David Allen and his associates have an excellent and free podcast on the Best Practices of Doing. I encourage you to listen to the whole thing. The discussion presumes you understand how to, and have spent time, capturing projects and next actions. Now, the issue is how to decide what to actually do from these lists. Here are five best practices:
- Create a "hotlist." People with long lists of next actions feel overwhelmed. David discusses a client who had 100 telephone calls on his @Calls list. He can't scan this whole list every time he's ready to make a call. If you face something similar, or just need extra focus, create a daily secondary list of priority items. Just make sure your complete list of next actions stays up to date and that the "hotlist" doesn't become your only list
- Be flexible. Remember that priorities change with time. What seemed like a priority at the beginning of the day may not seem like one ten minutes later. Things come up. Circumstances change. Just go with the flow.
- Choose wisely. What is your context (@Office versus @Home)? How much time do you have (do you have time ten minutes or one hour)? What is your energy level (are you fresh and energized or sick and exhausted)?
- Be tactical. Assuming all your stuff is on next action lists, ask yourself: "What's most got your attention?" Look at your list and ask: "Which one of these things, if finished, would give me the highest personal payoff?"
- Don't get bogged down in your lists. David Allen barely looks at his lists on any given day, just giving them a quick glance. He estimates eighty percent of his day is ad hoc and unplanned. But to work this way, he has to have confidence in the adequacy of his lists so that he doesn't have to worry about things blowing up on him. To do this, he does a "deep dive" into his lists during his weekly reviews.
I'd add one more best practice: no matter how busy your day, look at your next actions lists once. Doing this probably won't change what you do, but you'll be more relaxed and focused knowing you're not missing anything.