Clarify Projects by Always Asking: What is the Next Action?

David Allen from ‘Getting Things Done’ recommends always asking “what is the next action?”

Learn to ask “what is the next action?” when you are setting your goals, reviewing your project and task lists, writing emails, or wrapping up meetings. This will help you clarify what needs to happen to move the project forward, and decide if you and your team can really commit yourself to the next action.

Sometimes, you need to ask “what is the next action?” more than once, to get to the real next action.

For instance, if you want to create a daily writing practice, the next action is not to create a daily writing practice. The next action is to design a plan to create a daily writing practice. This might involve deciding the topic you will write about, doing enough research on the topic enough to get you started, breaking down your topic into smaller sub-topics that you can finish in one sitting, creating a content calendar for three to thirty days, blocking time in your calendar to write, and creating rituals and prompts that help you write.

Similarly, if you work in a media company and want to diversify your revenue streams beyond advertising, the next action is not to create new consumer revenue streams. The next action is to design a plan to create new consumer revenue streams. This might involve understanding your consumers’ needs from behavioural data/ focus groups/ surveys, researching what consumer revenue streams other media companies are creating, scanning what new technology startups have emerged in your market, listing and scoring all possible opportunities on their desirability and viability, shortlisting the most attractive opportunities, and designing pilot programs to test them.

The key here is to ask “what is the next action?” with a bias towards action, not as a proxy for procrastination. If you already know what you broadly wish to write about, the next action might simply be to sit down and write the first 300 words. If you already know what the broad market opportunities are, the next action might simply be to pick one and design a prototype.

I am intuitively a top-down, long-term, INTP thinker type, so I always over-index on working with a bias towards action. Even before I read GTD, I always ended every meeting by recapping what we have decided. Now, I go one step further and ask: “what is the next action?” Then, like David Allen suggests, I ask that question over and over again, until I get to the smallest, most immediate, most concrete next action: every night, take a topic from your ‘Ideas’ folder in Ulysses and write down the topic of the blog post you will write next morning in a new note in your ’Today’ folder.”

As your next action, pick up a project you haven’t been making progress on, because you are procrastinating on it, because it seems like an intimidating time sink, or because you simply don’t know how to start, and ask yourself the question: “what is the next action?” Then, do it.

If you already use a variation of this tip, and have had success with it, I would love to learn about your experience. And, if you have been inspired to start asking “what is the next action?” after reading this post, I would love to know what impact it has had. Do share your experience in the comments below or on Twitter @gauravonomics.

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Author: Gauravonomics

Recovering creative re-learning how to create a daily writing and sketching practice for the second half of life