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Mark Taw on GTD contexts and next actions

What context do I put my Next Actions in? :: MarkTAW.com

Mark Taw consistently provides some of the most lucid and realistic productivity advice I’ve come across. Today he eloquently addresses a common question of beginning Getting Things Done nerds.

If you have 15 lists, but they’re all full of things that you can do from the same starting point, you have 14 too many lists. It doesn’t matter if it’s a phone call, email, or going to the printers to pick up your business cards, your lists should contain no more detail than that. And don’t complain to me that your list would be too long that way, breaking it up into more lists doesn’t give you any fewer Next Actions, it just lets you procrastinate some of them more by putting them on a list you’ll ignore entirely.

I agree very much with Mark on this. It’s tempting to get super-atomic about your lists or put items everywhere they could be done. That can get hectic to manage, though.

On the other hand, for very large to-do lists, or for people with limited amounts of time at any context (shared family computer that’s always busy or errands to a store that has weird hours), I do think there’s value in ganging activities wherever time or attention are precious. Finding the balance is tricky but can be worth the effort if you are going to the trouble of maintaining any but one list. Make any meta-work you do pay back as extravagantly as possible.

Nice work as always, Mark!

(Also, a related conversation over on the Google Group.)

Merlin's picture

Well put, Christopher. I think a...

Well put, Christopher.

I think a tendency I’ve had—and have tried hard to lick—is to get wrapped up in a fractal taxonomy loop. “Where does this go? Should I start a new sub-sub-list?” So your comment’s right on from where I sit.

I’ve felt for some time now that this is one piece that must vary widely from one person to another’s implementation strategy, but that the addition of extra contexts should always be in the service of more efficient action--not just to develop a more satisfying personal ontology. :-)




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