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  • set up all the next actions at once, or add them as you go

    So I am a new GTD follower and so far I am loving the system. My question is this: Whenever I have a Project such as "clean desk drawers" do you guys sit down and list out all of the next actions that are going to be required to do this, or do you list the next action, do it, then list another next action for that project, do it, etc.. So if to clean out this desk drawer my next action would be get 2 big trash bags. Would you from the start list
    • go get 2 trash bags
    • clean 1st drawer
    • clean 2nd drawer
    • clean 3rd drawer
    • throw away trash bag
    or do you just write down "go get 2 trashbags" and then do that, come back and then write down "clean 1st drawer" and so on?

    What works for you/aligns with GTD the best?

    thanks,
    Joe

  • #2
    Either can work fine.

    The danger in listing them all out beforehand is that it's easy to just merrily skip along through the actions without giving them any further thought. Sometimes it's very helpful to get the garbage bags, stop for a moment, and think about what the best thing to do next might be. It might be cleaning the first drawer, but maybe in the process you noticed your recycling bin and decided that you'd rather recycle some of the paper in the drawers instead, but then maybe you should run them through a shredder first, so hey I guess it's time to buy a paper shredder.

    If you see what I mean.

    Comment


    • #3
      Joe,

      I am going to be pedantic here, but it's for a good reason.

      There is an important difference between an action and a next action.

      For the sake of argument, let's assume that you cannot clean any of the drawers until you first get some trash bags. In that case, there is only one next action: go get 2 trash bags. Only this would go on your next action list. The point of a NA list is to have at hand all the things you can do right now (for a given context).

      The other items could go into a project plan. For complex projects, it is helpful to review the project plans periodically to assess your progress.

      So, you have a Next Action list. This only includes true next actions. Next actions are contrasted with dependent action. An example of a dependent action is "throw away trash bag." That action is dependent upon your first putting trash into it.

      You also have a Project Plan. This plan lists all the actions that you feel you need to list.

      In the real world, most of us do not need a project plan for cleaning our desk. But we still recognize that it is a project. I actually have "Purge cabinets" as a project at work. I do not have a plan for it. But I do have a next action for it: "purge 2nd drawer of leftmost cabinet." As soon as I complete that NA, I will cross it off and add a new NA: "purge 3rd drawer of leftmost cabinet."

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Roger View Post
        Either can work fine.
        Or a mix of both:
        The danger in listing them all out beforehand is that it's easy to just merrily skip along through the actions without giving them any further thought. Sometimes it's very helpful to get the garbage bags, stop for a moment, and think about what the best thing to do next might be.
        But you have to have some kind of a list first, to choose from.
        It might be cleaning the first drawer, but maybe in the process you noticed your recycling bin and decided that you'd rather recycle some of the paper in the drawers instead, but then maybe you should run them through a shredder first, so hey I guess it's time to buy a paper shredder.
        Yes: the list evolves and becomes more detailed. But before you go buy that shredder, make sure to phone K. first, to ask if he still wants his old pencil sharpener back: He lives on the way to the department store, after all!

        No, something as mundane as cleaning the desk drawers won't be a project for me, but an action - until I notice that I'm out of trash bags: Those go on my shopping list for the supermarket - otherwise the planning would take longer than the cleaning ("make room on desktop for pencil sharpener" - "Grab pencil sharpener with left hand" - ....you get the idea )

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by moises View Post
          I do not have a plan for it. But I do have a next action for it: "purge 2nd drawer of leftmost cabinet." As soon as I complete that NA, I will cross it off and add a new NA: "purge 3rd drawer of leftmost cabinet."
          While we're being pedantic about things, drawer purgings are probably not dependent on each other. "Purge top drawer" "purge middle drawer" and "purge bottom drawer" are all fine to have on the NA list at the same time.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Jochen View Post
            No, something as mundane as cleaning the desk drawers won't be a project for me, but an action [...] otherwise the planning would take longer than the cleaning
            I used to feel this way too, but I'm starting to come around to the opinion that even things as small and straightforward as cleaning out a desk can benefit from even a few minutes of initial planning. When I've tried it, I've very rarely felt at the end that it was a waste of time.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Roger View Post
              I used to feel this way too, but I'm starting to come around to the opinion that even things as small and straightforward as cleaning out a desk can benefit from even a few minutes of initial planning. When I've tried it, I've very rarely felt at the end that it was a waste of time.
              I guess it very much depends on how many drawers there are, what's in the desk, what should be in there but isn't, etc. - and how often you purge the drawers.

              Comment


              • #8
                Keep it simple

                Originally posted by jmburgess View Post
                So I am a new GTD follower and so far I am loving the system. My question is this: Whenever I have a Project such as "clean desk drawers" do you guys sit down and list out all of the next actions that are going to be required to do this, or do you list the next action, do it, then list another next action for that project, do it, etc.. So if to clean out this desk drawer my next action would be get 2 big trash bags. Would you from the start list
                • go get 2 trash bags
                • clean 1st drawer
                • clean 2nd drawer
                • clean 3rd drawer
                • throw away trash bag
                or do you just write down "go get 2 trashbags" and then do that, come back and then write down "clean 1st drawer" and so on?

                What works for you/aligns with GTD the best?

                thanks,
                Joe
                Hi Joe,

                Generally, I try to keep my lists simple. The next-actions that might go on mine would be "@errands to get supplies" and then a "project-let" that would read: "Complete clean out desk drawers." That would be it.

                I tend to mix next-actions like "@errands..." and small-enough projects like this sort of thing in my next-actions list rather than split them out. Larger projects "Complete prep for website launch" would go on the projects lists with only true next-actions on the runway. Make sense?

                Best wishes,
                Tara
                Last edited by Tara; 07-25-2009, 09:36 AM.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Joe,

                  if you start cleaning your drawers and are not interrupted until you are finished, you do not need to put any actions on your lists.
                  If you are halfway through your second drawer and you need to stop for whatever reason, you would put on your list: clean 2nd drawer. So next time you want to work on this, you know where you left off last time.
                  The NA is just a reminder/bookmark.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    What's been missed in the comments so far is that the first thing you "should" do with a new project is not think "what are the actions I'll need" but "What is the successful outcome"

                    Purging probably isn't the outcome you want unless you want to give away or sell or burn the drawers

                    Your project outcome might be "I tidy, clean and purge my drawers until they are neat and tidy and configured how I want them to be for my GTD implementation"

                    Getting this in your head (even for something like this) is a useful exercise. Because it will affect all those decisions you'll make on the fly while DOing it.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Thanks everyone! So first of all the example of cleaning out draws was just an example off of the top of my head, so don't think this question/topic is just about cleaning drawers. I am trying both ways to see which gives me more of the clear mind feel. My issue is that sometimes I am walking around and then I think that oh after I buy the trash bags i need to buy a drawer organizer. So I find that it helps me to write that down as an action even though it is not technically a next action. It gets it off my head and on paper which is excellent.

                      To keep thing separate, I mark things that are Next Actions with a @next so that I can filter for @next and find all next actions. Does that all sort of make sense as a system?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        In the example you just gave, both the purchases are next actions. Depends where you are shopping as to which you do first

                        You can have more than one next action - what usually happens is that you'd have next actions in several contexts. You'll act on whichever is appropriate at the right time and context.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by jmburgess View Post
                          oh after I buy the trash bags i need to buy a drawer organizer. So I find that it helps me to write that down as an action even though it is not technically a next action. It gets it off my head and on paper which is excellent.
                          Sure! Makes perfect sense!

                          But you probaly won't be able to list everything in advance; let me stick with you drawer example: Oops, one of the drawers is broken - Suddenly you've got a new project
                          Repair (or even replace?) desk! ...a new List of actions, of which one or more are "next"

                          So even a long list of actions for a project is not complete: Be prepared to add to it on the fly.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by jmburgess View Post
                            then I think that oh after I buy the trash bags i need to buy a drawer organizer. So I find that it helps me to write that down as an action even though it is not technically a next action. It gets it off my head and on paper which is excellent.
                            It's always the right time to add new items to the Inbox.


                            Cheers,
                            Roger

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              So...

                              So...

                              Have you cleaned out those desk drawers yet?

                              Comment

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