Outcome-Based Thinking, identify projects and next actions

Original post by Merlin Mann

Which parts of David Allen’s GTD system appear to have the greatest long-term impact on the people who have adopted it and who ultimately stick with it for years?
When asked to distill everything down to its most powerful concepts, I came up with three, and here’s how I’d summarize each:

  1. Outcome-Based Thinking. Articulating in the most specific terms possible what a successful outcome looks like for any given use of your time. Or as I like to put it, “How will I know when I’m done with this?”
  2. The Next Action. Knowing that you don’t need to track everything you could conceivably do about a Project; you just need to know the next physical action that would get you closer to completion.
  3. The Review. Accepting that the heart of the Trusted System that lets you move through a day with a high tolerance for ambiguity is the knowledge that eventually everything you’re doing gets looked at once a week without fail.

If you focus on trying to master these three things in the service of stuff you think is valuable, you’re going to accomplish some grand work.

Slightly related, I wanted to share a modest, GTD-esque idea for a fast way to identify the actual Project and Next Action from within a big bunch of “stuff.”

Think about the thing that’s most on your mind right now. It’s probably not the thing you think is most on your mind; the stuff that’s really getting our attention likes to run behind the refrigerator whenever we turn the lights on. But, anyway. Got it? Okay.

Let’s say you now have in your mind something that needs to be different than how it currently is. For me it’s:

Slides for talk in Arizona

If I re-articulate that in the following format:

I need to $FOO because I want to $BAR

I get something like this:

I need to spend an hour cleaning up my Keynote slides because I want to give a great talk on Inbox Zero next Friday.

Now I’ve said something I can use; I have a Next Action (reviewing and editing my slides for 60 minutes) and a Project (presenting a kickass talk in Scottsdale).

This is Outcome-Based Thinking 101, but I think it can be a powerful way to focus when you’re feeling adrift about what to do with a something.

Give it a try, forcing yourself to sketch more than the shadows of anxiety, priority, or resignation. Envision what this would look like if you really kicked ass, then figure out the next physical action that gets your kicking foot into motion.


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