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  • Next Action, but not for this week

    After I have taken a next action, and have taken as many immediate follow-on steps as is appropriate, I should identify the next action for that project before moving on to the next action of another project.

    Thing is, if I add another next action each time I complete one, I will never get to the bottom of my list. The general behavior of the next action list will be to continually grow, rather than shrink.

    Anyone have a convention for separating 'next week's' next actions from this weeks, or for somehow providing some guidance so that you execute a next action for every project every week, rather than continually identifying and executing next actions for your favorite project, to the exclusion of many others?

    Thanks,
    Rob

  • #2
    Originally posted by ArcCaster View Post
    Thing is, if I add another next action each time I complete one, I will never get to the bottom of my list. The general behavior of the next action list will be to continually grow, rather than shrink.
    The idea of GTD is not to complete lists but to get things done. Your Project and NA lists should represent a complete inventory of all your commitments and every immediately doable next action step to resolve those commitments.

    The lists are not intended to measure your weekly work-load and act as a progress-meter to it. If you want to have such a thing while doing plain vanilla GTD I suggest putting *project deadlines on to your calendar and treating those deadlines as one list, basically the sports section of your system.

    That said, let me add a short story from my life: The last time I improved my system with enhacements not mentioned in the book... .. nobody stormed into my office and shot me down.

    * alternatively milestone deadlines see the book p.58

    Comment


    • #3
      The action lists (and every other list) will keep on constantly changing their sizes in both directions. I will be surprised if I find anybody on this forum who has all action lists empty.

      The general guideline for working off action lists is to keep all urgencies, priorities and balance of areas of responsibility in mind while choosing an action from the lists. That does not mean one goes completing actions from top to bottom.

      Executing next action for every project every week is a bit far fetched, and a bit more mechanical than necessary. (no system can make decisions for you! it can only give you options.) But if you keep your areas of responsibility in front of you, you will automatically know which ones are lagging behind. Choose actions accordingly. And the areas of responsibility is usually a small list of about 5 to 15 items/subitems. A mini review (no doing!) of all actions in the lists once a day will also help if you have large lists.

      Hope this helps,
      Abhay

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by ArcCaster View Post
        Thing is, if I add another next action each time I complete one, I will never get to the bottom of my list. The general behavior of the next action list will be to continually grow, rather than shrink.

        Anyone have a convention for separating 'next week's' next actions from this weeks, or for somehow providing some guidance so that you execute a next action for every project every week, rather than continually identifying and executing next actions for your favorite project, to the exclusion of many others?
        Actions that you don't plan to do until next week are not Next Actions anyway. Next Actions are things that you plan to do as soon as possible. Future actions go in your tickler, Someday/Maybe list, or calendar, as appropriate.

        The Weekly Review is when you decide what your priorities are for the week. It's also when you make sure that everything is moving forward at the appropriate rate. Sometimes it's appropriate to work on one project to the exclusion of all others. Sometimes it's not.

        As CPU_Modern pointed out, the goal is not to finish everything on your lists. (If your lists are empty, you are probably dead.) The goal is to capture all of your commitments, make progress on as many of them as feasible, and renegotiate the rest.

        Katherine

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by kewms View Post
          Actions that you don't plan to do until next week are not Next Actions anyway.
          I disagree. If it is the very next thing you could possibly do, it is a next action; regardless of WHEN you plan to do it.

          If there is a next action I want to defer for some reason, I would just move it to the bottom of my context list. Or maybe rephrase the next action like: "Fasten the widget to the whatsit - preferably, after November 15"

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by jknecht View Post
            I disagree. If it is the very next thing you could possibly do, it is a next action; regardless of WHEN you plan to do it.

            If there is a next action I want to defer for some reason, I would just move it to the bottom of my context list. Or maybe rephrase the next action like: "Fasten the widget to the whatsit - preferably, after November 15"
            I tend to agree with KEWMS....technically it is a Next Action, but because you don't plan to act on it till sometime in the future (like next week), it's just cluttering the context lists (which I think act as "do it now" list of N/As). If you have to rethink each N/A on context lists (is that for now or next week?), you've gone back to processing. It seems like a N/A for next week should be on calendar, or project support.

            Wm

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by abhay View Post
              Executing next action for every project every week is a bit far fetched, and a bit more mechanical than necessary. (no system can make decisions for you! it can only give you options.) But if you keep your areas of responsibility in front of you, you will automatically know which ones are lagging behind.
              Hope this helps,
              Abhay
              Abhay, you have captured exactly what I would like to do. When I do my weekly review, I identify maybe 30 projects that are 'active'. I ensure I have identified at least one next action for each of them. It follows that, in the time between reviews, I want to take one step forward, no matter how small, for each of those projects.

              Some projects are front and center -- high noise, high time commitments, immediate consequences. Others are more 'background' -- things that won't 'squeak' if I don't take a step forward. It is easy to overlook the things that are 'background'. It is easy to spend the bulk of time on the high noise immediate consequence projects.

              So, as I am a day or so into my week, it would be nice if there were a way for those quiet 'background' projects to speak up, saying don't forget me -- I won't take much time, and you will be glad you took some steps.

              I would like a way to 'bubble' those background projects up to the top as I make progress on the foreground projects and ignore the background.

              My first thought was to find a way to move the foreground projects to the end of the line after I have spent some time on them -- my 'next action next week' idea.

              The opposite approach would be to pull the background projects up to the top -- if nothing has been done on a project for the first half of the week, make it more visible.

              And yes, I think you have nailed it -- I am looking for a mechanical aid that will let me avoid careful consideration of my next action list every time I complete a next action.

              I suppose, if I must, I can spend a little more time thinking and considering But wouldn't it be nice if somehow we could make those background projects 'speak up' if they are being ignored?

              Thanks,
              Rob

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by ArcCaster View Post
                I suppose, if I must, I can spend a little more time thinking and considering But wouldn't it be nice if somehow we could make those background projects 'speak up' if they are being ignored?
                Believe me, any mechanical approach to avoid choosing and decision making will ultimately fail, in the sense that you won't eventually approve what it tells you! (You know what, I have learnt it the hard way!)

                My way of the daily review of the actions is to bring to top of the list those actions that I feel I should do real soon. This sometimes includes actions from what you call background projects, but not always. This `real soon' is purposely vague, since otherwise it takes the form of daily to-do lists, which are bound to fail in my case for many reasons: unforeseen inputs/interruptions, wrong estimated times required for some actions, and so on. Further, I still may choose actions actions not from the top of the list while actually doing, since the factors such as time available and energy come in.

                Regards,
                Abhay

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by ArcCaster View Post
                  My first thought was to find a way to move the foreground projects to the end of the line after I have spent some time on them -- my 'next action next week' idea.

                  The opposite approach would be to pull the background projects up to the top -- if nothing has been done on a project for the first half of the week, make it more visible.
                  Hi Rob. Depends on where you keep your lists. If you have paper lists, then a simple solution is to do a micro-mini review every day in which you tick the projects that you've touched. It becomes pretty clear pretty quickly which ones you haven't touched, and since you said you've got about 30 active projects, your project list shouldn't be too long to scan quickly.

                  This depends on you having a Current Projects list, of course, as well as the NA lists.

                  If you're using electronic lists, there may be some similar tweak you can use - I'm imagining something that colours the project (or NAs) based on how long it's been since you last touched that project. So recently-touched projects might be deep, calm blue, projects you've touched a couple of days ago might be purple, and shading up to red for things that haven't seen you for most of the week.

                  The algorithm to do this would be fairly simple, although coding it into whatever application you're using would be the trick. If you're using software from a small and responsive source, you might contact them and ask them nicely if they'd like to add it into their next release.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I appreciate the need to flag those Projects that aren't getting done.

                    I highlight each Project in my Project list when I've done some work on it. I have a paper Projects list, so I literally use a yellow highlighter. If I had a digital system, I'd highlight digitally, and clear the highlights during my Weekly Review.

                    I also highlight in red every Project that I complete.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by jknecht View Post
                      I disagree. If it is the very next thing you could possibly do, it is a next action; regardless of WHEN you plan to do it.

                      If there is a next action I want to defer for some reason, I would just move it to the bottom of my context list. Or maybe rephrase the next action like: "Fasten the widget to the whatsit - preferably, after November 15"
                      jknecht,

                      You are right. David Allen created the Next Action concept. His is the canonical definition and your explanation accords with it.

                      Katherine's unorthodox approach is, nonetheless, worthy of consideration. A user of this forum stated a few years ago that David Allen Co. coaches were telling that user to construct her NA list precisely as Katherine described.

                      The advantages of this approach are:

                      1. For those of us who have a very large number of items in our trusted system, it can be mind-numbingly tedious and time-consuming to look at lengthy lists to figure out what is the best thing to do now. Katherine's approach allows us to scan quickly a reasonably concise list.

                      2. It jives with the weekly rhythm of GTD.

                      3. It is consistent with the higher altitudes, which are time-defined.

                      Of course the "strict constructionist" GTDer, who follows the text to the letter and condemns the slightest deviationist tendency, will note that Katherine's revisionist interpretation is like a gateway drug, it can lead to even more grotesque distortions of pure GTD.

                      I am a prime example. First, I distinguished my this-week-next-actions from all the others. (This is the "gateway" stage.) Ecstatic, I took the next logical step: I created daily lists that I work from. (This is the "steroids" stage.) I create my list at the beginning of each day. As new things come up, I put them on a separate list. Each day becomes a game that I play. I win the game if I cross off every item that I put on my list at the beginning of the day. To make the game more interesting, I keep a record of how many days in a row I've won the game. Currently, my streak stands at 19 days.

                      When I first started GTD, I practiced it as written. I immediately recognized how wonderful it was to be so organized and I experienced a profound sense of satisfaction as I felt much more in control. But I was still wasting a lot of time. I looked at my lists each week, but I often made no progress on many of the items on those lists for months and even years.

                      A good thing about GTD is that you can decide to take the day off because you know exactly what work is outstanding and when it's due. But the downside is that GTD made it too easy for me to take it too easy on too many days. And when I went home at the end of the day I didn't feel very good when I noted how little I had accomplished.

                      Now, I get a feeling of great satisfaction knowing that each day for the last 19 I accomplished at least everything that I set out to do at the beginning of that day.

                      Oddly enough, I still view myself as doing GTD. I have a trusted system. I track my Projects and NAs in it. I do my reviews Weekly. I have contexts, ticklers, an in-box that I process, and I ask myself "What is the desired outcome?" and "What is the Next Action?" I avoid keeping stuff in my head. But it's not GTD out of the box; it's GTD on steroids.

                      If the traditional definition of NA is working for you, by all means stick with it. But if you are like many of us who felt overwhelmed by the shear volume of NAs we were carrying in our lists, you might consider some tweaks.

                      [Editorial note: I am not, have not, and have no intention of ever using steroids for anything other than approved medical reasons. This post was in no way intended to promote the recreational use of steroids or any other drug.]

                      moises

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by moises View Post
                        You are right. David Allen created the Next Action concept. His is the canonical definition and your explanation accords with it.

                        Katherine's unorthodox approach is, nonetheless, worthy of consideration. A user of this forum stated a few years ago that David Allen Co. coaches were telling that user to construct her NA list precisely as Katherine described.
                        Ummm... I'm not actually convinced that my approach is unorthodox. "Defer it" is an option in the original GTD workflow diagram, after all. See Chapter 6 for discussion and examples.

                        If I'm going to defer action on a project for six months, then IMO keeping it on my Next Action list simply gums up the works. If I'm going to do it tomorrow, then obviously my NA list is where it belongs. But for time intervals in between, it seems to me that there's room for a great deal of individual discretion. I don't see how using that discretion deviates from "canonical" GTD. (Not that I actually care whether a system is canonical GTD, as long as it works.)

                        Katherine

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I think one missing link in the "do it next week" equation is whether or not this is "I don't think I'll have time to do this until next week" or "I have decided that the optimal time to do this is not this week but next." For me, and I'd imagine many others, that's the distinction between NA list (former) or tickler file/someday-maybe, etc. (latter) If I've deferred something simply because I don't think I'll get to it this week, then it's not on my NA list when the perfect opportunity rolls around for me to get it done NOW instead of later.

                          But I also think that the original poster was worried about the never-ending list, and well--welcome to GTD. As Katherine pointed out, if your lists are empty, you're probably dead.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by kewms View Post
                            Actions that you don't plan to do until next week are not Next Actions anyway. Next Actions are things that you plan to do as soon as possible. Future actions go in your tickler, Someday/Maybe list, or calendar, as appropriate.
                            The workflow diagram shows that the Someday/Maybe list is for items that are not actionable. If there is an action, the choices are Do It, Delegate It, or Defer It. The deferred items go either on the Calendar if date-specific, or on a Next Action list "to do as soon as I can" if there is no specific date.

                            The Next Action list is not time-specified in orthodox GTD "to do in the current weekly planning cycle."

                            Chapter 7 goes into the Someday/Maybe list in detail. It describes the items on this list as "on hold" (167).

                            I think that defining NAs as things to be done in the next planning cycle is great. But I can't find anything in the book that supports such a definition.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by moises View Post
                              Chapter 7 goes into the Someday/Maybe list in detail. It describes the items on this list as "on hold" (167).
                              An item that you've decided not to address for a given period of time would be on hold for that period, would it not?

                              Katherine

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