How to deal with time consuming "next actions"

DimaS

Registered
Hi guys!

I have question about GTD methodology. What should I do with something that can't be done in simple step. For example: "Read book <X>" or "Write Essay" or "Prepare patent documentation". They looks like Next Action but will take much more than one day or even week.

How I understood Next Action is something that can be done in a small period of time - up to one day. Projects should be broken into next simple actions.

But how to deal with something that looking like a project (in terms of complexity) but have no next actions?

My problem with this things that I will start to ignore them after certain period of time :(
 

RS356

Practicing GTD since 2005
I define next action as the next physical step I need to take to move a project toward completion. I don’t place a time limit on these. Considering time available comes later as I’m deciding what to do. That said, if there is an action that requires a significant time commitment, I’ll handle it with my calendar rather than on a next actions list.
 

Oogiem

Registered
How I understood Next Action is something that can be done in a small period of time - up to one day. Projects should be broken into next simple actions.

But how to deal with something that looking like a project (in terms of complexity) but have no next actions?
I just let them go on until done. If it helps I'm an outlier but I've had individual next actions that took years to complete. I just kept plugging away. It was the weaving of my cloak. Once I had the yarn spun and the loom warped all that was left was to eave the fabric. Due to life the universe and everything it took many many sessions to plug away at "Weave cloak fabric" which was the next visible next action. It took me 6 years total elapsed time to finish that one next action. 2 years to get the courage to cut the fabric and 2 weeks to sew the cloak.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
Hi guys!

I have question about GTD methodology. What should I do with something that can't be done in simple step. For example: "Read book <X>" or "Write Essay" or "Prepare patent documentation". They looks like Next Action but will take much more than one day or even week.

How I understood Next Action is something that can be done in a small period of time - up to one day. Projects should be broken into next simple actions.

But how to deal with something that looking like a project (in terms of complexity) but have no next actions?

My problem with this things that I will start to ignore them after certain period of time :(
Those are all projects. How you describe next actions for “Read book” depends on why you are reading it. Book club meeting on Christmas Eve? Favorite author? Required reading for certification? At a minimum, you can have a next action “read some book.”
“Write essay” might start with a next action of clarifying the purpose of the essay (Remember the Natural Planning Model). Patent documentation is obviously a project too. The weekly review will help keep you projects alive.
 

bproffitt1010

Registered
Maybe 'read book' could be broken down by chapters or sections. i.e. "Read chapters 1-4"....... 5-8, etc. The write essay, could be broken down with "Research subject", "devise an outline", "write first draft", "proofread", etc..............
 

RobertWall

Registered
I have question about GTD methodology. What should I do with something that can't be done in simple step. For example: "Read book <X>" or "Write Essay" or "Prepare patent documentation". They looks like Next Action but will take much more than one day or even week.
Next actions aren't inherently about simplifying - they're about having placeholders to denote the next thing that has to happen to move something forward. The idea is to present you with a menu of the available things you *can* do to move toward your goals, and let you choose as appropriate.

*Personally*, I would call "read book" a next action by itself. The only real restriction there is the context, i.e. "am I someplace where this book also happens to be?" If you're in a place where the book is, and you have a persistent way to mark progress (like a bookmark), it doesn't need to be any more fancy than that.

If you need to break it down into pieces/parts to motivate you, I would still have "read book" as the next action, possibly with a supporting checklist that lets you list all the chapters and check them off. Or you can go crazy with software GTD implementations and set up a task that repeats (the number of chapters in the book) times. That way you can read a chapter and check it off.

DA has mentioned in some of his material that some of his next actions say things like "draft article". Again, as long as you're in a context where you have the ability to write, and there's nothing else blocking the action (research, etc.), "draft article" is a perfectly-fine next action.

"Context" and "next action" are the key things here, though.

"Prepare patent documentation" isn't a next action unless you could sit down in some context, right now, with the material readily at hand, and do the job. If you need to get information from Fred to prepare the documentation, "prepare patent documentation" is a project, and "get material from Fred" is the next action. And technically, if you don't even know how to contact Fred, "get Fred's phone number and/or email address" is the next action. Of course if you don't even know where you would look for that contact information, "contact supervisor to find out who has Fred's information" might be the next action. And once you email your supervisor, "Waiting for Dave to get me information re: how to contact Fred" goes on a "waiting for" list, and your forward momentum on the project stops until that issue is resolved somehow.

My problem with this things that I will start to ignore them after certain period of time :(
This is what a weekly review is intended for. You go over *everything*, and make sure that nothing is getting ignored or falling through the cracks. I'm not great at this myself, but it's a critical component of making the system work.
 

Tom_Hagen

Registered
I divide such a projects into pieces for example: chapters or pages. Thanks to that I can estimate in more accurate way time of doing. And that helps me seize every time gap effectively. In my case it also counteracts procrastination.
 

2097

Registered
Next action is about a concrete physical thing. Read book is that. You sit down and read for a while. Then you're interrupted (or something else happens such as you sleep or eat) so you place a bookmark in your book and put it away.

For me personally, "Write Essay" is a bunch of things. Gather ideas, make disposition, write first draft, revise etc. I've written hundreds of essays but sometimes I still need to break them down into many sub-actions. Bird by bird, baby&#x2665;

Sometimes you can put "Make App <x>" as a next action because you've written dozens of apps and you can knock it out in a day or two. But if you're writing your first app it's going to be a major undertaking with many substeps. "Open Emacs." "Start a new buffer."

I mean if I'm going grocery shopping for the very first time ever it's going to be "find store on map", "learn name of street" etc etc. All human activity from heartbeats, breathing, to writing novels is based on tiny little steps and the more we do a particular activity, the more we can combine it to a bigger building block to be used for even bigger activities.
 

RobertWall

Registered
Sometimes you can put "Make App <x>" as a next action because you've written dozens of apps and you can knock it out in a day or two. But if you're writing your first app it's going to be a major undertaking with many substeps. "Open Emacs." "Start a new buffer."
This. And per DA, not every next action needs to end up on a list. "Download Emacs" might be a next action, and if you get on a roll you might cruise right through "install Emacs", "read info about app headers", "create blank app template", "add login screen", etc. You don't need to record anything until you get to the end and note that, for example, the next action is now "research app integration with Dropbox".

Next actions are just flags in the ground to remind you that you need to pick up the project again, and let you know what you need to do when you pick it up. :)
 

2097

Registered
Yes&#x2665;

Yesterday I finished a letter that took three subprojects, three mindmapping/brainstorming sessions, calling two people, emailing three other people, and digging through my paper file archive for stuff. I mean "write a letter" did not hack it for that beast. Even though the end artifact was just one paper A4 sheet of text. And the letter itself, with its three subprojects and maybe 12 or so NAs, is in and of itself a subproject to a subproject to a main project.

Whereas I've often hacked out simple apps [say converting between two obscure graphics file formats] for my own use in one or two days and just have had "write app X" on my list. Because it's something I've done dozens of times.

(GTD was such a godsend when working on that letter because I could knock out calls while making other calls, email while doing other email, brainstorm in conjuction with other brainstorming, and work on my other big projects while it was in "waiting for".)
 
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