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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

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

Getting ready for the Fall - Part 2 « Dan’s Musi's picture

[...] Organizing my work ...

[...] Organizing my work The above section continued to discuss my office set-up I still need to figure make sure that I record what needs to be done. My focus is on next actions (see Mark Taw, 43 Folders, DIY Planner). I focus my energies on writing everything down that needs to be done and then determining what is the “next action”. I use Omni Outliner Pro with the KGTD shell. Omni is currently creating Omni Focus which will replace KGTD. I look forward to it. I make sure that I enter data into my KGTD file daily and sometimes right as the task is being identified. Since I can create next actions on the fly by simply indenting on the task. The advantage of inputting directly into KGTD is that I don’t have to come back and enter it on Friday afternoon when I’m anxious to leave the office. When I take the time to write things down I also take time to think about them. Later I can reflect even more. It is the mere act of writing it down that causes me to give it more thought. If the task has a suspense date on it I decide what date I must begin working on it or what date it is due from someone else and create a task in iCal. I have just started using zoodo and have great hopes for it. I really don’t like Apple’s “to do” interface. [...]




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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