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®.
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.
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.