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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.)

Christopher Brandow's picture

Chris, I have also...


I have also been struggling with the heirarchical view of tasks. I have not found the ideal program. I am toying with writing my own, but lack of time/skills at this point have stunted my efforts. A number of programs are close, particularly life-balance or bonzai (windows only).

But it would seem to me that the ideal app would view projects as outlines with lots of abilities to attach relevant documents, links, etc. as Omni Outliner does, but then make any given point or particularly subpoint a task that could link immediately to whatever PIM program (entourage or palm desktop) that you use with its context (calls, email) etc intact. I have other thoughts about this, but I haven't found anything that quite does this.

interestingly, if you make outlines in MS Word 2004 in the "notebook layout" view, then any point in an outline can be made into an entourage task. However it is not given the category info as far as I can tell.




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