I certainly can’t claim ownership of the “next action” concept but the actionable next step is something that I find 100% crucial to making progress on goals, tasks or projects of any kind.
The more vague the task, the more amorphous it seems…and the more likely you are to procrastinate. However if you can identify one thing, no matter how small, that you need to do next, you WILL make progress. Defining an actionable next step for each and every task and project allows you move forward.
Sometimes, the next step is simply “schedule time on calendar to brainstorm ideas for X” or “call X to ask about Y”. If you are waiting for something, the next step is to follow up. It is very hard to procrastinate on something that is clearly defined because you will find you just can’t muster the excuses. By defining the next step, you are idiot-proofing your task list. It is very easy to procrastinate on something vague like “plan launch event”, because it feels big and you aren’t sure where to start and so you think, “I’ll just start this one tomorrow”.
Taken a step further, if you can take a minute to define what the several next steps are for a task or project, you will be able to execute much more efficiently. As soon as you’ve added a task or project to your task list, take 30 seconds to define the next step, and what the next steps after that are likely to be. Knowing what your path is allows you to follow it without stressing about what’s next.
If you don’t believe me yet, think about the last time you procrastinated on a task because you just weren’t sure where to start. Maybe you kept pushing it, day after day, for weeks until the deadline was looming. When you finally sat down to do it, because you had no other choice, it only took 20 minutes. You’d been fretting about it, stressing about it, for weeks. And if you had instead just defined the next step from the outset, it still would have taken only 20 minutes to complete, but you would have saved yourself weeks of low-level anxiety about it.
Feeling anxious about that big project that just got dumped on your plate? Take a minute to define the next step!