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GTD: Project Verbs vs. Next-Action Verbs

In implementing Getting Things Done, you're wise to understand that words are powerful things. And the king of words in GTD, as in life, is the verb.

How you articulate an activity or how you choose to frame a project within the context of your larger life and work will say a lot about how successful you can be in turning all your "stuff" into atomic actions that will work in support of valuable outcomes. This starts with simple things like beginning next actions with a physical verb, but there's actually a lot more subtlety (and potential confusion) to it.

In fact, one of the hang-ups that many people encounter in planning their work in GTD is that, no matter how hard they try, they can never seem to get the distinction between single-action verbs and the larger "look-into" style projects that may require sub-actions. This comes up a lot, and it can lead to frustration and untold friction.

Well, if you've ever shared this affliction of not knowing your verbs from a hole in the ground, I have some rare and unexpected GTD gold.

Buried in the companion booklet for the Getting Things Done FAST! CD set (currently out of print) is one of the more useful bits of GTD instruction I've seen outside the book. It's a list of "Project Verbs" versus "Next-Action Verbs" and, man, is it ever useful.

These materials (which I'd never seen anywhere else before) provide a powerful codebook for translating your own language and thinking into planning that is do-able and valuable. Put simply, there are verbs that suggest a single physical next action, and there are verbs that suggest a desired outcome with more than one step. And these tables can help you see and understand that distinction immediately.

(reproduced from the OOP GTD Fast booklet, ©1998-2001 David Allen & Co.)

Project verbs

Finalize Resolve Handle
Look into Submit Maximize
Organize Design Complete
Ensure Roll out Update
Install Implement Set-up

Next-action verbs

Call Organize Review
Buy Fill out Find
Purge Look into (Web) Gather
Print Take Waiting for
Load Draft Email

Get the distinction? Most all of those big verbs can and should be uncorked to reveal that they contain nothing but dozens of smaller verbs. And those little fellas are your physical next actions. That's your work.

I really wish I'd had these tables taped over my desk three years ago when I started doing GTD, because -- geeky as it sounds -- they're a kind of rosetta stone for ensuring that you correctly translate your stuff into either tasks or containers for tasks. So useful.

Getting that taxonomy and structure correct during the planning stage will do much to improve your life when it comes time for doing.

Karen E's picture

Oh yeah, nice little magical...

Oh yeah, nice little magical nugget! That's why we call you Merlin. The sound bites from The David have been infotaining as well. He is more high-powered and more dorky (in a loveable way) than I get from the writing.




An Oblique Strategy:
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