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  • "Actions" versus "Next Actions"

    Very simply, I don't understand the difference. I'm versed in GTD jargon, but don't understand Action vs. Next Action. There's a seperate option for it on all GTDGmail labels. Is "Next Actions" for project actions and "Actions" for just general project-unrelated actions. So

    Action
    Call Sara for Dinner.

    Project -- Decide Budget
    Next Action -- Call Tim from Accounting

    So Calling sara, is unrelated to a project so it's just an Action?
    And Calling tim is project-related (to the project "Decide budget"), so it's a "next action"?

    Please help clarify this ambiguity. Thanks

  • #2
    For my own purposes, I have always made the distinction this way:

    A Next Action is any task that can be done at this moment in time, while an Action is any other task in the system that cannot yet be done.

    So in my system, using your example, "Call Sara" and "Call Tim from Accounting" would both be Next Actions, because they can be done now if I choose to do them.

    But whatever tasks come after "Call Tim from Accounting" in the project "Decide Budget" would be Actions, because they're not next, they can't be done yet.

    Comment


    • #3
      The Next Action is the very next immediately doable thing to move a project (or non-project goal) forward. So both of your examples are Next Actions.

      Ordinary (not Next) actions are things that you need to do at some point but can't at the moment. Often the reason is a dependency: you have to do the Next Action first.

      Katherine

      Comment


      • #4
        In my own head 'next action' relates to the next action in a project. There may be many actions for projects but only one next action.

        I also have a list of actions, many of which are next actions of projects, but others are single actions not related to projects e.g. 'ring Alan to wish him happy birthday'
        Last edited by tominperu; 01-20-2008, 03:29 AM.

        Comment


        • #5
          Thanks for the Swift and Helpful Clarification on "Next Actions v. Actions"

          Hey,
          Thanks everyone. This clarifies it! Thanks. So to reiterate and kind of reconstruct the definition, EVERY action that gets accomplished is a next action right before it's accomplished. In other words, every "accomplished" action once existed as an action and a next action and a next action is just the "most timely and relevant, based on the current context" action of an action sequence. Thanks that's helpful. So every next action is an action, but every action is not necessarily a next action.

          Timperu, I think you and I shared a similar definition in relation to projects. I was confused on with or not you have non-projected-related next actions. In other words, do you make "next actions" exclusive to projects only?

          This is helpful because I've used "next actions" for a LONG time when I just create a number list of actions to accomplish a project (like a website:
          1. Design Site
          2. Figure out best coding and web design program.
          3. Code it.
          4. Upload it.
          5. Debug it.
          6. Double check all the links.
          7. Reference a domain name to it.


          And then if I had two other projects, I would only have (likely) 3 next actions. Design site and the first next action from the other projects. That's cool. I like the "next action" concept. I've been using "next actions" for a long time but materializing it into that standard concept is helpful because you (if you're, for example juggle three projects) don't see this amorphorous web of "project todos and actions", but instead see 3 simple next actions. So the next actions gives you the control of "whittling down" all the actions to accomplish a project without being overwhelmed of all the necessary actions for all projects.

          Again, to plug this into my own mental schemata, the next action concept is like a FIFO (or LIFO depending on how you visualize it) stack in computer science. All you "see" is that next action (firt most action you put in, or the first step in the project sequence), even though one stack (or project) could have dozens and dozens of actions. All you see is the next action.

          For some reason, the analogy of "Next action and a LIFO/FIFO project action stack" reminds me of some statistic of visualizing ALL the food you'll have to eat in a lifetime. This amount is roughly 60,000 pounds, which is equivalent to about 6 elephants or 17,455 80gb ipods (in weight). Envisioning all that food is enough to make you sick! haha! So we, as humans, just only think of a our "Next Action Grocery Shop" or maybe even with less distant perspective our "Next Action Meal" or "Next Action Morsel Bite". The point is that we NEVER envision ALL the mini "Eat Action Steps" for all the food we'll have to eat. For survival, nutrition, we automatically do the "Next Action" process and blind ourselves to subsequent (can't yet do) actions. We definitely do not do that with projects. We (I've done a ton of this) see "all the action steps" of multiple projects simultaneously, and it makes us feel about as sick as having to envision eating 6 elephants in a lifetime! haha So thanks for clarifying the Next Action concept. By integrating that into my GTD system, I'll be sure to only take on the next bite-sized action steps of projects instead of elephant-sized overloads of "can't-yet-be-accomplished" actions.

          Thanks!

          Comment


          • #6
            Sorry about continually writing on this, but I just think fully integrating the "next action" concept into my organizational system will really simplify my life and increase productivity.

            So first off, there's no "rule" that says next actions are only associated with projects, it's just that the nature of projects involves, typically, a series of actions that must be accomplished in a chronological order (a subsequent action relies on the preceding action to be accomplished). So it's just that chronological sequence of actions (commonly found in projects) that creates the distinction between "action" and "Next action". Anything that has a sequential (where order is significant) series of steps will have one Next action and 0+ actions after that.

            Okay, so here's some actions. I'm trying to practice putting these into actions, next actions, or projects.
            1. Buy toothpaste
            2. Buy groceries
            3. Publish Book
            4. Research online publishers
            1. Buy toothpaste
              okay this seems like just a general "action". it's not "next action" because it's not connected to a project. Or is by default "Next Action" because it can just be done? Or is this an action in the project "Buy ToothPaste" with
              Next Action -- Get Keys and Go to Store.
              Action -- Locate toothpate
              Action -- Purchase toothpaste.

              David Allan emphasized knowing the exact detail of all the necessary action steps, but that seems like "over-detail". maybe not though because all those action steps are necessary and they all must occur (and occur in that order) for the "Buy ToothPaste" project to be completed. So a lot of things really are projects. Interesting.
            2. Buy groceries
              About the same as buy toothpaste. This is a project with more "locate item" and "purchase items" action steps.
            3. Publish Book
              This is definitely a project. So would I put this in "ProjectHome"? To put that stake in the ground? And then build a seperate project file for it?
            4. Research online publishers
              This would be part of the project "Publish Book" but it can occur before or after the action step of "Polish final edits". So I guess that project could have two next action steps, or I could create a mini project within the meta-project of "publish book" of "Finish edits".
            5. Polish final edits of book.

            so just to finally reiterate the clarification. An ACTION is something that must be done to complete a project, an action is a placeholder for a not-yet-executable step necessary to complete to accomplish a project. An ACTION is one sequence step (somewhere in the sequence of of a necessary steps to complete a project). A NEXT ACTION is an ACTION step that can be immediately acted upon (there's no "to dos" before it). So the "action" folder is an amorphorous kind of "floating" collection of action steps from various projects that all require some action to be taken before you can take any of those actions. Then, the next action folder is collection of top of the stack actions from various projects that all can be acted upon (any "prerequisite steps" necessary before any next action have already been done, so they're next up in the queue of "do-able at the present moment" things. That's a VERY cool and necessary distinction. I'm glad I sorted that out. I frequently had "undoable at the present moment" actions -- actions that were buried in the queue of a project's necessary actions -- on a "todo" list but putting actions on your on-the-go todo list, just clogs your process and system because those things aren't yet, doable! So an on the go to-do list should ONLY contain next actions. That way, you aren't hovering around eye-jumping over things on such a list that can't yet be accomplished, and instead have at your repertoire all the tasks that can be done at that next present moment. So the key characteristic here is you can NEVER do an "action". The only thing you can do to an "action" is move it to "next actions" when it does become actionable. So ALL the work of doing it, acocmplishing things comes from the NExt Actions folder. That's such an awesome symmetry. Because EVERYTHING (receipts, project ideas, phone calls, everything) starts in the inbox, and ends up in Next Actions or Reference, eventually (the maybe somedays evnetually will likely, given enough time, move to projects then actions and next actions). that's so cool.
            So next actions will only contain actions that can be immediately executed (if in the right context) that take 2+ minutes to do (if a next action takes <2minutes it will just get done right then and there)

            Like input=inbox output=next actions and that + everything in between everything in between is your full gtd productivity system for doing everything in your life! sweet.

            Man this is such an AWESOME system because it's like computer programming, but INSTANTLY applied to life! I loved the procedural methodology and logic of comp. sci, but the program were useless, I'd spend hours coding some little program that didn't anything meaningful. With GTD you can spend hours "coding" your projects and action steps and next actions and organizing system (even with behaviors, I've been working on), that meaningfully activates the "clarity, peace of mind, productivity, and increased concentration" program in your life!
            Okay, that's helpful. Thanks.
            Last edited by validatelife; 01-20-2008, 07:41 PM.

            Comment


            • #7
              Long respones

              Sorry for the long responses, guys. When some people learn and apply and integrate information they need to "see it", others need to "hear it", some need to "do it". I'm pretty sure I "learn" best by "doing it" and "teaching it".

              Comment


              • #8
                Um, with apologies to all, I think you may be getting a mistaken impression of what vanilla GTD practice is. DA's recommendation is to think ahead on a project as little as you can get away with. There are at least two reasons: project requirements morph, and people tend to get trodden down by long lists. Of course, big projects require big plans, so the key phrase is "as little as you can get away with." Every project is different, and how you handle the bigger ones is as much a reflection of you as it is of the nature of your work.

                "Buy groceries" is just a next action on my @out list. "Toothpaste" is an item on the grocery list, which is just a special-purpose checklist. Just that simple. I would not make "Publish Book" a project, but would probably have things like "Develop book proposal" and "Look for agent" as projects. More concrete, with more realistic time horizons. I could put "publish book" as some higher level objective, but I probably wouldn't. I tend instead to have one project flow into another.

                If you want to have "Actions" and "Next Actions" for your bigger projects, go ahead, but be prepared to acknowledge that it may not always work for you. I think you may find that trying to fit all your projects into a single framework is difficult. But YMMV.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by validatelife View Post
                  Anything that has a sequential (where order is significant) series of steps will have one Next action and 0+ actions after that.
                  There's no need to list Actions in your projects, unless you think there's something you'll forget: the regular (daily or weekly) reviews allow you to work out the next action for a project when you need to.


                  [*]Buy toothpaste
                  okay this seems like just a general "action". it's not "next action" because it's not connected to a project. Or is by default "Next Action" because it can just be done? Or is this an action in the project "Buy ToothPaste" with
                  Next Action -- Get Keys and Go to Store.
                  Action -- Locate toothpate
                  Action -- Purchase toothpaste.
                  I'd say that you'd put toothpaste on your shopping list and wait until you're at the store, at which time you can buy a bunch of things. One of the key strengths of GTD is that you can batch similar tasks together, so instead of going to the store for each single item, you list them together and buy them all at once. This is the essence of the context lists.

                  David Allan emphasized knowing the exact detail of all the necessary action steps, but that seems like "over-detail".
                  I think it's quite the reverse: The David points out that you don't need to know anything but the Next Action, just that one single thing to move the project forward.

                  [*]Publish Book
                  This is definitely a project. So would I put this in "ProjectHome"? To put that stake in the ground? And then build a seperate project file for it?
                  What's ProjectHome? Note that you don't need to group your projects in any way - a simple list is enough to remind you of all the things you've got going at one time.


                  [*]Polish final edits of book.
                  I'd have to say that "polish final edits of book" is not an action step. It's certainly not defined enough to be a Next Action. The clues are that there's no concrete tasks to perform: rather, there's an unstated goal ("have a final edit that's complete to my satisfaction"). So I'd suggest things like "read through once for spelling/grammar errors", "check chapter one against precis to ensure that I've covered the points listed", and of course "put aside for at least a month before reading through again" (I've done a fair amount of editing in my time).


                  So the "action" folder is an amorphorous kind of "floating" collection of action steps from various projects that all require some action to be taken before you can take any of those actions. Then, the next action folder is collection of top of the stack actions from various projects that all can be acted upon (any "prerequisite steps" necessary before any next action have already been done, so they're next up in the queue of "do-able at the present moment" things.
                  I don't recall an Action folder. What I'd say is that you've got a folder for each project, which might contain snippets like the basic aim of the project and any notes/reminders/accompanying data/whatever that goes with the project. Then you've got your Next Action list or lists: you might have just one list, if you do most/all of your work in one place, or you might have one for each of several different contexts.

                  These Next Action lists (often known as context lists) hold all the NAs for all the projects, sorted neatly by context. So you might have an @Phone list, which holds all the calls you have to make, or an @Team list, if there are some tasks you can only do when your team is together (I've worked in a software dev team and found this useful).

                  The act of popping the NA from the top of the stack takes place when you review (usually the mini daily review). Note that you can do an NA and then continue to work on the project for a while: there's nothing that says you have to check your project material for a Next Action after each one. But once you've finished working on that project, you'll need to generate the next NA (pop the next item off the stack), which happens at review time.


                  With GTD you can spend hours "coding" your projects and action steps and next actions and organizing system (even with behaviors, I've been working on), that meaningfully activates the "clarity, peace of mind, productivity, and increased concentration" program in your life!
                  Okay, that's helpful. Thanks.
                  I think the best comp. sci. analogy would be that GTD is Extreme Programming for your life.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                    Um, with apologies to all, I think you may be getting a mistaken impression of what vanilla GTD practice is. DA's recommendation is to think ahead on a project as little as you can get away with. There are at least two reasons: project requirements morph, and people tend to get trodden down by long lists. Of course, big projects require big plans, so the key phrase is "as little as you can get away with." Every project is different, and how you handle the bigger ones is as much a reflection of you as it is of the nature of your work.

                    "Buy groceries" is just a next action on my @out list. "Toothpaste" is an item on the grocery list, which is just a special-purpose checklist. Just that simple. I would not make "Publish Book" a project, but would probably have things like "Develop book proposal" and "Look for agent" as projects. More concrete, with more realistic time horizons. I could put "publish book" as some higher level objective, but I probably wouldn't. I tend instead to have one project flow into another.

                    If you want to have "Actions" and "Next Actions" for your bigger projects, go ahead, but be prepared to acknowledge that it may not always work for you. I think you may find that trying to fit all your projects into a single framework is difficult. But YMMV.
                    mcogilvie, No hard feelings at all. I'm incredibly grateful that you took the time to clarify that for me. You clarified that I should just have a next actions list and not an actions list (because you'll think of the other actions as they become next actions, right?). My question is why does GTDInbox have Next actions and Actions subfolders under projects? Maybe I'll work out some method of keeping the non-doable actions directly tethered to the project.

                    Also, you're right about the Groceries and "Projects vs Actions" concept, I think it's ultimately choice how detailed you want to go. Your view of "Action=Buy Groceries, with Toothpaste one of those items on the list" has a much bigger picture POV and, honestly, makes a lot more sense! I think technically you COULD make "Buy Toothpaste" a project with all those above-mentioned action steps, but LOL it seems a lot much more clear of a focus to put than under @Outside. I have an Errands list which would be syonymous to @Outside.

                    Also I really appreciate your advice on the projects. if the goal is to "publish a book", then "find agent" and "develop book proposal" are great project (steps) towards that meta-project-goal. And those suggestions make more sense because they kind of do create more "flowing" actions. It's easy to, as david allen would say, "go numb" to the project of "publish book", but proposal and agent-finding, are more tangible.

                    So instead of, "get an acting job" (which is a nearly un-actionable project), one should do "research acting classes", "find an acting agent.

                    In short, your insight helped me realize that my projects should be more flowing (but I still like the idea of a meta-project as "Publish Book" and then secondary projects under that) and that my action errands had a scope that was a little too myopic. haha. Thanks for the tips!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Wait, just for the purposes of learning about others' systems. You have a grocery list seperately or one that's under @Outside?
                      Do you have

                      @Outside
                      1. Get Groceries
                      2. Get Office Supplies
                      3. Look at phones
                      And then a seperate grocery list and office supplies list

                      OR

                      @ Outside
                      1. Get Groceries --- (list of groceries)
                      2. Get Office Supplies (labels, folders, etc)
                      3. Look at phones.

                      Also, do you have paper lists or electronic lists?

                      I've just been devouring GTD for the past month or so and am trying to integrate it effectively into my lif eand have already experiented wtih google notebooks, plain paper lists, "My Mind" program, word processing lists, and plain folders with text files in them. Trying to settle on the most effective implementation for GTD with "phone syncing" and mobility being strong considerations.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I keep separate lists for each major destination: groceries, office supplies, pet stuff, etc. Then my @Errands list simply has "buy groceries" or whatever.

                        All of this is on paper. That's especially advantageous for shared lists. Anyone who notices that we're out of an item can write it on the list on the kitchen counter. Then whoever does the shopping can just grab the list on the way out the door.

                        Katherine

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I just keep one uber to-buy list (in a text file that I keep on my pocket pc), separated by major category (groceries, hardware, electronics, cd's & dvd's, books, etc.).

                          I used to keep separate lists for each store, but you know what? Grocery stores sell lightbulbs, and so do hardware stores, and so do department stores; so which list am I supposed to put "lightbulbs" on?

                          Anyway, the one big list solved that. I more or less just "collect" into that list. Then when I know that I am almost out of something important, or if I need to buy something specific for one of my projects, then I put an explicit destination on my @Errands list.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by jknecht View Post
                            I just keep one uber to-buy list (in a text file that I keep on my pocket pc), separated by major category (groceries, hardware, electronics, cd's & dvd's, books, etc.).

                            I used to keep separate lists for each store, but you know what? Grocery stores sell lightbulbs, and so do hardware stores, and so do department stores; so which list am I supposed to put "lightbulbs" on?

                            Anyway, the one big list solved that. I more or less just "collect" into that list. Then when I know that I am almost out of something important, or if I need to buy something specific for one of my projects, then I put an explicit destination on my @Errands list.
                            "uber to-buy list" haha!! Nice terminology jkecht. I love it. I think that hsould be the name of a a processing category. you have your @Phone, @Outside, @Computer, and the "Uber To-Buy" list categories. hysterical. nice.

                            I have, currently, about 2 seperate errands lists, and 2 seperate Materials (to buy) lists. I MUST simplify. The reason for havign duplicates is one is on an informal word document (after doing some "emptying your ram" 20 minute sessions) and then I migrated some of those over to a freeware program called "My Mind" and just made a "node" labeled "Errands" for @outside events.

                            I also come from a LOT of computer programming background. To program a computer you have to tell it EVERY small, inconceivably minute detail. Like to create a program that opens a window and types somethign, you have to "call upon" all these pre-existing eventListeners (to "hear" for the user's click), specify how the window will look, where it will open up, the dimensions it will have, and then call upon a special "text-typing" program to actually write the text. In programming, something as simple as writing a mini "open window and write something" program can get very complex with all the intermediate action steps. Writing a program with something as "macroscale" as "buy groceries' would be laughably impossible (atleast untill AI is advanced much more). you'd have to write sub-programs for "locate grocery item x" and then "purchase item x" etc. So my "overly detailed" method of getting things done (i.e. turning something as simple as buying toothpaste into a project) occurred because of a computer science background, and I love the idea of "programming your life" for success to achieve what you want (the correct grocery list to the right career path and accomplishments)!

                            so thanks for that "reality check" of how most people utilize GTD, where toothpaste-buying is an item on a list, not a project!!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by validatelife View Post
                              so thanks for that "reality check" of how most people utilize GTD, where toothpaste-buying is an item on a list, not a project!!
                              Because of the below quagmire, "increasing income" is on my "Behavior, Beliefs, and Large-Goal Interests"

                              Why Not Making Income Psychologicaly Impairs My Life.
                              The Bottom-Line is: "You can't lead a normal, healthy, simple, and easy life when buying toothpaste is a "project" because of necessary toxic prevention steps and an insanely cramped budget.
                              I could ramble on and on forever on this one but I'll keep it simple, because it is simple.
                              1. I generate things to buy throughout the month. These are essential things to buy that everyone should be able to purchase because I'm not living in 1984. I'm not impaired in anyway . I'm not in a prison. I'm extremely intelligent.
                              2. Some of these "things to buy" include groceries (eggs, milk, lettuce), hygeine items (toothpaste, soap), travel items (gas), electronic items (DVDs to burn recordings, movies to rent, etc.) the list goes on with the VERY rudimentary and VERY basic survival things. I'm not talking about Jaguars, and Mercedezes, and Porsches. I have ZERO interest in fancy cars. I have ZERO interest in things that one would purchase to "show off a brand". I AM interested in purchasing things that has a brand (like Crunch, Apple, Verizon, etc) that has proven to be reliable and "my bag" based on their features. So, conclusively, I'm interested in being able to purchase survival item brands I like, and basic survival food, hygeine, electronic, travel, home, items, and the like, but WITHOUT budget panic.
                              3. I don't go out and get the things on the list because when they arise, my budget is almost always only 200-300 for the rest of the month.
                              4. i'm bringing this up because this has a psychological effect on me. Most people (from the David Allen forum) have an @Outside List and on that an action to "Buy Groceries" and on that list "toothpaste" as something to pick up on the list. For me, "Buy Toothpaste", as ridiculous as it sounds" is a PROJECT! Here's why: Buy toothpaste SHOULD be an item on an @Outside --- Buy Groceries list, but it's a proejct for me because:

                              1. 1. I have to take all these precautionary measures in the Toxic-Toxic environment.
                              2. I have to take precautionary, overly-budgetted methods before purchasing stuff.

                              Both those prevent me from getting food and what not. I think, "shoot" I'll have to go to costco, but maybe I should just eat less and do a big shop next month....but I'll have to make sure I have the todo list with me, etc, etc. The point is that those two thigns IMMENSELY overcomplicate something as simple as buying toothpaste. Hearing how "simple" it is for most people to buy toothpaste and grab a bite to eat was good wake-up call. Anything I buy (grab some food, a file folder in walgreens, etc. everything) I have to put a TON of consideration into and decide if I really need it, if I can afford it, if I need to save up for it. Those are great considerations for BIG things like a house or a new fridgerator or something, but NOT for toothpaste and a bagel or something!

                              Do you understand that? I'm just realizing it, and it's kind of complex, but also really simple.

                              The Bottom-Line is: "You can't lead a normal, healthy, simple, and easy life when buying toothpaste is a "project" because of necessary toxic prevention steps and an insanely cramped budget.

                              Other examples of how such a small budget REALLY cramps and limits my life are:

                              1. If I want to grab a bite to eat while Outside, I likely can't (because I can only afford "eating out" about 2 times per month.
                              2. If I need to get somethign while outside "on the go" that wasn't previously on a list, I usually can't because

                              If I had a budget (just envisioning a random number) based on a, for example,100-300k/year income, I could VERY easily and HEALTHILY stop and grab some food or something if I needed out side. Again, I'm realizing how unhealthy it is to NOT have a lot of income. I've head a lot of people say that "money is evil" and you don't need a big budget, but when you don't a)have a group that pays for everything or b)have a decent income to live comfortably, money creates healthier living!!!

                              Sorry for that little rant. I thought it would help explain how "buying toothpaste" became a project for me. In short, buying toothpaste is a project if:
                              You have a very low income
                              and/or
                              You have a computer science background and accidentally (whoops! treated programming people (and your life) the same way as you'd program a computer!

                              In short, computers require much more detail to Get something Done than a person! You can tell a person to "go buy groceries", but doing that on a computer would take tons and tons of code!! haha

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