Begin with the End in Mind

…or begin with the beginning (next action) in mind. It’s your choice.

Whether you are following Habit 2 of the Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or the “Next Action” mindset of Getting things done (GTD), is all about learning to identify and break down the sequence of individual steps to get from point A to point B.

I spend most of my time interfacing with capture tools (GyroQ or OutLinker), processing the input through MindReader, and then using Next Action Analysis to review and prioritize activities harvested from MindManager by ResultsManager. For better or worse, I actually spend relatively little time planning in the underlying project maps themselves.

This works fairly well with one exception. I typically only capture the “next action” associated with an idea or email. If it is not linked to a project or subsequent action and is subsequently marked complete from a dashboard, I sometimes forget to enter the subsequent step and risk having the project fall off my radar.

The latest version of MindReader can help address this issue with its new capability for it to recognize and process sequences of activities separated by << or >> delimiters. For example, you can now use the << delimiter to enter a sequence starting at the end:

which yields:

or you can use the >> delimiter to enter the sequence of actions starting with the next action and leading to the final action or project:

which yields:

MindReader processes each portion of the sequence separately based on keywords in each activity, so if you enter:

Report Complete isproject next month! << Review draft << Waiting for Bob to draft report << Ask Bob to write report tomorrow

you get:

You can use this functionality from the MindReader q or b tags or from OutLinker. I think it has a lot of potential uses that I haven’t thought of yet. For example, you could conceive of having a library of “template” sequences that you queue in as needed for routine work flows.

You can download the new functionality by grabbing the ao_mindreader_common.mmbas macro from the macro library or running the setup program.


  1. Peter K said,

    May 1, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

    Just updated my install and I love how this works. This is a brilliant addition, love how it works in both directions. Got me thinking: would it be possible to add another parameter like && that would indicate the task is on the same level?

    Like: Write Report << research “x” && research “y”

  2. ActivityOwner said,

    May 1, 2009 @ 8:51 pm

    Research X >> Write Report << Research Y

  3. Peter K said,

    May 2, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

    Ahhh yes, that does work nicely!!

    What about:
    get groceries << pizza & salad & milk

  4. ActivityOwner said,

    May 2, 2009 @ 9:11 pm

    How about get groceries << pizza and salad and milk :-)

    I think developing a full parsing syntax for this is a bit of a rabbit hole. We could put in the && delimiter but then that leads into a need for precedence of operators and grouping delimiters. I think the basic functionality gets us 95% of the way there. There is always the actual MindManager interface.

  5. ActivityOwner said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 7:35 am

    OK — I can never resist a good rabbit hole….

    The latest version (setup107.exe) recognizes && as a parallel delimiter as requested. It turned out to be very easy with existing code. Now this and the reverse work:

    A && B && C >> D >> E

    You can experiment with more complex syntax, but fairly quickly there starts to be a need additonal symbols to bracket subsets and coding behind the scenes to handle it. WordPress is even starting to get confused by these — I had to edit this comment to get it to come out right!

  6. Peter K said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 9:13 am

    This has me smiling! I thought this was an irresistible addition. Entering tasks just got even more convenient. On a mindreader high! hehe

  7. Curtis N. Bingham said,

    June 12, 2009 @ 8:53 am

    AO, you are amazing! You claim not to want to go down a rabbit hole and yet you do it anyway, coming up with something truly brilliant! I love it!

  8. ActivityOwner said,

    June 13, 2009 @ 9:06 am

    Thanks Curtis — I had almost forgotten about this new feature and hadn’t been using it. In my defense, I only went a little ways down the rabbit hole :-).

  9. Scott said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 11:03 pm

    I’ve just started using MindReader and wow, I love it! I have a question about the start and due dates. I’m still learning MindReader and I’m using the ‘q’ tag. I’m also using results manager (with MM8). When I add an item without telling MindReader anything about start/due dates it adds today’s date in the “start” date and no “due” date which is what I want. However, when I do an “edit activity” and add a context, when I click ok, RM is automatically adding a due date of “today” even though I’ve left the field blank (in most cases I only want a start date). Is there a way to not have RM automatically setting due dates for me, but still keeping the start dates? Maybe I have RM set up wrong. I’m using RM 2.8.3.

    Thank you so much for the help, it is greatly appreciated!!!

  10. ActivityOwner said,

    January 7, 2010 @ 12:01 am

    Thanks Scott — I always appreciate hearing this stuff actually gets used!

    There is a default ResultsManager option “Support MM/OutLook Syncronization” that when checked forces a due date to be set if a start date is set and vice versa. Apparently this is required for sync to work.

    If you uncheck that option, you should be fine.

    Let me know if that doesn’t work.

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