That Next Step

It’s getting to be that time of year again. A time for reflection, a time for pause and a time to contimplate “what’s next?”.

Often we want to use the spark and inspiration that comes with the turning of the calendar from December to January to help us jump start things we have either put off doing or didn’t “have the time” for.  Not that we are magically going to find that we have 25 or 26 hours in the day all of a sudden, but somehow we think that by rededicating ourselves to a project we can finally get it done.

If that has worked for great! I am glad for you and wish you success continuing to apply what works. However, I need a different approach.

Break It Down

I have found that I am far to easily tempted to put off working on a “project” or a “goal” simply because it is not tangible enough. How does one complete a project or achieve a goal anyhow?  Unless it is a very small thing, it is not normally something you accomplish in one sitting or at one time.

I am not a chef but even I know you don’t just “make cookies” as a single task. You must first assemple (or acquire) the necessary ingredients such as flour, eggs, water, cookie dough, chocolate chips (yes they are required). Then you need to pull out the mixing bowl, the beater, and other utentsils. You mix and stir and eventually bake them.  This “project” is really made up of several smaller tasks.

If you never made chocolate chip cookies before, being asked to do so could give you ‘deer in the headlights’ type of reaction. But if you were asked to break these 3 eggs into a bowl and stir them up, you could probably handle that.

Why?  Because it is simpler and stated in the form a next action and removes the ambiquity and question from the equation. We feel more confident that we will succeed so we are willing to try.

Likewise, no one just does these things as a single task:

  • Writes a book
  • Earns a degree
  • Get a new job
  • Establish a career
  • Loose 20 pounds

These are noble goals but each needs to be broken down into smaller tasks if they are to be achieved.

I think we too often put such things on our New Year’s resolution or personal improvement lists but we don’t break them down into management next steps. This is a receipe for failure and frustration.

Think about it if you are looking at ‘get a new job’ what do you do with that?  There are a hundred of possible things you could do but if you have 30-60 minutes what can or should you do?  If it’s not obivious, the answer might be, “I don’t have enough time right now, so I’ll put that off until tomorrow”.

But if you were looking at a task that was stated, “call Joe about openings at his company” you can do that.

Getting Things Done

Those that are familar with the GTD methodology will quickly recognize this concept. It is the “what’s the next action?” question that GTD forces you to think about.

I first read David Allen’s book about a year ago and have been slowly learning to adjust and incorporate the philosophy behind it into my daily and weekly routine. I am still a long way from where I want to be, but I’m learning (and improving).  There is even a new podcast which helps to share what others have learned and how they incorporate GTD principles into their workflow.

For a quick 2 minute intro about GTD, check out this video.

What’s The Next Step?

The beauty of breaking things down into the next actionable step is that it applies to all areas of your life. It could be personal, professional, for yourself or for others. It could be an individual or a group project. The concept still applies.

So, now that you have read this, what is your next step?