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One of the projects listed in my GTD system right now is to read a book. How would you define the next action(s) for this kind of project? I usually break out my actions into chunks between 5 and 30 minutes, but reading a book doesn't really have any sub tasks. Here's what I have been considering.

  • Next action specifies a minimum duration (eg. Read book for 30 minutes)
    • This is useful when I want to pick my next action based on time available.
    • Follow-up tasks can't be pre-made. Keep adding actions until project is complete.
  • Next action specifies a logical division (eg. Read chapter 1 from book, etc.)
    • The entire set of tasks can be defined at once, but it feels unnatural to specify numerous actions ahead of time.

The other problem is that neither of these methods provides the feeling of success that I usually get with GTD because I am effectively seeing the same action again and again, each time I clear it. With other projects, the actions are more varied and change contexts, so I stand a chance of completing all the tasks in a context without actually completing the projects.

Is there a better way to fit this into GTD? I would prefer to keep it inside the system so it's n

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6 Answers 6

I personally had this problem as well, I used to separate it into chapter 1, chapter 2...but found it a rather bad way to do this as some chapters are way too huge to be consumed in 1 sitting for my taste. So if you wanted to separate the tasks by sections, pages might be better in my opinion

For me, nowadays what I do when it comes to reading a book is to book a reading time in my calendar before hand and read as much as I could during the time block I scheduled for my reading. Then log down what is the last page I read as my next task. Such as 'Read from page 64'

Disclaimer: I finish books at a really slow pace.

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I use your timebox solution - Read "book title" for (at least) 30 minutes.

In many task management systems (Outlook and Remember the Milk are two I use) you can create a recurring task that replicates itself on completion. So if I look at a list of completed tasks for a day, I see it there, and get to note the success. And I don't have to manually create the new NA, the system does it for me.

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Good suggestion. I am using OmniFocus for Mac, and it allows me to repeat the task on completion. It also allows for an optional delay, so the task would remain "completed" until the next day. –  Nic Jan 24 '12 at 20:58

For me time approach is working. Piece of reading is one hour, and I'm trying to adjust this based on time left to complete book and priority. Of course, time has to be elastic (+/- 15min) because of logical structure of book - sometime is better to spend 10 min more but complete important chapter.

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Are you trying to set aside time so you develop the READING habit? (Next action - read A book for 30 min)

Or are you trying to finish THIS book or STUDY this book? (Next actions possible - start reading from where you last ended, read for X minute timeslot, read chapter x, write summary or outline of what you read, create notes, create flash cards...)

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I'm trying to finish a specific book. –  Nic Feb 1 '12 at 5:53

I know you want to fit it "inside the system". In my experience, though, sometimes it is better not to force things into next actions -- as long as you're reminded of them regularly.

For example, you could have a reading list that you review and prioritize at the weekly review, and set aside specific reading time every week (as snowpolar suggests).

David Allen also suggests you carry things to read with you. For example, you can read when waiting for a meeting to begin, or when commuting.

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I don't think this belongs in your next action list. A book acts as its own reminder, just keep it close at hand or in your read/review bucket. The only reason I can see for putting this on the next actions list is if it's part of a larger project and you need to finish the book in order to move on. In which case "Finish reading book" is probably sufficient for a next action. It could even go on your "waiting for" list if you know the book is going to take a week or so to get through in regular reading sessions. "Project X, Waiting for me to finish reading Y".

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