Focus on your next-action list instead of a project list.

My project list gets out of date quickly. Should I review it more often?

Where is the project list in DoNext?

Users of DoNext asked why there is no project list built into the app by default. The answer is:

Instead of maintaining your project list, engage with fast moving next-action lists

Abandoning your project list might be a controversial topic, since David Allen recommends a project list for anything that is more than one action step. The following reasoning comes from our experience. Your situation may vary. Let us know your take on it.

Practical experience invalidated the project list

I was doing GTD by the book with a project list and weekly reviews for over a decade. For years I haven’t used a project list anymore. I only use next action lists by context flanked by project support note taking.

In the stress-free productivity meetups I weekly exchange experiences about what works and what does not. We found that projects are hindering our productivity. I removed projects in the next-action system for both newbies and veterans:

  • For new practitioners the granularity of a project (“save the world” vs. “Clean garage”) seems to be confusing. Often the next-action and the project are similar, e.g. “Organize flight to Rome” with “@computer search for flight to Rome”. Being clear about the project is important to decide the next action. People starting out, are less distracted if they focus on writing down only the next-actions for their projects.

  • Advanced practitioners, coming to the group, use complex todo list software to map out all the projects in detail. Initially they are skeptical about removing the project list. Often experienced practitioners return months later, reporting that, using exclusively next-action lists improved their productivity. They do not use projects in the software they use any more.

Get the project list benefits without its overhead

Projects have 3 main purposes:

  1. A reminder to keep going towards the desired outcome, if you don’t finish it in one sitting. Having a project, ensures that you have at least one next action to all your desired outcomes, e.g. “search flight ticket” as next action for “Organize trip to Rome”.

  2. Enable you to review all your commitments at one place on a regular basis.

  3. Bring things to your attention. David Allen mentions that a project list also helps you identify things in your life which you might not call project initially.

Each of those reasons can be achieved without having to maintain a project list:

  1. Ensure next-action creation: Immediately decide the next action once you check something off or move it back to the INBOX1. Think about the desired outcome, then write down the next-action you can do towards it. You don’t need a project list to remind yourself about the project, if each project has a next-action on the task list at all times.

  2. Constant list reviews: Actively use you next action lists. You will automatically review your lists in the appropriate intervals. Your main lists, e.g. @computer or @office, will be reviewed hundreds of times a day. For other lists, e.g. @errands, the usage interval is longer. The project list will start to lag behind fast moving areas and be reviewed too often in other areas.

  3. Research next-actions: Decide the next-action for projects, which you are unclear about. If you do not want to decide on an open loop at that moment put it in the INBOX list. If you are used to deciding the next-actions of even difficult topics you won’t need a project list to remind you about them. Your notes about your areas of focus, goals and vision will remind you about research topics you should be looking into.

Your project list has hidden costs

The burden of a project list is that you need to keep it up to date. For newcommers, who start with writing next-action lists, finding the right project size too is hard. Veterans often get tempted to plan all the steps of a project in detail. Working with next-action lists daily ensures that your tasks are up to date. A project list is an additional layer of complexity, which is not updated as you work through your next-actions.

In some cases you might want a detailed overview of your project. Use your next action lists to infer your projects. Put the project list in your note taking solution which holds your other reference material und lets you reorder, format and group the information as needed.

Experiment with not having a project list

If you use next-action list permanently and do not preplan your projects, the need for a project list fades away.

Try it now:

  • Ask yourself: does the project list add enough benefit to make it worth the constant maintenance?

  • Strictly separate between next actions lists (unprioritized and up to date) and all other supporting material (including project support lists, notes and checklists).

GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company.

  1. DoNext has the option “Move to INBOX” if you long press a next-action in a list. Use it to quickly go through remove a task from the list and decide on it later when you process the inbox. 

"No-fluff", tactical producitvity advice.