35. Tips For Your Next Action List

This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

We’ve spent a few lessons talking about next actions. What they are. Why they're good. How to use them.

This focus was to suggest, for your own evaluation, that keeping a list of next actions (not just projects) allows you to get more done with less stress.

But if you’ve had a hard time practicing this habit, you’re not alone. Maybe it seems difficult or just uninteresting, and behind those feelings is an intuition. Because the reality is, many of us like stress. Or at least we like the clarity a crisis provides. Suddenly, the ambiguity of the million-things-swimming-in-my-head is reduced to one. Just solve this problem.

Of course, that clarity is put upon us. Something’s wrong and we need to fix it. We aren’t choosing it.

Well, what if you could have crisis-like clarity without the crisis? That’s the promise of a good next action list, because a well-phrased next action requires infinitely less motivation to complete.

Next actions like “search web store for ‘large white boards’” or “look up ‘Professor Sarah Mitchell’ phone number” are so simple they don’t require much energy. And if little energy is required, then little motivation is needed. But you only get the benefits if you take the time to actually craft the specific phrasing of the next action itself.

Of course, not everything will be a next action. In addition to projects (remember in Holacracy a “project” is defined as an outcome you want to achieve), some things shouldn’t be on your list.

Some will be too vague. “Choose a contractor” isn’t a good next action because it doesn’t provide the clarity I need. If I'm still in comparison-shopping mode, then the next action might be “request price sheet from Thomas Consulting.”

Some will be too easy. Better to just do it. David Allen calls this the “two-minute rule”. So, if “request price sheet” means spending less than 2 minutes writing and sending a quick email, then just do it. You’ll spend almost as much time just recording the action.

Remember, next actions aren’t just to-dos. When done well, they are a gift you give yourself. They actually work with your emotions to pull you towards the outcomes you want to achieve.

Even if you don’t implement the entire GTD system today, asking “What’s the next action?” is one simple and powerful tool you can implement right now. And then keeping track of them outside of your head frees your mind to do what it does best—coming up with brilliant ideas.

Finally, don’t forget to check out more wisdom from David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. We cannot overstate its importance.