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Next actions: Both physical _and_ visible

Just a GTD quickie, but something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

David Allen defines next actions as “the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion.” [ch. 2, pg. 34; emphasis mine]. I’m finally realizing that this subtle change in thinking can have profound effects on the way you look at the stuff in your life.

See, I’m an inveterate list-maker, and I’ve always thought I was actually pretty good at it, but when I look back now, I can see how my typical TODO list was littered with landmines.

  1. Get new work
  2. Lose weight
  3. Buy Christmas presents

I’ll bet you have (or had) a similar running list of all the nagging stuff that was littering your mental landscape, right?

The thing is, I now see how items like these can’t really be “done” at all; each one of those things is actually a complex, multiple-item project with built-in dependencies and waiting time. To look at any of them as a single thing I need to do is to buy into the anxiety-inducing premise that my goals and behaviors should somehow mirror each other on a one-to-one basis. If you think about it, that’s plainly ridiculous.

A more reasonable approach using GTD would be to focus just on that next physical activity needed to undertake each project; even if it seems like a trivial activity. In order:

  1. Find old résumé in file cabinet
  2. Call gym to see when membership expires
  3. Start a running list of everyone I need to buy Christmas gifts for

I imagine a lot of people roll their eyes at this kind of self-absorbed minutiae-tracking, and a lot of people certainly don’t need it. But, for me, turning anxieties into projects and projects into discrete physical behaviors has a lot of appeal. It takes all the pressure off your brain and puts it back where it belongs: on your eyes, on your hands, and on that fat ass you need to get into gear.

More on GTD

Jeremiah's picture

I've also recently started with...

I've also recently started with GTD, haven't been doing this for long. I've been diagnosed with Adult ADHD, and I have to say that using these methodologies has really helped me start to get back on top of things.

Merlin, reading your tips and experiences has also helped out a great deal. It's been very beneficial to see how people are putting this system together - I've been able to look at what has and hasn't worked for other people and determine if I think I might experience the same outcome, given what little info I have.

Creating a physical representation of my memory space has been the biggest help by far. I used to make vague lists, just as you described, with only 2 or 3 items on them (clean office, grocery store). Now they're about 7 to 8 times longer, but I have a discrete set of specific tasks that I need to accomplish, which makes the whole process much much easier.




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