Free yourself from the temptation to plan projects in detail.

I have the next-action on my list. Where do I put the tasks after that?

Previously you collected you open loops. You decided the next-action for each. Now you might wonder:

How do I keep track of subsequent steps that come after the next-action?

The answer is surprisingly simple: Subsequent steps go nowhere. For each desired outcome in your life, just have the one next-action on your todo list.

ONLY add the first next-action to your task list

Use the “next-actions only” rule to clean up your todo lists:

Go through your todo lists and delete the tasks that depend on other tasks to be done first.

When you create a new project decide exclusively the first next-action for it. Ignore the subsequent steps until you complete the next-action.

EXAMPLE: For your trip to Rome you only have a next-action “search flight ticket to Rome online”. Decide later steps like “search for hotel room in Rome” once you booked the flight. In most cases you always do one of those steps before the other.

The first step is all you need

At first it feels counterintuitive to stop after your defined the initial next-action. There two reasons not to preplan:

  • Your next-actions are a catapult to get you started. Use the momentum to continue to work towards your desired outcome. Once you want to work on something else, decide the new next-action left on that first path. Put the new task on the list to get you started again next time.

  • You can’t predict the steps in detail beforehand. Continue working on the topic with the new knowledge gathered. After each step you get more insight on the next step. Don’t clank up your tasks list by putting steps on the list which might change after you completed other tasks. Your planning work might be wasted, if you decide not to continue the project.

Defining only the next-action has many benefits: It becomes very fast to focus on multiple projects, since they don’t have planning overhead. Your next-action lists become free from tasks which you cannot do immediately. The lists will gain momentum. You can more easily adapt to the insight you gained along the way.

In most cases you won’t need more planning

For ~98% of my projects not to preplan works well. Only few projects are so complex that they need more planning. I have project support files and checklists seperate from the task lists. e.g. “Release DoNext on the AppStore”. For mapping out those endevours I recommend David Allen’s excellent GTDs Natural Planning Model. I found that in most cases defining tasks on the fly is enough.

Try it now: Go through your list and remove any step that depends on another step. For new ideas just decide the first next-action.

"No-fluff", tactical producitvity advice.