Getting to action: how to decide what to do next

Getting to action: how to decide what to do next

Two basic rules are important when you try the method of Getting Things Done.

  • You are responsible for gathering all loose ends.
  • You need to decide what the next action is for each project.

Below I will give you some more advice on both basic rules.

Gathering your projects

Make a list of all your projects (remember: a project is anything that requires more than 1 step to be completed). This list can be in random order.

All information and new projects that you gather should be organized into a system that is logical to you. New loose ends – incomplete projects – should be on your project list, which you can keep in an online of offline format. Information should be archived, and easily reached.

Each project has its own next action(s)

Projects are not the things that ‘get done’, only the actions required to realize the project (see your project as a goal to be reached) can be done.

Therefore it is important to:

  1. Decide what you want to realize (in as much detail as necessary).
  2. Decide what is the next action towards this goal.

All actions fall into one of four categories. Each category leads to a different approach.

  1. Doable in 2 minutes: do it now
  2. Needs to be done by someone else: delegate and place a reminder for yourself
  3. Needs to be done at a certain moment or with certain people: plan in your agenda
  4. Needs to be done when you have more time: put on your to-do list

You can keep all ongoing projects on one list if that feels comfortable for you. Otherwise, you can separate the list into logical sub-lists. Think about categories like: wait list, sometimes/maybe, phone calls, questions, children, hobby, work, workshops, etc.

Reviewing and revising your lists

Select a moment in your week when you will review your lists. This serves two goals; first of all remembrance. Your lists will have the function of helping you remember what you have to do. The lists are your external memory. When you check your lists too seldom, your brain will take over which will cost you much energy and capacity.

Secondly, when doing your weekly review make sure to include: your projects, to-do list, waiting list and agenda. All new loose ends you gather during the week should be integrated into your system. Also you should review your (old) lists and see what things have become unnecessary, or important the upcoming time.

The first and second step together make sure you are confident your lists contain everything that is going on. The more complete your system is, the more your brain can let go of remembering. Reviewing it weekly gives you the confidence that your system is still complete, so you can trust it.

Getting to action

‘Okay’, you might think, ‘now I have a lot of lists, now what?’

Having these lists not only keeps your mind in focus, it also helps you to decide what to do and when to do it.

If your agenda is not telling you what to do, I suggest you first run through the following questions before deciding on what action to take. These questions are more about being honest about how you feel and what energy level you have, not so much about the priority of the action.

What is your situation? If you are in front of a pc, this gives you certain opportunities. If you cannot get to a pc right now, that limits your opportunities. Make sure that your situation matches your needs for an action.

How much time do you have? Anything that takes longer than that is out of consideration. On the other hand: if you have a long stretch of time, it might be wise to also use it for those things that take longer.

What is your energy level? And is it suitable for mental depletion or physical depletion? Being tired in one area can sometimes give you great energy for doing something completely different.

Only after considering these questions it is suggested to ask the priority-question:

What is high on your priority list? Maybe you feel like considering this question first, but it is wiser to consider this question after you answered the other questions I just listed.

If you pick those actions that suit the situation you are in – how you feel, the resources you have available – the odds are pretty good that you might actually get them done.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/




Innovation and Research Officer at Sugar Habits
Judith studied behavioral change (applied social psychology) and is currently finishing her masters in philosophy with special attention for philosophy of action and intentionality. She works for SugarHabits a social media platform that helps people unlock more of their potential through learning new habits.

Latest posts by judithmartens (see all)

2 Responses to “Getting to action: how to decide what to do next”

  1. Hey Judith thanks for the insights again. Have you already given the Getting Things Done methodology a try for yourself? I have often heard it say that the method can be pretty rewarding, although it is pretty demanding as well. How is it working for you personally?

    • Hi Bas, I am currently still testing the method. I find it useful, it gives my mind ease to write more things down. I used to write things down already, but now I have thought of a better system to gather my to-do’s and wants.
      I also still find it time consuming, even though I already planned and made to do lists and therefore was used to the basics of this method. This is probably because the method really asks you to think of new methods which at first might not occur to you.

      In general I am pretty positive about the idea of translating everything to action instead of goals. That really makes you think in different terms, making the step to action easier in many ways.
      I also am enthusiast about writing down all new to-do’s because it gives me ease of mind.