Newbie Q: Priorities issue - too much junk in my Next Actions list


What should I do about things that I DEFINITELY need to do… (which means that they shouldn’t be on the “maybe” list)… but which are not (yet) urgent. I seem to have low priority stuff seriously cluttering up my system!

I have about 60+ Projects and 80 Next Actions. As David Allen suggests, my Next Actions are grouped into contextual lists. But my problem is that each contextual list (done by Tag in GTDNext) is horribly cluttered with horrible non-urgent stuff that just gets in the way!
[Aside: I should explain that the problem is made much worse due to the fact that I am semi-dyslexic and find reading slow and painful (!) so skim-reading isn’t something I can really do. ]

Frankly I’m sick of looking at low priority stuff as other things are more way urgent and often more important. But nonetheless these things MUST get done at some point. Should I just allocate them to a random time in the future purely on the basis of them being not urgent enough yet? i.e. Is this the real purpose of the Tickler file (and the use of Start Date)?(!)

On a paper system I guess I would could use the physical Tickler folder system… but that completely hides things for however many days which may not be so clever. OR I could use a highlighter pen, with increasing shades of colour as it gets more urgent. (e.g. underline lightly ==> more firmly ==> twice ==> brighter coloured pen etc)

On something like GTDNext you can give “Focus” to things - but it is binary and is more designed for the “immediate tasks for today”.
You can also drag and drop things in the Next Actions window, thereby using sort for priority. Useful but still clunky and only operating at the today level.
But sorting the outline list of Projects is much more painful, simply because there are so many of them. And worse if I show Projects AND All actions open at once (at least 60+80 ==> 140+!)
So esp being somewhat dyslexic, I am soon finding these lists swimming in front of me with no immediate way of visualizing priorities.
I am a very visual guy. My brain is wired for shapes and colours more than words.

Are you with me on this problem? If so do you have any answers?


P.S. If any of you know MindManager by Mindjet you may appreciate the huge power that Control/Alt/UpArrow and Control/Alt/DownArrow has. To explain, you just select and item, hold down Control and Alt and then every time you hit say the arrow up, your project goes up the screen by one. In this way you can whiz projects up and down the relative list of priorities list in fractions of a second. But I can’t see anything equivalent in GTDNext. Nor is there any way to bold or colour them (??) .

Like I say, part of the problem is having quite so many projects ALL of which will need to be done. :^/

I think the best solution is a color indicator:

I used to be a big Mind Manager user, so I am familiar with what you are talking about.

We don’t have the exact feature but try ALT+RIGHT ARROW or ALT+LEFT ARROW

  1. Press ALT+RIGHT ARROW to Focus on an item. (Zoom feature)
  2. You can then use arrow keys to go up and down the list for the individual actions
  3. Press ALT+LEFT ARROW to un-zoom go up a level of zoom when you are ready to zoom out
  4. Rinse and repeat to view all your project one by one.

Here is what I do to prioritize my actions. If may or not not work for you!

James and quite some number of GTD app users prefer the next actions list to be without groups or headings etc and be manually sorted usually by “priority” in some sense, the most important or urgent or otherwise interesting ones usually sitting at the top. (And rely heavily on filtering etc.) I also used to use this setup, and many apps are built in that way (GTDNext, Nirvana, Zendone …).

It definitely works. This is what I started out doing when I moved to Nirvana many years ago (from Toodledo). It works reasonably well as long as you keep your list “unordered” (no automatic grouping) and have the time and energy to review and adjust these list positions all the time. But I did not have the energy to keep doing that, and I missed having any form of natural groups or barriers within the list, so I changed my list settings to keep the next actions list grouped by project instead, just to get some automatic structure to the list instead of just having a “long mess” that I was uncertain whether I could even trust (and could not navigate). Automatic grouping by project worked better for me overall. (I have never been a fan of long lists or absence of structure.) But I did not have a priority indicator, so I had to look at the top tasks of every single project to see if there was anything critical there.

After Nirvana I moved to Doit, which has extensive grouping options (by project, by context, by deadline, by priority etc, and manual within each such group). I find it best to review by project during my daily scan, but often by context when I want to select additional tasks; therefore filtering is not always necessary. Regardless of my choice of grouping at any particular time, the Priority indicator is always visible. A quick scroll lets me spot all critical tasks at a glance, even if I have the list grouped in some other way. That was one of the main factors that made me choose Doit at that time, and it has always remained to be an extremely useful feature for me. (But Doit unfortunately also has its own peculiar disadvantages in other areas.)

All in all, I think the “functional area” of task selection and overview is underdeveloped in all apps I have seen, and there are a number of individually useful features that could be combined to probably quite dramatically reduce overwhelm and overwork:


This issue remains a HUGE problem for me (esp being semi-dyslexic dont forget)

So let me see if I understand you. You like to:
A) Leave all Next Actions sorted by Project (is that alphabetically or in the order in which they were entered, btw?).
This way all your active stuff is at least visible on the same page.
And you get to remember where stuff is on a page (much as you would if it were on paper), yes?

B) You then like to flag up priority of items in colour.
This means that the eye can whiz up and down without actually reading everything so as to spot anything that is particularly urgent.

GTDNext is good partly because it’s simple and uncluttered. They are right to not add stuff without thinking very carefully about it, because mainstream customers will not get on with something a cluttered interface bearing too many different options.

Unfortunately although GTDNext has “focus” bright red blob (meaning in effect I’m going this now/v. soon/today) it doesn’t have any other form of colour marking up. This mean that there is no way to visually show multiple levels of urgency (I’m thinking about 4 or even 5 would be nice) using COLOUR.

And of course the alternative is of course to chuck them into the future pot (i.e. using scheduled start date i.e. the GTD Tickler list), but that is deemed “bad GTD”.

Am I correct so far?

Essentially, yes. Here are some additional details:

Yes. And the stuff stays in certain positions on the page. And there is a heading for each project (or each context or whatever I have chosen to group by at the moment) which makes the list easy to navigate.

In both Nirvana and Doit the listing order is the order in which you have manually placed (by drag ‘n’ drop) the projects in your projects list. I keep my projects manually sorted by goal (a 30 k objective or Group of AoRs, I have five of those goals all in all). In my test setup here in GTDNext I have a parent node for each goal.

In Doit I often keep my Next actions grouped by Context (instead of by Project), especially during the day when I want to find additional things to do.

Exactly. And it works equally well if I click to regroup my list by Project or by Context or by Deadline or something else.

And I use the same method for all categories, not just for next actions. In Someday the color represent longer time periods (red = look at this if I happen to stop by during the week; blue = review weekly (during The weekly review); turquoise = review only every four months or so)

As long as you are aware of the risks and think it is good you can do anything. The risk is that if you put “Buy electric drill” down as “Scheduled” to start on Dec 1, then you will not see it on your next actions list, even if you filter or regroup it etc, and if you go to the hardware store on Saturday you may well forget about it completely (unless you remember to look under Scheduled for “fake ticklers” that have been postponed despite being perfectly possible to get done). But if that does not matter to you (the drill is not super important and you can get it some other day, week or month) then you may think it is better to keep the next actions list short. (Myself, I prefer to put this kind of tasks down as low priority next = turquoise. This makes it easy to ignore it if I want to, but also easy to see it among other errands if I want to - if I group by context or project or if I filter by the errand context etc.)

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Interesting. Yes particularly like your “review frequency” colour coding.

Have there been many voices of agreement for bringing use of colour/priority? e.g. on the voting for features tool thing. Ultimately to me its lack could be a deal-breaker…

I actually like the flexibility of seeing my next actions in multiple ways. In groups (by project, or “color” or context") or with “all actions” not just next action and as one continuous list, as we do today in GTDNext.

I find that having this flexibility helps me be more productive in various situations. Depending on many factors, I may want to look at my list of next actions in a different way.

Today we offer the ability to view in the Next Actions the Focus list as one continuous list (with some filtering enabled) that can be manually sorted for priority, but over time we will add different ways of grouping and filtering this list.

I personally, believe that GTDNext should help you enable your own flavor of GTD/Productivity, not just my idea of how GTD should work, and over time you will see GTDNext reflect this value. Allowing you to customize your productivity workflow.

Totally agree. I personally find that no ONE form is best. I like to switch between alternate groupings/sortings (which show different perspectives), and ideally I would like to be able to gently mold the content of my list - both switch the grouping/sorting and eliminate/select particular types of actions, and keep iterating this - to gradually narrow down the list to “exactly” what my good options really are at this time (and nothing cluttering my view). Yes, that’s a dream, I know, but quite a bit of this actually would be doable, and worth paying for.

To be honest as GTDNext currently stands I am somewhat frustrated by sort orders.
Am I correct in thinking that the sort order for each of

  • The main list of actions and projects
  • The Next Actions
  • The Focus(ed) Actions
    …} all have competely independent sort orders.

Is there no way that we could have a single ‘master’ sort order that does what it needs to in order to be consistent if you change sort orders (i.e. by dragging and dropping projects past each other)? Or is this something people have frowned upon for some reason?

I take the point about needing to ‘dice and slice’ through the list using different filters, however I still find it helpful to be able to drag the more important/urgent stuff up to the top of the page. But if I painfully get things roughly how I want them in one of the 3 views (above) it’s a real paint that neither of the other 2 views reflect this work.

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This is one of those cases where different people want different things. We ended up landing on what I think is the best solution for “most” people.

We had the following in mind when designing the sort orders this way:

  • Keeping your entire list sorted in priority order is really hard.
  • Especially when new items automatically go to the top.
  • The priority of what you want to do changes often for most people
    depending on context, energy, time available, etc.
  • Sorting the smaller next action list is easier than sorting trying to
    keep your over all list sorted.
  • The priority of your projects (P&A view) is often different than the
    order in which you may want to perform your next actions

Imagine this situation - If all lists were in sync:

  • You have manually arranged your projects somewhat by what you deems
    as importance, or priority order.
  • However, a project way down on your list has a next action you feel
    like working on today, based on your energy, time available and
    other factors.
  • So you drag that action to the top of your list in the Next Action
  • You complete that action and now a new action pops into the top of
    your list from that lower priority project. That’s what would happen if all
    the lists were connected.
  • You flip back to the P&A view and realize that project you had
    prioritized as near the bottom is now near the top. I know this
    would make a lot of people un-happy and frustrated

Here is how I use the manual list sorting

  • I keep the P&A view in rough order of importance to me at a project
  • I usually view the Next Actions list filtered by Area to keep in
  • I like to manually arrange the Next Action list to rough order of
    my current view of importance, but I don’t obsess over it
  • I flick on the focus flag for items I’m going to do in my next “work
    session” (A work session could be a few hours or a whole day)
  • I switch over to the focus list and manually arrange in the order I’m
    going to complete items for this work session.
  • I keep the focus list up when I’m working. That’s my runway. That
    what I’m currently focused on and I don’t want to get distracted by
    the rest of the lists

I know everyone has slightly different work flows, but hopefully that gives you some ideas.

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I agree with James that having the lists hard-linked to each other is nothing I would like. On the contrary, I want to use different orders for different purposes:

  • Projects list (P&A): I want my projects listed per overall long-term objective or area group. This “librarian” style approach facilitates navigation. I never change this.
  • Next actions: I want to be able to filter my next actions very flexibly, but I also want a meaningful structure applied automatically the moment I step into the list, which eliminates some filtering and which provides structure even when I filter. I prefer to be able to alter especially between Group By Project and Group By Context. I want them automatically sorted by priority within each group. Being able to adjust the sorting manually is also a very nice complement.
  • Focus: I like manual sorting, and I also like grouping it by Context with neat headings for each context, for example Calls as one group, Errands as another, etc. Within each Context group I would like to be able to adjust the order manually into the expected execution sequence (if any)
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OK I conced that it looks like I’m not going to win this one(!) As there are some strongly held views - more strongly held than mine.

What I will say however is that the priority (i.e. the importance/urgency) of all my tasks is distinct from the order/ sequence in which I intend to do things. i.e. The core priority does NOT change all over the place ‘with each change the wind’, it’s just that one’s willingness and opportunity to complete the tasks may shift - and shift rapidly.

So I guess what I am saying is that I want the priority of my projects to be visible in the Next Action and Focus list views.

Personally I wanted to do this with sort order (and to execute my actions in a NOT in the sort order on screen). Failing that, I suppose would settle for some other form of priority indicator visible in these other views. e.g. some form of colour markup?

You see the problem for me is that it’s too easy to be faced with screen-fulls of trivia, thereby losing a sense of what’s most important.

P.S. Either way, given how much you both like to manually change sort orders, there HAS to be a better/much faster way of changing sort orders! [This I do feel strongly about. The fiddly nature sort order changing is close to a deal breaker for me…]

How about this:
The item you drag instantly changes place with the item you are hovering over. But if you want to drop something INTO something else (e.g. make a Action part of a different, larger Project) you need to hold down Shift or Control or Alt (whichever makes most sense given your other hotkeys).

That way we can
A. whiz through sort orders at high speed and
B. move items into other structures.

How bout it?

Absolutely correct in my opinion, too. This longer-term and quite objective and stable priority is the only priority worth (color) coding for. The other, fickle, fleeting kind of “priority”, which I would prefer to call “momentaneous selection” is obviously not worth coding for, just like DA says, which everyone quotes all too happily, often totally out of context.

I think that’s a great idea. Especially with a “fleeting levels” app like GTDN you cannot really know in advance what each level means. I think all types of controls need to be available at all levels in the same way for consistency and simplicity. And in this case it is quite obvious that some projects can be more urgent and important than others.

:slight_smile: … but I don’t think I said that. I think I said that I prefer some significant automatic intelligence as a basis and a manual capability mainly for adjustments. Hell no, I don’t want to have to drag things around from scratch in my Next and Focus lists. And have no group headings etc. No way. But my P&A I want to manage manually without any “intelligent” interference, and I want to keep it in that order at all times. In P&A the indentation and difference in font size etc conveys the structure; so no additional headings are necessary for me in P&A.