Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
The ubiquitous Next Action. The granular task on which Getting Things Done is based.
When I first read Getting Things Done, I was fascinated by the concept of Next Actions. After all, figuring out what the very next physical action to take on a project was concrete and easy.
Next Action As Procrastination Buster
The whole concept of the next action seemed to inspire action. David Allen seemed to say that if we could just figure out what the next action of a project was, we would jump up and be willing to do it.
And in fact, it sometimes is. If I am resisting moving forward on a project, it could very well be that I am not looking at the correct thing to do.
Next Actions When I Really Don’t Want To Do It
But it doesn’t always work that way. There are projects where I am not holding back because I don’t really understand what needs to be done next, but simply because there are things that are holding me back.
For instance, I took almost six months to get my will witnessed and signed. Not because I didn’t have the next action, which was to walk to the bank in the building where I work and ask for the notary. Not because I didn’t have the papers with me. No, signing that will scared the bleepers out of me, simply because it is staring mortality in the face. No amount of next actions could help get me moving on that.
Next Actions As Procrastination Tool
There are times when Next Actions have become a procrastination tool, as well.
Sometimes figuring out the next action and writing it down actually took way longer than to do the actual next action. Here’s an example:
Project: Set up sitter for anniversary dinner.
- Look up Sue’s phone number
- Call Sue for sitter’s phone number
- Write down sitter’s phone number in phone book
- Call sitter with possible dates.
- Write date down on calendar
So there are the next action. With my phone book in hand, it is actually more work to do the first three steps by writing down the next actions than to just do them as I am on the phone.
However, if I stop after the first next action, and congratulate myself on having made progress, I am still no closer to getting the sitter.
Next Actions As Means To Stall A Project
Unless you are very diligent of noting down the Next Action after every single action you perform, you are at risk for losing track of the project until your next review. This is particularly true if your next Next Action could be different depending on the outcome.
From my example above, let’s say that after step #4, I find out that the sitter isn’t available. I have to go back to step #1, looking for a referral.
If I am not diligent about noting to call Sue again, I may lose track of where I am on the process.
This is amplified when I am using software to track my Next Actions. If the software feeds me my Next Action based on what I have set up, it will not show anything, even if the project is not complete. It is very easy just to check the little box and not consider that I need to think about what I am going to do next.
I really used to like Next Actions, but I am beginning to see that they are actually slowing me down. What do you think? Do you like them? Or not? Share below.
Photo by iBjorn