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Next Action Lists - how to get them to work?

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  • Next Action Lists - how to get them to work?

    Hi all. I've been on and off the GTD wagon for about a year now - there's one thing I just cant seem to get to work for me - my Next Action lists - pretty fundamental to getting to black belt I guess!

    I've tried having them on outlook tasks, a palm, and even on my blackberry - I just don't stay close enough to them on these high tech options to keep them current or useful and the latest and loudest event ends up taking preference.

    What's worked best of late is creating a current daily to do list on paper (it's the most convenient thing to look at while I'm travelling around), but again this is often dictated by latest and loudest and I know things on my "master list" on my pc could be falling through the cracks.

    Does anyone have any cool ways of maintaining paper NA lists that don't have to get re-written all the time but can be used on a day to day basis? Is it a file for each context, different notebooks for each or what?

    I've heard David and others refer to many people reverting from high tech solutions like palm to paper based system but I can't work out what to do to make this work for me...

    Can anyone get me started? Would so value the help... it feels like I could I could unlock so much if I can get this right....


  • #2

    I switched to paper about three weeks ago as trial, only leaving my calendar electronic. I've been using an 80 page Moleskine cahier with small tabs for each context and project type. That means about 8-10 pages per context which is heaps. So far I'm loving it and I have to say my focus has improved greatly. I was numb to my electronic lists and therefore not looking at them as often as I needed to.

    Here's my latest post:

    Good luck!


    • #3
      Giving ita try

      Simon - thanks for replying. I've had a look at your blogs and am going to give something very similar a try.

      Got a gut feeling that simplicity is the key with this stuff.

      Look forward to reading your next update.



      • #4
        What I have good GTD days, I simply don't do anything unless it's on my list - I have my action list visible, and just crank through it. I'm amazed at how much I get done. I don't think it matters if the list is on paper or electronic, it's how you use it and whether your action list captures the entirety of what you have to do.

        My problem is - why, when I know this works, do I not do it every day!



        • #5
          How about laminated cards and a dry-erase marker?


          • #6
            Originally posted by ihayward View Post
            I've tried having them on outlook tasks, a palm, and even on my blackberry - I just don't stay close enough to them on these high tech options to keep them current or useful and the latest and loudest event ends up taking preference.
            Ian, are you doing weekly reviews? I find when my reviews slip, my lists get stale and then I fall into the latest and loudest trap too.

            - Don


            • #7

              Originally posted by Brent View Post
              How about laminated cards and a dry-erase marker?
              Wipe off way to easy!


              • #8
                Ways to make the list work

                There is only One True Way to make your Action List work. Your way. If you don't like electronics, go with paper. Moleskin is popular. 3x5 cards (hipster PDA). One of the things I do is to enter the new action item onto my list immediately. Then decide if I'm going to do it now, or not.
                It took a lot of discipline to make it work, but even if I was doing paper, I would still not do it until it was written down. Once it was written down, I could decide.
                Oh, and I use Jott a lot now to put stuff into my task list.


                • #9
                  I've tried about a dozen different options, and the one that makes me happy now is my lovely new Levenger Circa notebook: the pages come out easily, can be slotted back in anywhere, and the whole thing can be (and is) customised to hold exactly what I want, where I want it.

                  I've got a separate list page for each context, and just do things as and when I'm in the context. Mostly, though, I tend to set myself a Big Rock or three for the day, and just knuckle down and work on that project for a while.

                  Another option that worked reasonably well was small sticky notes in a folder: just select your stickies of choice and go for it. You can rearrange as necessary, and there's no messy list with half the stuff crossed out. Works well provided you don't have to leave the office much.


                  • #10
                    Check out David's free articles


                    David Allen posted some free articles on his site on how to set up a paper organizer if you want to go "mid-tech" and how to configure Palm software to use GTD if you want to go "high-tech" (with a Palm, anyway).

                    You don't have to buy an expensive paper organizer; you can make one out of a 3-ring binder, some tabs, and plain paper for very little money. You may have to buy some pre-printed calendar pages, though.

                    As you finish items on your action lists, cross them off. Continue to fill the remaining space on the paper until it is used up, then insert a new sheet behind it. Once every item on the full sheet is crossed off, throw the sheet away.

                    On a side note, is it possible that you're simply not using your action lists because your brain doesn't trust your system yet? When I first started I had to force myself to trust them regardless of how uneasy my mind was. It took a month before my brain began to trust the system enough to relax and let it manage my commitments. If that's the case, force yourself to use whatever system you've set up and eventually your brain should let go, too.
                    Last edited by ellobogrande; 08-04-2008, 09:07 AM.


                    • #11
                      sound advice

                      Thanks for this - I think there probably is some truth in my brain not trusting my system....

                      The paper approach has been working better for me though - it's often more accessible and quicker than the electronic methods I've tried so I'm using it more. Thanks to everyone for the advice.



                      • #12
                        Next Actions v. Calendar

                        I like the idea that next actions are independent of calendar and should be organized separately.

                        This could be simple a sheet of paper in a 3-ring binder or, as I use, an Activities Checklist in a Time/Design planner.

                        This sounds really simple and obvious but it really does take some discipline to avoid the temptation to get calendar more involved in "helping" you with next actions.

                        While there a a lot of really good applications out there for GTD you have to be REALLY well versed in using them to get the true value of a trusted system.

                        Not sure why but I keep bouncing off various technology solutions (Omni Focus lately) back to my trusty Time/Design binder. Well, I do know one reason which is the BEST way to mark items complete ... a yellow Sharpie highlighter!