7 Reasons Knowing the Next Action Will Help You Get More Done

One of the things I like about Getting Things Done by David Allen is the emphasis on always being clear on the next action you need to take to complete a project.

What’s the Next Action? This is the critical question for anything you’ve collected; if you answer it appropriately, you’ll have the key substantive thing to organize. The “next action” is the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion. … [Next actions] are all real physical activities that need to happen. Reminders of these will become the primary grist for the mill of your personal productivity-management system.

David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Emphasis in the original.

If you’re not familiar with GTD, a task is any action that will produce a desired outcome by itself. A project is any desired outcome that requires more than one action to accomplish.

A lot of the “tasks” we have on our to-do lists are actually projects. Sometimes that’s fine, but it can create a mental resistance to ever starting the task. We think we know what we need to do, but we really don’t. Our subconscious fights back and we put up mental barriers around the task-project so we don’t have to deal with it.

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Frost: The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

—Robert Frost, 1874–1963

What Roads Will You Not Take?

Our choices determine where we end up.

In his most famous poem, The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost paints the picture of a traveller who first pauses at a fork in the road, then later reflects on how the road he took—“the one less traveled by”—made all the difference.

Every day is full of decisions. The first is right when you wake up: will you get up or go back to sleep? The day is waiting. You have ambitious plans. But beds are never more comfortable than in the early morning.

For any decision that matters, one path will usually offer less resistance. The road less traveled takes effort and exertion. It will also make all the difference if you’ll make the necessary sacrifices.

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How Not to Score a Touchdown and Other Lessons from Danny Trevathan

Don’t Celebrate Until You Have Something to Celebrate

Last Thursday, the Denver Broncos hosted the Baltimore Ravens for a rematch of the game that ended the Broncos’ 2012 season. With 12:13 left in the 4th quarter, his team down 42–17, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco went for it on fourth-and-one. It was a short pass to the right, intended for Ray Rice. Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan read the pass, intercepted the ball, and ran it back 30 yards for a touchdown. It was beautiful.

Almost.

Trevathan actually ran the ball back 29 yards, started his celebration early, and literally dropped the ball on the one-yard line (watch the play). As he danced his touchdown dance, players from both teams scrambled behind him to recover the fumbled ball. The play resulted in a touchback, the Ravens got the ball on their own 20-yard line, and one minute and 38 seconds later (on the game clock), the Ravens had taken the ball 80 yards down the field for a touchdown.

Photo courtesy of the NFL/NBC Sports

Here are six lessons we can take from Trevathan’s gaffe.

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1858–1919

Why Settling for “Good Enough” Might be Even Better

I used to hate the phrase “good enough”.

“Good enough” meant you were settling for something inferior. You could have done better—done more—if you just put a little more effort into it. For example, I knew I could get 100% on a test, so that’s what I went for. I usually came pretty close. I used to joke that when it came to grades, “‘A’ is for Average, ‘B’ is Below [Average].”

Here’s the problem: you can always put a little more effort in, do one more thing, go some extra mile. You have to draw the line somewhere. Where you place that line is as much art as it is science—it’s a judgement call. Perfectionism says there is only one place you can put the line, and if you draw it in the wrong place, you’ve failed.

Now, I think that “good enough” might not be all that bad.

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