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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

I agree that the right...

I agree that the right tool is important, but it’s critical to understand why the tool is there and to adjust expectations to accord with the stuff that a “dumb” tool does best.

It’s an artful balance, but I continually return to the side of simplicity over exhaustive “correctness.” I’d say time put into generating and maintaining multiple lists, categories, and facets can often be better spent on refactoring and simplifying the existing ones. (This definitely goes for me and my ontological library of shaded Entourage categories).

No matter how deep I get in taxonomy and “multiple locations,” I always return to the simplest single list I can handle. My secret temptation is always that some tool can do all the maintenance (read: “thinking”) for me, but ultimately, I still need to make decisions and be aware of “what’s where.” Adding a constant administrative layer and tending all those rabbits becomes its own endless project.

Anyhow. Not saying multiples, facets, or redundancy are necessarily bad—just that in my experience it can be a lot to maintain if it’s not paying consistently large rewards in enhanced action.




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