Tips for out-of-control single action lists?

In general I have my to-dos completely under control thanks to the GTD concepts of projects and contexts, and by making sure I only have a small number of projects focused on every week, day or whatever.

However, sometimes I just get a task that does not merit creating its own new project because it will truly be the only task. To handle this situation I have created three single action projects called Work:Priority, Private:Priority and Private:Miscellaneous.

Private:Miscellaneous has turned into a kind of Maybe/Someday kind of list of single actions, but I actually use Work:Priority and Private:Priority quite frequently. The actions show up in my list of available actions in their proper contexts and when I look at my overview I am able to take appropriate action. Most of the time that works just fine.

The problem I have sometimes, though, is that things pile up in Work:Priority or Private:Priority and these actions begin to flood the list of available actions. I can tune them out by focusing on other projects that I resolve to work on, but it’s very distracting to retain the single action project in the focused view. It seems like the only way to take care of these actions is to focus only on Work:Priority or Private:Priority.

I’d much rather keep these lists short enough that I can keep them part of the group of three or four projects I’m focusing on, but all too often I drop more actions into the bucket than I find time to take out.

I’m sure there are others who have run into this problem. Does anybody have any ideas, favorite strategies or whatever to keep these single action lists small enough not to cause focus problems?

I have a lot of single actions. After struggling with how to handle them, I have successfully started to use these strategies:

  • If possible: categorize the actions in somewhat more specific groups than Work and Private.

  • Review the groups frequently and put the actions roughly in order of priority. I have found it much easier to prioritize the actions when they are of the same kind (same category).

  • Even though these lists actually are single actions lists, set the project type to Parallel. Then you could make a perspective that shows only the first available action in each list, avoiding being overwhelmed and, as the lists are frequently reviewed, still resting assured that you work on the most important actions.

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This is an interesting topic!

I think defer dates are a really powerful way of getting things out of view. As well, like you allude to, “demoting” actions to a Someday/Maybe list or even deleting them can help remove clutter (as long as Someday/Maybe lists are part of review routines to make sure nothing gets lost).

The other thing that might help is considering multiple single action lists relating to different areas of responsibility. In that way, you at least have categorically differentiated tasks.

Good luck!



I also used to have just two SALs, called “Life One-Offs” and “Work One-Offs”, but as they started getting longer and longer, I went back to having multiple ones.

Inspired by @deturbulence on this thread, I have some under a folder called “Areas of Responsibility”, others under a folder called “Ideas”, relying heavily on defer dates and with some of them being completely On Hold, so they only show up on certain perspectives or during review.

Another thing that might work for you is having “Daily Projects”, as @Zettt likes to do. Not my cup of tea, but really clever idea (with a nice script as a bonus to automate their creation). More on this other thread.

Hope this helps, @mpw.


Thanks for all the ideas! I think there are a few approaches that could work for me.

I was right when I thought it would be a good idea to ask this list.

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Awesome, good luck, @mpw!

The last thing I would add is that even though these tasks don’t belong to an over-arching project theme, it’s still super valuable to make sure they have meaningful contexts. In that way, you need only see tasks that are relevant/achievable in your current context, regardless of how many tasks you have.