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  • How to choose a Next Action in the moment

    David suggests to use 4 points model to choose a Next Action in the moment. I don't feel like fully understand this model. I assume the model should limit my options. Reality shows it doesn't. At least not always. Can you correct me or advice what's wrong in the example below:

    1. Context. That allows to filter out 4 out of 40 Next Actions that I can't do @Work. Actually I can do them as well if I change the context itself. For example, I have a Next Action to brainstorm with my wife her birthday party. I can do it @Work over phone or take my car and go home to do that there instead of waiting when I get into @Home context to do that. Don't you think this filter (Context) is artificial?

    2. Time. I usually have 1-2 hours blocks of non-scheduled time. It allows me to choose any of my Next Actions. So how do you apply that filter???

    3. Energy. That's the most interesting and useless one for me. First of all, I have quite middle energy level through the whole day. Second, my boss or customer doesn't care if my energy level is low; or if I had a bad weekend; or anything else that caused energy loss. The work must be done - that's why I was hired. How can I use that filter in these conditions where other people define my work?

    4. Priority. That's the last chance for me Take the most important one. That's clear at least. But I find it difficult to sort through 36 Next Actions left after 1-3 points filtering...

    Does it mean the model is not working for me or I just use it wrong???

    Regards,
    Eugene.

  • #2
    Worst case scenario: pick one at random.... seriously. Sometimes the sequence just doesn't matter as long as the volume of actions gets cut down. You're looking to at worst keep the backlog volume of pending NAs to be reasonably constant over time.

    How long does your average NA take? I find that when I have too many NAs that take more than an hour, I actually do not have NAs - I have projects where I need to figure out the single NA.

    Energy level: do you feel as productive at 4pm on Friday as you do at 10am on Tuesday?

    Comment


    • #3
      Eugene,

      1. I think you do not have the example in the right context. You may be able to brainstorm with your wife in many different contexts, but you do NEED your wife, so this would be more of and @Agenda context, rather then the others. For me it would be @Agenda:Wife.

      2. With the time you have ahead of you, which task could you successfully complete?

      3. If you always have the same amount of “energy”, then this criterion might not help you.

      4. Once you have filtered down your tasks, choose the task that naturally appears to you as being of the highest priority. This will often depend upon your responsibilities.

      Hope this helps.

      Regards,
      Scott STEPHEN

      PS. I agree with “Chicagoan”, if you really can’t decide, don’t waste time, just pick one at random. If you can’t naturally decide, then they probably all have the same priority so it won’t matter in what order they are done, as long as they are done.

      Comment


      • #4
        Comfortable NOT Doing?

        Two things feed into this decision-making for me:

        1. Making good use of my Someday/Maybe lists and Weekly Review. I know that sounds really weird. But if my next actions list contain only things I'm really committed to doing then I don't have to think about WHETHER I'm going to do those things. I can focus on picking one and moving forward. Someday/Maybe keeps commitments fresh and Weekly Reviews keep them current.

        2. Am I comfortable not doing things? As I scan my next actions lists I'm also thinking along this line. A lot of times one or two NA's will stand out to me.

        It's tough because you can structure your GTD system completely and structure most of the DO phase. But in the end it's about David's coaching which at first I dismissed, "Trust Your Intuition".

        Mark

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Mark Jantzen View Post
          But if my next actions list contain only things I'm really committed to doing then I don't have to think about WHETHER I'm going to do those things. I can focus on picking one and moving forward. Someday/Maybe keeps commitments fresh and Weekly Reviews keep them current.
          YES!

          I suspect that many people resist reviewing their Next Actions list because it's full of things they haven't actually worked on in a month.

          It's tough because you can structure your GTD system completely and structure most of the DO phase. But in the end it's about David's coaching which at first I dismissed, "Trust Your Intuition".
          Yes, yes, yes.

          As David said in his talk at Google, he meets people all the time who want to shove everything into a program and then be able to push a big red button that says, "Call Bob." But software's never going to be that good, it's never going to know about all the external things that are influencing you. You still have to use your brain to choose the best thing to work on right now.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Brent View Post
            YES!

            I suspect that many people resist reviewing their Next Actions list because it's full of things they haven't actually worked on in a month.



            Yes, yes, yes.

            As David said in his talk at Google, he meets people all the time who want to shove everything into a program and then be able to push a big red button that says, "Call Bob." But software's never going to be that good, it's never going to know about all the external things that are influencing you. You still have to use your brain to choose the best thing to work on right now.

            I'm in agreement with Brent. I find that the Weekly Review really is the time to pick the things you can actually do as a next action that week.

            I also agree with the idea that the activity with your wife is an @Agenda item. Then in the weekly review, you can schedule time to go over agenda items w/ wife if you want and put it into your hard landscape (calendar).

            Comment


            • #7
              The Now Habit

              One reason why some parts of GTD don't work for some people seems to be that GTD can't answer the question "Where and when do I start with which work?".

              The way I answer this question for me is to do a daily review, write down what I intend to do today or tomorrow and schedule the intended actions.

              Leaving several hours per day unscheduled gives me the opportunity to react to work as it shows up or work on unscheduled next actions from my NA lists.

              Rainer
              Last edited by Rainer Burmeister; 02-15-2008, 09:35 AM.

              Comment


              • #8
                Lazy Factor

                Originally posted by Rainer Burmeister View Post
                One reason why some parts of GTD don't work for some people seems to be that GTD can't answer the question "Where and when do I start with which work?".
                I guess the alternatives are trying to structure and answer that question or to simply let it go.

                Personally I just let that one go BIG time. It's a little counterintuitive but my experience is increased productivity.

                One of my unrealistic goals is to reach David's level of lazy productivity. I'm WAY too lazy to explore writing daily to do lists. I much prefer to stumble along with my next actions as a guardrail.

                Mark

                Comment


                • #9
                  Not lazy -- just able to enjoy the flexibility!

                  Hi Mark,

                  I don't think you are being lazy at all. Actually, I am jealous of you and those like you that can work so well from long next action lists and easily choose what to do next on the fly after scanning those lists....each and every time it is time for the next action. It just does not work well for me as I am one of those people that likes more structure -- like our colleague Ranier here, I make a daily list from my context lists each morning, and then either schedule them or work only from that list. A real "closed" list like Mark Forster's Do it Tomorrow approach. Of course, if something does come up unexpected, then I do show the GTD flexibility and take care of it....but for me, that is much more the exception than the rule. Once I have completed my daily list, then I turn to my context lists. Any new work that comes in goes on my context lists, NOT my daily list.

                  Best to all,
                  -Longstreet

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Need help, too, with n/a!

                    This thread really higlights the struggle I am having with GTD--choosing the n/a. While I have benefited from being explicit about desired outcomes and spelling out roles, responsibilities, areas of focus, purpose, etc. And, I do find it useful to spell out the inital n/as and classify them by context, either at the time of the weekly review or when conceptualizing projects. And listing actions across contexts works great if the projects are small and short-lived and there is a clear and predictable path between the actions. But, I am finding that unless I do some extra things, like a daily review, such as Ranier describes above, I have a really hard time using the lists of next actions. These are just so isolated from their previous and following actions and isolated from the flow of the day and various emergent needs that I can't choose, and when I do I have problems. And, I don't really know what to do to integrate them or how to do it, or when to ask myself what guiding or revealing question.


                    Imagine, I am in a context, and I have a dozen n/as listed for that context and I pick one and do it. Then I put on my list what I think I need to do next on this same project, either in that same context or another. That is ostensbily okay.

                    But here is the problem-- I don't have enough information at hand to know if I should stay in the context and work on the one I just listed or select other n/as or if I should switch contexts in order to stay on the project or work on another.

                    And, further complicating my decisions about selecting an n/a, if it is several days' time from when I entered it or several action steps away from the execution of the initial action, I have to think hard about the n/a because sometimes the n/a I have listed is wrong, because I did it already (from the list several actions back or intuitively), or when I created the n/a it seemed logical at that moment but it turns out it really isn't a next action and I don't realize it until I am part way through, or, even wrose, I am purseing an aspect I decided to defer or exclude but forgot I excluded it. The later genreally happens if I create an n/a right after completing one and don't have my project materials to refer to at the time.

                    But since I am in that particular context, I will look at the list and say, let's work through these items that I can get done while I am here and have certain tools or people available. But then I have a question come into my mind, "Should I stay in this context or change contexts?" I start to think that maybe I ought to check and see if there might be a good reasons to change contexts, like I want to just work on one project and its next action requires a different context or there are n/as on my list for other contexts that just migh be more urgent. So, how can I really make that decision, unless I have reviewd the day and week, and answered questions like, when and how will I get back to this context? Are any of these actions ones that if I don't do here and now, it will cause me problems? Are any of these n/as ones that if completed will set in motion a cascade of other needed actions that I will have to be ready to execute or respond to? Will I have the resources to complete these?By the times I have thought through all that, I need to be somewhere else.

                    So unless I have acess to project support material, or have thought the day and week through, and maybe even re-thought it a couple of times during the day, I have a problem with choosing the next action because my list by context is so separated from the milieu of my life and from the other projects.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Project block time...

                      Hi Jamie,

                      I have suffered the same problems, and that is why I do two things differently within my GTD and Do it Tomorrow hybrid. First, as discussed here and in other threads earlier, I have a closed list of daily next actions that I create every morning from my context lists. This will be my focus for the day. It really does help me in that I do not have to continually scan long context lists every time I need to move to the another action. Second, I schedule project block times -- usually no more than an hour -- and then just work on that one project -- nothing else -- and work through a list of actions just associated with that project. I schedule about 3-5 of these blocks throughout the week. This provides a nice way to move very important projects forward without the issues you described. Then, when I am ready to move on to other things, I make sure there is a bookmark next action for that project to help me until the next project block.

                      This added focus on the project level has been very productive for me.

                      Best regards,
                      -Longstreet

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        thanks

                        It really feels better to knwo that others have experienced the same type of thing. I do think that improvements in project planning would help me, but I am doing a lot of new things not just appplying the same skills to different variants of the same problem. Plus I have a ot of routine things that are not handled routinely and hence become crises and hence become projects when they would not be that for people who didrotuine things better. I will look at the references mentioned in various places on Do it Tomorrow.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I'm sorry you're having such problems! I'd love to help.

                          Originally posted by Jamie Elis View Post
                          Imagine, I am in a context, and I have a dozen n/as listed for that context and I pick one and do it. Then I put on my list what I think I need to do next on this same project, either in that same context or another. That is ostensbily okay.
                          OK, you do recognize that you can continue working in one context on one

                          But here is the problem-- I don't have enough information at hand to know if I should stay in the context and work on the one I just listed or select other n/as or if I should switch contexts in order to stay on the project or work on another.
                          Okay, interesting. What information would you need at hand to be able to make that decision?

                          And, further complicating my decisions about selecting an n/a, if it is several days' time from when I entered it or several action steps away from the execution of the initial action, I have to think hard about the n/a because sometimes the n/a I have listed is wrong, because I did it already (from the list several actions back or intuitively), or when I created the n/a it seemed logical at that moment but it turns out it really isn't a next action and I don't realize it until I am part way through, or, even wrose, I am purseing an aspect I decided to defer or exclude but forgot I excluded it. The later genreally happens if I create an n/a right after completing one and don't have my project materials to refer to at the time.
                          Good! You're making those hard decisions. Those hard decisions will need to be made anyway.

                          That said, there's one thing I want to comment on: you write that sometimes your n/a is wrong because you did it already. Perhaps you're not using your NA lists that often?

                          But then I have a question come into my mind, "Should I stay in this context or change contexts?" I start to think that maybe I ought to check and see if there might be a good reasons to change contexts....
                          I may be wrong, but this sounds similar to the oft-heard problem, "How do I choose a Next Action when there's no obvious best one?" To which the answer is, "Just pick one."

                          It sounds to me like you're second-guessing yourself. I suggest that you just stick with whatever context you're in. The external world will change contexts on you often enough!

                          I have a problem with choosing the next action because my list by context is so separated from the milieu of my life and from the other projects.
                          How up-to-date is your NA list?

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