Achieve Planner supports the concept of a ‘Next Action List’ for projects in the master Outline and Task Chooser.
In this article, I’m going to show you how to create and plan a project for a birthday party, and then use the Next Action List to focus in on the next actions for this project.
Here is what the birthday party project looks like in the Outline:
The main ‘Plan Party’ project has three sub-projects, ‘Make Reservations’, ‘Order Cake’, and ‘Print Invitations’.
The reason these are sub-projects is that they represent multi-step parts of the main project that are somewhat independent of each other, and one could conceivably make progress on them in parallel.
Depending on your preferences, and how you use Achieve Planner, you could also represent them as top-level tasks of the ‘Plan Party’ project instead of sub-projects.
Viewing the Next Action List in the Outline
You can toggle the display of the ‘Next Action List’ in the master outline using the Next Actions Only checkbox available in the Outline tab, or using the equivalent keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+Shift+8).
When the ‘Next Action Only’ mode is enabled, the outline is filtered so that only ‘next action’ tasks are displayed under each project.
There are two definitions of ‘Next Actions’ for this list: a simpler ‘basic’ version for new users, and an ‘advanced’ version for more experienced users who want more freedom in defining what a next action is.
You can change the definition of ‘Next Action’ used by Achieve Planner in the Next Actions tab of the Options Dialog (Tools -> Options) as I describe later in this article.
Using the Basic ‘Next Action’ Definition
By default, ‘Next Action’ tasks are defined as the highest priority tasks under each project in the Outline priority sort order.
This is what the ‘Plan Party’ project would look like with the Next Actions List filter turned on.
You’ll notice that the Outline now only shows one task under each sub-project following the Outline priority sorting order.
NOTE: Starting with the 1.9.6 release, if you have multiple A1 tasks under a project, they will ALL show up as Next Actions since they all share the highest priority. This definition allows you to have multiple next actions under a single project.
When you complete a task in any of these sub-projects, the next available task under that project is displayed. For example, this is what the outline looks like when you’ve completed the ‘Find location’ task of the Make Reservations project…
You can see the next action ‘Call to make reservations’ is now in the list.
Next Action Settings
The Options dialog (Tools -> Options) has some settings that control the display of the Next Action List in the Outline and Task Chooser.
‘Use task predecessor for “Next Action Only” lists’ controls whether to use the basic (unchecked) or advanced (checked) definition of ‘Next Action.’ It’s set to basic definition by default.
‘Hide Result Areas that don’t contain children’ controls whether to hide result areas that don’t contain children when displaying the Next Action list in the master outline.
‘Hide D priority items in “Next Actions Only” list’ controls the display of D priority items (and their descendants) in the Next Action list of the master outline. If the box is checked, then D priority items and their descendants will not be included in the next actions list.
If ‘Filter Outline to only show items with tasks’ is checked, whenever the ‘Next Actions Only’ mode is turned on, the Outline tab will automatically be filtered in the Icon column so that only items containing tasks are included in the list.
The filter is automatically removed when ‘Next Actions Only’ mode is turned off. You can use this setting to control the display of projects/sub-projects that don’t have any next actions available.
Click here to download a free 30 day trial of Achieve Planner to test drive this feature and see if it will work for you.
Using the Advanced ‘Next Action’ Definition
If you want more control over which tasks are ‘Next Actions,’ you can use the advanced definition by enabling it from the Options dialog.
With the advanced definition, ‘Next Action’ tasks are defined as tasks that either don’t have predecessor tasks defined or that only have completed predecessor tasks.
In the birthday party planning project example, let’s say that the predecessor relationships between the various tasks look like this…
In this diagram, each box represents a task and the arrows point to the predecessor task. For example, before you can do the ‘Print Invitations’ task, you must do the ‘Make Invitation List’ task first. That’s why ‘Make Invitation List’ is the predecessor.
As you can see, you can have predecessor tasks in a different project. In this example, ‘Make Invitation List’ is also a predecessor for ‘Find Location’, because you can’t find a suitable location until you know how many people are invited.
You can establish the task predecessor relationship between tasks using the Task Predecessor field/column available in the Outline and Tasks tabs.
The Task Predecessor column is available in the ‘Active Planning’ view of the Outline. You can also add it to any of the other views using the ‘View -> Customize Current View’ command.
This is how you would represent these predecessor relationships in the Active Planning view of the Outline.
You can see the relationships between the tasks in the Predecessor column. For example, you can see that ‘Make invitation list’ is a predecessor for ‘Find location’, ‘Select from catalog’ and ‘Print invitations’ because its task row number (#16) is in the predecessor column for these three tasks.
There are two ways to establish a predecessor relationship between two tasks:
1) Enter the Row Number (the number in the gray header at the start of each row) of the predecessor task in the Task Predecessor cell for the dependent task.
For example, task # 16 ‘Make invitation list’ is a predecessor of Task # 17 ‘Print invitations’ because the number 16 is in the Task Predecessor cell for row # 17.
2) Another way to establish predecessor relationship between tasks is to use the Actions -> Link Tasks command, which helps you establish this type of predecessor relationship based on the order of the tasks in the Outline.
You need to select all the task rows that you want to link, and then use the Actions -> Link Tasks command to link them in the order they appear in the Outline.
Here is what the Next Actions List for the party planning project looks like when you turn the ‘Next Actions Only’ mode on using the advanced next action definition that uses task predecessors.
You can see that ‘Make invitation list’ is the only task shown. The list also includes sub-projects ‘Make Reservations’ and ‘Order Cake’ since they are sub-projects rather than tasks.
Having these ‘empty’ sub-projects in the list reminds you that there are parts of the Plan Party project that you can’t advance because you don’t have any available next actions.
NOTE: You can choose not to see these ‘empty’ sub-projects by changing some of the settings as I describe later in the tutorial.
Here’s what the list looks like when you complete the ‘Make invitation list’ task.
The previously dependent tasks are showing as next actions because their predecessor task is now completed.
The ‘OOV’ in the Predecessor field indicates an “out-of-view” predecessor that is not visible in the current view. In this case, this is the task you just completed that is not visible in the Active views. To change or remove these predecessors, switch to the ‘All Items’ view.
Filtering ‘Empty’ Projects & Sub-Projects
To automatically hide empty projects and sub-projects from the Next Actions Only display, you need to enable the ‘Filter Outline to only show items with tasks’ setting in the Options dialog.
Here is what the original Next Action Only list (advanced NA definition) looks like when this setting is enabled.
As you can see, the ‘empty’ sub-projects under the Plan Party project are now filtered out of the display. You can tell that the column filter is active because the funnel icon on the Icon column header is blue.
You can change or disable this filter manually by clicking on this funnel icon and selecting (All) from the dropdown.
Multiple ‘Next Actions’ Under a Project
One of the advantages of the ‘advanced’ next action definition is that it allows you to have multiple Next Actions under a project or sub-project based on the task predecessors.
For example, if we add a ‘Buy Stamps’ action to the ‘Print invitations’ sub-project that is independent of the ‘Print invitations’ action, the resulting Outline would look like this:
Also notice that we’ve now made Task ‘Send out invitations’ (#19) dependent on both ‘Print invitations’ (#17) and ‘Buy stamps’ (#18) because you can’t send out the invitations until you do both.
Here’s what the Next Action List looks like when you complete the ‘Make invitation list’ task:
You can see that both ‘Print invitations’ and ‘Buy stamps’ are now shown as possible next actions. Furthermore, ‘Send out invitations’ will only be displayed in the Next Action List when both of these tasks are completed.
NOTE: You can accomplish something similar in the basic next action list by having multiple tasks with the highest priority.
The Task Chooser can also be used to display a ‘Next Actions Only’ list by changing some of its task chooser settings for a view.
Checking the “Only show next action(s) for project” limits the display of tasks in the task chooser to next actions using the same interpretation used in the Outline with the following exceptions:
1) The task chooser next action setting can be overridden at the project level using a checkbox available in the Project Information form’s general page
2) To produce the same next action list as the Outline when using the ‘basic’ definition of next action, you also need to check the “Use task priority order for next project actions” box in the settings.
Using the ‘Basic’ Next Action Definition
For the basic next action definition, you just need to check both of the boxes in the Task Chooser settings for the current view…
Here is what the task chooser looks like with these settings changes for the “Best Personal” view of the task chooser…
Using the Advanced Next Action Definition
For the advanced Next Action definition, the same setting “Only show next action(s) for projects” needs to be checked in the task chooser views, but the “Use task priority order for next project actions” needs to be UNCHECKED.
Here is what the Next Action list looks like in the task chooser when the advanced definition is enabled in the Options.
Now only the ‘Make invitation list’ task is shown because the task predecessors are hiding the other two tasks shown in the previous view.