for stalled projects to pick an action that's very tiny, e.g., 5 minutes. This is a common procrastination-buster that you'll see on many sites. However, it should bottom out before "file the folder" or "pick up the phone" - the action should really accomplish something!


      • #4
        Thanks for the replies so far

        Thanks for your replies!

        That is helpful. I especially like the concept that if it spans across a couple contexts, it's a project.

        Thanks again!



        • #5
          Procrastination and NAs and the Weekly Review


          You might want to just dive right in and set some NAs and see how you get on with them. When doing my weekly review I sometimes come across tasks that I haven't done (for some reason). I then ask myself the following two questions:
          • Is it really granular enough?
          • Is it really a physica/visible NA?

          Usually after thinking hard about these aspects - the answer is "no" to at least one - and I then rewrite them either being more granular or more visible/physical. I find this really helps me to get them done.

          Hope that helps - J.


          • #6
            Good Stuff

            This is really good stuff!

            I find this description from DA helpful ... if this outcome (project) was the ONLY thing in the world you had to work on, what would be the very next (or first) physical visible action you would take?

            It's so obvious but a fundamental I constantly return to.

            I also ask myself if a 3rd party could look at my projects and next actions lists and easily recognize what to do.