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Tuesday
Jun302015

A New Method of Learning [Experimental]

I don’t know how many of my readers have used Spaced Repetition System (SRS) software to learn facts. They are most commonly used for foreign language vocabulary, but can be used for any type of fact that you wish to learn.

Personally I have always found them to be quite effective, but they suffer from some severe negatives which in the end have always lead me to abandon them after a period. Because they put the emphasis on the facts which you are having difficulty learning, you tend to end up with a huge number of difficult words which you have to plough through each day. The list tends to get longer and longer until, if you are not careful, you find yourself ploughing through vocabularly at almost every spare waking moment.

That’s frankly not the way I want to spend my life.

So how about a gentler and easier method which is even more effective?

You will probably think the method I’m going to propose is crazy, but I’m finding it has worked very well so far. I haven’t been doing it for very long, but I’d be interested in the results that other people get if they are bold enough to try it out too on an experimental basis.

Like all my systems I’ve designed it for paper and pen. I suggest if you want to try it that you use paper and pen at first, and then only if you find it works start worrying about how to make an electronic version.

For the purposes of the explanation I am assuming that you are an English speaker wanting to learn French vocabulary.

The system is based on spaced repetition, but with the difference that all the vocabulary items are revised at each interval.

The intervals are:

On the day of entry

The following day

One week later

One month later

One year later

I use a loose-leaf binder with a sheet for each day’s vocabulary. All I have to do when I’ve finished revising is put the date of the next revision at the top of the sheet and re-file it so all the sheets are in date order.

THE PROCEDURE

The First Day

On today’s sheet collect vocabulary as you come across it in the traditional two-column format. That is to say, French in the left-hand column and English in the right-hand column. Make no attempt to learn it until you have finished collecting it for the day.

Then you go through two phases: 1) pre-learning 2) learning.

Phase 1. Pre-learning

Cover up the right-hand column (the English) and test yourself on the meaning of the French words in the left-hand column. DO NOT CHECK YOUR ANSWERS. If you can’t get any answer, just go on to the next word. Then cover up the left-hand column and test yourself whether you know the French for the English words in the right-hand column. DO NOT CHECK YOUR ANSWERS.

Phase 2. Learning

Do exactly the same, but this time move the covering card down after attempting to answer each question so you can see whether you got it right. Do it both ways as in Phase 1. That’s all. You only do it once. Don’t repeat it, regardless of how many you got wrong.

This Phase 2 on the first day is the only time in the entire process that you check your answers.

Subsequent Revisions

These are all carried out in the same way as Phase 1 on the first day. In other words you test yourself without checking the answers.

CONCLUSION

Although the process may sound crazy, it is in accordance with the most recent findings on how we learn. A pre-learning test increases learning ability. Not checking one’s answers makes the brain work harder so that it remembers better on subsequent tests.

 

Wednesday
Jun102015

Dotting Power

In the FV/FVP Forum there has been quite a lot of discussion about the selection of tasks (which is done by putting a dot before the task).

I want to write a little bit about how to control this selection to one’s best advantage.

First of all the good news is that the process is controllable. In fact it’s possible to exercise quite a considerable degree of control without prejudicing the principle that selection should be done by intuition rather than consciously.

For instance, take the question of how you can ensure that the early tasks on your list get actioned. This can be done very easily by instructing your mind to select no tasks at all, except really urgent ones. This will take you back quite quickly to the first task on the list. How do you instruct your mind to do this? In the same way that you instruct your body to walk faster, walk slower or stand still. You just do it!

You can then instruct your mind to give preference to earlier tasks and lay off selecting recently entered tasks. That will keep you working in the early part of the list, but without having to stick rigidly to a pre-selected order. You instruct your mind in the same way you’d instruct your body to walk fast for a short time and then slow down. You can leave the mechanics of doing that to your body to sort out!

Or if you instead want to clear recently arrived minor tasks, instruct your mind to keep selecting tasks towards the end of the list.  The point is that you have a large degree of control over which part of the list you are going to be working in.

You can even fine tune it so that you are paying attention to both ends of the list, but not the the middle. Why would you want to do that? Well, take a situation in which you are clearing some old tasks, but some of them need several sessions to get them cleared.

One the whole though, I prefer most of the time to allow my mind to select whatever it wants without any special instructions. But I know I can take more control as and when I need to.

A few things to watch:

  1. The more dots you put on the list, the more inflexible the list becomes. Just instruct your mind to select less dots rather than more. You can fine-tune this until you get the list at the right balance between flexibility and direction.
  2. Keep the list well-weeded. It’s a good idea to have a task on the list called “Weed List”. Be ruthless!
  3. Don’t forget “little and often”. The list is very good at multiple sessions on tasks. You just keep re-entering them at the end of the list.
  4. If you need to do tasks in a certain order (i.e. you need to do x before you can do y), remember that dotted tasks are done in the reverse order to list order. So if they are already in reverse order you can dot both tasks, but if they are in the right order on the list then only dot the one you want to do first, and you can then pick up the second one on the next scan.
  5.  If you have an urgent task, just write it at the end of the list. It will be picked up on the next scan (i.e. when you’ve finished the task you are working on at the moment) and will then be the next task to do.
  6. If you know that you don’t want the next scan to select anything, then skip the scan altogether - or just skim it to make sure.
  7. Try and avoid special markings, groupings, tags and similar devices. They all add to the administrative load of running the list.

And finally use pen/pencil and paper unless you are completely addicted to electronic means. It’s far faster and you are not dependent on energy supplies, connectivity or having enough money to pay the bills. It’s also better for the planet!

Tuesday
Jun092015

Follow Up to the Productive Day Challenge

The purpose of yesterday’s Productive Day Challenge was not to show how superior I am to other people. I am naturally disorganised, lazy and procrastinating - and I have no godlike powers of any sort. Far from it.

The purpose was to show how much one person can achieve in a day using a powerful time management system. And the message is that anyone can do the same if they use exactly the same methods as I did. You can easily verify it for yourself by writing out a similar list and putting the methods to work. But you do need to use exactly the same methods. I’m not claiming that the methods I used are the only methods that can achieve the same sort of results, but what I am saying is that if you use any variation whatsoever on what I did then you are not using the methods I used to achieve the results.

Apart from a couple of items, everything I wanted to achieve during the day was already on my normal everyday list, which has about 60-70 tasks on it. I worked off this list in the normal way. So I did not make any special preparations for the Productive Day, nor did I work in any way different from a normal day.

During the day I did not feel any resistance or sense of pressure. I just carried on working the system according to the rules. When I wrote the definition of what would make me consider the day to have been productive, I had a pretty good idea already of how much I could do in a day. So I had no real doubts that I could get everything on the list done. At the end of the day I didn’t feel tired or exhausted. I felt just the same as I feel at the end of a normal day. In fact this was a normal day.

Things I didn’t do

I didn’t bother to ask the question mentioned in the rules. Experience is showing that it’s quicker and just as effective to select the tasks without asking the question. Just go for what feels ready to be done.

I did not use electronic means. Paper and pen is faster and has less administrative overload.

I did not use any special markings or groupings. These all add to the administrative overload - better off without them.

I didn’t worry about finishing. I knew that the list was within my capability, so I just relaxed and got on with it.

I didn’t let “inbox zero” slip. Building up backlogs is the best way of bogging yourself down. I emptied all “inbox” tasks (email, Evernote, paper, comments, and doing the dishes) multiple times during the day.

I didn’t try to mark up (“dot”) too many tasks at once. The fewer the dots the more flexible the list.

I didn’t confine myself to what was on the Productive Day list. I actually did quite a lot of other tasks as well. I also exceeded my target amount for several tasks which were part of the Productive Day.

Sunday
Jun072015

The Productive Day Challenge

What I am going to do is define what I would need to have done in order to consider tomorrow (Monday) to be a productive day. I will be using FVP as my time management system.

I am going to use my list as it is - which has most of the tasks on it already. I’m not going to cheat by moving them all to the end of the list.

I’ll report back on how many of the tasks I succeed in doing.

So here goes - I would consider tomorrow to be a productive day if:

I have zero inbox at the end of the day in


Email
Paper
Evernote Inbox
Doing the dishes


I have walked at least four miles [5.17 miles]
I have done 100 press ups
I have done The Plank exercise for at least 90 seconds [110 seconds - ai yai yai!]
I have sold our unused car for scrap [got £60!]
I have, as Press Officer, edited the photos for yesterday’s Croquet Tournament, Friday’s Golf Tournament and last week’s Golf Club Dinner.
I have done at least one day’s Glossika French lesson [2 days’ Lessons]
I have listened to at least one chapter of Genesis and St Matthew’s Gospel in the original languages [2 chapters Genesis, 1 Exodus, 2 St Matthew]
I have sorted out my regular donation to the Bursary Fund
I have invited L to take part in September’s Charity walk
I have checked whether R has decided to take part in the walk.
I have emailed an update to those who have already agreed to take part in the above Charity Walk
I have said the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary
I have telephoned my dentist re work needed
I have read at least something in the Qu’ran and the Hadith
I have notified my bank about my forthcoming trip
I’ve written a second draft of my paper for the Finance Committee about Running a Legacy Campaign
I sorted out a new contract for my smart phone
I’ve sent details of my expenses to my financial adviser
I have revised my plan as Press Officer
I have revised my plan for publicity for my new book

And I nearly forgot…
I have kept up to date with the comments on my website [17 replies written today]

Sunday
Jun072015

A Few More FVP Stats

Here are a few more stats in addition to my last post.

After one week of FVP ending on Saturday evening:

Saturday: 95 tasks entered, 44 remaining

Friday: 93 tasks entered, 13 remaining

Thursday: 74 tasks entered, 5 remaining

Sunday-Wednesday: 341 tasks entered, 10 remaining.

Saturday
Jun062015

FVP Statistics Updated

After one week using the FVP method, how have I done?

Total number of tasks entered: 603

Total number of tasks completed: 531

Total number of tasks remaining: 72

The first 149 tasks have all been actioned.

Work done yesterday (Friday):

No. of tasks entered during day: 91

No. of those tasks actioned during day: 52

No. of those tasks unactioned at close of day: 39

No. of tasks actioned from previous days: 37

Total tasks actioned during day: 89

Note that the number of tasks currently remaining on the list (72) is less than the number of tasks I succeeded in doing yesterday (89).

Friday
Jun052015

FVP Statistics

I started my present FVP list during the evening of 30 May, a bit short of a week ago. So I thought it would be a good idea to show how my list has developed - particularly in view of some concerns which have been voiced about whether difficult tasks would ever get done using the algorithm.

I’ve used the same algorithm all the time I’ve been working this list. I have however varied the question. I started with “What is more exciting than x?” and then changed it to a questionless sort in which tasks were dotted according to whether they “stood out” or not. Currently I think this questionless sort is superior to using a question.

Anyway, here are the statistics:

Total number of tasks entered: 441

Total number of tasks completed: 376

Total number of tasks remaining: 65

I am using a notebook with 31 lines to the page. The pages are not relevant to the sort, but the distribution of unactioned tasks may be of interest.

Number of tasks remaining per page (with cumulative total):

Page 1        0         0

Page 2        0         0

Page 3        0         0

Page 4        3         3

Page 5        3         6

Page 6        2         8

Page 7        5       13

Page 8        4       17

Page 9        4       21

Page 10      2       23

Page 11      2       25

Page 12    10       35

Page 13      9       44

Page 14     15      59

Page 15      6       65

 

A couple of things to note about this:

1) The first 93 tasks on the list have all been actioned in less than a week.

2) No pages except the last one have more than half their tasks unactioned. (The last page only contains 7 tasks at present).

 

Yesterday’s tasks (4 June)

I kept a record (by using a different coloured ink) of what tasks I entered yesterday and what tasks I completed.

No. of tasks entered during day: 74

No. of those tasks actioned during day: 40

No. of those tasks unactioned at close of day: 34

No. of tasks actioned from previous days: 22

Total tasks actioned during day: 66

Note that the number of tasks currently remaining on the list (65) is slightly less than the number of tasks I succeeded in doing yesterday (66).

Wednesday
May272015

A Day with FVP

Here’s what I managed to do today using FVP. The tasks are in the order in which they are written on my list rather than the order I actually did them.

  • Phone upgrade
  • Reading in the Hadith
  • “Penguin Book of Greek Verse”
  • Voicemail
  • Tidy Office
  • Do the Dishes
  • Make Tea
  • Take Pills
  • Check Diary
  • Prayer
  • Prayer
  • Blood Pressure
  • Breakfast
  • Computer Housekeeping
  • Lunch
  • Push Ups
  • Paper In-Tray
  • Bring Wheelie Bin In
  • “Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers”
  • Website Comments
  • Read Blogs
  • Glossika French Day 29
  • Prayer
  • Record Weight
  • Computer Housekeeping
  • “The Iliad” (in Greek)
  • Glossika French Day 29
  • Computer Housekeeping
  • Computer Housekeeping
  • Email
  • “Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers”
  • Computer Housekeeping
  • Push Ups
  • Push Ups
  • Computer Housekeeping
  • “Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers”
  • Email Backlog
  • Email
  • Email Backlog
  • Glossika French Day 30
  • Book of Genesis (in Hebrew) - one chapter
  • Wash Up
  • Gospel of Matthew (in Greek) - one chapter
  • Book of Genesis (in Hebrew) - one chapter
  • Glossika French Day 31
  • Glossika French Day 32
  • Book of Genesis (in Hebrew) - one chapter
  • Gospel of Matthew (in Greek) - one chapter
  • Email Backlog
  • “Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers”
  • Reading in the Hadith
  • The Plank
  • Find Mislaid Timer
  • Write This Blog Post

One thing I’d like to draw attention to is the effectiveness of the system in hammering home projects which require cumulative repetion over a long period. There are several examples of this in the list. I’ll mention only two. “Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers” (the first volume of the Harry Potter series in French) had four sessions and there were three sessions of push ups. Keeping projects like these - reading, language training and fitness training - going day after day with multiple sessions per day really produces results and FVP is excellent at this.

By the way, the idea with the Harry Potter book is that once I’ve finished it in French, I’ll then use the French edition as a crib for the Spanish edition, then the Spanish edition as a crib for the Italian edition, then the Italian edition for the German edition, and the German edition for… who knows which language? Maybe Dutch, maybe Modern Greek. Russian might be too much of a stretch.

Thursday
May212015

The Final Version Perfected (FVP)

This is an amended version of the instructions for the Final Version (FV) time management system. It contains an improved algorithm and a new question.

(Chinese Traditional version by Catus Lee - external site)
 
Introduction
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Here are the long-awaited instructions for the Final Version Perfected (FVP) time management system. I don’t know if it’s the best time management system ever devised. What I do know is that it is the best time management system that I have ever used myself. It’s shown itself to be even more resilient, responsive and quick than the Final Version.


FV and now FVP are based on my earlier time management systems, particularly the extensive range of AutoFocus and SuperFocus systems developed over the last five years. These were unique in that they were constantly developing with the assistance of a large band of commenters on my web-site. Anyone who has tried one or more of these systems will recognize the strong family resemblance that they have with FV and FVP. The most striking resemblance is that they are all based on one long list (either paper or electronic) which can be used to capture just about every possible action that springs into one’s mind. There is a minimum of special markings or annotations.Such a list depends on an effective algorithm to process it. There are three main requirements which have to be kept in balance. These are urgency, importance and psychological readiness. Traditional time management systems have tended to concentrate on the first two of these. The neglect of psychological readiness is probably the reason that most people don’t find time management systems particularly effective or congenial.The most distinctive feature of FVP is the way that its algorithm is primarily based on psychological readiness - this then opens the way to keeping urgency and importance in the best achievable balance.
 

The FVP  Algorithm
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The FVP algorithm uses the question “What do I want to do more than x?” to preselect a chain of tasks from the list. What exactly is meant by “want” in this context is deliberately left undefined. There may be a whole variety of reasons why you might want to do one thing more than another thing and all of them are valid.The chain always starts with the first unactioned task on the list. Mark this task with a dot to show that it’s now been preselected. Don’t take any action on the task at this stage.This task then becomes the benchmark from which the next task is selected. For example, if the first task on the list is “Write Report”, the question becomes “What do I want to do more than write the report?” You move through the list in order until you come to a task which you want to do more than write the report. This task is now selected by marking it with a dot and it becomes the benchmark for the next task. If the first task you come to which you want to do before writing the report is “Check Email”, then that becomes the benchmark. The question therefore changes to “What do I want to do more than check email?”As you continue through the list you might come to “Tidy Desk” and decide you want to do that more than checking email. Select this in the same way by marking it with a dot, and change the question to “What do I want to do more than tidying my desk?”. The answer to this is probably “nothing”, so you have now finished your preselection.The preselected tasks in the example are:

Write report
Check email
Tidy desk

At this point “Tidy Desk” represents the task you most want to do at the moment. Do it.
Note that as in all my systems, you don’t have to finish the task - only do some work on it. Of course if you do finish the task that’s great, but if you don’t then all you have to do is re-enter the task at the end of the list.

Now what are you going to do next? “Check email” is the previous task you selected, but that isn’t necessarily the task you most want to do. What you can say though is that it was the task you most wanted to do up until you selected “Tidy Desk”. This means that you only need to check the tasks that come after “Tidy Desk” in the list.

So what you do next is to ask yourself “What do I want to do more than check email?” again, but you check only the tasks which come after the task you have just done (Tidy Desk).

Once you have worked your way back to the first task on the list and done it (this may never happen!), you take the next unactioned task as your root task.

That’s it! You’re now ready to go. Everything else is further examples and explanation.



A Longer Example
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In this example for ease of understanding no new tasks are added while working on the list. This of course is unlikely in real life. Your initial list of tasks:


Email
In-Tray
Voicemail
Project X Report
Tidy Desk
Call Dissatisfied Customer
Make Dental Appointment
File Invoices
Discuss Project Y with Bob
Back Up  
 
Put a dot in front of the first task:  
 
· Email
  In-Tray
  Voicemail
  Project X Report
  Tidy Desk
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
  Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
  Back Up
 
Now ask yourself ” What do I want to do more than Email?”
 
You work down the list and come to Voicemail. You decide you want to do Voicemail more than Email. Put a dot in front of it.  
 
· Email
  In-Tray
· Voicemail
  Project X Report
  Tidy Desk
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
  Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
  Back Up  
 
Now ask yourself ” What do I want to do more than Voicemail?” You decide you want to tidy your desk.  
 
· Email
  In-Tray
· Voicemail
  Project X Report
· Tidy Desk
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
  Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
  Back Up  
 
There are no tasks you want to do more than tidying your desk, so you have the following dotted tasks:
 
Email
Voicemail
Tidy Desk
 
Do the Tidy Desk task.
 
Your list will now look like this:
 
· Email
  In-Tray
· Voicemail
  Project X Report
· Tidy Desk
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
  Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
  Back Up
 
Now start again from Tidy Desk (i.e. the last task you did). and ask yourself “What do I want to do more than Voicemail?”  The only task you want to do more than Voicemail is Back Up. Do it.
 
The list now reads:
 
· Email
  In-Tray
· Voicemail
  Project X Report
· Tidy Desk
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
  Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
· Back Up
 
There are no further tasks beyond Back Up, so there is no need to check whether you want to do any tasks more than you want to do Voicemail. You just do it.


The list now reads:


· Email
  In-Tray
· Voicemail
  Project X Report
· Tidy Desk
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
  Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
· Back Up
 
 
There is only one dotted task left on the list and that is Email. You now need to check whether you want to do any of the tasks more than Email. So ask the question “What do I want to do more than Email?” You already know that you want to do Email more than In-tray, so you start scanning from the first task after the task you have just done (Voicemail).
 
You decide you want to do Make Dental Appointment more than you want to do Email, so you dot it and change the question to “What do I want to do more than Make Dental Appointment”. The answer is “Discuss Project Y”. As this is the last task on the list you do it immediately, and then do Make Dental Appointment immediately too. There’s no need to scan because you already know that you want to make the dental appoinment more than you want to file invoices.
 
The list now reads:
 
· Email
  In-Tray
· Voicemail
  Project X Report
· Tidy Desk
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
· Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
· Discuss Project Y with Bob
· Back Up
 
 
So the tasks on the original list have been done in the following order so far:
 
Tidy Desk
Back Up
Voicemail
Discuss Project Y with Bob
Make Dental Appointment
 
These tasks have been done in the exact order of what you want to do most at the time. There may be a huge number of factors affecting what you want to do most, but you can allow your brain to sort them out for you below the level of consciousness simply by asking the question “What do I want to do more than x?” and applying it in the way shown above.
 
 If you are having trouble following the example above, then I suggest you write the list out on paper and work through it by hand.
 

Additional Tips  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The best way to sink any time management system is to overload it right at the beginning. FVP is pretty resilient, but at this stage you aren’t. So build up the list gradually. My advice is to start off with the tasks and projects that are of immediate concern to you right now, and then add more as they come up in the natural course of things.Tasks can be added at any level, e.g. Project X, Plan Restructuring, Call Pete, Tidy Desk.


If at any stage you find that a task on the list is no longer relevant, then delete it. If you find that your preselected list is no longer relevant (e.g. if you have had a long break away from the list or some new factor has come into play), then scrap the preselection and reselect from the beginning. [Afternote July 3rd - I now don’t do this. I simply cross out any tasks which need re-prioritizing and re-enter them at the end of the  list.]


If one or more very urgent things come up, just write them at the end of the list and the algorithm will automatically select them next (assuming you do actually want to do them of course). Similarly if something already on the list becomes very urgent, then just cross it out and move it to the end of the list.Remember that the aim of any time management system is to help you to get your work done, not get in the way of doing your work. So don’t be afraid to adjust priorities as and when you need to. However don’t overdo this - stick to the rules when possible as they will ensure you deal with your work in a systematic way.
 
Why It Works
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
At the beginning of this article I said there were three factors which every time management system needs to address: urgency, importance and psychological readiness. Let’s see how FVP deals with each of these.


Urgency. Because of the nature of the preselection process, urgent tasks tend to get selected because generally speaking the human brain wants to do things that it knows are urgent. If things come up that are particularly urgent they can be added to the preselected list at any time.

Importance. Generally speaking the human brain is a bit less keen on doing important stuff than it is on doing urgent stuff. This is particularly the case when the important stuff is difficult. However the FVP preselection process ensures that the entire list is kept under continuous review and your brain will start to flag up that it wants you to get on with stuff it thinks you might be neglecting. If this doesn’t happen, then it’s likely to be because you would be better off getting rid of it altogether.

Psychological Readiness. This is where FVP really enters new dimensions. By using a pre-selection process, the brain is softened up towards the selected tasks. But this isn’t all. The selection process is based on what you want to do. This colours the whole preselected list so that even tasks which seem like chores get affected.

Friday
May082015

The Perfect Time Management System

For millenia the best minds in the world have been searching for the perfect time management system. Finally, after twenty years of thinking about little else (or at least that’s how it felt), I have at last managed to invent it.

I hope this will be an incalculable boon to humankind. Imagine, no more frustration at not being able to trust yourself to achieve what you want. Imagine, always being able to decide to do something and know that you will do it. Imagine, being able to unfailingly steer the optimum path through all the clashing priorities of daily life.

The system is very simple. Once you know it you will be hard pressed to think why it would take one person five minutes to think up, let alone twenty years. Yet, as far as I know no one else has ever thought of it before.

Here are a few characteristics of the system:

  • It’s a “universal capture” system, i.e. you can enter any task or project without any pre-editing or prioritizing.
  • It’s equally suitable for pen and paper or electronic means.
  • It can deal with any size list, from the smallest to the largest.
  • No matter what order the tasks are written in, it will always give you the optimum path through them.
  • It has no problem with urgent tasks.
  • It encourages “little and often”.
  • You can attend meetings and write down tasks and queries straight into the list.
  • Resistance becomes a thing of the past.
  • You can enter provisional tasks, i.e. ones you haven’t decided definitely whether to do them or not.
  • You can brainstorm straight onto the list
  • It requires no randomizers or other equipment.
  • and so on.

I’ll be writing more about this in a week or so’s time.

Tuesday
Mar032015

"Secrets of Productive People" now available for pre-order

My new book Secrets of Productive People: The 50 Strategies You Need to Get Things Done is now available for pre-order in print and Kindle versions on Amazon.co.uk for publication on 27 August.

The Kindle version is also available on Amazon.com.

Wednesday
Feb112015

Daily Rituals

There’s an interesting interview on the Evernote blog with Mason Curry, author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.

I particulary liked his description of Maya Angelou renting “tiny, mean” hotel or motel room in order to do her writing, and surrounding herself with a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards, and a bottle of Sherry.

Back in the far-off days before computers that’s probably exactly what I’d have surrounded myself with, except I’d have had a bottle of whisky rather than sherry.

Monday
Aug042014

What my new book "Secrets of Productive People" will be about

The main focus of the book will be the idea that productivity is the product of creativity and efficiency.

It’s the creativity part that tends to get neglected, as if productivity were just a matter of churning out as much work as possible.

I want to help the ordinary person - that’s you or me - to be able to approach the sort of results that the really productive people of history such as Newton, van Gogh or Henry Ford have achieved, albeit on a smaller scale. The message is that this sort of ability can be learned. It’s a matter of practice applied to correct methods of practice. The book will show you how.
Sunday
Jul272014

New book on its way!

I’ve just signed a contract with Hodder’s to write a book in their new Secrets series. It will be called Secrets of Productive People: 50 techniques to get things done, scheduled to be published Summer next year.

Friday
Jun132014

"From the Hipster PDA to Desktop Files"

There’s an interesting article on various vehicles for to do lists on Danny Schreiber’s Zapier blog, which mentions a couple of my systems.

I hope he’s corrected the spelling of my name before you all write in and correct him!

Monday
Mar312014

How to Get the Most Out of the "Spinning Plates"

This is a follow-up to my previous post The Spinning Plates Method of Project Control, in which I shall be making observations about how best to work this system. It’s not intended to be a static post, but one which I shall keep adding to (newest on top).

Being up-to-date

What does it mean to finish a task in the sense of having no work outstanding as stated in the rules? It doesn’t mean “finished for good”. Basically the sense is that you are up-to-date with the work on the project. You can be up-to-date with a project long before it is finished for good. If you have a project which you expect to take three months, then you are up-to-date as long as you are on track with the schedules and deadlines relating to that project.

So a very important part of running the “Spinning Plates” is being clear what you mean by being “up-to-date”. You may need to have a different definition of this for each project. Sometimes these are set for you, but more often you will need to define them yourself.

If you have a project to read “War & Peace” you might have a goal of so many pages or chapters a day - or you might simply be happy to read “something” every day without defining how long that is. It’s up to you.

For Housework, you might have daily chores, weekly chores (each on a different day of the week) and monthly chores. As long as you are on schedule with these, you are up-to-date.

Electronic Implementation

For electronic implementation, there is no need to have more than the one active column. The columns across the page in the written version look pretty and provide a historical record, but they are not strictly necessary. All you need to know is whether at the end of a pass there are any arrows or crosses in the column. And of course you can use any symbols you like (or colour coding) in place of the ticks, arrows and crosses.

Minor Tasks

It is a good idea fairly early on to add a task called “Minor Tasks” to your list. You can then keep a separate sublist of small necessary tasks which don’t fit into any of the existing projects on the main list. However this must not become a place where you add everything you haven’t yet succeeded in putting on the main list. Remember that like every other task the “Minor Tasks” task must be completely cleared before you can add any more tasks to the main list.

You are therefore advised to use the following rules with respect to the “Minor Tasks” sublist:

1) Don’t add any tasks which are too big to be done in one go.

2) Don’t add more tasks than you can do in one go.

3) Make the “Minor Tasks” sublist a closed list, i.e. no new tasks can be added to it once it has been started until all the tasks on it have been done. I also recommend you do the tasks in the same order they are written.

Size of Tasks

I’ve tended to refer in the instructions to “task” and “project” more or less interchangeably. This is quite deliberate because the system simply treats a project as a big task. Whether a particular entry is a big task or a small task is up to you.

It’s sometimes a good idea to combine small tasks into larger tasks as you go along. So for instance if you have a project to sort out your office, you might start with a task “Sort Desk”. Once the desk is sorted, that is retitled “Tidy Desk”, and you start another task “Sort Pamphlet Racks”. That again becomes “Tidy Pamphlet Racks”. After you’ve done this with a few more office-sorting jobs, you can combine them all into one task “Tidy Office”.

Remember that although you can combine existing tasks, you can only include tasks in the combination which are already on the list.

The best time to do this sort of editing, combining and retitling work is when you are rewriting the page because you have filled all the available columns.

Sunday
Mar302014

The Spinning Plates Method of Project Control (Experimental)

Here’s a video of the right way to get projects going and keep them going:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k44uoVm0lPI

  • First, get one project up and running properly
  • Take necessary action to keep on top of project
  • Then get the next project up and running properly
  • Take necessary action to keep on top of both projects
  • Then get the next project up and running properly
  • Take necessary action to keep on top of all three projects
  • Repeat until you have reached the maximum number of projects you can keep on top of
  • At that stage you either have to stop adding more projects, or remove old projects to allow for new ones.


Note the priority is always to make sure the existing plates are spinning properly before adding a new one (though in the video the performer is deliberately adding a bit of drama to keep the audience engaged).

How can we actually do this in practice when we are dealing with real-life projects rather than spinning plates?

We can use a rotational list method. This one is designed for use with a notebook and pen/pencil. I’m sure it can be adapted for electronic use, but I haven’t as yet tried to do so.

I emphasize that this is an experimental method, which I haven’t tried out fully myself yet. You are welcome to have a go, but don’t expect polished perfection!

It has two phases: I - Build-Up; II - Control.

Phase 1 - Build-Up

Click image for full-size

Start with two tasks and write them on the first two lines in your notebook. Work on them on turn. When you finish a task, cross it off the list if it’s done for good. But if is a recurrent task leave it where it is.

When you’ve finished both tasks, add another task. Rotate back through both the previous tasks (if they’re still there) to make sure nothing new has come up for them, and then work on the new task. Once there’s no more work left on any of the tasks already entered you can enter another new task. Check back through the old tasks for anything new that’s come in and then work on the new task.

Proceed in this way adding a new task every time you’ve cleared any work on all the old tasks. If there’s any work left outstanding, then you can’t add a new task. You have to keep rotating through the list until all the work is cleared.

You will probably find that your list grows very quickly at first and then slows down considerably. Once it’s grown to the point that you are having trouble getting your work done quickly enough, you are getting near the limit of how much work you are capable of doing. That means you can’t take on much more work without endangering the work you have already got on your list. You are at liberty to remove any task at any time to reduce the workload, but you can only add a new task (or restore an old one) when there is no outstanding work.

Phase 2 - Control

Click on image for full-size

So far we’ve only talked about what happens when you have work in progress on one or more tasks at the end of a pass through the list. This is quite normal and nothing to worry about, but while it’s in effect you can’t add any more tasks.

However there are two ways in which you may actually fail at doing a task:

1) You may come to a task and, without any satisfactory reason, decide you don’t want to do any work on it at that time. If this happens the task has been failed. Satisfactory reasons might include wrong time of day, wrong weather conditions, necessary pre-condition not met, work task during leisure time (or vice versa). Unsatisfactory reasons include not feeling like it, high resistance to task, pressure from other more urgent tasks, low energy.

2) You fail to get a task completed in time for a deadline. This applies even if the deadline is self-imposed. Again the task has been failed.

At the end of a pass in which one or more tasks have been failed, the number of tasks on the list has to be reduced by the number of tasks which have failed. The tasks removed do not necessarily have to be the tasks that failed.

Note that this is not a punishment for failing a task, but a way of consciously reducing your workload control so that you can get back on track.

 

Related Post:

How to Get the Most Out of the “Spinning Plates”

Saturday
Mar292014

How to Have Wonderfully Creative Ideas

Easy, peasy.

1) Write out a list called “My Top 5 Ideas for [specify subject]”

2) Put the list away where you can’t see it.

3) The next day, write out a fresh list for the same subject. Don’t refer to the old list. It doesn’t matter whether the items on the new list are the same or different.

4) Repeat every day, until you get inspired to put some of the ideas into action.

5) Every week or so, re-read the old lists to see how your ideas have progressed, and maybe have another think about some of them.

Some suggested titles:

- My Top 5 Ideas for Making More Money

- My Top 5 Ideas for Being Healthier

- My Top 5 Ideas for Being a Better Son/Daughter/Father/Mother/Husband/Wife/Significant Other/Friend

- My Top 5 Ideas for Improving the Invoicing System

- My Top 5 Ideas for My Next Holiday

Yes, your’re right. That was My Top 5 Ideas for Top Five Ideas Lists list.

Perhaps I’ll write another one tomorrow!

Wednesday
Jan222014

Random Time Management

As promised in my last post, here’s the method I am using at the moment with great success. You need a random-number generator to work it. The one I’m using is at http://www.random.org/integers/

I am using paper and pen, but I’m sure it can be adapted for electronic use.  I just haven’t yet attempted to do so.

I’m using a loose-leaf binder with lined pages of 32 lines, but the method will work perfectly well with a bound notebook and pages of any number of lines.

First I list all my tasks in the notebook - one per line.

I then set my randomizer to produce integers in the range 1 and 32 inclusive. The upper number is the same as the number of lines on a page. This is just a convenient number which produces reasonable results, but you can use a lower or higher number if you wish.

Starting from the beginning of the list I use the randomizer to produce a number and move down the page that number of lines. I then do some work on the task on that line. Please note that I don’t have to finish that task, just do some work on it.

Once I have worked on the task, I cross it off. If I have not finished it or if it is a recurring task, then I re-enter it at the end of the list.

I then use the randomizer again and count to the next task (going to the next page if necessary).

When the number the randomizer produces would take me beyond the end of the list, I circle back to the beginning of the list, ignoring empty lines on the last page.

I continue circulating through the list in this way.

When I’m counting forward, I INCLUDE in the count the lines which have been crossed off. If I land on a line on which the task has been crossed out, I move to the next line in which there is an active task. I call this movement a “slide”.

For example imagine I have the following tasks:

Email
In Tray
Invoices
Date of next meeting
Write report
Cash check
Tidy desk

Performance reviews

I throw a five, so I count down the list, remembering to include the crossed out lines. I land on the “Write Report” line. I then “slide” to the next active task which is “Performance Reviews”. Slides work slightly different from counting. If a slide takes you to the end of the page, you circle back to the beginning of the SAME page. So if “Performance Reviews” in the example had already been done, you’d have circled back to “Email” at the beginning of the page.

Email
In Tray
Invoices
Date of next meeting
Write report
Cash check
Tidy desk

Performance reviews

Counting crossed-out spaces and sliding are very important, because they have the effect of increasing the chances of the older tasks on the list being selected. Note that if you don’t include lines with crossed-out tasks in the count, then every task will have an exactly equal chance and there will be no preference for older tasks.

A few points to note:

1) Random numbers behave randomly. They don’t behave in the way we expect them to behave. If they did, they wouldn’t be random. You will find that you are constantly surprised by them.

2) The system as described has a built-in bias towards clearing the older tasks off the list. This means that nothing will stay on the list for very long. How long that is depends on the length of the list and the amount of time you can devote to working on it. If you want things to move on really quickly then keep the list short.

3) The random-number generator is quite indifferent to your priorities, wishes and time-pressure, so if something needs doing now - do it!

4) Any attempts to increase the probability of certain tasks being selected will result in the chances of all the other tasks being reduced. So I advise against it.

Sunday
Jan192014

A New Concept: Reducing Resistance by Randomness

… ok, perhaps not an entirely new concept. Some of you may have read the 1971 novel The Diceman by Luke Rhinehart and may even have experimented with deciding on your next action by the roll of a die. But I think very few people have ever made it into a systematic way of living their life.

With the help of the members of this website’s General Forum (see the threads Shades of the Diceman and Shades of the Diceman - Part 2) I have been trying out a new concept in time-management. Basically the idea is to use a normal task list but, instead of selecting the next task off the list yourself, you select it by using a random number generator.

Although it’s early days yet, what we have discovered is that the randomness has some very positive effects:

  • It takes out all the personal decisions which are hugely influenced by emotions, fear, laziness, habits and just general human fallibility - and instead presents the next thing to do without any attempt to justify it. Instead of spending time and energy deciding how urgent or important or pressing or scary or avoidable a task is, you just forget all that and accept a purely random decision.
  • What we are finding is that stress levels fall and resistance is reduced almost to zero. We seem to have taken the “friction” out of deciding what to do next.

It is however important to design a system which will channel the randomness so that it generates a productive result. In my next post, I will describe the system I am using at the moment. This has truly amazed me by how effective it is, how easy to work and how comprehensive.