The GTD Approach to Linking Next Actions and Projects

One of the most common questions about implementing GTD is how to link projects and next actions. The recommendation in Getting Things Done is that you park your next actions on context-based lists — not as separate lists under each of your projects. Why does David Allen recommend that and what will you gain?

Sorting Next Actions by Context

Sorting next actions by context, not by project, can initially seem awkward. Some people are used to having multiple files, piles, notepads, documents, and spreadsheets related to a project, with next actions for the project buried amongst all of that information. Next Actions lists don’t replace project plans—we would just call that data “project support.” In our experience, it rarely works to have current next actions stored with project support for day-to-day action management.

Your list management software may have a way to link projects and next actions and display them so you can see the action(s) associated with each project. If not, you can use a keyword in the project name and the next actions to achieve that. And the best way to put your mind at ease about projects and their next actions is to consistently do a GTD Weekly Review®.

The Challenge

Think of the last time you had 20 minutes free and decided to work on a key project. How easy was it to dig through your project support to find the immediate next actions based on the tools, people, and places available to you at the moment? You probably chose to avoid it and do something else, especially if you knew there was still thinking to do on next actions in the project materials.

The Benefit

When your next actions are already defined and sorted by context, you can move more quickly, more easily, and more in sync with how you are naturally choosing what to do first—by context. That way project support is the parking lot for future actions that are dependent on something else happening first.

For more support on managing projects, check out the Anatomy of Projects webinar on GTD Connect.


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  1. This has never made sense to me in GTD. I can do everything “At Computer”, my entire job and business is on the computer. So I go to my Projects list, and its all in there. I can do ANYTHING, all the time. How does context apply anymore when its all on the computer? I spend most of my time sorting through giant lists of next actions so I have everything captured and processed, but never enough time to do it all. Seems all very silly and the more into GTD I get the less of my most important projects get completed. I want to bring this into my work team but if i can’t get my head wrapped around it after 2 years trying i don’t see the point.

    1. Hi Wil, if you look in our forum you’ll find lots of discussion about other context lists that subdivide At Computer. We encourage people to get creative about contexts so that they don’t end up with one list, such as At Computer that seems dauntingly long.

      Also, in March of this year David Allen did a webinar for GTD Connect about contexts in GTD. There was discussion of what has and has not changed with technology, mobility, and hybrid work environments. You can email [email protected] if you’d like to set up a free trial.

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