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"What is the next action" may be the most powerful question you can ask

Behavior, GTD, StrategyEdward KiledjianComment

In a previous article, I wrote about the wondrous power of implementing “Getting Things Done” as explained by David Allen. One of the most powerful tips it teaches is the power of asking “What is the next action” for each and every project on your to do list. 

It is a powerfully simple question that can be transformative if systematically implemented. For those that do not know GTD, here is some background information you need to understand the power. 

Anything that requires more than one action to complete is defined as a project in GTDland. So the first thing to understand is that you cannot do a project. You cannot “replace muffler”. “Replace muffler” is a project and has multiple action steps to complete. The breakdown can be something like this: 

  • Call 3 garages to get estimate
  • Determine cheapest option
  • Call to book appointment

Most people have dozens of these types of projects on their to do list that often seem to be stuck because they are not broken down into actionable steps. Most smart people get overwhelmed when you ask them to break down a project into individual actionable steps. They worry that they may forget a step or get one in the wrong order so often they avoid doing the breakdown and simply leave it in their to do pile. 

GTD simplifies the process by asking you to only define the very next action item to move the project along. Ask yourself “What is the very next action I have to take to move this project along.” All you have to do is the very next action item. Don’t try to create an exhaustive 25 point breakdown or you will overwhelm yourself. 

During your next team meeting, 20 minutes before the planned end, force your team to answer the question “What is the very next action item we need to take to move this along” (ensure someone owns the action of course). You will see a flurry of discussion much deeper than previous discussions. This question will force the team to think in a more action oriented way and will lay accountability in a clear and unambiguous way. 

Even if you have not implemented GTD in your life, I recommend you implement the above process immediately. Many people have called it transformative. It seems too simple to be effective but I guarantee you will  be surprised.