Choosing What To Do Next

With GTD, it is not uncommon to be faced with a list of 100+ next actions all within the same context, especially if most of your day is spent within a certain context (such as @computer). David Allen suggest that the context, time needed and energy required should be used to determine what to do next. But when your list is100+ items long, it can be a daunting proposition to actually make that choice over and over throughout a hectic day. Following are some techniques I have developed to help with this problem.

1. Use Weekly Review to Prune

Make sure every item on your list:

  • is an actual action that you can perform
  • is something you can do yourself
  • is something you want or need to do (e.g. associated with a project, area of focus and/or role that is important to you)

Otherwise, move the item to your someday/maybe list.

2. Use Additional Categories

I now use the following categories: Areas of Focus, Roles, Projects (a category for each project), Due Date, Time and Energy. Many of these should be familiar, but you likely do not use the Time and Energy categories. The idea is that I want to be able to easily see a list of the following cases:

  • I am burned out and have 30 minutes to spare (sort by time, then energy)
  • What can I do in 30 minutes related to a particular Area of Focus, Role or Project (sort by project, then time)
  • What are all the next actions that need to be done before tomorrow that require allot of energy (sort by date, then energy)

3. Task Template

This is the format I use for my next actions (note that not all actions require all the fields):

@Context – [Person Delegated To] – Date/Time Delegated – |Time Required to Complete| Next Action Description – Result Desired {Project, Area of Focus and/or Role}

Here are some example next actions:

@WaitingFor – [Bill] – 2/13/09 – Feedback on proposal – Final proposal approval {Project X}

In the notes field I would include the URL of the email that I sent. GMail allows you to easily do this.

@Online – |30 min| Remove and/or consolidate unnecessary GMail filters – Reduce the amount of labels I need to review each week {Productivity}

In the notes field I would have a link to my GMail account.

It may seem like too much work to specify each task with such detail, but in the long run in the heat of battle, it helps. Especially if you use a system where each component of the task can be specified and then later sorted and searched on.

4. Use Due Dates, But Sparingly

If you work on projects that have specific deadlines or you have time sensitive commitments, I find that adding a due date to the task, rather than putting it on my Calendar1) helps keep my Calendar uncluttered and 2) serves as a useful filter when trying to decide what to do next. Generally, I only put items on my calendar that involve being somewhere or performing some action within a specific time frame.

What are some techniques that you use to keep your ToDo list under control?

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