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  • Inbox to list; to what?

    I have no problems getting things from In to my lists, my problem is Getting things done. I would like to get some best practices for what you do with your Next Actions after it moves from the inbox to the list? I have so many next actions I can't put them in another bin because it's just another pile of stuff.

    Currently, I take my stuff from In to lists; items longer than 2 minutes are set up in a file folder which is in a open file system next to me which is my next actions. This is not working.

    I get so many items that need to be handled immediately - I am in Guest Services at a busy hotel, it is hard to get to my next actions. Plus with them being filed they don't seem that important - but they are.

    Any suggestions?

  • #2
    Assuming that you are collecting ALL of the open loops in your life, deciding the outcomes and next actions about them, and organizing the results of that thinking into a trusted system, here's how you go about actually getting things done.

    First, use your intuition and these four criteria to decide what you should choose to do in any given moment:
    1. Context - What can I possibly do right now?
    2. Time - How much time before next time-specific thing?
    3. Energy - How much physical/mental energy do I have right now?
    4. Priority - What will provide the biggest personal payoff if I do it now?

    These are the criteria you apply to work that you have defined and organized on your calendar and action lists. However, they are not the only source of work. There's a threefold nature to daily work:
    1. Doing pre-defined work
    2. Doing work as it shows up
    3. Defining work

    So, how do you set priorities? Well, what's your job?

    Given the nature of your job, it sounds like you have a lot of bullet #2 everyday. If it's your job to take care of your customers first, then that's what you should be doing when they drop by the guest services desk. You know that you're going to be interrupted frequently, so plan for it. Don't feel bad about not getting to the other things on your lists that can wait.

    Make sure you do bullet #3 as often as you need to keep your lists complete and current and your mind clear. That way, when you have little pockets of discretionary time that show up during your day, you can do bullet #1 efficiently and effectively. When no guests show up, pull out the appropriate lists and get going!

    Also, don't forget to do a weekly review. You may have to do it at home or off-hours if you're frequently interrupted, but make sure you do it or your system will die in very short order.

    One final note. If your boss gives you an assignment with a deadline and also expects you to drop everything to service guests, then he/she made a bad decision about how to organize the job. You'll start giving customers less-than-exemplary service when you've got a deadline to meet but they keep interrupting you. Make sure you have the appropriate discussions with your boss so that you don't have conflicting objectives and expectations about your job.

    You may or may not have this situation, but in case you do, you have my advice on how to deal with it.

    Best of luck!
    Last edited by ellobogrande; 09-12-2008, 10:47 AM. Reason: Comment re: weekly review.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Jenniferh View Post
      I have so many next actions I can't put them in another bin because it's just another pile of stuff.
      This may be an indication that you need to spend some time during your weekly review "freshening up" those lists so to keep the number of next actions under control.

      - Don

      Comment


      • #4
        Where to put next actions

        Good stuff. Does anyone have suggestions/best practices for the Next Actions - besides the list - where should this stuff go. Folders? Outbox for Next actions? Accordian file?

        I am also looking for some new ideas about what to do with the already been listed but not done yet.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Jenniferh View Post
          Good stuff. Does anyone have suggestions/best practices for the Next Actions - besides the list - where should this stuff go. Folders? Outbox for Next actions? Accordian file?
          The next action would go on your list.

          In my system the support material for the next action would be filed, either in a paper file, or in a logical place on my hard disk if electronic.

          - Don

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Jenniferh View Post
            Good stuff. Does anyone have suggestions/best practices for the Next Actions - besides the list - where should this stuff go. Folders? Outbox for Next actions? Accordian file?

            I am also looking for some new ideas about what to do with the already been listed but not done yet.
            Don't worry, it'll all become clear eventually!

            All the "stuff" for a project should go into a folder in your filing cabinet (digital "stuff" can be in a folder on your computer). Name the folder appropriately for the Project.

            I don't understand the distinction in your final sentence between the "stuff" we're talking about--Next Actions--and things that have "already been listed but not done yet." Those both sound like the same thing to me.

            Comment


            • #7
              I also have a single file in front of my project folders that I call Next Action. In it I put single action item paperwork. An example is a letter I received from the county with beautiful pictures of my car speeding. I had one action - to pay the fine online. Now the Next Action file is empty, as it usually is, since most of my action "stuff" that is not done go into project folders.

              Comment


              • #8
                Next Actions: Stuff

                Brent,
                Thanks for all your help. The "stuff" I am talking about is the support material that goes with my Next Action. I am just not clear about where to physically put it before it gets done. I have been filing my next actions, which has been suggested by others so that makes me feel better.

                I guess I am used my "next actions" being in front of me, when they are filed it feels like I am forgetting them. The more I read from you all the more I realize I need to depend on my Next Actions List and review to get things done. I also think I have some Projects included in Next Actions. I will review my next actions list and see what really should be a project.

                Comment


                • #9
                  OK, now I'm really confused!

                  Every Next Action is related to a larger Project, right? (Except for simple, one-off actions like returning a friend's phone call or doing a load of laundry.)

                  So, the "stuff" for your Next Action should be related to that larger Project, right?

                  So, the "stuff" is just Project support materials, to be filed along with everything else for that Project.

                  I'll give you an example from last week. A few of my Projects:
                  • Write 1,500 words of children's novel
                  • Paint pergola
                  • Bid on 3 projects on eLance

                  And here's what my Next Actions list looked like:
                  • Review current scene in children's novel (to figure out what to write next)
                  • Paint right post of pergola
                  • Log on to eLance and review current web programming proposals

                  I don't see how I could have any "stuff" related to those Next Actions that wouldn't be related to the larger Project. Which would just go into the appropriate Project folder in my filing cabinet.

                  Does that make sense? Can you list some of your Projects and Next Actions, so I can compare?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    It sounds like you are used to using a tangible item, such as a form to fill out, as a Next Action reminder.

                    GTD says not to do that. Put all your actions on your action lists, and file the support materials.

                    My experience is similar to Brent's, in that one-off actions have very little associated stuff. I'd even go so far as to say that if the "stuff" is more than a page or two, the task is really a project and should be handled accordingly.

                    If many of your Next Actions are similar--such as guest room maintenance requests, or daily tracking reports -- you might file that group's paperwork as a batch, and work through it as a batch. That's what I do with things like paying bills or returning phone calls.

                    Hope this helps,

                    Katherine

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Most of your next actions probably belong to projects. If you are accustomed to having your next action stuff visible to you, you may want to get one of desktop file holders into which you put all your project support files. Work from your next action list and pull the respective folder if you need to refer to it.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Support material for next actions

                        Brent,

                        Most of my work seems like a one-step - Next action - but I have support material to complete that next action. So what I am learning from this blog is to file this support material and follow my list.


                        Examples of my next actions:
                        1. Type October MOD schedule: Support Material- last month's schedule
                        2. Update Manager's phone list: Support material- the last update with current handwritten changes
                        3. Send email to Sales Staff regarding Art show: Support material- notes from phone call with artist
                        4. Email Holiday Decorating pictures to vendor: Support material- CD Rom with pictures


                        I think more of my items could be projects but I am having a hard time defining projects. Most of my items seem like one next action. When that is complete it is done.
                        Projects:
                        1. Respond to Comment Cards: (this is a regular process) - should it be a project?
                        Next action: Photo copy comment cards
                        Next action: write letters
                        Next action: Distribute copies to Managers

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          It sounds like you need to separate action triggers from support material conceptually, not just physically. You need to manage two things:
                          • What tasks you need to do -- your action lists
                          • What you need to do them with -- your support material
                          For the least mental interference when deciding what to do, it's a good idea to keep your support material out of your visual field, tucked away in an A-to-Z general reference filing system, referring to the appropriate file on a just-in-time basis -- after you've decided what to do. You're not using your project folders to define or plan your projects; they're just a storage medium.

                          Everything you've listed as support material in your example can easily be filed in an A-to-Z system. You don't have to create a new system for each type of project. (Pendaflex hangers, while a no-no in GTD canon, are great for holding CDs with the paper strip they have on the inside).

                          What you consider a next action will be different from how someone else might define it. If there's nothing that stops you from responding to comment cards in one step, then you might as well list it as a next action. If there's a dependency that has to be fulfilled for the action to be completed, it's better to list "Respond to comment cards" as an outcome on your project list. Your sense of how granular you need to get with your actions -- whether something's an genuine next action or a multiaction task -- is something that gets refined over time. Your judgment improves with experience.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Jenniferh View Post
                            Brent,

                            Most of my work seems like a one-step - Next action - but I have support material to complete that next action. So what I am learning from this blog is to file this support material and follow my list.


                            Examples of my next actions:
                            1. Type October MOD schedule: Support Material- last month's schedule
                            2. Update Manager's phone list: Support material- the last update with current handwritten changes
                            3. Send email to Sales Staff regarding Art show: Support material- notes from phone call with artist
                            4. Email Holiday Decorating pictures to vendor: Support material- CD Rom with pictures
                            Ah-ha! Thank you. Those examples help me understand what you're dealing with.

                            Seems to me that several of those Actions are related to larger Projects. Surely there's more to the Art Show than emailing the sales staff? So, the Project might be "Prepare and send all materials needed for participants in Art Show". Same with the Holiday Decorating.

                            I think more of my items could be projects but I am having a hard time defining projects. Most of my items seem like one next action. When that is complete it is done.
                            Projects:
                            1. Respond to Comment Cards: (this is a regular process) - should it be a project?
                            Next action: Photo copy comment cards
                            Next action: write letters
                            Next action: Distribute copies to Managers
                            Yes, this looks like a Project to me.

                            The power of Next Actions is that they're literally actions, immediate and atomic things to do. I try to phrase my Actions so that they'll each take less than 5 minutes.

                            The power of Projects is that they capture some desired end state or goal. The Project tells you what you finally want to accomplish with your Actions.

                            A danger lies in "growing" your Next Actions in scope and size until they become like Projects. Then you lose the immediacy of them, and you're less likely to actually do some of them.

                            Does that help?

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Thank you!

                              Thanks to all. I feel much better about my current set up and know what I need to do to remove items that are projects from my next actions. Sounds like a good weekend project. I will add it to my projects list!

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