What’s the next action? This is the most central question in the Getting Things Done methodology. Yet, for some reason, it can be really hard to ask – and even harder to find the answer.
The power of this question was the first thing I realized after reading David Allen book, Getting Things Done – The art of stress-free productivity, back in 2004. Asking what’s the next action? Was so powerful that I did not realize that there was a complete methodology behind it for a long time. OK, I knew, but I thought that I didn’t need it.
What’s the next action?
At the time I was reading David Allen’s book, I spent a lot of time in unproductive meetings. We would discuss issues, agree on the problem, and even the solution, only to repeat the same thing in the next meeting. Anyone who knows me would know that I was majorly frustrated by this.
One day I decided to ask this question when it was about ten minutes left of the meeting. For a second, most of my colleagues looked like a deer caught in the headlights. When we agreed on the next action, I insisted on assigning the action to a person so we could follow up later.
By the third meeting, my colleagues were prepared and even had the answer ready. This started to change the outcome of the meetings, and the productivity in the organization.
The definition of “next action”
David Allen’s definition of “next action” is
“The next visible physical activity required to move something forward”
Think about this for a moment. This means that “Fix the car” is not a next action, neither is “Call John.” If you are going to get the car serviced, the next action is “Call company X re. service on the car.” If you are going to call John to set up a meeting, the next action is “Call John re. time for sales meeting” Unless you have both phone numbers on speed-dial, these tasks should also include the phone numbers.
How to write good next actions
I find that it helps to think all the way down to picturing yourself doing it. All next actions should start with a verb. Call, buy, ask, pick up, etc.
A good next action is so clear that you are able to do it on Monday morning - before coffee. #GTD Click To Tweet
What to do if you get stuck
Ask yourself: Do I need more time or do I need more information?
If you find that you need more time: Set a reminder.
If you find that you need more information: Your next action is to google it or to call someone.
The five steps of Getting Things Done
The five steps of processing in GTD are
I try to always do number 2 and 3 at the same time. I find that as a part of clarifying, I have to find out if I should do it, Thus, what project to put it in. The next is finding out what to do. The latter will always lead to knowing what tools I need to use or people I need to involve. In other words, the context. Since I have both project and context, I can get it into my GTD system.
Want to know more about the five steps of GTD? Read Getting Things Done (GTD) – What is it?
Asking What’s the next action? works with everyone
Remember my story about the meeting where I asked What’s the next action? None of the people in the room was practicing GTD, not even me at that time. I continue to ask this question even today.
Asking the simple question about what to do next, and then assigning a responsible party is a driver for progress and productivity.
So – What’s your next action?