Step 3 - What is the Next Action - Simply Get Things Done Course

Step 3: What’s the Next Action?

(This lesson a part of "10-step Simply Get Things Done" Course)

"The (next) action needs to be the next physical, visible behavior, without exception, on every  open loop. (...) So where do all your action reminders go? On "Next Actions" lists, which , along with the calendar, are at the heart of daily action-management organization."

David Allen, "Getting Things Done (GTD) and the Art of Stress-free Productivity"

To me, the "Next Actions" concept is the killer feature of GTD.

When I discovered the book by David Allen and read it I understood what’s the difference between traditional to-do lists and tasks managers … and applications based on Getting Things Done… like Nozbe :-)

We have long, overwhelming to-do lists in many projects.

If you’re like me and you’re doing many different things during the day and have many projects (just as I explained it in Step 2 of this course), you can quickly be overwhelmed with the amount of tasks and to-dos in each and every one of these projects.

How to move a project forward?

It’s simple – have a quick look at your to-do list for this project and decide which is the next physical action that can move the project forward. Easy, right?

"Next Actions" is the key concept in Nozbe

When I initially designed Nozbe I the main difference between traditional task and to-do managers and Nozbe was meant to be the "Next Actions" list. It had to work great and it had to be really easy to define next actions.

Defining Next Actions… with a Star

In Nozbe choosing an action to be your "Next Action" is very simple – just "star" it. Mark it with a star (this concept has been inspired by the Google Mail actually) and that’s it – it’s your next action and when you click on the next actions list, your task will appear there.

Don’t choose too many Next Actions

Remember – you don’t want to be overwhelmed. When you click on your "Next Actions" list you want to see just your next actions for your projects, not all of your actions! You can pick one, two, maximum three actions from a project as "Next Actions" and focus on them. The idea is to have your Next Actions list as short as possible to process it fast and have a fuzzy feeling of being in control.

Don’t think about prioritizing too much, just REORDER your Next Actions list.

In Nozbe it’s so easy to reorder Next Actions lists with simple drag-and-drop so don’t spend too much time prioritizing – just move the tasks around to have them in a order to be processed and just do them. The cool thing in Nozbe is the fact reordering tasks in Next Actions lists does not influence their order in your individual projects list.

How Next Actions work for me?

Simply put, after a Weekly Review (we’ll talk about this later in this course), meaning, after I’ve gone through all of my projects and identified Next Actions in the ones I needed to move forward, I’m ending up with a list of Next Actions for approx. 40 hours (8 hours /day * 5 days/week). I usually work up to 10 hours per day so I leave some 2 hours per day for the actions that will show up during the week.

I used to have less Next Actions. Now I have more and get more done…

Before last Nozbe update I would identify only Next Actions for a day or two, and later during the week review my projects again to identify more Next Actions, however now due to last Nozbe enhancements where I can filter my Next Actions by Project/Context or just see one Next Action/project – my Next Actions list can shrink very quickly and I can focus on getting things done even more than before.

I mark 0-3 Next Actions per project.

It’s important to remember – don’t mark all of your actions as next actions – this would make no sense. Some projects have 0 next actions, none – because I choose not to move them forward now, and some have up to 3 next actions if I want to focus on these more during this week. I try to keep it that way and not to choose more than 3 Next Actions from a project. Otherwise my Next Actions list would be cluttered and totally useless.

The bottom line:

Identify your Next Actions – if you don’t know what to do with a project – think what’s the next small physical step you have to make to move it forward.

Don’t overdo with Next Actions or you’ll lose focus. Nozbe’s "star" feature helps you quickly identify Next Actions and new filtering features help you quickly focus on what to do next.

Learn to master you Next Actions list – it’s your key to productivity Nirvana. 


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Michael Sliwinski is the founder of Nozbe – a simple productivity web application inspired by the concepts from the book by David Allen: "Getting Things Done and the art of stress-free productivity". You can reprint this article on your blog or web site but ask for permission first.


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Posted on Monday, October 1, 2007

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