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Sunday
Oct302005

Dealing with multiple/dependent next actions in GTD

Over at Notes from a messy desk, Graeme Mathieson brings up some good issues with dependent next actions in David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology. He says
... I can't really show dependencies effectively. ... So obviously it makes sense to write down all the tasks you can think of associated with a particular project. And to me, it makes sense to write them out on a todo list.
Here are a few of my thoughts about this:
  • List your action plan in the project's folder, if necessary. Allen says many projects need only basic "napkin" planning, but some (like a wedding) need more detailed thinking to be successful.
  • Add one or more concrete actions to your next actions list(s). If your project has multiple next actions that can be done in parallel, and you have the energy for them, put as many as you want on your lists. However, the minimum is one, in order to move the project forward.
  • Don't worry too much about dependencies. Oftentimes it's best to only write next actions that you can do now, instead of planning out too far; you'll deal with the dependent ones when the time comes. Also, your plans may change by the time you get to the dependent actions (you might have new information, you might have changed the definition of the successful outcome, etc.)
  • You will be thinking about your project a minimum of once per week during your weekly review, so you'll have a chance to think about dependent tasks then.
  • Checking off precursors to dependent tasks may well trigger you to add a new one at that time.
  • You can use a system such as Pig Pod to indicate next next action. It's also talked about at the davidco forums: Pocket PC - any tips for applying GTD?.
I'd love to hear other ideas about this.

Update: I certainly should have also mentioned
the excellent post Cascading Next Actions by Mark Wieczorek.

Reader Comments (4)

Hi Matt,
In my opinion, the weekly review is enough for deciding the following next action.
On the first weeks that I've started to put in practice GTD I also had some doubts about what do to when are several next actions for the same project. Listing them all at once doesn't pay.
I'll stick to the weekly review, it works just fine. Keep it simple, I guess. :)

November 3, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterrjm

Thanks for the comment, Ricardo. Works for me too

November 3, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Until lunch I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks I had generated. I use ResultsManager from Gyronix to help me manage GTD, but today it was your tip to only list concrete next actions which has saved the day. Not only has it shortened the list, but it has helped me recategorise many items which were bigger to be items which fit into the two minute rule.

November 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDavid C. Buchan

Thanks very much for your feedback, David. I enjoyed your site.

November 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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