Need some help from those that are masters of the "next action"


This leads me to the terminology issue I keep having, between two uses of GTD. There's "GTD" as the name of the overall process of managing your work, and there's "GTD" as the name of the project/context/action lists part of that process.

I keep using the term just for the lists, plus maybe the calendar, tickler, and a few related things, and it sounds like you're doing the same here? But arguably your use of mindmaps is GTD. If someone is using Nirvana and mindmaps and Microsoft Project and JIRA and Evernote, that's arguably all GTD--whether it's GTD is determined by whether they're using them in accordance with the GTD process. Or more or less in accordance.
Here's the current official GTD definition at:
Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them. That’s why David Allen created Getting Things Done®. GTD is the work-life management system that has helped countless individuals and organizations bring order to chaos. GTD® enables greater performance, capacity, and innovation. It alleviates the feeling of overwhelm—instilling focus, clarity, and confidence.

frank F

@Gardener @mcogilvie I fully agree with everything you are saying. I need to rethink my definitions. I guess after so much frustration with other tools I have come to consider NIrvana as the holy grail but of course it's not and does not cover everything :)


Maybe it´s the GTD system I am using (Nirvana) which does not allow this level of granularity. It does allow brainstorming of course but it is not that easy for me to get my head around these complex things both top down and considering all the interconnections

David Allen says (in the The book Making It All Work by David Allen on page 111) "Once you really integrate [the] clarification process into your life-and work style, you will find yourself comfortable with a wide range of tools that can genuinely work for you. If you haven't applied this process, nothing will seem to serve you very well."

It’s important to really understand the Clarification stage of GTD. The workflow chart is a very helpful tool for this. A true understanding and implementation of the Clarification stage, with the help of the workflow chart (is it actionable? -> no -> trash, reference or someday/maybe -> yes -> what is the next action? etc) help to determine the next action(s)



GTD is a systematic approach to defining and doing what you want or need to do, and i am confident it is capable of handling any human activity, regardless of scale.
This is my experience too. GTD is a way of thinking, not a tool or tools. GTD is implemented in a variety of ways suited to each person and their ways of thinking and preferences in interacting with their world but the core of GTD does not change.

Jared Caron

GTD enthusiast and amateur coach
Most of my work is probably some kind of project (2-4 tasks) but I'm still having a hard time just placing the next action in my contexts. I can't resist the urge to put a list of the steps to complete the project there. I use Evernote so I will often have a checklist of perhaps 4 items in the note which is in my context folder. I think this is because I'm afraid I'm going to forget a needed step, which seems unlikely, but I suppose it's possible. The result, of course, is a context that has too much information to digest rather than the simple Next Action that David Allen espouses. Which then causes me to reprocess and waste time.

If anyone out there has tackled this issue and beaten it or can help me with encouragement about "taking the leap" to use just the very next action in my contexts please fire away.

Many thanks for the help.
Your instinct is correct, that the context lists really should only have next actions. If you're finding that you are uneasy about this, you are probably not fully trusting your system yet. So that is usually a signal that some part of it needs tweaking. Some thoughts:

  1. Where and how are you storing project support material? is it easy to access with zero friction? If you resist opening up your project support material, you wont trust it and therefore you will want to park the future actions and planning information in with your "current" work of next actions.
  2. Are you doing regular Weekly Reviews? there's a reason David calls this the critical success factor. It ties everything together. If its inconsistent, the system will grow stale and distrust will creep in, leading to workarounds that introduce residue and friction into the system. "weekly' can be taken with a grain of salt. "regular" however is a must.
  3. If you answered "yes" to #2: Are you waiting until the Weekly Review to update next action lists? This is a common snag with projects. If you're waiting until the weekly review to put the next action in sequence onto your lists, and you actually need to move that next action forward sooner, you will distrust the system. capture your next actions as you complete. Sometimes, you don't need support material or future actions because the completion triggers thinking up the next action. Sometimes you may need to do a quick review of project support; which is why #1 above is also important.
  4. Are your next actions truly next actions? as oogie said somewhere earlier in this thread, the clarifying map is the thinking process at the core of GTD. Learn to slow down. Identify the next action, use a strong verb. I suggest writing your next actions as instructions to your future self. What does doing look like? everything else that's not the next action (future actions, plans, ideas, and checklists) goes in project support (see #1).
All of that said, GTD takes time. Its a lifelong pathway of mastery. Be patient with the process. Early on i used to worry about "whether i was doing GTD 'right'" whenever my system was not working optimally. Just keep tweaking, but I would focus on the thinking process before your tools. If you haven't checked out connect yet, i would highly recommend as a way to level-up your system and thinking about GTD. Its well worth the investment.

Hope it helps.