Getting Things Done is all about Next Actions - but how do you control which Next Actions should you focus on at any given time? Finding the right answer and practice for you to this question will really improve how your GTD practice.
First off, here's how David Allen defines what a Next Action is:
"The "next action" is the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality towards completion."
For each project you have, and for each task not part of a project, there is exactly one Next Action to take at any given time. Not 10 or 5 or 3: one. It is whatever specific one action will move the project or task forward. Everything else in that project or task comes after you complete that one, specific, Next Action.
So, instead of fretting over all the things in all the projects you have, focus only on the handful of Next Actions you need to take:
- Focus only on the specific Next Actions which you can take.
- Make sure each Next Action description includes the Desired Outcome. Vague does not work.
- Tag Next Actions by context, difficulty and deadline for easy grouping to facilitate execution.
- Enlarge or reduce your Next Action focus as your level of effectiveness waxes and wanes during the course of a day, week or month.
For me, I use my product MasterList Professional (MLP) to tightly control my focus on Next Actions. I have my Current List of Next Actions drawn from all Projects and that’s my focus until and unless everything on that list is acted on, or circumstances change. Each Task has a estimated Time Needed, and I tag tasks contextually as necessary. Tasks are described in terms of Desired Outcome, not work to be performed.
Using MLP, I can see exactly how much time is needed for every task, project or my Current List at any given time, and I can feed myself Next Actions during the course of the day from the “What’s Next?” System Tray Menu as I need them.
For you, if you’re not using MLP or a comparable product or web site, do you have a single marshalling point for Next Actions? It can be as simple as a paper list. Whatever works for you works.
Mastering the trick to controlling your focus while executing to just the ring of Next Actions is a trick well worth learning.