It’s not like it’s complicated and it’s not like it’s secret. In fact, articulating your next step only really takes a moment or two. But it’s what David Allen calls ‘Doing the Hard Thinking up front.”

This week I want to address a critical reason many projects stall out:?Their next actions are not? actionable.

Why this is a problem:
Projects that lose momentum, fail. Energy is lost. Priority & purpose are forgotten. Opportunities missed. Time goes by and you end up working on a project that is no longer relevant.

Unless you have bite-sized next actions that you can really sink your teeth into in the — you’ll find yourself idled at critical points through the day when you could be advancing key projects. I’m talking about those 10-15 min holes you have throughout your day — times between meetings, phone calls, the latest Ebola outbreak.

Yes, it’s true. You can advance your most important projects in 10-15 minute increments throughout your day. But ONLY if you have an inventory of next actions that you can tick off your list one by one while having complete confidence these are absolutely the right things for you to be focusing your time on.

Symptoms:

  • Your ‘To-Do’ list repels you. You seldom reference it when looking for the ‘next thing’ to pick up.
  • Your project and To-Do list are one and the same. There is no differentiation between things like ‘pick up laundry’ and ‘file 2007 taxes.’
  • You have items on your to-do list which would take¬†more than 30 minutes to complete.
  • You look at your to-do list and don’t know where to start.

How to Avoid This:

Previously, we talked about the importance of outcome thinking. That’s what ¬†David Allen* would call ‘doing the hard thinking up front.’

After you’ve stated the successful outcome, brainstorm some possible next steps to get the project moving. After brainstorming declare, in writing, what THE next action is. Never step away from a project unless you have absolute clarity on what exactly you will be doing when you decide to pick this up again.

Qualities of a good next action:

A Good next action is simple. A next step may be as simple as a phone call. Heck, it may be as simple as looking up a name and a phone number for someone TO call.

A good next action should not take more than 30 minutes to complete.

A good next action requires your full attention and focus. In the A.D.D. world of the small business owner you’re lucky if you can devote your full attention to a single item.

A good next action is not a project in disguise. Does it take more than one step to complete? It’s a project.

A good next action won’t repel you — you’ll amost feel inclined to pick it up and do it as soon as you write it down. Good. If that’s the case do it and come up with the next one. You may even get on a roll and find the project is complete before you know it.

A good next action provides context to where you will do the task and what tools you’ll need to complete the job. For instance, if you need to research something on the internet your context is ‘a computer with an internet connection.’

A good next action (or list of next actions) is handy and always accessible. Note pad, Palm, iPhone whatever, just make sure it’s always with you.

A good next action is never called complete until you’ve identified the projects NEXT next action.

*Credit where credit is due: David Allen deserves 100% credit to for presenting & and sharing this information in a way that is so accessible to millions of devotees throughout the world. I’m simply passing it along to you in the hopes you may pick up on his wisdom and find it helpful as well.

photo credit: kirtaph

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