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Thinking two steps ahead

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  • Thinking two steps ahead

    This happens to me, ALL THE TIME.

    I write something down on my next actions list.

    "Reconfigure server XYZ"

    Then I gear up to start, and I realize that either 1) it requires some kind of lengthy setup that could be two or more actions, or 2) I need some input from someone before I can complete the action.

    For example, when I went to reconfigure XYZ, I realized I no longer had access to it and I needed to wait for access or ask someone else to do it.

    It happens everywhere. Last week I went to an appointment, and realized I absolutely had to get gasoline or I was going to run out. But was "get gasoline" on my errands list? No.

    It seems like these "expanding actions" slow me down tremendously. Sometimes I will cross the action off my list and re-write the "in betweens" on my Next Actions or Waiting For list. But it's a lot of re-tweaking, re-writing, re-doing.

    Does anyone else encounter this? Is it poor planning on my part, or just the way things are?

  • #2
    Yes, sounds very familiar! I tend to think in terms of what I want to get done, like in your example: "reconfigure server XYZ" the next action is not necessarily just an action but really a desired outcome "server XYZ reconfigured".

    For me it helps to first of all be aware of that I tend to do this, and then before writing down the next action I very quickly visualize myself reconfiguring the server. In some cases you will actually need to start the action to notice that you donīt have access to the server anymore, but maybe just visualizing yourself getting started will trigger your memory to say "hey, I canīt really do that" or visualizing yourself getting into the car to drive to the meeting reminds you about gas.

    No fancy visualizing exercise with breathing etc, just a mental picture in a second or two and at the same time asking "whatīs next".

    Hope that helps!


    • #3
      It does - thank you. I think in reality, even after more than 2 years of GTD, I still sometimes classify things as actions when really they should be little projects.

      David Allen says even getting your oil changed is a project - you have to select a place, call it and make an appointment, go there, pay for it...but most of us would just write "get oil changed" on our "Next Actions" list.

      Definitely something I need to work on. I think sometimes the "in betweens" are unforeseeable, but that tends to be the exception.


      • #4
        Iīm still new to GTD and I really donīt "get" the project thing yet, the connections between my project list, action lists and reference material are not clear. I do have a project list, but writing such miniprojects there seems much too time consuming.

        So I just try to be very careful about having my next actions really be next actions only, they act as a "bookmark" in my lists to remind me that this miniproject exists and needs to be worked on. My project list is for "bigger things".

        I think this means that Iīm still keeping many things in my head, but things are nevertheless working better and finding a more clear edged way of linking projects of very different "sizes" and next actions is not that crucial for me for the time being.


        • #5
          A small tip

          If you've defined a larger project for the next action that turns out to be a project in disguise, there's no need to add a sub-project to your Projects list (you probably shouldn't to keep the list clean). Just define the next action that you really can take and delete the sub-project from the action list.

          Now, if you've defined a standalone next action that really is a small project, you need to move it to the Projects list and add the true next action to the appropriate action list. Otherwise you lose track of the loop in your system, but your head will hold it and bug you about it until you track it or finish it.


          • #6

            Perhaps your system (i.e. the way you manage your lists, in particular projects list) is a little too difficult. Just measure how much time do you need to write "get oil changed" into your projects list.


            This just happens in the heat of work, and a good time to keep a check on it is weekly review. Usually one of my questions to items on my action lists is: Is this really a physical action? (others: Is this really the next action? Is it still relevant for me to have this action on my list? and the corresponding project?, etc).

            And no, it's not a checklist of questions to be asked for every action, that will be too impractical. One just needs to focus on that action, and see if it's all right. Once you are aware of these questions, the answers start coming intuitively to you by focusing, and it gets better with practice.



            • #7
              Originally posted by cojo View Post
              It seems like these "expanding actions" slow me down tremendously. Sometimes I will cross the action off my list and re-write the "in betweens" on my Next Actions or Waiting For list. But it's a lot of re-tweaking, re-writing, re-doing.

              Does anyone else encounter this? Is it poor planning on my part, or just the way things are?
              Yes this happens, less frequently now than when I first started but it's quite familiar.

              I think it's mostly due to incomplete processing. When you first collected the item "reconfigure server XYZ" where did it go? If you immediately put it into a Next Action lists then you didn't spend the time to think about whether it was a larger project or not. I found that the best way to reduce the number of unexpected actions becoming projects was to put all notes and collection things into an inbox and carefully process from there not try to add them to action lists directly. Choosing a tool that allows quick moving from inbox to action or project and back is key.

              The other way I find these is if I have next actions that are not attached to a particular project it's likely that they really are the project not an action.

              I'm using Omnifocus and when I discover a next action that is really a project what I do is decide if I have time to process now or wait. If I have to wait I flip to the project mode and drag the entire mess into the OF inbox.

              If I have time to process it now or when I get back to processing I go into the project mode and look at the project and it's actions. I do a quick review of what I thought was a project and in some cases I create several projects out of that. If the item really is a single project but with steps or sub projects I create them right then and there. Flip back to Contexts and now all my actions for that project are clean. I try not to have many subprojects but I still end up with a few.

              Here's a recent example from my own system:

              I had a next action to Update Farm web site on my computer internet context unattached to any particular project. It sat there for a long time before I realized that update website was too broad. Instead I needed more concrete things, like Update BWMS logo to reflect the new trademark status, reconfigure sales list to include new fleeces, remove old fleeces from sales list, update paypal shopping cart SW to handle new shipping charges and so on. I caught this at a weekly review when I realized that Update Farm Web Site was not getting worked on or finished at all. So I really thought about it and realized it was a project with a lot of actions.

              Practice in careful and complete processing as a separate action from collection really helps. I get more of these hidden projects when I try to mash collection and processing into one action.


              • #8
                Yep, happened to me a lot in my earlier days.

                For me, it resulted from old habits. I was used to To-Do lists, which were not nearly as granular as Actions. I was used to writing "Get oil changed," not "Find mechanic's phone number."

                Took me a long time to internalize the term Next Action.


                • #9
                  The next action is just to launch you into action on that project, so ideally it should be something you can just DO and you come up to speed on where the project was at almost magically while doing the task, and are usually at a good point when you have to stop working on the project to say "what was I about to do next?".

                  Its not a disaster to get it wrong sometimes. It just means when you pick up the project, instead of launching straight in, you'll have to re-think. But if you can then DO a few steps then there's nothing to rewrite, just work on the project for a bit and "bookmark" the project again when you stop.