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Formats for Next Actions List

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  • Formats for Next Actions List

    Hello everyone,

    I've finally settled on a nice paper-based system (myndology) but have not found a good way to organize my next actions according to context.

    for those who are (or did) organizing by paper, could you tell me what you do?

    Currently, I have two tabs, personal and work, with a first page that has the next actions, the second page has an active project list and the rest are project pages with specific notes.

    I have the next action list organized like this:

    Action------------Project-------------Context
    Read docs-----------Name of Proj--------in person
    But it's not conducive to easily seeing what i need to do next.

    Any ideas?

  • #2
    I use one page (or more if needed) per context.

    Katherine

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    • #3
      re: Formats for Next Actions List

      This is a topic that really deserves attention. I believe the format of a next action list can either help or hinder productivity. Some of the things I've learned:

      (1) List format vs. One-At-A-Time
      The list format is convenient in how few pages you need and how quickly you can scan it for what to do next. But the list format also "encourages" non-action because any time the mind sees two things it tends to go into comparing-mode and you start to prioritize and organize rather than do tasks. It requires extra discipline to stay focused on "doing" instead of "choosing" or "deliberating" about which next action to do next. Think of how the one-at-a-time principle works for emptying your inbox and consider how applying that principle throughout your workflow might help. Having next actions on individual cards (one action per card) can help with this but has the disadvantage of how "thick" that stack would be to carry with you everywhere. Since most of my system is digital, this is less of a problem for me.

      (2) Including the Project name (or Outcome) the Next Action is Connected With
      One thing I noticed early on was just how quickly my next actions started cluttering with actions that made no sense without knowing what they were connected to. So, for example, "@ Online: Order John's new book" or "@ Library: Check these back issues and see if you find anything". Without knowing the name of the book, the full author name, or what the back issues are, the next action isn't defined accurately enough for me to do something. Further, *Why* should I order the book? Knowing that it is connected with an important project might prioritize my doing that action first rather than skipping it until some later time. So for many of my next actions I have a format of:

      @ Location: Next action to do | Project-Name of project

      @ Location: Next action to do | Successful Outcome

      (3) Marking Next Actions of Special Significance
      With a long list of actions, it's difficult to "find" which actions you should do first without having to rescan the list many times. One thing I've found that helps (and this is not part of the GTD system) is to put a mark at the front of any action that is due within the next couple of weeks or is connected with the top three projects I'm focusing on for that week. So next actions get a ">" mark added to the front to help them stand out. I can then scan these first very quickly to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

      But there is lots more to discuss here. Colors, font size, spacing, etc. Surely there are formats for next action lists that are more effective. Is there anyone who has experimented with lots of different ways of displaying lists and information who could give us further insight here? What works best?

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      • #4
        Good topic!

        I have one page per context. For computer-based lists, one text file per context.

        If I have so many NAs that I have trouble reading through them all, I know I'm over-committed and delegate or push some work to Someday/Maybe.

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        • #5
          mark to group in the context

          ...me too! One page for context.

          Then I started to mark each NA with this system:

          http://www.davidco.com/forum/showpos...93&postcount=9

          and furthermore I add a prefix to the NA....

          so for example in @COMPUTER I introduced as first word Mail to identify quickly all the emails. In @WAITING FOR I add the initial of the person

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          • #6
            I have one page for each context too.

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            • #7
              1 page per!

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              • #8
                Originally posted by saroccer View Post
                have not found a good way to organize my next actions according to context
                In my paper trial I had one page per context.

                Now that I use LifeBalance I still occasionally print my NA lists out ad I print each context (place in LB) on it' s own set of paper.

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                • #9
                  Thanks everyone! I've found that it really hinders my actual work when the next actions are not easily recognizable. I don't know why.

                  I'm playing around with it now. For work, since there are less contexts (in person/computer/email), I've kept it the old way

                  For personal, I've made a grid with 4 sections. Each section is labeled (@ email/online; @in person/home; call; @laptop) and @errands on the backpage.

                  I might go to different pages if I see that the grid is not working. I've also started to only use a pencil, so I can erase 'done' actions. These decreases the 'clutter' for me. I think, when the paper gets too messy, I'll move it to the'inbox' section of this NB...

                  Oh, and I am not putting the 'project name' by the action in the personal page unless I think it's important. Then it goes in parantheses. This is an experiment...
                  Last edited by saroccer; 03-13-2009, 10:01 AM.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by saroccer View Post
                    Thanks everyone! I've found that it really hinders my actual work when the next actions are not easily recognizable. I don't know why.
                    ... energy and time consuming to decide where to go!

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                    • #11
                      I limit it to one context per page too.

                      I credit this to a boss who influenced me before I heard about GTD. He insisted that tasks be limited to 1 week. He said if a task lasts longer than a week, it's very likely 2 or more tasks that need to be broken down.

                      Similarly, if I write content for a given context that overflows 1 page, it's time to scale back. Either I need to be more concise, or I need to cut out several actions for that week. If I don't do this trimming up front, it'll hit me in the next Weekly Review.

                      We worked in the software industry which is notorious for its delays and poor schedules. Our department was actually one of the few which delivered on time and didn't cut corners. It's so easy to overbook nowadays, and the limit to 1 page per context has helped me so much.

                      It's also told me that it's okay to leave some things for tomorrow. You don't have to live your life in one day (or week.)

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by saroccer View Post
                        Thanks everyone! I've found that it really hinders my actual work when the next actions are not easily recognizable. I don't know why.
                        Because then you have to engage your brain to start ferreting out where the action is.

                        For personal, I've made a grid with 4 sections. Each section is labeled (@ email/online; @in person/home; call; @laptop) and @errands on the backpage.

                        I might go to different pages if I see that the grid is not working. I've also started to only use a pencil, so I can erase 'done' actions. These decreases the 'clutter' for me. I think, when the paper gets too messy, I'll move it to the'inbox' section of this NB...
                        You might want to try the Hipster PDA. It's small, simple, doesn't require any drawing up, and since you can have one card per context, or even one card per NA, it doesn't get too messy. And folks often suggest using a highlighter pen to mark completed NAs, which makes it less messy still.

                        I used one for quite a while, and found it fairly good. Certainly it worked better than trying to keep a sheet of paper neatly in my bag.

                        Oh, and I am not putting the 'project name' by the action in the personal page unless I think it's important. Then it goes in parantheses. This is an experiment...
                        Only put the project name alongside if it will make a difference. Otherwise, simpler is better.

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                        • #13
                          Yup, everyone's points are true - I'm finding that I'm much more focused and less anxious with the actions separated. Perhaps because I can decide that I want to do a 'computer' task rather than an 'in person' task rather than go through everything on the list and decide on each whether I want to do it or not.

                          I think I will separate the tasks for work also.

                          I have tried the hipster pda but found it to be too small for my actual system. I might use it as a capture tool though, that is not as handy and easy as it used to be.

                          Thanks to everyone for the help!

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                          • #14
                            Update:

                            Ended up with 1 page per context...much easier...Over the week, the grids were harder to maintain.

                            Now if I could just stop procrastinating...I think the horizons' focus will help with that...

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                            • #15
                              If I may jump in and make a suggestion:

                              Until recently I used use one post-it per next action rather than one page per NA. It was very convenient and almost everything I need to see was posted on one or 2 pages at the most (that is one or 2 pages per context of course).

                              You could say that this is a hybrid model between using a page per NA and listing NA on a long list, since you the best of both approaches (having everything in one view and also maintain the one-idea per page model, except with post-its instead of actual pages. I used the standard sized post-its and the small ones and they worked just fine. Another good thing about using post-its is that their highly portable so you could, for example, take any one NA off one agneda and on onto another agenda or inbasket quite easily.

                              The only reason I'm trying out another model is for aesthetic purposes since carrying an agenda full of yellow post-its isn’t the most appealing thing you can look it

                              I would suggest that David Allen develop along with 3m a special edition GTD post-its
                              Last edited by mak_09; 03-24-2009, 06:25 AM.

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