Tuesday, August 28, 2007

GTD: Keep Track of your Next Actions in Google Calendar

What about using Google Calendar to store your GTD next actions? David Allen makes a strong distinction between next action lists and events your calendar. This makes sense: you want to capture in your calendar events that must happen on a fixed date or hour. For next actions you can use pretty much any system... including your calendar, of course as long as you can keep events and next actions clearly separate in your calendar.

I have been experimenting with the idea for a few weeks now and here is one way to do it with Google Calendar:

  • Create 4 new calendars: one for your professional next actions, one for your personal next actions, one for completed/done actions, and finally one for "waiting for" items.
  • When you create a next action, roughly choose when you will do it. Is this something you'll shoot for doing today, later this week, next week, next month? Also choose how long it should last (1/2 hour, 1 hour, 2 hours...). Roughly place the next action at an appropriate time during the day. Is this an errand you will do coming back from work? Or something you'll want to do in the evening at home? Something for the weekend? Or just any time during the day will be fine?
  • When you have done a next action item, or got what you expected for a "waiting for", move it to the "done" calendar.
  • Choose appropriate colors: for instance show the "done" calendar in gray, next actions (professional and personal) in different shades of green, purple for "waiting for", and events in different shades of orange.
  • Regularly review your calendar and make sure that you don't have any greens (next actions) or purple (waiting for) left in the past. Everything in the past must be gray. If anything green or purple is still there in the past, don't panic: just pick a reasonable date in the future and move it there.
This works great with Google Calendar, because Google Calendar lets you:
  • Create tasks at a given time and for a given duration with just one mouse movement.
  • Move tasks around with a simple drag and drop (which you will be doing a lot).
  • Assign colors to different calendars and choose which calendars are displayed, you won't miss regular events, which would otherwise be lost amongst all your other next actions, done actions, and "waiting for". Maybe you will even be less likely to "forget" about an upcoming event because you will be looking much more frequently at your calendar.
Of course, any calendar software that has the provides those same benefits will work just as well as Google Calendar.

If you give this a try, or have and any suggestion on how to improve this, I would really like to read your comments. Make sure to post them below!

2 comments:

Olivier Bruchez said...

It's an interesting idea, but I don't think I would want to do that. "Next actions" tasks are really supposed to be a simple list, not "timestamped" items. The problematic step, for me, is "roughly choose when you will do it". I'm currently looking at my "next actions" list (in Google Docs) and I have absolutely no idea when I will be able to do these actions. I don't want to prioritize them either.

What's missing in Google Calendar is a to-do list feature or the concept of "non-timestamped" tasks, IMO.

Alessandro Vernet said...

I agree: this is for sure not a perfect system. The idea though was not to "timestamp" next actions, but to lay them out in an unused area of your calendar (say between midnight and 6am of the current week), using your calendar as a work surface, a little bit like you would write items on a write board.

BYW, if you have tricks that helped you implement GTD, let me know!