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Take for example that you are studying for an exam, and you need to read a book.

Would you register reading the book as the next action, or would you split it up with one action per chapter?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Usually I register reading the book as Next Action. But I do this in a different ways. My next action says Read The Temporal Void for 30 minutes. That is I specify the amount of time to read the book. Since usually books cannot be completed in one sitting, and chapter lengths are not equal, I fix the amount of time. It works for me.

I do not recall that David Allen recommended any maximum length of time for any action. So you have to take your decisions. You may have to do several trials to find out what works better for you.

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In your example: if you won't read the book in one sitting, and can meaningfully split it up into chunks, then doing so is probably a good idea.

Generally: It's more motivating to have something that you can start an know will be able to finish within a reasonable timeframe and then tick off your list than to have a task that comes back to the top of your stack again and again.
Also, with larger tasks, these are more likely to actually require at least slightly different individual actions, so that the splitting up means that you more clearly define what your next action should do next.

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The second option is more realistic unless the book doesn't have many pages. You can easily keep track of your progress and check if your pace is enough to finish it on time. I'd recommend splitting the number of chapters in the number of remaining days.

Doing otherwise, that is registering it as a single action, can be quite frustrating if you know you're not keeping up with the schedule. If it's a burden to read the book every day, have some days you won't have to do it. I work out every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. I can tell it's a good relief to have some planned breaks - as I don't feel bad for something unaccomplished. Turns out I'm now working out more often than when I had planned to do it from Monday to Friday. In your case you can use the planned breaks to study things other than your book.

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Actually, David Allen defines a tasks as to long/complex when your can't motivate yourself for that task. So, when "Read book" is a task but you won't do it because you can't get the motivation, you should break it up.

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Actually doing chapter wise will be too much organizing. I will keep it as a repetitive task, appearing daily in my task list, till I am done. If any chapter is a difficult one and needs revisiting, I will create a separate task for that chapter.

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