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RFC: Revised definition of "next" action. Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
The short version:

The definition of "next" ought to be: "The first available task in each project within the set of currently selected contexts."

What do you think?


The longer version:

"Next actions" don't work quite the way I expect:

They appear to be considered "next" by project, not by context. This results in some undesirable behavior.

Here's the scenario:

1) Create a parallel project P.
2) Create tasks A, B, and C in P.
3) Create a sequential project S.
4) Create tasks D, E, and F in S.
5) Assign tasks A, D, and E to context Foo.
6) Assign the other tasks to context Bar.

Now let's look in context view:

7) Select both Foo and Bar. The current system works fine here: A, B, and C are available, but only A is considered "Next" from its project. Similarly, only D is available, and thus "Next" in its project.

8) However, let's select just context Bar. This is where the current definition of "next" breaks down (at least in terms of GTD philosophy): there is no "next" task.

According to my understanding of GTD, "B" ought to be considered "next" when viewing (only) this context.

In other words, the "next" task really should only have any meaning within the currently selected contexts, not within a project. The definition of "next" ought to be: "The first available task in each project within the set of currently selected contexts."

This achieves the goal of "next" actions, which is to limit the field of available actions into something more manageable. The current implementation ties "next" too closely to a project, often causing projects not appear in context view simply because I'm looking at a narrow set of contexts.

I realize I can switch to view "available" tasks, but I find this rather defeats the purpose of "next" tasks.

(Formal feedback sent as well.)
 
I submitted feedback similar to this but I don't think the person who reviewed it understood what I was asking.

We're only "in" one context at a time. Thus, if we're focusing on a certain context (e.g. phone calls), an item in a parallel project should be represented as a next action to move your project along, even if it's fifth item in the list.

I love that the Next filter is more limiting than Available and makes short lists that make me feel good, but it doesn't really have any real meaning for parallel projects or single action lists.

I like pjc's solution for this, but I think that (and the similar option I submitted) might just be another new arbitrary definition for "Next." How about dumping the Available and Next filters since they don't make sense, and have a real Next Actions list that is color coded and sorted by the type of project it represents.

For example sort top down as follows:
Magenta is the top of any non-single-action list; for parallels, we can still distinguish the top item as a nice suggestion of the action order, and everybody wins.
Purple for other parallel actions.
Blue for single actions from single action lists (I know you're thinking about doing this anyway).

Or whatever colors. You Omni people are great at colors.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by djbell View Post
Thus, if we're focusing on a certain context (e.g. phone calls), an item in a parallel project should be represented as a next action to move your project along, even if it's fifth item in the list.
Exactly!

Quote:
I like pjc's solution for this, but I think that (and the similar option I submitted) might just be another new arbitrary definition for "Next."
It is somewhat arbitrary, but "next action" is a term defined in GTD, so there is a reasonable distinction between "Next" and "Available".
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by djbell View Post
We're only "in" one context at a time.
I'm often in several. In my office, I'm "in" these contexts: Office, Computer (with subcontexts Internet, Email, and Offline), Phone, and sometimes several of my Agenda subcontexts. At home, I move between Home and Study, but many of the other contexts are active. When I'm running errands, in the Errands context, I might also be in Phone if I've taken my mobile and list of calls.

I'm not a software engineer, but I imagine that it would be tricky to code a shifting next action given that one can be in multiple contexts (selecting them with command-click if they're not contiguous).

Quote:
I love that the Next filter is more limiting than Available and makes short lists that make me feel good, but it doesn't really have any real meaning for parallel projects or single action lists.
Omni plans to make all actions in a single action list "next"; it just hasn't happened yet.

As for parallel projects, I just wrote in another thread: it's true that all actions are available to be done in any order in a parallel project, and that therefore there's no logical next action. However, you can reorder actions in the project so that the most important/pressing/distasteful/whatever action is indicated as next, as a way to encourage yourself to focus on it and get it out of the way. As Ken Case noted some time ago, within a parallel project there are as many degrees of priority as there are actions, and you can indicate that priority by reordering. I routinely reorder parallel projects so that the most pressing action is at the top and thus identified by the next filter.

This topic has come up before in the forums:
http://forums.omnigroup.com/showpost...5&postcount=21

And, in the context of how to handle single actions (a discussion that contributed to the current idea of a single actions "project"):
http://forums.omnigroup.com/showpost...0&postcount=41

From a strict GTD perspective, I can see the value of distinguishing next from available actions in a parallel project: it keeps you going on your other projects. Let's say you're in context "Phone" (and no other, to keep it simple) and you have two "next" actions in that context. You do them, and you've moved along those two projects. You're still in the context (say, waiting for your oil change to be done), so you switch to "available" view and make any other calls that, while not the next action on any parallel project, can be done and will move that project along.

Otherwise you might find yourself making a few calls that are low down on your list in a parallel project (because the other actions are not in that context), and not getting to the 2 or 3 calls that are at the top of other parallel projects, and therefore the most important things to do to move those projects along.

For me, the current behavior works well.
 
The definition of "next action" should be eqivalent to what "available" actions is defined as now. That's the GTD definition of "next action". This nonsense about purple highlighting is just a distraction from the real principles of the context-based action list (which makes such distinctions as "sequential" and "parallel" meaningless in the actual moment of choosing what action to do "next"). I just change the styling of all my actions so that they all look the same, and I've found that I get more done.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MEP View Post
The definition of "next action" should be equivalent to what "available" actions is defined as now. That's the GTD definition of "next action".
Thanks, that's what I meant.

Great suggestion, I'm definitely going to turn off the colors, since "Next" doesn't mean much to me. Again, I'm not arguing to remove the utility of a filter like the current Next, if people dig that. It's the wrong word, and "Next" needs a revised definition.
 
Chacun a son goût.... In my case, I have 50+ projects, many of which are logically parallel, but each of which has an action that, more than any other, will move it forward. I find the current distinction between next and available actions immensely useful in handling those projects and ensuring that I make progress on all of them, not just some of them. Since OF allows you to reformat next actions so they look the same as available actions, the current implementation, it seems, will serve a wide range of needs.

And I don't agree that the distinction between sequential and parallel projects is moot in terms of next actions. In the David Allen paper-based list implementation of GTD, the distinction may not matter, because the project list and next action list, taken together, cover almost all of the open loops (someday-maybe lists get the rest). Since OF allows us to do basic planning of projects, I often get ahead of those lists. But I'd like to distinguish the planning phase, including specifying actions that go beyond the next action, from the doing phase, when I often want to see *just* the next actions (semantically, not syntactically).

After all, sometimes the next step you need to take to move all your projects forward, holistically, is to change contexts, not see what else you can do in the current context. That's one place where OF's current implementation of next actions can be useful.
 
For the 3rd time, I don't argue against removing the utility of a filter that removes (or colors or whatever) parallel actions which aren't on the top. I'm in brianogilvie's position and use the next filter (while viewing all contexts) for a condensed on-action-per-project view that helps me get my bearings on where I should focus next. Yay.

The title of the topic is "Revised definition of "next" action." What is currently "Available" is truly a list of GTD "Next Actions." The "Next" filter doesn't mean what it says, so it should be called something like "Summary" or "Suggested Actions" or a benign title.

I also think this filter should work off the algorithm pjc proposes, so focused projects would properly represent projects, but understand that's an opinion that's unlikely to be realized in OF 1.0.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by djbell View Post
Thanks, that's what I meant.

Great suggestion, I'm definitely going to turn off the colors, since "Next" doesn't mean much to me. Again, I'm not arguing to remove the utility of a filter like the current Next, if people dig that. It's the wrong word, and "Next" needs a revised definition.
I'm not trying to argue that we remove the filters either (look hard enough in the forums and you'll find me justifying the utility of the feature and discussing how I used to use it). I just think that by using an incorrect definition of the term "next action" in OF (and really every other GTD app out there), we're just muddying the waters of a system that's already hard enough to get used to.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by djbell View Post
The "Next" filter doesn't mean what it says, so it should be called something like "Summary" or "Suggested Actions" or a benign title.
That's an excellent point. How about renaming it "Top", since it's only showing the top actions in a project? "Next" would use the algorithm I suggested (which mirrors GTD's use of "Next" more closely). Thus:

Top < Next < Available < Remaining

I also agree that the color coding isn't helping in this regard -- good idea, MEP, about changing my prefs!
 
 


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