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  • Managing a sequence of project next actions

    What does GTD suggest in the following scenario:

    I am processing my inbox and I come across an item that is obviously a project. I want to do all the thinking about all the loose ends on the project and I identify six next action items: A, B, C, D, E, F. The problem is that I can't do C, D, E, or F until I have done B and I can't do B until I have done A.

    The dilemma is should I go ahead and put all six next action reminders on my context lists or should I only put A.

    If I put all six then I have to do extra thinking every time I see B, C, D, E or F like, "I can't do those until I finish A." It seems like I lose that elegant "cranking widgets" idea if I put all six down.

    Suppose I only put down A and then completed A sometime during the week. I won't get around to putting B on a context list until my next weekly review when I review project notes and realize that I can do B now that I have done A. If I only put B on a list and then completed B sometime during the week I will have to wait till the following week's review to put down C, D, E, and F. This way my context lists stay nice, but the project takes a lot more time than it should have taken.

    I have been reading the book and I don't see the answer to this problem. Is it addressed or not?

    My psyche is not relaxed.

  • #2
    Only immediately doable actions should go on your context lists. Everything else is project support.

    The answer to the dilemma is easy: review the project support materials more often than once a week. For example, when you complete A you might go directly to the project support materials to see what's next.

    The Weekly Review is there to keep things from falling through the cracks, but it was never intended to be your *only* review time.

    Katherine

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    • #3
      There's no requirement to wait for a weekly review before adding a next action. I put the list of actions in the project support material, and only item A in the NA list. Then when I've completed A I will either go straight on to item B because I've got loads of time and I'm in the mood, or put item B in my next action list.

      Some software, such as Thinking Rock allows you to list all the actions, but leave all except the first as inactive and it will automatically make item B active when you record item A as done.

      Ruth

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      • #4
        I stretch the rules sometimes with things that are multi-step but quite small.

        For example - I received a document this morning that needs to be reviewed by an internal client, then signed by myself and sent back to the supplier. When I receive a countersigned copy, I need to add the document to our electronic management system.

        My understanding of "Pure GTD" handling for this would be that I have a project called "Finalise ABC Agreement" then separate next actions of :

        @agenda - talk to Joe re content of agreement
        @computer - sign and send agreement to supplier
        @computer - add finalised document to management system

        As this is very much a re-occuring event for me,. my handling is to only put the first next action on my list and the outcome of that next action is the input for the next step :
        @agenda - "talk to Joe re content of agreement then sign and send to supplier"
        which then goes to
        @waiting - countersigned agreement
        when the agreement arrives it goes to
        @computer - add finalised document to management system.
        Anything bigger then follows the process that Katherine talks about.

        Hopefully this is of some help!

        Comment


        • #5
          I would recommend some sort of trigger to make sure that you're promoting new next actions for projects. (Some computer GTD programs will do this automatically--e.g., promote the next new action to the context lists once the previous action is complete).

          In my paper implementation, I use a dual marking system:

          1) When I complete an action, I put a checkmark in the checkbox.

          2) When I think of the new next action and put it on one of my lists, I draw a line through the completed action.

          Thus, when I review my lists, I look for lines that are completed (checkmark) but do not yet have a related new next action (i.e., no strikethrough). This is a quick way to ensure that my projects are moving forward.

          Comment


          • #6
            Next Actions as context based Project bookmarks.

            Originally posted by gtdlater View Post
            What does GTD suggest in the following scenario:

            I am processing my inbox and I come across an item that is obviously a project. I want to do all the thinking about all the loose ends on the project and I identify six next action items: A, B, C, D, E, F. The problem is that I can't do C, D, E, or F until I have done B and I can't do B until I have done A.

            The dilemma is should I go ahead and put all six next action reminders on my context lists or should I only put A.
            Only A.

            Originally posted by gtdlater View Post
            Suppose I only put down A and then completed A sometime during the week. I won't get around to putting B on a context list until my next weekly review when I review project notes and realize that I can do B now that I have done A. If I only put B on a list and then completed B sometime during the week I will have to wait till the following week's review to put down C, D, E, and F. This way my context lists stay nice, but the project takes a lot more time than it should have taken.
            Figuring out the next Next Action is not a rocket science in case of many standard Projects. If you complete A it is often obvious what to do next (what is B). If you can do B in the same context (have resources, time and energy) - just do it. If not - put B on the appropriate context list as a Project's bookmark.

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            • #7
              Sometimes I wonder if any project goes A,B,C,D.... In my experience they tend to go A,X,Y,Z,Q,F.....

              Comment


              • #8
                As suggested above, reviewing your project notes regularly enough is I think the "official" GTD way of handling this.

                I often find myself in this situation too, and "cheat" a little by writing my NAs (which I keep in text files on my pc and pda) like this:

                Get photos off camera --> Email photos to Jon

                This means that after I get the photos off the camera (the immediately do-able action), I know the next NA is to email them to Jon.

                I've found this useful for small simple projects but for large complicated projects I think you really need to go back to your project notes after every NA and have a think about what the next steps should be.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by gtdlater View Post
                  The dilemma is should I go ahead and put all six next action reminders on my context lists or should I only put A.
                  Only A, definitely. It helps if you remember the definition of Next Action is something like the very next action you are able to take right now to move the project along. If you have more than one NA that you could do right now, then by all means put 'em on your lists. But if you've got actions that require something to happen before you are able to do them, they're not next actions, they're just actions.

                  Originally posted by gtdlater View Post
                  Suppose I only put down A and then completed A sometime during the week. I won't get around to putting B on a context list until my next weekly review when I review project notes and realize that I can do B now that I have done A.
                  Not really. I have a folder which has one sheet for each of my current projects. On that sheet, I've jotted down whatever I can think of in terms of what has to happen. When I finish A, I'll have a quick look at that sheet. If I've got more actions on that sheet, I'll put them on my lists, or just do them.

                  Failing that, I try to do a quick 'wrap up' review at the end of the day. This just consists of checking all my current projects, and making sure that my context lists contain at least one Next Action for all of them (and as many as possible). So it would only take you a day at most to put B on your list once you complete A.

                  And as someone pointed out above, a lot of the time the following Next Action is obvious, so you just do it or list it straight away.

                  Originally posted by gtdlater View Post
                  My psyche is not relaxed.
                  Play it some soothing music.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    the real problem

                    Thanks for the responses. I filed them in 'GTD notes.'

                    rangi500 does Get photos off camera --> Email photos to Jon

                    That makes sense, and it doesn't make sense since there are two actions not just one. Shouldn't he or she 'get photos off camera' and then review his or her project list?

                    It looks like there is some danger narrowing the next action too much since I'd get a list like this:

                    inhale
                    inhale
                    inhale
                    exhale
                    exhale
                    move left arm
                    sit down
                    stand up
                    inhale

                    maybe I would consolidate the duplicates.

                    Rangi, couldn't you just as well say, 'send camera photos to John' or would that fall under the category of 'putting stuff' on your context list.

                    Is there is a guideline for how much thinking is enough thinking on a next action?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Granularity is subjective

                      There's a lot of information "out there" regarding the granularity of next actions. I think the general consensus is that a next action should be the next physical, visible thing you can do in a single context and in one sitting.

                      Use your own judgment as to how granular "one sitting" is. The more you do GTD, the more intuitive this will become. If you can't complete the whole next action in one shot, you need to be more granular next time. If the next action is so granular that it doesn't mean anything in the context of one of your projects (ex. "inhale", "walk to kitchen", etc), it is probably too granular.

                      I think every GTD practitioner has tested both ends of this spectrum at some point, and we've probably all got our own thresholds. I suggest you test both ends as well, so you can figure out your own comfort zone.

                      As to whether 'send camera photos to John' is a next action or stuff... I would say this is subjective. If you can download the pics from your camera and email them to John in one sitting, and in one context (@computer), then call it a 'next action'. However, if you sit down to do this, and you discover that your dog chewed through your USB cable and you have to buy a new one, then promote it to a project and put 'Buy new USB cable' as the next action.

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                      • #12
                        Sequential planning of Next Actions and Outlook

                        Until I read this thread I had been mistakenly adding a sequence of actions to my Outlook whether or not they were the Next Action - another ah-ha moment.

                        As stated above, it often makes sense to write or type the actions even if they should not yet be in the list. Does anybody have any tips on how to handle this situation in Outlook?

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                        • #13
                          I use Outlook, but I don't normally keep my project plans there; I usually use FreeMind (a freeware mind mapping tool). In the rare instances that I do keep a sequence of actions in Outlook, this is how I do it...

                          My system relies on using Outlook categories to keep both my @context lists (one task per next action, category = @context) and my Projects lists (one task per project, category = "Projects"). If I want to keep a sequence of actions in Outlook, I put the list in the "notes" for my project task.

                          This approach carries with it the unfortunate side-effect of making it difficult for me to get an accurate count of how many current to-do's I have, since there is some duplication (I have both the project AND the next action in my Outlook tasks); but it has the major advantage that I can easily sync with my PocketPC and have both my projects and my next actions all in one place. Once I learned to stop being so anal-retentive about the count being wrong, it was all good.

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                          • #14
                            When I write my project plans I put down all the actions required (that I know of--things can and do evolve). I then put my Action A on an index card in a action (project) format something like: "Get gym membership fees from website (join gym)". When I get to that action in my deck and complete it, that tickles me to go look at the project plan, add the information I gathered, tick that action off, and immediately do a card for action B.

                            I also have a fail-safe in my weekly review--I make sure each project has a pending next action in my deck, and if not, I either add the next action to my deck, or make some decisions about whether the project is done, or if it can/should be abandoned or deferred. As for the "too granular/not granular enough issue", I take the highly scientific tactic of going with my gut. If something needs to be outlined in more detail, it will generally languish in my next actions long enough that I notice it in my morning or weekly reviews (I do a mini review of next actions and waiting ons every morning), and do what i need to do to redefine it. Noting each action's creation date helps me tell at a glance if something's been festering a bit too long.

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                            • #15
                              About granularity. Next action should be "doable and completable". If you think 1 hour NA is that add it to the list if not try to make it 30 min, 20 min or 10 minutes. The idea is to get you moving. It's like a bookmark to start reading for 10 minutes. At least you're 10 minutes closer to the outcome. If you'd like to continue when that done - that's great!

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