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Most important next action reminders Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
In GTD, David Allen talks about "Next Action" lists for action reminders. I understand the concept of next actions, but what I am curious about is how people are using OF in conjunction with the weekly review to hone in on things that might have the most payoff in getting done. I.e., I may have hundreds of next actions I could do, but after the weekly review, I will spot a number of things that are most important for me to focus on in the upcoming week.

I'm pretty certain any 'next action' lists in OF should be virtual, and flagging seems to be the one thing that stands out, but I wanted to make sure I'm not missing any other techniques or software features. Thanks.

Bob
 
This is one of the important aspects of GTD that catches a lot of people out the first (few) time(s) they try it. The purpose of the weekly review is really more to audit than to plan. You're looking back at what you have and haven't gotten done and identifying why some things happened and others didn't. Then, you change your system as necessary to address any issues and move on.

It's not really about prioritizing what to focus on in the next week. That's not to say you can't do that to some extent, but you really should avoid making too many decisions about priority in advance. If you are prioritizing your actions, try doing it in the morning as part of a daily review where you decide what you want to get done today rather than trying to plan out the whole week (if I'm in a real rut for whatever reason, I'll choose 3 things in the morning that must get done today and another 3-5 things that I'd like to get done if I can).

The goal is to achieve that "mind like water" state where you're simply reacting to the circumstances of life as they arise. You don't over plan -- instead you adapt to the current situation, and try to make your decisions about priority in the moment rather than in advance.

So, the purpose of a next action list is not to tell you what you should do right now, but to tell you all of the various things you could do right now. Due to certain terms being very overused in GTD apps lately, the concept of next action has gotten a little confused. Some people tend to think that the actions that are highlighting purple as they complete actions in sequence are their "next actions" and that's just not right. Every single action on your action list that is currently active (so anything that is either the next step in a process, a parallel action or whose start date has passed) is a next action.

The next action list tells me everything that I could be doing right now, and it is my responsiblity to decide right now which of those actions takes precedence. Categorizing by context helps narrow down that list considerably since I'm likely only in one to three contexts at any one time so that's the first step in making that decision. The second step... well you have the book, read the chapter. Basically, I'm deciding what I have the time and energy to do in the current context and I'm deciding what is important right now.

I can't make that decision in my weekly review because try as I may, I can't predict how much energy and time I'm going to have Wednesday afternoon and I might not even be able to predict what context I'll be in. So I have to make decisions about priority right before the moment of task execution. It's a hard mental shift to make at first, but once you do it is incredibly liberating and it wasn't until after I started to do this myself that I understood why the next action list is considered by many to be the core concept of GTD.

To put it another way, Steven Pressfield writes in The War of Art that the professional has to learn how to distinguish what is urgent and what is important, and then they do what is important first. Priorities, end dates, flags; they're all just ways of making certain things urgent. What you need to do is figure out what is important.

Philosophizing aside, if you want to prioritize actions in OF, just drag them to the top of the list or use the "flag" feature to indicate the things you need to get done today. You really don't need a lot of tools for assigning priority if you're using the GTD framework.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MEP
The goal is to achieve that "mind like water" state where you're simply reacting to the circumstances of life as they arise. You don't over plan -- instead you adapt to the current situation, and try to make your decisions about priority in the moment rather than in advance.
The problem with that approach, though, is that you can arrive at the end of a month--or a year--or a lifetime--and find that you have accomplished what others wanted you to do but not what you thought was most important. Those of us whose work involves a fair amount of autonomy and goal setting need reviews to do more than just audit what has been done. We should ask ourselves: Is this worth doing, and what is the opportunity cost? Allen's GTD model includes the higher-level reviews, since it was developed for working with the corporate hierarchy from middle managers on up, but most discussions and implementations tend to neglect the higher levels, probably because they are more difficult to operationalize.
 
Operationalize - is that a word? What does that mean?
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by brianogilvie
The problem with that approach, though, is that you can arrive at the end of a month--or a year--or a lifetime--and find that you have accomplished what others wanted you to do but not what you thought was most important.
You're completely missing my point. If you do what is urgent, then what you describe is what would happen. If you do what is important, then it won't.

My personal life-goal priorities don't change moment to moment, so I'm not afflicted with this problem. I decide, right now, what is important and do it. What is important is what I decide, not what others decide for me.

I review my overall goals quite frequently (what David Allen would call the high-altitude or 50,000 ft. view), but I use this to determine what my goals are so that I can use that knowledge to inform my day to day decisions about what is important. I don't decide today what specific action will be the highest priority next Tuesday because doing so only locks me into a course of action that may not actually serve my goals in the moment. Understanding your goals, and knowing what they are is important, but you use that guide you in the moment so that when you decide today what to do you make the decision that ultimately leads you to where you want to go.

Last edited by MEP; 2007-07-15 at 04:31 PM..
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by dhm2006
Operationalize - is that a word? What does that mean?
operationalize
verb [ trans. ]
1 put into operation or use.
2 Philosophy express or define (something) in terms of the operations used to determine or prove it.
 
Thanks MEP. I really enjoyed your post.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by dhm2006
Operationalize - is that a word? What does that mean?
No it's not. Actually it's 'operationalise'.

Just kidding. Don't want to start a US vs UK (actually, AUS in my case) spelling flame war ;-)
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MEP
You're completely missing my point. If you do what is urgent, then what you describe is what would happen. If you do what is important, then it won't.
Thanks for your clarification. I was reacting to your remark about "that 'mind like water' state where you're simply reacting to the circumstances of life as they arise." As a scholar I have a problem with the whole "mind like water" metaphor because water doesn't do anything of its own accord; it seeks the lowest point it can reach. I should have thought more about your post as a whole; last night I seemed to have "mind like molasses."
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by dhm2006
Operationalize - is that a word? What does that mean?
Butterfly gave the definition while I was asleep. In the circles I move in, the word is used to refer to turning an idea, concept, or goal into a set of procedures that can be used to implement or measure it. OmniFocus, for instance, has the goal of keeping track of the projects you're working on and the actions you need to do for them. The development team operationalizes this goal by developing specific procedures for creating actions, assigning them to projects, reorganizing them, changing how the data are represented, etc. One could also see David Allen's GTD as a different way of operationalizing, via lists on paper or a PDA, the same goal.

"Operationalize" is apparently also used in the business world as a fancy synonym for "do," but that's not what I had in mind.
 
 


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