How to clean up next action lists.

How do I decide what to do next, if I have too many tasks?

My list of tasks got too long and unwieldy. I fall off the GTD bandwagon.

I start off great with my lists, but my progress dissipates.

If you stop reordering and daily planning your list will gain momentum. In order to keep this speed you need to clean up old tasks.

High-turn-around lists are easier to maintain

If you scan over your next-actions regularly, its tasks will all be current. Your lists will have a self cleaning build in: Items that are stuck on the list will stand out, because you jumped over them too often while scanning the list. You can use the two steps below to remove tasks that are stuck on your list.

A fast moving list should feel like turbine that propels you into action. Similar to untangled “threads” of the flow laminar mental model. Tasks flow through the system quickly and undisturbed.

The vicious cycle of slow task lists

If you have old tasks on your list it probably will be bogged down.

A list that has the tasks stuck on it for over a week, will grow und be used less frequently. Some GTDers have hundreds of next actions. An unwieldy list makes micro-managing it look appealing: stars, flags and due dates. You create another layer of planning in your system. But where will this end? 20 priority levels? Making a slow list more complex will make it even slower.

Whenever my list grows to a size over 20 tasks, I cannot scan it quickly. I use the following two steps to get the list to a more managable size.

How to deal with tasks that are stuck on your list

Try it now: Clean up your list by clarifying its tasks. Starting with the oldest tasks. Either make the tasks more actionable or remove it:

  • break down the task into an even smaller step. From “log into bank account” to “look up password for bank account”. It sounds like more work initially. The task was on your list a long time. Defining an easier more obvious next-step, makes it more likely that you get started on it. If your task is “decide…”, “organise…” find a more actionable next step. Sometimes you discover that some other step is required instead. Breaking projects down to their first next-action makes it easier to get catapulted into action.

  • delete stuck tasks from the next-action list. Often there is a reason why you haven’t done the task until now. Consider letting go of the task for now. Consider moving the task to a “Someday/Maybe” list in your reference material, if you still want to keep it.

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