know your next action

Know your ‘next action’ [PMP #289]

A productivity principle I’ve been following for years now is to always identify my ‘next action’ related to the projects and clients I’m working on.

This is something I discussed in episode 243 of my podcast which I’d like to revisit as it’s such a simple, yet powerful concept that can really help you to be more organised.

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The concept of a ‘next action’ was first introduced to me in David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done (book summary). I don’t follow GTD strictly, but when I’ve certainly adopted this concept from the book. According to David Allen, the next action is the most immediate activity that YOU can take to move a task or project forward.

The reason a lot of projects stall or why it can take so long to make progress on our work is that no clear ‘next action’ has been identified. Without the next action, you’re essentially relying on yourself or someone else to remember what to do next. I don't know about you, but I hate trying to remember things. I’d much rather put tools and systems in place to remind me what to do next, so I don’t have to rely on my monkey brain.

The reason a lot of projects stall or why it can take so long to make progress on our work is that no clear ‘next action’ has been identified.Click To Tweet

For example, have you ever completed a task and now you’re waiting on someone else to do their part or to come back to you with a response but they never do (remember, your work isn't always their priority)? Weeks can easily slip by because there’s no next action reminding YOU to follow up with the other person. Even though they’re the one who needs to do their part, if you have a next action reminding you to follow up, situations like this can be avoided.

The reason this concept is so powerful is that it forces you to take more responsibility for the work. Again, even though progress on a project may be dependent on someone else doing their part, by identifying the next action that YOU can take i.e. following up with that person, you take on responsibility for the project yourself.

This is a key principle behind Jocko Willink’s book, Extreme Ownership (book summary). Instead of blaming other people for the lack of progress, we should take it upon ourselves to be the ones to move the work forward.

You can manage your next actions in a number of ways:

  • If you use a project management tool, you can create a task for yourself reminding you what you need to do next for a given project. Even if this means checking in or following up with someone who’s doing the work.
  • In sales, you can set a reminder or activity in your CRM. A key concept I teach when I work with Pipedrive consulting clients is that every deal (i.e. sales opportunity) should have an activity on it. Even if you’re waiting for a prospect or client to respond, you should have an activity reminding you when to follow up. This is the best way to help prevent good leads and revenue from slipping through the cracks.
  • If you’ve sent an invoice for your work, set a reminder to follow up if it hasn’t been paid.
  • If you’ve emailed someone and you’re waiting for a response, most email clients let you snooze the email for a given amount of time before it resurfaces in your inbox.

The reason I think most people don't do this is it can feel like you’re spending more time managing your work than actually doing your work. When I’ve conducted training sessions on Pipedrive, more than once I’ve had salespeople tell me that setting reminders is taking time away from making sales. While this might feel like the case, identifying your next action will save you time in the long run. If you have a next action already identified, you won’t have to go back through all your projects or emails and think about what to do next and you won’t have to rely on your brain to remember what to do. You can offload this cognitive effort to a system that helps you to feel more organised and less busy.

Adopting this simple habit is a game-changer. If you’re not identifying next actions, give it a go and see how your productivity improves.