How detailed do you write your Next Actions?

Discussion in 'PUBLIC: Discuss the GTD Methodology' started by Jan Ernest, Sep 29, 2018.

  1. Jan Ernest

    Jan Ernest Registered

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    While I am continuously improving my means and ways on getting on the GTD methodology, I am just curious on how detailed do you write your Next Actions? David Allen said that NAs should be the next physical and visible next action, and my mind is literally absorbing this principle. If for example the NA is: Call Jerry about the management committee meeting, do you go as far as : Get phone > Unlock phone > Dial number > Call Jerry about the management committee meeting

    Another example if the NA is: Review sales proposal sent by supplier, do you go as far as: Open computer > Open sales proposal on the computer > Print sales proposal > Get sales proposal > Review sales proposal sent by supplier

    or do you forgo of these NAs that are too micro because you know to yourself that if you "Call Jerry about the management committee meeting" it's automatic to get, unlock phone and dial the number?
     
  2. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    In my opinion, a Next Action should be something that you know how to "just do". But that depends on the person.

    If you're an experienced baker, a Next Action may be "Make mega-chocolate cake."

    If you don't have a clue about baking, that same cake may be a project with dozens of actions.

    So if you know how to make that call to Jerry, it's just a Next Action.

    If you're brand new in the job, and Jerry is important and you really need to make a good impression, then you may have more actions:

    - Talk to Jane about Jerry.
    - Prepare notes for phone call with Jerry.
    - Call Jerry about management committee meeting.

    Or even more.
     
  3. Jan Ernest

    Jan Ernest Registered

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    Thanks @Gardener . Do you now mean to say that it is not any more necessary to go " excessively / too deep" in writing the next actions if you already know the preceding actions to be done, especially if these are too micro already?
     
  4. bdavidson

    bdavidson Registered

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    Would you consider to have made any progress on that outcome of calling Jerry if you only did the first 2 steps of "getting phone" and "unlocking phone" but didn't actually dial Jerry's number? I want my next actions to be a physical discrete action that moves me closer to the outcome. Large enough to matter, small enough to be doable in one sitting.

    You may need to think of these microtasks in terms of overcoming any resistance you might have to the action. If you don't really enjoy talking to Jerry, you might say, "Well, I'll just get the phone and lookup Jerry's number." Once you do that, you have some momentum to just hit the button and dial Jerry, after overcoming the initial resistance. I think Mark Forster writes about this very nicely in his time management articles.
     
  5. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    I may not be understanding what you're saying. To me, the next action includes all of the associated actions. That is, "Bake Chocolate Mega Cake" includes gathering the ingredients, and measuring them, and so on and so on--they're not preceding actions, they're part of the task. Now, if it includes sending off for Super Special Chocolate, and waiting for it to arrive, then I'd call that a separate action, no matter how many times you've made the cake.

    Looking at my example about calling Jane and taking notes--if you're going to take notes before the call to Jerry, then I would say that even after you're practiced at making those calls, you would have the Taking Notes task as a separate preceding task, because you'd do it at a different time.
     
  6. Jan Ernest

    Jan Ernest Registered

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    @Gardener With your examples on calling Jane and taking notes, I'd like to put our attention on "calling jane", within this tasks. You'll need to dial the numbers, will that still fall as "Next Action", or you do not get too micro such as this dialing the number?
     
  7. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    Unless dialing a number is a significant task for you, somehow separate from making a phone call, no--it would just be part of "call Jane". For example, if Jane were deaf and you needed to make a TTY call to her, and if a TTY call had to be pre-scheduled, then "schedule TTY call to Jane" might be a separate task.
     
  8. Jan Ernest

    Jan Ernest Registered

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    @Gardener "significant task for you". Got it. Thanks mate.
     
  9. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

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    Returning to this:

    I think that you're likely taking this too literally. The idea isn't that you choreograph every breath and muscle movement in the task. In fact, it might work better to use the word task instead of action: "...the next physical and visible task...."

    Some tasks are too big to be a next action. And some are too small.

    For example, "Plant vegetable garden" is too big. But "turn page in seed catalog" is too small. "Make preliminary list of seeds for vegetable garden" might be just right.

    Similarly, "Throw surprise birthday party for Jane" is too big. "Pick up phone" is too small. "Call Joe to ask about possible party venues" may be just right.
     
  10. enyonam

    enyonam Registered

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    I like what @bdavidson said about your next action being about overcoming resistance. This is how I think about it. Well, I would say it's about my future-self overcoming resistance.

    So for example "Call Jerry about management meeting". I might think to myself 'Well, I doubt I'm going to remember what about the management meeting I need to speak to Jerry about' so I would make sure that I revise it to something like 'Call Jerry to postpone management meeting at least 1 week'.

    Or I may think to myself, I have Jerry's phone number in my phone but I might see him when I stop by the office on Tuesday which case I would revise it to 'Jerry - Can we postpone the management meeting 1 week?', and then I would tag it as @Agenda because those I know I can either pull up when I see Jerry, or when I've got my phone or IM tools up and I can follow up on my @Agendas then.

    On the sales proposal one, if I need to print out the proposal to review it, writing it as 'Review sales proposal sent by supplier' would actually make me procrastinate because I can't actually DO that right away. I really need to print it first. So I would instead do an @Office or @Computer - Print Supplier Sales proposal. Heck, I might even send it to an admin and have an @Waiting For. Then then when I have printed it, it goes into my @Read/Review stack and that I know I've made time on my calendar for that context say Tuesday from 1-3pm.

    So I think through the next actions to the point where my future self can see it and not have to think at all about what, how, when or why something needs to be done. I want to make sure there is no resistance to that action from future-self possible. That's my aim. Future-self is simply no good at thinking ... she can only do things ... so I make sure I delegate completely in my next action.
     
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  11. Jan Ernest

    Jan Ernest Registered

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    Yes. That is correct. While GTD mentions that bigger tasks should be made into a Project, and that's clear to me. I looking at the smaller tasks/ actions. Because within the task, there are still a lot of actions that can be done which you mentioned may be too small already. So here, we need the "just right" level of next action.
     
  12. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

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    I don't micromanage myself. I don't allow GTD to suggest that I can't call somebody. I know what to do at the microcode level...
     
  13. Cpu_Modern

    Cpu_Modern Registered

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    That's a good point: we want to clarify our Next Actions with enough detail, that our brains can relax about it. If you still have to think about it, your brain will. The point of "mind like water" is to not have to holding next actions in your mind.
     
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  14. Jan Ernest

    Jan Ernest Registered

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    "I know what to do at the microcode level". Thanks for this @TesTeq . For our examples, do you mean to say that there is no need for you any more to write "micro" next actions on your NA list? Meaning if the NA is "Call Jerry about the management committee meeting", then the micro NA for this is to "Dial Jerry's Number on Phone", which based on your explanation - "I know what to do at the microcode level" thus no need to list this on NA.
     
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  15. Rose

    Rose Registered

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    Personally I would title the task "Call Jerry about the management committee meeting", and if I were new, unfamiliar with the phone system (or similar) then I would add instructions to unlock the phone in the task notes - which is reference material for it.

    We recently got a new intern at work and to help him setup his machine we left a task list, this contained things like "Install TortoiseSVN", and the task note had a link to where he could download it. I see these tasks as quite similar.
     
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  16. mcogilvie

    mcogilvie Registered

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    That’s great- I hadn’t thought about microcode in years. And so appropriate! From Wikipedia: “Microcode is used in general-purpose central processing units, although in current desktop CPUs it is only a fallback path for cases that the faster hardwired control unit cannot handle.”
     
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  17. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

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    For calls I wouldn't write the microcode (ie. [take the phone][unlock the phone][press the contacts app icon][scroll until Jerry's entry is visible][press Jerry's entry][press Jerry's mobile phone number][bring the phone to your ear]...). I would write "Call Jerry about the management committee meeting".
    But... There are always some awful Projects where we may need a "microcode" Next Action to gain some momentum. For example someone can have a very obvious "Open PowerPoint" Next Action when she procrastinates on the presentation for her boss.
     
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  18. bcmyers2112

    bcmyers2112 Registered

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    @Jan Ernest, you're complicating this way too much. WAY too much. You know how to dial a phone, turn on a computer and use a printer. I'm sure you do things like that without thinking about them. Writing down instructions for stuff that you know how to do automatically is a waste of time and energy, which is the exact opposite of what GTD is designed to achieve.

    GTD is for the things in your life that you can't put on cruise control, and produce stress if your managing them in your head. Remembering to call someone or read a proposal fall into that category. Whereas dialing a phone is close to breathing in that you do both automatically. You wouldn't put "remember to breathe" in your lists, would you?

    What concerns me is that you would think you might want to break down your next actions to that level of detail. Can you help us understand why you don't feel confident simply stating in your list that you need to "call so-and-so about such-and-such"? That might help us guide you toward a better understanding of how to use GTD in a way that helps rather than hampers.
     
  19. TesTeq

    TesTeq Registered

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    In the past I was beginning to think about Next Actions granularity when I hated the Project. I tried to blame GTD for its rigidness. But I was wrong. I simply procrastinated... ;-)
     
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  20. Tom_Hagen

    Tom_Hagen Registered

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    IMHO writing NA as microcode is against another Allen's rule - I mean 2 minute rule. Allen says if something can be done whithin 2 minutes (or if you prefer: 5 or more minutes) - do it now. Do not write it down on NA's list - it's a waste of time.

    Regards
    Tom_Hagen
     
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