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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

bongoman's picture

And what I find fascinating...

And what I find fascinating about GTD is David Allen's observation that traditionally "coaching", or "self-improvement" practises start from the "top-down" whereas he is suggesting there is power in working from the "bottom-up".

That is, instead of starting with considerations of our purpose & grand visions and working down to our goals and next-actions, GTD suggests that starting from the bottom-up can have dramatic results in one's life.

If we get really clear and precise and systematic about all those next-actions that have been cluttering up our mind, then it sort of frees our mental energy to gravitate to those higher levels: the 20,000 to 50,000 feet levels as David calls them. It's hard to start with the big picture when your psychic RAM is full.





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