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I use Freemind Mind Mapping software to store all of my GTD lists. I have a separate mindmap for each list (i.e. In Tray, Next Actions, Projects, Project Support Material, Someday, Tickler Calendar, etc.)

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GTD has certainly freed my mind up, but I'm stuck as to where to file next actions. How many actions to have in the Next Actions list and how many to specify in either Projects or Project Support Material?

Should I simply put a single next action for each project in the Next Actions list (so I can safely empty my mind of what to do next)? Alternatively, should my Next Action list contain all of the next actions I'm aware of and collate them under project contexts?

Also, what is the recommended way of specifying contexts in Next Actions?

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+1 Interesting idea to use mind-mapping for GTD. Nice Question badge your way. ;) –  John Jul 4 '11 at 6:02
    
Cheers. I'm now using Freeplane which is even more marvellous than Freemind. –  Umber Ferrule Nov 4 '11 at 16:31

4 Answers 4

I see "Next Actions" as a subset of all "Actions" identified in a project's WBS. After working on a project, you identify the next action to be done and mark it as next action in the relevant context. When you next do that next action, you may possibly also do a number of adjacent/related actions in the project's WBS. When you stop, you mark the next action.

Using Freemind, I would agree with keeping all actions together in its project list. After doing a next action I would go to the project list to find another next action to copy to the next action list. Freemind does provide "attributes" that you may use to identify context, but it doesn't provide all list management feature.

With other software that allows the same task/action to be in multiple list, instead of copying I would just mark the task/action to be in both the project and next action lists. You might want to look at "outlining" software with full list management features that provide similar collapsible tree views to Freemind.

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I put all next actions I can think of "under" the project. I don't want to think a thought twice. If I think of doing it, I add it to my system.

The danger of this, is having dozens of next actions under each project. You could use priority or something similar, to identify what you need to do first. or you can just quickly scan you list. If your next actions have dependencies, you'll probably realize what you need to do next with a quick review. But this way you at least don't get stuck with "nothing" to do.

If you've got hundreds of next actions for a project, consider splitting it into several projects, and consider something a little more powerful/customized than freemind.

@TomWij suggestion about a today list is also a good one. With the added ability of going back to a master list if you need to in the middle of the day.

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Next actions are supposed to be the next thing one needs to do to move the project forward. What's the point of have a next action if there's more than one? –  Huperniketes Jun 24 '11 at 8:53
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Of course you can have multiple next actions. First, each project should have at least one next action, so if you're grouping next actions across all your projects then you would have at least one next action per project. Second, a single project can have lots of next actions. Anything that needs to be done to move the project along that does not have a predecessor action is a next action. Next action doesn't mean the next thing you plan to do, it means anything that can be done next to make progress. –  Adam Wuerl Jun 25 '11 at 16:22
    
Also, next actions should absolutely not be grouped by project, they should be grouped by context. The important thing to know when you have time to complete a task is not what project it supports but if you are actually equipped to perform the action. A calls list is only useful by a phone, a work list only useful at work. Seeing all the things to be done on project X, when half of them you can't do anything about right now isn't useful. This distinction is the entire point of GTD. –  Adam Wuerl Jun 25 '11 at 16:24
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@AdamWuerl: That's not true, actions must be grouped by project or otherwise you will have no organization in terms of projects at all and it will disallow you to plan in what order you will do your next action. If I tell you that project X is the most important thing to work on, you would take copy more projects from project X into your "Today" or in your case "Next Actions" list. But you shouldn't just throw them all together and try to figure out which tasks are of project X... –  Tom Wijsman Jun 25 '11 at 17:19
    
@TomWijsman The same argument could be used against grouping by project. But I don't think sorting next actions by project is wrong either. Contexts tend to be easier to indicate in the task title (as action verbs), and no-one's never not #computer or #phone anymore. –  Lri Jul 23 '11 at 1:28

How many actions to have in the Next Actions list and how many to specify in either Projects or Project Support Material?

I agree that this is the wrong question because it presupposes that there is a right number. But there are good rules of thumb:

  • You should capture as many next actions as exist, as I explain in this answer on the link between next actions and projects. If there are three things that could theoretically be done now that would move a given project forward, then all three need to be capture as next actions and placed in context lists. If there are 20, then you should capture all 20.
  • All next actions should be organized in context lists, not by project. This is critical. Grouping by project misses the entire point of GTD. GTD's innovation is to say the most important thing to know when you're deciding what to do is what tasks you can accomplish in your present context (e.g. work, home, running errands, by a phone, etc.)
  • As for capturing actions in project/support material, you should capture as many as you can think of in a reasonable amount of time. That is, if you can think of a future action related to a project, then capture it--there's no point in having to think of it twice. And during your weekly review, or whenever you review the project materials, it's worth spending some time thinking of next and future actions; however, you can easily reach a point of diminishing returns. It's not worth dwelling on a project to try and list everything that will eventually need to occur to close it out, especially if the project is complex. Those tasks will naturally occur to you as you make progress and planning too far in advance is not an effective use of time. Record the obvious stuff and trust that the other tasks will occur to you as you make progress.

Alternatively, should my Next Action list contain all of the next actions I'm aware of and collate them under project contexts?

I don't see a benefit of collating next actions by project. It seems like bookkeeping for no gain. If you do see a need, do something low overhead like embedding the project name in the tasks title (same link as above).

As for contexts, the only right answer is as few as you can get away with, but here's a starting point:

  • work (tasks that have to be done in the office)
  • home (tasks that can only be done at home, e.g. mow lawn)
  • errands (tasks that you have to do when out-and-about)
  • call (tasks that only require access to a phone, including the phone # in the task title is a good trick for these ones)
  • web (tasks that require internet access, including the url is useful, especially if using an electronic tool that makes the link clickable)
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You should capture as many next actions as exist is wrong advice, your "Next Actions" or "Today" list shouldn't become overly busy with hundred of tasks. You should house them under projects and sort them by whether you can do them now, next or some day. Getting rid of projects removes about any organization benefits you have from GTD related to projects, having tags in projects doesn't disallow you from deciding what you can accomplish at present. Embedding the project name will remove the alignment of the beginning of task names, having a list of tags per project is way more handy... –  Tom Wijsman Jun 25 '11 at 17:24
    
A context hosts multiple projects, I don't see why we should have all those tasks from all those projects together in one big list. You just take the actions that you plan to do next and add them to the "Next Actions" or "Today" list. Most GTD systems allow you to do this in such way that the tag is listed under both the Project and the list where you put it in. And getting the tasks in a certain moment / context / project just boils down to a single click, rather than scrolling in a long list... –  Tom Wijsman Jun 25 '11 at 17:29
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@Tom: Agree, most GTD systems allow storing tasks in projects and tagging by context, but the screenshot implies things have one home. Given this restriction, the most useful place for a next action task is in the right context list. If they're stored in disparate projects it is not "a single click" to see all next actions that can be done @web, it requires traversing every project. If someone has so many actions they could do "right now" at a computer that it's scrolling off the page then the system is not the problem, rather the number of open projects and unaccomplished tasks. –  Adam Wuerl Jun 25 '11 at 23:20
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@Tom: I don't advocate getting rid of projects. I said that once a task becomes a next action, it doesn't really matter what project spawned it. All that matters is that it's something you've decided you want to do, that it can be done whenever you're in the correct context. If you're putting what you call "next actions" in a list for things that you can't do until the "next or some day" then they're not next actions, they're future actions--by definition. GTD doesn't want people to decide when to do tasks ahead of time, only decide if they can be done. Task selection is done in the moment. –  Adam Wuerl Jun 25 '11 at 23:23
    
Agree, GTD isn't really mind mapping and Freemind isn't really feature rich for GTD. But it does fine for the way of working like you describe, but some tasks are easier to perform in a more advanced GTD system but that's indeed out of context here. -- Good point, I haven't been through both books of David Allen. I've only read up to some point at then started a bit on NirvanaHQ, I now see how your "next actions" versus "today" applies. I can configure NirvanaHQ to show Today tasks under the Next section, thus use "Next" as you describe and "Today" for today's unfinished deadlines. –  Tom Wijsman Jun 25 '11 at 23:31

How many actions to have in the Next Actions list?

You are asking the wrong question here.

Your question should be "What actions should be in the Next Actions actions list?" or even better:

What are my next actions?

Here, what you consider a next action plays a big role. A lot of GTD systems simply solve this by renaming the "Next Actions" list to "Today". So, you simply plan out your day in the morning by dragging tasks to "Today"; and as you progress through the day you can still get to see what you haven't done yet.

Suddenly, "how many actions" depends on what you can get done "Today". To be able to magically take the right amount of actions, you will need to learn to do some time planning. The Pomodoro Technique can help you with deciding how much you will do today; more importantly it can help you with learning how much time tasks would take and thus how many tasks you could plan for "Today"...

What also helps, is using a "Later" list for things that have to happen in the coming days. or you could as well try something out with a "Tomorrow" list and a "These days" list. See what works for you! :)

Also, what is the recommended way of specifying contexts in Next Actions?

People usually use hash-tags to denote context, given that you use "Today" it shouldn't overwhelm you.

Example: Go to the cinema with my family this evening. #home

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I disagree completely that "next actions" and "today" are synonymous. In fact, blurring this line can cause more harm that good. Today implies that you've made a bargain with yourself that the action needs to be done today. Next action means that (assuming you're in the right context and have the time/mental energy) you can do the task now. Defining something as a "next action" makes no statement about when the action will be accomplished; that's your job to determine whenever you review your context lists. –  Adam Wuerl Jun 25 '11 at 16:26
    
@AdamWuerl: I haven't said they are synonymous. Of course "next actions" are a matter of order and "today" is a matter of time, that doesn't need extra explanation. I'm not blurring this line, I'm suggesting an alternative that could work better for Umber. Furthermore, right context and time/energy should be selected through filters and not by moving tags around different lists. If I arrive at work, I filter on the "work" context and could sort by importance and energy. If I'm driving, I filter by "town" and do any bank/shopping, when I'm at home I filter by "home". –  Tom Wijsman Jun 25 '11 at 17:07
    
@AdamWuerl: I don't really see a point in moving tags while I'm on the road or when I arrive at home, instead it's much easier to do a single click to change to my current context and start processing things further. As it is handy to review on a daily basis it's handy to use "Today" to list all tasks that you could do "Today". Of course you could use "Next Actions", but where do you draw the limit of how much actions you will list there? As that's the problem the OP has; using a "Today" list instead is one working solution, there are others... –  Tom Wijsman Jun 25 '11 at 17:13
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If you rename something but don't change its essence, then by definition the names are synonymous. Since you point out that Next Actions != Today, a change was intended, which I see now upon more careful reading. I think you're suggesting that when building the today list someone decides what next actions to accomplish today. David Allen recommends against this in his book (and against putting things on a calendar that don't really have to be done today) because if you don't get to them for some reason you've broken an agreement with yourself. I think a today list is akin to calendar misuse. –  Adam Wuerl Jun 25 '11 at 23:28
    
I agree with @AdamWuerl that a today list is akin to calendar misuse. The actual-to-artificial-priority ratio is just too low, particularly if you have a flexible schedule. It's not realistic to expect yourself to finish each task in a day when there's little actual incentive to do so. That just results in abandoned commitments and devaluation of priority. –  Lri Jul 23 '11 at 1:10

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