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Is it best to plan and write down ALL next actions for each project before you start?

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  • Is it best to plan and write down ALL next actions for each project before you start?

    Hi, I hope everyone is doing well. I have the book GTD and was hoping someone could give me a summary answer to my question and tell me what chapter David discusses the following. When there is a project that you want to do are you supposed to go over ALL the steps beforehand in your mind and write down all the next actions through to completion? Or are you only supposed to write down the next 2 or 3 next actions for each project?

    I thought that thinking through ALL the steps before hand and then writing down ALL the next actions may help your mind get a more complete picture of what needs to be done and help you come up with solutions to future obstacles before hand. However, I thought I heard someone say that you should only write down the next two next actions.
    Any clarification on this would be greatly appreciated.



  • #2
    Depends on the Project

    It will depend a lot on both the project and your style of work.

    For me for roughly 90% of my projects I can plan out the project into excruciating detail and if I do the planning up front it's not going to change over the life of the project. I also work with very long term projects, something that is not common in GTD. So I tend to plan everything out as far as I am able and use a GTD tool that helps me by only presenting onto my action lists the actual clear next action I need to do.

    For other projects, they change regularly, what you thought was the sequence of actions turns out not to be, the goal changes, or other stuff interferes with the plan as you originally thought it out. For those projects planning beyond the single next action is a waste of time.

    Only you will know what type of projects you usually have.

    My suggestion is to take one project, plan it as completely as possible and see if you are able to use that plan without changes. If you can and you like the way it works for you to have everything laid out then go ahead and plan everything but do not put more than the next action on your lists. The remainder of the plan is project support material unless you do your project support within the GTD tool you use.

    The concern is you should rarely have more than one action that is related to a single project unless they are totally independent of each other. In my case most of he time when I find independent actions for a single project, what I really am finding is a hidden project within a larger area of focus.


    • #3
      Is it best to plan and write down ALL next actions for each project before you start?
      David Allen says to capture as many next actions and ideas as you need to, when you start a project, to get it off your mind.


      • #4
        Originally posted by kelstarrising View Post
        David Allen says to capture as many next actions and ideas as you need to, when you start a project, to get it off your mind.
        But it's important to clarify what's a next action and what's an idea, because mixing them leads to apathy, despair, the fall of civilization and the end of the universe. OK, maybe a slight exaggeration.


        • #5
          All you need is one next action - and, technically, there is only one "next" action; as I see it, the others are just actions.

          I've found that having more than two or three actions for the same product is counterproductive, because the project usually diverges from that plan and then those actions clutter up the list. More than once, I've had a next action for a project that reads something like "Clean up stale actions for this project." That's not good.

          Now, if the project is really big and has several avenues, each of which can logically have a next action, then IMO it's several projects, each of which should then have one action. Even if they all have the same final goal, they involve a different series of tasks, so they're different projects

          I do often have thoughts about a project that aren't a "next" action, so I maintain what I call "agenda" lists for each major project or group of projects. It would make more sense to call them "thoughts" lists, but, well, there it is. When I have a thought regarding a project and it's not actionable either now or at some predictable time, I usually tuck it into that list. But I consider that list to be project support material, not actions.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Gardener View Post
            All you need is one next action - and, technically, there is only one "next" action; as I see it, the others are just actions.
            All you need is one (All together, now!)
            All you need is one (Everybody!)
            All you need is one Next Action
            That's what Project needs


            • #7
              I have recently finished rereading the book and I have three reflections on the subject that was stressed out in there
              • Next action should be real next physical action to take
              • If you have something on your mind about the project you should get it out and put in the system.
              • Planning ahead helps
              So if you know that something have to be done to complete project then you should put that in the system and sitting down and coming up with all the things that have to be done will often be worth the time spent. So you can prepare project plan and put in project materials.

              On the other hand most of those steps will not be next actions, some because you can't start them right away other because they are not really physical actions.

              I often find planning to the level sequence of physical actions impossible or more time consuming than actually executing the actions so I keep plan on more coarse level and determine next action for particular moment based on it.


              • #8
                Until it's off your mind, like Kelly said.

                Here's an example of a project I'm currently wrangling. I found out three days ago that I'll be teaching my own class next term. I'm visiting my folks for the holiday from the 23-29, I'm at a conference Jan 3-6, and then classes start on the 9th.

                Basically, I need to have the syllabus done this week. So I sat down and made a list of things I knew I needed to do, which contained things like:

                -Review syllabus from Fall 2011
                -Email colleagues who've taught course for their syllabi
                -Review colleagues' syllabi
                -Review lesson plans and assignments from Fall 2011
                -Skim articles to decide which ones to assign

                (Some of these are mini-projects unto themselves--I'll need to download some of the articles I want to skim.)

                Once I had a list that let me feel comfortable I had enough stuff down, I set out with the first thing I could think of to do, which was to email my colleagues for their syllabi. But the moment I did that and started "review colleagues' syllabi," I realized that about half my colleagues assign a reader edited by another colleague of ours. So suddenly I had an NA I hadn't planned on:

                @Campus: check out reader from library


                @home: skim reader

                So, yes, you'll want to do some project planning that involves collecting some of the NAs and subprojects involved in a larger project. But chances are, you're not going to capture every single NA, nor should you really try. Plan enough to feel comfortable that the NAs you've identified are the next ones needed to move the project forward, and then move the project forward. Like Gardner said, more than a handful of NAs for any one project often either indicates that you need to track it as separate projects, or that your plan is going to get blown to hell, and you'd better be ready for that.