Next Action Analysis: 5 Metrics for Assessing your GTD System

I stood by the side of the road a few weeks ago waiting for AAA to show up to change my flat tire. In my PDA I had "Identify day I can get to dealer to replace balding tires" on to do list, where it had sat for several weeks. Here I am with a GTD-related blog and I'm experiencing the classic story that Dave Allen uses to motivate the use of the "Getting Things Done" paradigm. Clearly it was time for a reality check.

Flat Tire

I had my "schedule tire replacement" next action on my list for many weeks and had elevated to priority 1 and given it deadlines during my weekly review, but it hadn't happened. Why? Among other things it was drown out by the 140+ other action items call for attention on any given day. It also probably had to do with lack of a "scheduling" context to focus on things like "find a time to do this".

In any case, it caused me to reflect on how effective my weekly reviews were. One downside of computer-based GTD systems is that they lack the tactile "copy onto a fresh page" review that a paper system provides.

During my reviews I try to get my in-trays emptied and push less urgent/important projects into the future or onto someday/maybe lists. The projects I have on my "committed" list all seem worthwhile and needing to be done at some point. Most have been reduce to a key next step to advance them. The problem is that all those "key next steps" still add up to much more than can be done in a 1-week horizon. The result is a "Hot Daily Action Dashboard" that Nick Duffill describes in his "Migrating from doing to reviewing" essay and as discussed by Mike W. in "Mind on Fire" and "Fighting Fire with Fire"

I decided I needed to review my "trusted system" in a way that get the daily action dashboard de-cluttered and under control. I thought it would be useful to propose a scorecard and some quantitative metrics to assess different attributes of the state of a GTD system. I came up with 5 dimensions to assess (5 F's):

Next Action Analysis Dimensions (5Fs)

Freshness Are my next actions lingering for months?
Focus Am I trying to advance a reasonable number of projects? Do they have target dates? Are your projects projects?
Feasibility Do I have too many next actions?
Foresight Are my actions on context lists and have I identified next actions for all my projects?
Finishing Are my deadlines and targets slipping?

In order to assess these dimensions, I identified several metrics such as "average task age", "number of next actions", "number of projects", etc. that could be calculated and combined for each dimension. These five metrics can then be combined to calculate an overall "NAA Score" on a 10.0 scale, with each dimension contributing 20% according to the table below. 100% is given for metrics at the "goal" level and declining amounts down to the "0% level"

Next Action Analysis Scorecard

Dimension Attribute Goal 0% Weighting
Freshness Avg Age 14 days 60 days 10%
Freshness 90th percentile Age 60 days 360 days 10%
Focus Projects 30 80 days 10%
Focus Dated Projects 50% 0% 10%
Feasibility Next Actions 70 170 20%
Foresight Actions on Context List 95% 50% 10%
Foresight Projects w/o next steps 0 4 10%
Finishing Overdue tasks 0 4 10%
Finishing Overdue to you 0 4 5%
Finishing Past Target 0 7 5%

[NOTE: The scoring metrics have been updated — see wiki for updated table]

This approach can be used on any automated GTD system. I have implemented a macro (ao_next_action_analysis.mmbas) for analyzing a ResultsManager daily action dashboard. Sample output of the Next Action Analysis macro is shown below:

Sample Next Action Analysis output

Note that the macro calculates the "percent complete" for your dashboard. Although not included in the Scorecard, this metric provides some incentive to keep your dashboard in place over the course of the day as you complete items rather than refreshing it constantly. This metric includes repeating items that have been marked complete with a red check icon.

Note that in additional to calculating several metrics, the report also enumerates lists of your oldest and youngest actions along with projects that are dated/undated. It also provides a "Random Activity of the Day" for those times where you just don't know where to start.

As we enter this Olympic year and the season of New year's resolutions and annual goal setting, I'm hoping this can provide some fun and focus to the weekly review process. Treat the NAA score as an Olympic event and go for 10.0.

Let me know what you think of the assessment metrics and give the macro a try if you are a ResultsManager user. More information on the tool is available on the Next Action Analysis page on the wiki.

8 Comments »

  1. James Hull said,

    January 2, 2008 @ 12:37 am

    Wow! What a great new resource…I've stepped away from ResultsManager/MindManager for the past month or so as I investigated GTD processes on a Mac (having recently purchased one).

    While the Mac systems are 1000 times more beautiful, the MindManager/GyroQ/ResultsManager combo is just too powerful to avoid and your macro/reassessment looks like it could REALLY help me out with some items that have been there for months.

    Guess it's time to fire up the old MindManager and see what I can do with it and your new macro – thanks for all the hard work.

  2. BillS said,

    January 3, 2008 @ 9:48 am

    AO,

    Wow! I thought the original NAA was embarassing, I'm almost afraid to install; but I will! This should help with my 'not important today, don't bother with it & forward the due date' disease. The other problem I have is lifting my head out of details (runway – 20K).

  3. Rob Olian said,

    January 8, 2008 @ 12:52 pm

    It looks like "Freshness" is only weighted a total of 10%, not 20%. Is a row missing, or should the weights for the two components be something other than 5/5?

  4. ActivityOwner said,

    January 8, 2008 @ 9:36 pm

    Thanks Rob — The table was wrong. It should have been 10% each as that is what is in the code. I fixed the table and the one in the wiki.

  5. Next Action Analysis Updated » ActivityOwner.Com said,

    January 14, 2008 @ 10:12 pm

    […] The Next Action Analysis tool's report has evolved quite a bit over the last two weeks (see picture below) since the initial post (5 metrics for assessing your GTD System). […]

  6. Next Action Analysis 2008 GTD Challenge » ActivityOwner.Com said,

    February 18, 2008 @ 6:20 am

    […] the Next Action Analysis macro on your ResultsManager Daily Action dashboard sometime over the next 11 […]

  7. 2008 GTD Challenge Results » ActivityOwner.Com said,

    February 18, 2008 @ 8:48 am

    […] on New Year's day I proposed 5 Metrics for assessing the state of your GTD system. The idea was to assess the Freshness, Focus, Feasibility, Foresight, and Finishing (5F's) of […]

  8. Six Components of a GTD Review » ActivityOwner.Com said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 10:47 pm

    […] Next Action Analysis approach has been pivotal in proving a look at things in a more balanced and comprehensive way. The […]

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