A great stumbling block for many GTD-ers lies in a disconnect between how they construct their to-do list items and the true "next actions" that need to be accomplished. I have to remind myself everyday as I add items to my to-do list that I need to think "action oriented". When your to-do items are not action oriented they don't lead you to accomplish anything, and more often than not they sit there for weeks on end as you wonder why nothing is getting done.
Being action oriented requires us to use certain verbs, and construct our to-do lists in a way that clearly defines WHAT needs to happen next:
BAD: This Item Is NOT Action Oriented:The difference in the example above is that there is a clear outcome to "creating a list of five strategies", whereas "thinking about new strategies" will have you staring blankly into your cube wall for the better half of a day. A good to-do item will lead you to accomplishing the end goal by giving you a framework to work within.
Think about ways to increase sales
GOOD: This Item IS Action Oriented:
Create a list of 5 new sales strategies
Structure Of A To-Do Item-
Any given to-do item will read about the same way:
- First it needs to include a verb - the "action" that needs to be accomplished.
- Second, it needs a measurement - generally in the form of a number or a dollar amount.
- And finally it needs a noun - the object of your goal.
These words may not capture all the actions that are specific to your job, but should give you a starting point in "verbing" your to-do items.
Action Oriented Words:More than anything I try to avoid what I call "empty verbs"... words that are technically verbs but leave you a little mystified as to what defines accomplishment. This isn't an exhaustive list, but I find it hard to create actionable to-do items out of words like this...
Empty Verbs:You can "think" about your account presentation all day... you can "review" your monthly sales report until you're blue in the face, but what are you really getting done? Answer THAT and you're on your way to writing a to-do item that makes sense.
Merlin Mann, founder of 43 Folders, has some even more in depth analysis on building smarter to-do lists that serves as an excellent resource for writing "next actions". And finally, take some additional time this week during your weekly review session to look closely at your existing to-do items. Ask yourself, are these Action Oriented? If not, re-write them using some of the verbs listed above as a starting point.