GTD Refresher: The Next Action List Isn’t A Project Management System

Kudos to Michael Sampson on giving us a healthy reminder not to use our next action list as a project management system.

We’ve all done it: we’ve used our to-do lists to house everything we’ll need to finish a project. But this makes our lists increasingly bulky. And nobody likes looking at a long list of to-do’s on a Monday. Mike’s got an even better solution: only put actions on your project list that will get done within 1-2 weeks.

This naturally reduces the number of items on one’s next action list from an overwhelming number of hundreds and hundreds down to something that you feel good about getting done during the upcoming week. Things that you could do, or things that you might do in the future go someone else … on the project plan, in a tickler file, in your calendar … somewhere else where you will see them at the right time, but not on your next action list.

A smaller, more focused to-do list is always preferred. Just like most GTD mentality, only having what you immediately need in front of you is always the best path.

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{ 11 comments… add one }
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  • glen December 11, 2006, 9:00 pm

    Good point. It’s like a glorified weekly review.

    Dave and Brett,
    I guess it’s a matter of preference then eh? I personally like Dave’s choice for viewing by context, but on occasion I like to pick and choose from the big list. Variety is the spice of life…

  • Dave December 11, 2006, 5:53 pm

    I had noticed that my next actions list was getting rather long, too. My “@work” list, especially, was a bit unwieldy.

    So, I created number of context-specific lists (I used a index card-based hipster PDA) on individual cards. That way, I can quickly flip to the card that correlates to my current context (behind a computer, in the car, at home, in front of the phone, etc.) and see what’s available to do at that time.

    It was bugging me to have my “@phone” and “@computer” items vying for my attention when I was in the car or at home with the kids.

  • Brett December 11, 2006, 5:21 pm

    In my opinion, having all of my next actions on a list in front of me is rather freeing. That way, I have more tasks to choose from and can make a better choice based on my context, energy, resources, etc.

    It can definitely be overwhelming, probably because the list won’t seem to get smaller as quickly, but at least nothing’s living in your head (and you have fewer lists to maintain)!


  • Brandon Ferguson December 11, 2006, 5:02 pm

    Nice, can always use that reminder…

    However, I was under the impression that that was what the weekly review was for. You put all the stuff that can be actually done this week in the next actions list and then at your weekly review you scope out your projects to see if there are any new things that can be done in the upcoming week. This of course would require you to consult your project plan (if you have one) where the “Big List” is. =)