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How Large should Next Actions Be?

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  • How Large should Next Actions Be?

    I've seen Next Actions discussed in list two ways:
    1. small, 2 minute tasks;
    2. larger tasks.
    Do I HAVE to split up every task into microtasks? If I just had notes somewhere on what the task was (i.e., in the body of the task in outlook) with work instructions, would that be okay?

  • #2
    You need only split a task into as small a chunk as you need to, to make sure that you have a clear idea of what to do.

    As long as the next action is clear, specific and doable, you should have no problem.

    For example, "buy a car" is too vague as a next action, but, look at ads in newspaper would be OK for me, even though it skips steps like 1) pick up the newspaper off the table, 2) find the index, 3) look up what page the ads start on, etc.

    Some guidelines I use:

    1- Will I be able to do the NA on the list without any decision-making first?
    2- Is the NA an action (with a verb)?
    3- If a NA will take less than two minutes, do it rather than enter into a next action list.
    4- Use specific language ("send email to Joe" rather than "contact Joe")



    • #3
      Your strategy is an excellent one. If you have to take down the server, your next action could be "take down the server." Then your Outlook notes (which you better print out before you take the server down ) have the microtasks:
      1. tell everyone to shut down their workstations.
      2. Shut down backup Job Manager (hit ctrl-esc if not in the "current screens" screen).
      3., 4., .... etc.

      You do the action of taking the server down by following your printed instructions.

      If you can take the server down with your eyes closed because you've done it a hundred times already, you don't need to attach the instructions in your Outlook note. You just have an NA of "take down the server" and do it.

      A similar thread discussed this question a couple of months ago. GTD is not a formula; it requires judgement. What distinguishes a single action from a series of actions cannot be determined formulaically. And even if actions could be distinguished uncontroversially from subactions, the description of those actions requires judgement. I could describe the same action as, "flex my right index finger," and, "shoot my boss."