The technique is called Next Action Thinking. We learned it most clearly through the work of productivity expert David Allen and his “Getting Things Done” system. In fact, his work has become so popular that you can find it online by searching for “GTD.” We recommend reading his work in which he expands on Next Action Thinking and provides several more productivity tips. However, we felt the concept was useful enough to warrant a short summary to get you started.
The big idea is this: Many people don’t do things because they don’t know what “doing” looks like. In other words, they don’t break things down into smaller, specific steps.
While people often make “to-do” lists, they don’t make them very well. People tend to use vague statements that aren’t actually actionable. For example, a well-intentioned homeowner may put “sprinkler” on her “to-do” list. Would you know what to do with this mysterious “sprinkler” item? It could obviously mean a number of things: Buy one? Water the lawn? Practice your dance move? Who knows?
Now you might say, “But she knows. She wrote it on the list.” But we’re not so sure.
Suppose what she needed to do was to buy a new sprinkler. Is that actually her next action? Does she know what store to go to? Does she need to shop around for some prices? Does she even know the specific sprinkler she wants?
Vague statements don’t promote action. It’s helpful to be very specific about the action we need to take. If she’s ready to buy the sprinkler, she should write “Buy sprinkler at hardware store.” If she’s not ready, she should write “research sprinklers online.” Often, next actions can be written starting with a verb. “Buy this.” “Research that.” “Talk to so-and-so.”
To help get specific, ask yourself, “If I had nothing to do except this project, what would I physically go and do right now?” Next action thinking is all about getting very clear on the very next action you need to take.
Getting clear on our next action probably won’t take long - perhaps only a few seconds of thought. Unfortunately, all-too-often, we don’t take that time, and tasks are left in un-clarified, un-actionable form. When this happens, we subconsciously avoid them, the nebulous tasks stay on our lists, and the bigger project idea gets stuck in the muck.
Wherever your project is at, take a few moments to clarify the path forward. Determine the next actions the group needs to take. Double check that a specific individual is accountable for each task. Whether you need to do more research, speak to another person, or draft out a more detailed plan, by clarifying your next steps, you’ll empower people to take action with ease."
A simple process to unleash your inherent creative powers and to help others do the same.
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