Outcome and Action Thinking

Mar 16, 2010

The two most important things to know when accomplishing any task is what the successful outcome is and what the very next step is. In GTD terms this is the “desired outcome,” or “project,” and the “next action.” Stephen Covey says you need to “begin with the end in mind.” If you don’t know where you need to go, you have no way to know how to get started. Think about it, if you’re going on vacation and you have to drive quite a ways, you would use a map wouldn’t you? That’s the beauty of a navigation system. You start by entering the finishing address (your desired outcome) and the very first instruction it gives you is the first action to get you on your way.

I actually like to take it step further when thinking about what I want to accomplish. I first think about what I want to accomplish (the outcome), then, what the very next physical action is. As we all know, many times there is more than one action to accomplish any project. I simply take a blank sheet of paper and start with the outcome at the top, the next action at the bottom and the build the other actions needed to get to the top. I find this clears my thinking and enables me to dive into the next action. A crucial piece to this is to file away this document in a project folder or in an automated format so that you can reference this when you’re planning the ensuing actions.

Let’s look at an example. It’s tax season. We all have to file our taxes by April 15th. The Desired Outcome is to “File Taxes,” that simple. I was a little stuck as to what all I needed to get this accomplished, so my next action was actually to brainstorm what would go into this. For this one, I mapped out from the top down. My brother is a CPA and does mine for me, so sending him my documents was the second to last step. Prior to that, making copies of all of my pertinent documents. Prior to that, gathering each document. Before that, I wrote down every category of document I needed (W2’s, Business Expenses, Donations, Mortgage Interest Statements, Capital Gains Documents, etc). Once I got through this, the next action became “review 2009 tax folders.” Thankfully, GTD teaches a simple, yet must-have reference filing system. Throughout the year, I file every donation receipt, every business expense and every document I receive that I will need for tax season. This makes the process pretty much stress-free. Once you build this out, it’s amazing how the stress disappears and you stop thinking about “all” you have to do. It can really be overwhelming if you don’t break it down into manageable steps and then identify the true next action so you can get started.

There’s a great quote by Mark Twain on Page 239 of Getting Things Done. He says,

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

He couldn’t have said it any better. It’s a simple process that you need to take 5 minutes to do. It doesn’t take long and once you start seeing the results and letting go of the stress, you will definitely increase your productivity.


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