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Keeping paper-only Next Actions lists tidy and "ASAP li

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  • Keeping paper-only Next Actions lists tidy and "ASAP li

    I need some help with the pragmatics of Next Action list- keeping. I use paper only in a 3 ring binder that contains calendar, "IN and Notes", 6 @ context sections, a section listing projects, and a section for phone numbers and other reference data. As I process "IN and Notes" or my IN boxes (work and home), I get the next actions on their proper lists but as these get done, new ones get added before all the previous entries are done. The lists get messier and they go on then for several pages. Then I just look at the more recent entries and pretty soon the early entries that got skipped over or couldnpt be done at a certain time are forgotten and then I end up in trouble. Many of these didn't seem to need to go on a calendar because they did not appear to have a deadline, or the deadline was 6 months away or it seemed that they were not really a link in a chain of actions at the time. Also, as I process "IN" I often find actions that need to be done that day or the next or the day after that and they will require more than one step and some carefully planned time as well as locating materials or data but they are not really calendar actions in that they are not appointments or have to be done sometime on one particular day. They just clutter up the calendar and dilute the impact of seeing a calendar item because they have a pretty large window of time. It is also discouraging to put them on the calendar and then keep writing them forward. So, as a practical matter, how can I keep the degree of urgency of an action item with the item itself and how can I indicate if the urgency is externally imposed or a preference on my part? That may sound stupid to some people but at my age and with my mulitple roles I do not remember if I need to order supplies by 7/20 because I want them for a project I am doing on 7/25 or my boss wanted them by 7/30 or they are 20% off until 7/21 or I just won't have a 2 hour block of time for making the ordering for quite awhile after that date. And how can I keep track of this date and its degree of flexibility without putting it on the calendar? An ASAP list seems a little defeating because it lacks contexts but I need a list that reflects urgency and date-relatedness in order to put myself into the right contexts and plan my time. Would appreciate any thoughts. If you think I have simply overlooked something in GTD that addresses this or that this would not be an issue if I were implementing the system fully, please say so. Thanks!

  • #2
    What David saidwhen I asked a similar question, is that you should write the action on your next action list, and then put a reminder on the VERY LAST DAY you can possibly do something on your calendar.

    So if you MUST order supplies by 7/20 for a project on 7/25, put 'buy supplies' on your next action list, and then a reminder on 7/20: "Buy supplies for 7/25 project". If you've already done it by then, great, cross it off, otherwise, you've got your reminder built in.

    Comment


    • #3
      Let me start of by saying that I'm certainly no expert when it comes to GTD, but I have enjoyed a fair amount of success to date...

      It seems to me that you're off to a good start, but perhaps would benefit from some clarity around the differences between next actions, projects and the use of the calendar. It appears from your description of how you are using these tools that there is some overlap in their application--and it's creating confusion for you and giving you an unsatisfactory result.

      A next action is just that--the very next physical action you need to take to move forward. A next action can be one of many actions required to complete a project (or secure a successful outcome, if you prefer), or it could be a sole, singular event that when executed, constitutes completion of a task.

      Related to the next action is GTD's definition of a project. A project is any desired outcome where more than one next action is required in order to complete the task. For example, you wish to throw your spouse a surprise birthday party. The party is a "project" comprised of many "next actions" ... Select a date; secure a location; develop a guest list; select invitations ....etc.

      Finally, the calendar is the place where you record what GTD refers to as the "hardscape" of your day ... appointments/meetings you have scheduled, events or activities that absolutely must be accomplished on a specific date and time, or events and activities that occur on a specific date but don't have an associated deadline (I think of these as my internal deadlines that I want to be reminded of--so and so's birthday for instance. I may decide that a next action (sending a birthday card in enough time) is in order, I may choose to do nothing with the information--but at least I would have thought about it. The point is that the calendar is best utilized in the manner prescribed to avoid the very confusion and clutter you are experiencing.

      So, with all that said, it would appear from your post that your next action list includes sole, singular next actions, a single next action related to a project, and multiple next actions related to a project. It also appears that where you list multiple next actions to a project, you may have not clearly defined that they are part of a project (under your projects tab), and perhaps have not distinguished whether they are next actions that can be executed independently of one another in a given context, or whether they must be executed sequentially--I must do this before I can do that. I suspect what is happening is that you are doing a lot of the development of next actions in your head, skipping to the chase when you are listing out the next action, and at times capturing what are really projects under next actions.

      Most of GTD came fairly intuitively to me, but I have to say that I really struggled with the dilemma I described above. Probably the single most important thing you can do is tear apart that project list and your next action list and ask yourself whether what you have identified is really a project as defined by GTD, or really a sole, singular next action, or really a next action related to a project. Once you have answered those questions, reconstruct your next action and project lists accordingly. Something else you might try is rather than have a single page devoted to a list of projects, you might want to give a single page to each project--define the successful outcome of the project at the top of the page, and if it helps, brainstorm a list of actual or potential next actions below. Especially with more complex projects, I find it helps to do a little preplanning to keep everything straight. I can then select one next action to move forward to my next action list. Once I have completed that next action, I cross it off, go back to the project page and select another next action. If I see that there are a couple of next actions that do not need to be performed sequentially and I'm feeling particularly ambitious, I might move two or three forward to the next action list..

      Finally, with regard to your calendar and reminder dilemma, I'm inferring from your post that you do not perform a weekly review. If you're not, the weekly review may be the key to making sure nothing slips through the cracks. I find myself conducting mini-weekly reviews of my various @context lists and project lists throughout each work day. I find it really helps me to prioritize my work when I have frequent visual reminders of what I have pending. I seldom miss an important deadline (self-imposed or otherwise). I also conduct a thorough weekly review each Friday--I think of this review as the macro approach (what is the totality of my "to do" world) and the mini reviews as the micro approach (what is my "to do" world for the next couple of days). Try to discipline yourself to perform that weekly review-I think you will find it makes a significant difference to your overall effectiveness.

      Hope this helps!

      Comment


      • #4
        Keeping Next Action Lists Tidy

        Jamie,

        I also have a paper system. As part of my weekly review, I rewrite all unfinished next actions from the old lists to new ones. It may seem like a lot of work, but it is a great way to forcefully remind yourself of all of your open loops. It is also a good opportunity to ask yourself some hard questions about whether some "active" projects ought to be relegated to Someday/Maybe or to the dustbin of history.

        As far as retaining key dates is concerned, why not just add a parenthetical comment to your action description, e.g., "Buy office supplies (sale ends 7/21)" or "Buy office supplies (for workshop on 7/25)"

        Comment


        • #5
          I agree with Scott--make rewriting the lists part of the weekly review. If you find you are having to do a great deal of rewriting, look to see what projects you can move to someday/maybe and get them off your plate for now. To keep things neat and allow you to see clearly what has been done and what is left to do, use a highlighter and highlight a task when it's done. You can still see what you have written. The "white spots" will stand out as unfinished work.

          Comment


          • #6
            Keeping Paper

            Jamie, There has been a really excellent discussion of paper GTD on the yahoo discussion group GTD palm.

            Comment


            • #7
              Post-its!

              Regarding cluttered and messy NA lists, here's how I have solved it:
              I wrote my next action on post-it notes. I then took an A4 piece of cardboard (the back of a pad of paper) and stuck the post-its on that, side by side. Each post-it has around 8 NAs on it. So when some of them get crossed out or changed, I only need to re-write the rest of that post-it, not a whole sheet.
              Also I sometimes write a header on each post-it: "Phone", "Talk to boss", "Ultra urgent" etc.
              The piece of cardboard lies next to my computer all the time. I put it in a clear plastic sleeve so it doesn't wear out and the post-its don't come loose.

              Comment


              • #8
                Just a word of advice from
                someone who is rich and
                retired.....especially to Guest:
                "too wordy and verbose."

                Keep it simple...

                Comment


                • #9
                  working and broke

                  AMEN!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Great idea!

                    Originally posted by Anonymous View Post
                    Regarding cluttered and messy NA lists, here's how I have solved it:
                    I wrote my next action on post-it notes. I then took an A4 piece of cardboard (the back of a pad of paper) and stuck the post-its on that, side by side. Each post-it has around 8 NAs on it. So when some of them get crossed out or changed, I only need to re-write the rest of that post-it, not a whole sheet.
                    Also I sometimes write a header on each post-it: "Phone", "Talk to boss", "Ultra urgent" etc.
                    The piece of cardboard lies next to my computer all the time. I put it in a clear plastic sleeve so it doesn't wear out and the post-its don't come loose.
                    I really like this idea! Thanks!

                    Comment

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