Here’s a great Q&A between David and a new GTD’er. To appreciate David’s response, it helps to understand the GTD definitions for projects and next actions:
Projects = Your outcomes that require more than one action step.
Next Actions = Your next physical, visible action steps. Some are project-related, some are not.
If a project requires, by your definition, at least two steps, I am not clear about how many of the needed steps to put into my action list. For example, say I have a project with 20 steps. I may be able to do the step 1, but if I had also put down 2 or 3 steps of that project, I might have done more on the project. Presently I have about 57 projects, but some are monster projects I’ll be working on for months. Others I can list two steps and it’s done very quickly. A few projects are so trivial–but important enough to be listed–that some days I don’t do the one item I listed as the next step for that project. I could put it into the “Someday” list, but I know I’ll do it sooner than that, so it stays around not being done. I’d rather do step 2 and then 3 and then 4 of a more important project (I might be on a roll!) than complete one whole project that is easier to do but less important. So I’m a bit unclear about how much of one project to put in my action list. I find myself doing the “Weekly Review” every day, so I can add more steps from more important projects. Could you share any thoughts about how to solve this concern?
David Allen’s reply:
The key to your action lists is that you do not have to re-think what you can and cannot do at the moment, as you look at them. If you put sequential steps there, it dulls the attraction of engaging with the list to begin with.
If there’s a good chance that a project can be finished in one sitting, in one fell swoop, then probably best to label it simply a next action and put it on your action list.
The weekly review, thoroughly done, once a week, should be sufficient to prevent having to think at that level much more often.
Nothing wrong with getting on a roll with a project, doing action steps as they show up; just make sure you’re taking some sort of note that you can throw in your in-basket if you don’t finish, which will serve as a bookmark to determine the next action before too long.