Breaking down our projects into next actions

Following on from the previous projects exercise, now break your chosen project into smaller items.  Don’t worry about getting anything in the right order, yet.  And don’t expect every item to be a task … let your mind explore and list anything relevant to your project.  Depending on the size of the project, this may take some time.  However, if the project you’ve chosen is so large, you might want to take a smaller section of it for now.

Pro Tip
Sub-Projects: Look at the list you've created. Is every item a task? Are any sub-projects? If so, what percentage?

Depending on the size of the project, you might have gone straight to a list of tasks or it could be that every item on your list is a sub-project with multiple layers before you get to tasks.

Both extremes are fine, as long as you become skilful at identifying sub-projects. At some point, you will reach the task level.

How far should you break your projects down? As far as you need and no more. We could spend too long writing lists and never getting to the work, but I find more often we err on the side of underplanning.

Now determine your very first action.  It may be the top one on your list, but it could be well down the page.  Highlight this action and now challenge yourself:

  1. Is it definitely the next action or is there anything else getting in the way?
  2. Does it start with an actionable verb (call, speak to, email, etc.) or is it a sub-project?

Note: some projects are sequential (the actions must happen in a specific order).  Others are parallel, the actions can happen in any order.  Many are a blend.  

We will look at to-do lists later, but at very least ensure that your project has a distinct next action, and wherever you record it, the action is clear, has enough detail, includes a due date where necessary and begins with an action verb.


A concept we will come to in the organise phase of the Plan framework is contextualising your action lists.  Grouping them together by project is important but it can also be useful to filter our lists by contexts; people we regularly speak to, places we need to be, energy levels or other resources we need to be able to do our tasks.

This exercise emphasises that our project and task system need a degree of functionality that incorporates some degree of hierarchy.  We will come back to this concept later in the programme.

OneNote is great for mapping projects and including contexts. Microsoft To Do also has the feature as does Google Keep. In addition, there are plenty of other third-party high and low tech solutions covered in the Do It section of the programme.

When we use the concepts from this project and task exercise, it will help maintain a good map of our work and personal life.

I love the ritual of drawing up lists, and there's something wonderfully satisfying about ticking tasks off.

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