In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen introduces us to the concept of the Next Action: the very next thing we must physically do to get the project done: “the “next action” is the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion“.
What Are Next Actions Good For?
In my experience, I find that defining next actions can get me over the hump of something I’ve been putting off. For instance, instead of “Finish quilt”, I need to think about what I need. I need to buy the supplies to finish the quilt. Therefore, I must buy them. Likewise “write novel” has been stalled on my list for a couple weeks. Looking at the next action, I see that I need to finish the re-plotting of the book. And that involves re-plotting three sub-plots. Next action? Brainstorm plot #1.
Next actions, then, are good for getting you moving and defining why you are procrastinating on something.
Why Are Next Actions A Hindrance?
If we apply the level of granularity of next actions to everything we do, we soon end up mired in details. If your project is “Do Weekly Grocery Shopping” your next action list would look like:
- Make list of needed groceries
- Drive to grocery store
- Shop for groceries
- Drive home
- Bring groceries into the kitchen
- Put groceries away
- Put grocery bags away
It’s what it breaks down to (and I could go more granular, as well). But the truth of the matter is, who would ever go grocery shopping and leave the food in the car because the next action is not on “the list”?
The problem I am finding with defining next actions is that I don’t necessarily need to define them all. Yes, I know that I need to wrap a birthday present after I buy it, but if I rely on my project list and next actions to define this for me, the action may come too late.
As I have experimented with AutoFocus (see Why I Went Back To Basic Autofocus and Mark Forster’s New System Is Now Public), I have found that I no longer desire to write out the steps in a project, unless it is something I feel I might forget. I find I am only writing out next actions when I need to get past a stopping block in the progress of the project, or as a sort of “bookmark” for where I need to pick up again. And I find that I am getting more done by not having to define what needs to be done next.
Photo by Dr. Hemmert