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Prioritizing Next Actions

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  • Prioritizing Next Actions

    This must be a perennial issue but I'm looking for ideas for how to organize next actions in order that I can effectively and efficiently make decisions on how to organize my day and use my time.

    Assume for the sake of discussion that I'm correctly applying the "context", "time available", "energy available", and "priorities" principles suggested in Getting Things Done but still have numerous next actions to choose among.

    It doesn't feel workable to me to review frequently a long next action list. I can do it once a week at my weekly review but need a more action bias on a daily basis.

    Let's say that I'm at my desk, my energy is strong and I have an uninterrupted stretch of a couple of hours to work. How do I quickly sort through what might be 30-50 possible Next Actions? To some degree it may be a question of more attention to priorities but in my work (i.e. financial advisor) I may have 4-5 key areas of priority at any given time without any objective basis for force ranking them on a day to day basis. Plus the priorities may involve numerous clients.

    Do I need a system that allows for identifying weekly and/or daily priorities that flows out of the weekly review so that I don't have to return to the long next action list daily if not several times a day.

    GTD has been tremendously helpful to me but this seems to be an area where there is either a glaring gap in the GTD approach or, more likely, I've missed a key process.

    Any suggestions or ideas much appreciated.

  • #2
    In this situation I make a short list of what I plan to do in this time.

    I use Outlook and my method is to mark actions as high priority, then copy and paste to Word (unformatted text) and then edit to put in the order I want do get them done. It takes about two minutes.

    Doing this I find I'm more productive then when I have to keep going back to the long list.


    • #3
      What about adding a Daily Review to the Weekly Review?

      It is not within the GTD orthodoxy, but I find it useful.


      • #4
        I flag the key actions I really want to get done during the week in a category called !Focus. When I want to make sure I'm not overlooking any key items, I just look under that category (in Outlook or my PDA, depending where I'm at).


        • #5
          Robfin I was facing a similar issue and made a change recently that helped a lot. I'm a software developer, managing a small team, and maintain my @WORK list as a text file on my computer. I had so many NAs I found it hard to choose which ones to do. Eventually I split the list into 3 sections:

          Admin: stuff that doesn't take much thought ("plan bus route", "clean desk")
          Planning: stuff that takes a lot of thinking, usually project planning NAs
          Dev work: computer programming NAs

          I need to make sure I spend some time of each of these sections every day, so if I had 3 hours to do stuff and all else was equal (energy, priority, intuition, etc), then I'd spend an hour on each of these sections. Having the sections reduces the number of NAs to choose between and I've found it's made it much much easier for me.

          I'm sure you've got different categories of NAs (perhaps to do with your job responsibilities), so you might also find it useful to divide up your NAs into categories.
          Last edited by rangi500; 03-19-2007, 04:05 AM.


          • #6
            When I open the list I either already know the most important (without even opening the list) or read through and get the most important for this moment. I see no value in splitting the list.

            I also have office hours when all my lists are rather useless (because I have computer, telephone by hand). As my energy is high in the morning so I start with @Calls list. Plus this helps to plan the meetings for the day. Then I go to my @Computer list.

            All my Next Actions are approximatelly 15 minutes chunks. I take most important first and deep into it or start with the first and go to the end if there's enough time for all.



            • #7
              Just my two cents: I would posit that over a period of time implementing GTD that the urgency question will become less salient in your decision making. However, the more you have operated from urgent mode (like I have), the longer this will take. Has this been anyone else's experience?

              A great variety of n/as are possible in terms of size of the time unit and postion in regard to the urgency factor. However, as I have begun to get better control over my life's activities (projects and routines), I am finding that urgency is less of a factor, that I have a greater choice over the n/as and the time units for n/as are getting smaller. So intuition, energy, and other intangibles get to play a role in choice of the n/a rather than urgency. However, I believe that I have many more years of conditioning to the urgency model and this has made me think I have to do certain things in big chunks because I have operated mainly under urgent mode for most of my life and had to get things done in big chunks. I am good at jumping to action under threat and doing one action after another seamlessly for a certain project, racing from context to context until I have reached a required point in the project, just in time (sometimes just in time to prove I deserve a second chance) and then cringing from the next tasks because they whole thing is so stressful. This is especially true for tasks that could be handled more comfortably as routines but have been deferred until there is a crisis. This being said, there are still n/as that do require a big chunk of sustained attention (and thus time): writing; analyzing data; special set up of materials; research and planning. Sometimes these don't feel urgent enough to do early on or they are so relatively comforting to do that nothing else gets done. So this is why project review is so important. One should spot these n/as as you look objectively at your projects' status, but it takes a certain amount of self-knowledge and reflection to this productively and not make the the weekly review a manic spinning and spawning of ideas or a trial to see how much self-punishment you can wrek on yourself for the things not yet accomplished. One other thought on urgency: people who are working on projects where immediate response is a critical part of the jobs' acvitivies (ER personnel, fire fighters, soldiers in the battlefield, parents with a baby) should be "trained" abd equipped personnel (meaning familiar with the equipment, fluent with strategies, alert to signs that a new strategy is needed) so that urgency drives particular practices is not a cue to take long pause to reflect and prioritize. There has usually has to be a lot of routine work running in the background to ensure that everyone is in good shape mentally and physically so they can survey the scene quickly, quickly make next actions, etc. Under ideal conditions these workers cycle between periods of action and rest, and there is support for reflection and analysis outside of the field of urgent action. So unless urgent response is part of the job, ideally you are working to make urgency a smaller and smaller factor in your decision making. And, if urgency is an intrinsic part of the job, you are working to support good outcomes under these conditions by "training" yourself and creating an environment that enables urgent responding.
              Last edited by Jamie Elis; 03-19-2007, 09:46 AM. Reason: proof reading


              • #8
                Prioritizing Next Actions

                Thanks to all for the helpful replies. There was something useful to me in virtually every response.


                • #9
                  re: Prioritizing Next Actions

                  My friend Dave (not Mr. Allen) asked a very good question last night on how to organize all the things is got on his mind. Traditional “to do” list rely on prioritization from high to low of all tasks. So if you had three things to do like 1) workout 2) study bible 3) make phone call regarding homework, and you were rigorous about this, you might procrastinate items two and three since they are further down your list. Even worse, some to do methods have you copy unfinished items from day to day, so item #3 may never get done as “higher” priority items crop up, such as “plan Seth’s birthday dinner.” In the GTD world, what you have are Next Actions sorted by context, usually indicated by the @ sign. So the GTD list would then read: workout @school gym; study bible @anytime, make phone call regarding homework @when near a phone. In this new paradigm you are not limited by priorities, and what is really neat is that “natural intuition” comes to play, so that item #3 which is a longer term goal for later in the week can actually be done in 5 minutes when you have a free second to talk on the phone. This is revolutionary for new GTD’ers. The second question Dave asked last night was how to sort the things that have due dates, such as class assignments, etc. Well there are a few ways to do this, but Next Action lists are usually not the correct way to list “due dates” but that is ok if you want to try it, so the real way would be either 1) projects or 2) the calendar/tickler. For me I prefer the project method. What that means is that anything that is more than two next action steps becomes a project, and all projects have their own projects list. So in the case of a class say you have three classes, each class has its own list of everything that must be done by when in that list. Your next actions on your master list would then read, review projects file @when near a computer or @when at my desk with my files, or you get the idea. The key is to review projects as frequently as you need to. In the project file you will see the due days and the next actions associated with that project. The second GTD method is the calendar/ticker file. This is for true “analog” nerds in which you have a paper-based system of 43 folders and one that I personally don’t use but you can look it up and learn more about it. I know Nate (my other friend) uses this, but the system must be check daily to be trusted. The other downside is that it’s hard to carry around 43 folders with you if you travel around a lot. So to recap, you’ve learnt that traditional to do lists generally don’t cut it and clumping all of your next actions, say for example even ones that are projects into one list is not so good, especially for the mind. Second you’ve learned a little about GTD projects and how these tie back to your next actions list and how they can keep you accountable for their existence. Now for the bonus part, and this is what I do and I have modeled for the group. I take my next actions list (stored in special google site) and take the top items I want to accomplish, based on intuition and other factors and I out these into a goals and rewards sheet (not mentioned in GTD, I don’t think), and then I see the “rewards” I can give myself such after doing a certain action that I may not like doing because it is boring, repetitive or just plain not fun like homework. These rewards can be as simple as doing the dishes = writing a fun e-mail, to file my taxes on time = new BMW. One of these two examples is a real reward I’ve given myself for the task, no joke (btw it's red!). But you can make these your own, but I suggest you start out with little rewards, or just do it for no reward knowing your one step closer to Getting Things Done!
                  Last edited by Seth Gillespie; 03-04-2009, 11:57 PM.