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Problem 5 - Lack of Concentration

When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools. Michael LeBoeuf

Lack of concentration is a major problem in all aspects of time management. A list of some of the things causing it might include: 

  • Inattention
  • Boredom
  • Resistance
  • Mind on something else
  • Interruptions
  • Worry
  • Pain
  • Untidiness
  • Distraction 

The remedy for all of these is consistent use of a time-management list, whatever the method. The writing focuses your attention. The scanning provides a framework. And the selection directs your attention to one subject.

The more you practise this, the more effective it will be. Consistency is the keyword. Sporadic use or constantly jumping from one method to another will simply increase the amount of distraction you experience.


Problem 4 - Wasting Time

“I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”

―  Character from C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters

The above quote sums it up very neatly. Wasted time is time in which you don’t do what you ought to do (“work”) or what you want to do (“pleasure”). It is quite different from rest time, which often falls under both of these categories.

Typical examples of wasted time: 

  • Staring mindlessly into the fire (which is the example Lewis mentions in the book)
  • Falling asleep in front of the TV
  • Getting mindlessly drunk [Ah, that’s twice I’ve used the word “mindless” in three examples]
  • Putting up with something that’s not working properly rather than fixing it
  • Finding a heap of trivial tasks to do in order to avoid starting on one important task.
  • Drifting around at random unable to decide on something constructive to do 

Wasting time is the difference between mindless drifting and taking intentional action. It’s usually quite easy to tell the difference, but the best way to ensure that your action is intentional is to write it down. Writing down your next action forces you to bring your intentional powers into play. As I’ve mentioned often in the past, one of the ways I used to get people out of a state of mental paralysis and back into focus was simply to write a task down - any task - do it, then write another task down and do that. That in fact is the simplest form of No List system. If you find yourself wasting time, the easiest way out of it is to use this exercise.

It’s also the reason that I encourage people who are using a Long List system to put all their trivial tasks on it as well as the more serious stuff. These means you are always acting intentionally, rather than just drifting. Even if you are spending time picking the easy tasks, it is better than drifting - and it is much easier to pick up the serious stuff once your energy has replenished itself.

So remember:

Write it down! 


Reviewing an Old Favourite

At the moment I’m trying to get a lot of work done before a holiday deadline. So I have turned to an old favourite of mine. I’m not sure it ever got a name - official or otherwise - but I wrote about it under the title of Another Simple and Effective Method.

It is a really effective method for powering through a lot of hard work. If you’ve never tried it then maybe you should. 

There is a problem with this method which is that it ends up with a lot of single tasks which have to be done on the next pass. I don’t like ever having no choice about what I do next so I have changed the rules to avoid singletons. The new rules are:

1. A single task is treated as part of the next group of tasks for the next selection.

2. If the single task is the one selected, then the next group of tasks is selected from again.

This sounds complicated but is easy in practice. It is just a matter of remembering that you must always give yourself a choice of tasks (at least two) to select from.


Problem 3 - Resistance

Resistance is a huge problem in Time Management. Not only is it the main reason why we need time management systems and methods in the first place, but it is also the main reason why these systems and methods fail. At the extreme, resistance leads to a state of complete paralysis in which one is incapable of doing anything constructive at all. 

It’s important to understand how resistance works. 

  1. Anything which we don’t want to do will tend to build up more and more resistance if we don’t get started on doing it.
  2. The stage of a task which we resist the most is getting started. Once we are working on something resistance will diminish as long as we maintain momentum.
  3. Once resistance to a task or project has been allowed to build it will only get done when not doing it produces more pain than doing it. As you can imagine this is not a happy state to be living in.
  4. The more we give in to resistance, i.e. the more we procrastinate, the more difficult it becomes to do anything constructive at all.
  5. Resistance is stressful. Extreme resistance is stressful in the extreme.

There are really only two ways to work without experiencing resistance: 

Firstly, “Do It Now”. In other words, get started on a project or task before resistance to it has a chance to build up. Since getting started is the point at which resistance is usually highest, from then on the “little and often” principle can keep you going with minimal resistance until the work has either been accomplished or has become a routine.

The problem with this method is that at any one time there are usually a number of new things clamouring for our attention. How do we chose which new project to start now? If we leave one task unfinished so that we can start the next, will we ever get back to finishing the one we’ve left?

The second way is more effective, but does take some practice and requires a rethink about the nature of resistance:

The feelings we identify as resistance are in fact nothing of the sort. Resistance doesn’t exist. Or - to be more exact - it won’t exist in the context of a properly run Long List time management system.

In a Long List system we have a list of everything we want or have to do. Scanning through the list results in certain tasks “standing out” as ready to be done. This implies that the majority of tasks won’t stand out on that scan. The reason certain tasks stand out is that your intuition is identifying them as the tasks best suited to be done at that precise time. The reason the majority of tasks don’t stand out is that your intuition has not identified them as the tasks best suited to be done at that time. It is not a question of easy tasks v. difficult tasks. It is purely a question of suitability to be done at that time. 

The point of a Long List system is to build up consistency of action. It’s consistency that brings about results. But consistency works both ways. If we are consistently slapdash and unreliable, we will produce slapdash and unreliable results.

All this becomes automatic if you use a Long List system and follow the simple rule:

Do what stands out for as long as you feel like doing it and no longer


Problem 2 - Too Little Time

Having too little time is the mirror image of over-commitment. If you are over-committed, you have too little time to fulfil your commitments. If you have only a small amount of time available then it makes no sense to take on more commitments.

In the previous blog post I recommended making sure that your commitments do not exceed the time that you need for them. But as well as keeping your commitments well pruned, you can also tackle the problem by ensuring that your time is well used. Time is the most valuable resource you have, and you need to protect it.

It’s stating the obvious to say that everyone has 24 hours worth of time every day. It’s what is done with it that counts. Some people achieve very little with those 24 hours and some people achieve an enormous amount. What makes the difference?

The first factor is that some people have much more freedom of action than others. There are many circumstances which are difficult or impossible to change. If you own health is bad or you are caring for a disabled or sick relative you are inevitably restricted in what you can do. That’s just a couple of examples out of many.

But for those of you who have freedom of action, how can you ensure that you make the most of it?

First, you need a fast and reliable system which suits your own style of working. System is the key to good use of time (and can make a lot of difference to your freedom of action too).

Second, you need to extirpate or minimise the enemies of time. Here is a short list of the main offenders in a work context.

1. Meetings. Meetings in themselves are not a bad thing. But badly run meetings which meet only for the sake of meeting are an extremely bad thing. Meeting in person takes up an inordinate amount of time, to which must be added journey time. They also tend to generate meeting-related work, which would be unnecessary if it were not for the meeting. Meetings must justify the time spent on them.

2. Idleness. One of the advantages of having a good time management system is that it minimises idleness. If you are trying to avoid having to work on a challenging task, then there is a tendency to take refuge in idleness. But a Long List of tasks always contains worthwhile things you can do even while trying to avoid something. This keeps you focused on your work and also helps you to “work up” to the task you are resisting.

3. Interruptions. Interruptions are as disruptive as meetings, or even more so, and need to be addressed directly. You must not just accept them as part of the job. If you spend time thinking about how you could minimize the disruption caused by interruptions, you could almost certainly come up with ideas which would make a real difference.

4. Lack of breaks. Working for too long without a break causes boredom, tiredness, lack of focus and even adverse health effects. The remedy is to build breaks into your day. The two most important rules to follow for office workers are: 1) never work through your lunch break; 2) have a definite stopping time. Home workers can alternatively build recreational tasks into their list.

5. Too short hours. Sometimes the obvious answer is the correct one. If you don’t have enough time to do your work, it may be because you are working too short hours. This is often a problem for part-time workers. Their job description is frequently too big for the hours they are being paid for. And the result is either that they can’t keep up with the work, or that in order to keep up they have to work unpaid hours. The remedy is either to negotiate a revised job description or to negotiate longer paid hours.

6. Too long hours. Paradoxically the problem may be the exact opposite of too short hours. You may be working too long hours. I have written often in the past about what I call the “end effect”. If you work for a precise period of time, say fifteen minutes, on a task, the knowledge that you’ve only got fifteen minutes focuses your mind. You will almost certainly do more work on that task than you would if you worked for the same amount of time on it without a definite stop time. The same applies to a day’s work. Without a definite stop time (preferably several throughout the day) you will tend to be unfocused and lack concentration.


Top 10 Reasons Simple Scanning is the Best of All Possible Systems

 Here are ten reasons why Simple Scanning is not just the best system so far discovered, but also the best of all possible systems. 

  1. No need to categorize, prioritize or standardize
  2. Weekly reviews not needed
  3. Resistance is non-existant
  4. Everything is enjoyable
  5. You can see clearly what you have done and what you haven’t
  6. Intuition rules
  7. No need to weed the list
  8. Maximizes the time available
  9. Nothing gets missed out
  10. You can put everything on the list

Problem 1 - Too Much Work

Maybe having too much work is the the commonest complaint from people who are desperately trying to get everything done. And usually people blame their boss for giving them too much to do.

On the other hand self-employed people are often even busier. So who’s the boss there?

And it’s well known that recently retired people frequently claim to be busier than they were when they were working.

The message is that whether you are employed, self-employed or retired you have a lot more control over the amount of work you have to do than you think. Being overworked is as often as not a self-inflicted injury.

You know when you have too much work because you can’t keep on top of it. And since being on top of your work gives you a great deal of energy, not being on top of it drains yours energy so that you get even further behind. You are into a vicious circle of too much work and less energy to do the work.

However remember that work doesn’t just appear from nowhere.

Work comes from our commitments, that is to say our commitments to ourselves, to our families and friends, to our work, to our society. Every time we add a commitment we add more work and decrease our energy. Every time we subtract a commitment we reduce our work and increase our energy. We need to find the spot at which we have maximum energy, and that will be where our work is exactly at the point where we can stay on top of it and achieve the maximum possible.

I have often said that a commitment is as much about what we are not going to do as about what we are going to do. Over-commitment leads to reducing our ability to meet our commitments. We have failed with a commitment if we have not protected the time that needs to be spent on it. A commitment should always be along the lines of “I have committed myself to A, and as a result I am not going to do B, C and D.”


The Biggest Problems in Time Management - Intro

I’m planning to write a series of articles over the coming weeks on the biggest problems in time management, and how they can be overcome.

The provisional list of subjects I will cover is as follows: 

  • Too Much Work
  • Too Little Time
  • Resistance
  • Wasting Time
  • Lack of Concentration
  • Lack of Direction
  • Failure to Finish 

Warning: This list may change!

These articles will come out at irregular intervals, so don’t expect them every day, or every Monday, or the first of every month or any other interval.


Building Up Routines

I mentioned in one of my recent posts that the reason that our intuition usually goes for the easiest tasks first is in order to build up routines on which the more difficult tasks can ride.

But why are some tasks easy while others are not? The usual reason is that an easy task is one we do often and therefore can do it without much effort or thought.

In other words it is a routine or part of a routine.

The ultimate aim is to make all our work routine. This may sound a bit boring - after all who wants to be trapped in a routine job?

Those of you who have read my book “Secrets of Productive People” will know that I gave three examples of productive people at the start of the book. These were Galileo, van Gogh and Ford. I showed how these three examples of extreme productivity were so precisely because they routinized productivity.

it’s very similar to the way that a musician builds one level of skill on top of another. Or someone learning a language becomes more and more fluent in the language the more they routinize the basic grammar and vocabulary, or how an athlete practises at higher and higher levels.

So to reiterate, that’s why the easy tasks get done first.


When You Feel You are Getting Nowhere...

It comes to us all, me included - that time when you feel you can’t work on your list for a moment longer without going crazy. This is the time when you feel paralyzed and your mind refuses to work.

What can you do?

Here are some suggestions: 

  • Work through it. It will pass.
  • Take a break and do whatever you feel like for half-an-hour (timed), preferably things not work-related. 
  • Have some “filler” activities on your list for just this type of eventuality. 

 Thing not to do: 

  • Abandon the list altogether
  • Change your time management system
  • Succumb to your feelings of paralysis and do nothing worthwhile for the rest of the day. 

The key difference between the do’s and the don’ts is that the do’s are part of the system while the don’ts involve abandoning the system. Abandoning the system can set your work back for weeks, while relaxing within the system means you can get straight back into the stream of things once you’ve gathered your mental strength again.


Top Ten Things to Avoid When Using the Long List

1. Special markings

For your intuition to work properly it’s important that you scan the list attentively according to the rules of the system you are using. You should avoid using special markings to distinguish degrees of urgency, categories, etc. The reason for this is that these markings draw attention to certain tasks and not to others. This results in unbalanced scanning. In other words they will have the opposite effect to what is intended.

2. Switching systems

One thing that’s absolutely guaranteed to ensure that your long list doesn’t get processed properly is constantly switching systems. Pick one system and stick to it. It takes practice and consistent application to get a system to work well and switching systems gets in the way of this.

3. Starting new lists

There’s only one thing worse than constantly switching systems and that is constantly starting new lists. If you feel you really must change your system then at least keep the same list. The long-list systems are interchangeable and can be applied to an existing list. The worst of all possible worlds of course is switching systems and starting a new list both at the same time. You will completely destroy all the momentum you have acquired so far.

4. Master lists

If you need to be working on something at the present time, then it should be on your Long List. If you need to be doing something in the future but not currently, then schedule it in your reminder/calendar/diary. If you have something that you might get round to sometime, then send yourself a Future Self email to be received in a year’s time to remind you of it - chances are you’ll defer it for another year. Until then forget about it. None of these constitutes a Master List, and Master Lists are completely unnecessary. Don’t use them - they are a waste of time and give you the illusion of progress without the reality.

5. Allowing tasks to proliferate

A long list should be able to handle all your work, but it is of course possible to break anything by overusing it. Adding tasks willy-nilly, without any real consideration of whether you are likely to be able to take them to completion, merely wastes time and holds up the real work. How many tasks you can realistically enter on the list depends on how willing you are to dismiss tasks - either according to the rules of the system or because you see they are going nowhere.

6. Backlogs

A Long List system can handle a huge amount provided that you are prepared to weed out stuff which is not progressing. In that case it is working properly by telling you what to concentrate on and what to jettison. But what you cannot afford to do is to build up a huge list which is hardly progressing at all. Taking on more work than you can handle is a problem which can only be solved by reducing your work commitments. If you don’t do this you will build up a huge backlog of work which will negatively affect everything you do.

7. Failure to scan the list properly

The scanning process is essential to the success of any Long List system, and it will only succeed if your intuition is based on a good knowledge of what is on the list. This depends on how well you scan the list. Skimming over the list without really reading it or taking in what is written there will not feed your intuition. The result will be poor selection. It’s often the older tasks on the list that get neglected when scanning because you think you already know what they are. The result is that they not only get neglected while scanning but get neglected in reality.

8. Not writing tasks clearly

There’s only one essential when writing a task on the list - that you can remember what you meant by it. There’s usually not too much problem if you write “Email” or “Paper Backlog”. But how about “John”? It may make perfect sense to you when you write the task - you want to invite John Smith to join the co-ordinating committee for the Christmas Party. But when you get to the task in a couple of days’ time, you’ve forgotten what it’s all about. John who? You know at least ten people called John. Did you want to call him or meet him or check if he’s replied to an email, or even recommend him for promotion? What was the subject? All this uncertainty could have been saved if you’d only written “John S for Xmas Party Cttee”, or similar words. 

9. Restricting the time you use for the list

My experience with Long Lists is that the more things you use one for the better it works. I prefer to combine work and personal in one list, but then i work at home and don’t really make much distinction between tasks - they all require action. You may prefer to separate Home from Work, but I wouldn’t break it down further than that without good cause. 

10. Packing the List

Although Long Lists are on the whole pretty resilient to having a large number of tasks on them (that’s why they are called Long Lists), one of the most effective ways to sabotage the list is to introduce a huge number of tasks at the same time. This is particularly so when you are beginning a new list. By far the best way of starting a new list is to write down about ten tasks to start off with, and then to add new tasks as they occur to you or as they come up. Doing it this way will ensure that what is on the list is relevant and up-to-date. Copying over the contents of a number of old lists onto the new list ensures that the list is neither relevant nor up-up-to date. If you don’t have a good mental grasp of what is on the list, your intuition will suffer. 


Top 10 Things to Remember When Using The Long List

1. Use Little and Often. This is one of the most important principles in all of time management theory. The secret of success in any field is regular, consistent attention - not huge one-off bursts of activity.

2. Resistance Doesn’t Exist. If you tell yourself you’re resisting something, you will resist it. What has happened is that you have created that resistance out of nothing. In fact the feelings we identify as resistance are just your intuition saying “Not yet” or “Not at all”. Accept them as such.

3. Everything Is Equally Easy. What I’m referring to here is not the objective difficulty of the task, but the ease with which we mentally approach a task. This is where “little and often” comes in. The old saying is “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. What the saying omits is that a journey of two hundred yards also starts with a single step. The first step of writing a short blog article is the same as the first step of writing an 80,000 word novel . You just start. 

4. Trust Your Intuition. Get out of your head the idea that intuition is a magic voice from the gods telling you what to do. Intuition is your subconscious mind assessing all the information and experience known to it and producing an answer. The thing to note here is that you can only act intuitively in a situation in which you have knowledge and experience. A fire chief acts intuitively in a major fire. A fighter pilot acts intuitively when faced with a battle situation. Put either of them in the other’s shoes and they would have no idea what to do. In the same way your experience and knowledge of your own life and work enables you to act intuitively. The Long List acts as a vehicle for your intuition to work on. It will give you the best answer that your knowledge and experience can provide.

5. Keep Moving

It’s important not to forget the “often” in “little and often”. This applies to all sizes of projects. Doing a huge amount of work on something and then leaving it for weeks or months is worse than doing nothing at all. You’ve wasted the time you did put in and could have used it for other things. You can keep on top of almost anything by giving it regular focused attention. If you want to be keeping on top of a lot of things then you need to be moving quickly among them.

6. The List Reflects You

You write the list. You work the list. That puts a lot of information on the page about you. This is real information which your intuition can use. The great advantage of The Long List format is that it’s all there - what you want to do, what you have done and what you haven’t done. Just by looking at the list you can see what’s moving and what isn’t.

7. Break Things Down

One way of handling a project is to break it down into every task you can currently do and enter them all onto the list. Don’t put things on the list which cannot be done at the present time - these should be entered in a reminder system to be brought forward at the right time. Once you have done one task, it may open up the way to further tasks which can be entered on the list in their turn.

8. Lump Things Together

Another way of handling a project is just to put the project name on the list without attempting to break it down any further. Then when the project is selected by the scanning process work on it for as long as you wish. This approach suits some projects better than others. I have a mixture of 7. and 8. on my list.

9. Do Lots of Thinking

The first step with almost any project or non-routine task is to think how to proceed with it. You don’t need at this stage to plan the whole thing out to the end, though planning will be part of the process eventually. Rather it’s a time for collecting ideas, some of which will work out and some which won’t. The thinking processes described in my book Secrets of Productive People are excellent for doing this.

10. Quality Equals Quantity

We’re usually told that quality is more important than quantity, but this is misleading. Good quality comes from quantity. This is why your intuition will almost certainly focus at the beginning on getting simple routines established in your work life. Don’t mistake this for resistance to the important stuff (see 2. above). The important stuff will be much easier when you are not constantly fighting your own lack of organization. Consistency is the key here, and consistency involves a lot of practice.


For further reading:

Top Ten Advantages of The Long List


A Simple Vocabulary Memorization Method

In a recent exchange on the Forum I promised to write about a simple method I used to remember tons of French vocabulary. I’m not claiming it’s perfect by any means, but I know it works - I passed two high-level exams using it more years ago than I care to remember!

Unfortunately I didn’t keep it going. The advent of electronic systems such as Anki and its predecessors and contemporaries seduced me away from it. But as I struggled through huge electronic backlogs of everything that I found most difficult, I remembered fondly how much easier my method seemed. 

The reason for its feeling much easier was that easy vocabulary and difficult vocabulary were treated exactly the same. Revisions included all items, not just the difficult ones. This meant that I didn’t get huge blocks of difficult words. They were spread out with the other words learnt at the same time, which had the added advantage that they were revised in context. When you get a word like chouette-effraie it does actually help the memory if it’s in a list of its fellow owls, and not in between barre de défilement and Syndrome de Guillain-Barré.

Anyway here’s how it works.

Although originally I used a bound notebook, these days I find a loose-leaf folder easier. The pages need to be lined and wide enough to include the traditional two-column vocab learning format. When I refer to French, it can of course be applied to any language. I’ve recently started using it for Welsh.

In the first column goes the French and in the second the English meaning. For languages that are written right to left, such as Hebrew and Arabic, you may find it easier to put the target language in the right hand column. It doesn’t make much difference either way.

Put the date at the top of the page on the left. Then add vocabulary. After each session of adding vocab, learn the meaning of the French words by using a card to cover up the English column and testing yourself until you have got every word right. Then do it from English to French. 

You may have several sessions during the day or just one. Either way it’s important to test yourself immediately after entering the vocabulary.

At the end of the day, cross out the date at the top of the page and enter tomorrow’s date. This is the date of your first revision.

The following day test yourself again both ways until you know every word and change the date at the top of the page to one week from now.

Same again in one week’s time, then one month later, then three months later, and finally a year later. By that time most of it should be firmly lodged in your long-term memory.

So the intervals are:

Following day
One week
One month
Three months
One year

The shorter the interval the more important it is to get the timing accurate. Revising the following day is essential. But it’s not going to make much difference whether you revise after 12 months or 13 months. This gives you some leeway if the revisions start piling up. Give priority to the shorter intervals.

I leave it up to you to decide how to check off the words six times during the course of the 16 months and 9 days. You could use pencil and erase the marks each time. Or you could do what I do and use the following marks superimposed on each other.

1. —

2. /

3. \

4. |

5. O

6. __



High Volume, High Speed, Low Resistance - Second Test

It’s been a long time since I last mentioned this system - about a year I think - and I never did get to tell you what it actually consisted of. I can’t remember what it was that distracted me.

However it’s still going strong and is still in my opinion the fastest and best of the long list systems. I’ve restarted it today and so far the page results are as follows (page number followed by number of tasks undone, 31 tasks to the page):

1 - 3 (including writing this post)

2-  14

3 - 18

4 - 19

5 - 29

6 - 14 (out of 14)

Still a couple of hours left today!

Please note that the system does not use pages. I am quoting them purely for convenience of tracking how I’m doing.


Lenten Challenge: FFVP - Day 2


I’ve prepared the Welsh Intensive by grouping all the activities I want to do under that heading towards the end of the list so that they will stay reasonably close to each other throughout the day. The activities are: 

  • Welsh Glossika (Normal Speed)
  • Welsh Glossika (Fast Speed)
  • Welsh Dictation
  • “Colloquial Welsh” textbook
  • Vocabulary learning
  • Vocabulary acquisition
  • BBC S4C (Siarad Pedwar Cymraeg) TV Channel 

I also want to keep going on the fitness activity I started yesterday so I’ve added three non-Welsh activities: 

  • Walking
  • Push-ups
  • The Plank 

The rest of my list remains available for essential administrative and other necessary activities (such as keeping my in-boxes at zero, blog updates and so on)


Lenten Challenge: FFVP

Throughout Lent this year I shall be using the FFVP system to make some solid achievements.

Today, the 1st Day of Lent (otherwise known as Ash Wednesday) I made a start on my first achievement goal - to get fit - with 12,052 steps on my Fitbit.

Tomorrow I intend to have a Welsh Language Intensive Day.


An interesting link

Daniel Brownlees has forwarded me a link to his new system Pivotlist.  It’s very much on the same wavelength as some of the methods discussed on this website, but not identical to any!


Change to Fast FVP

As the system I was testing didn’t work out the way I was hoping, I’ve changed to Fast FVP which is proving to be everything I’ve been looking for. A bit of loosening up of the rules has made it much more flexible and seems to have overcome most of the problems I have found with it before and with such systems as Simple Scanning and FVP.

Basically what I’ve done is to stick to what I said in the first paragraph of the Fast FVP article without adding the further complications in that article.

“Whenever a task is dotted which I am ready to do right now I stop scanning and do it. That’s all there is to it - it’s as simple as that, but the effect on the speed of the system is enormous.”

However that’s not going to make much sense to anyone who reads this without being already acquainted with FVP and FV. So here’s a complete set of rules. As always, I’ve written the rules for paper and pen, but it’s easy to implement them electronically if you so wish: 

  1. Fast FVP is intended to be used with a “catch-all” list, i.e. a full list of everything you have to do.
  2. It is better to start off with a few tasks and build the list up gradually rather than attempt to write everything out to begin with. That way the list will build up naturally and you will be more aware of what is on it.
  3. Dot the first task on the list. You can do it straight away if you want to, but if you don’t want to you carry on scanning through the list dotting tasks that you intend to do.
  4. At any stage you can either work on the task you have just dotted or carry on down the list dotting further tasks.
  5. When you have worked on a task you cross it out and re-enter it at the end of the list if further work is needed on it.
  6. You then can either work on the previous dotted task or carrying on dotting further tasks.
  7. That’s basically it, but there are two rules dealing with the beginning and end of the list:
    1. Whenever you delete the first task on the list the new first task must be dotted
    2. Whenever you reach the end of the list you must work on the last dotted task on the list.

To sum up, except where rules 7.1 and 7.2 apply you always have a choice of:

  • Working on the last dotted task on the list OR
  • Adding further dots after the task you have just done.

Speed and Direction

Some recent comments have queried exactly what I mean by Speed and Direction in the context of High Intensity Time Management. So I think it would be a good idea to use a blog post to repeat and amplify my replies to those comments. 

Remember that the main qualifications for an HITM system are: 

  • It uses a catch-all to-do list (“long list”)
  • You only work on what feels ready to be done
  • You only work on that for as long as you feel like it.
  • There is no compulsion to do one task rather than another
  • Every task is available to be the next task you work on 

Subject to these any suitable scanning method may be used. The one I currently recommend is Simple Scanning, but I’m convinced that I can find a better way. I’m currently testing another system which may prove more suitable - or not. However what I’m about to say applies to any qualifying system.


There are two aspects to speed. First, there is the amount of time it takes to scan for the next task. On the one hand there would be a FIFO system in which you just do the tasks in the order they are written on the list. There would be effectively no time spent scanning at all. On the other hand would be a system in which you have to scan the entire list each time before selecting the next task. With a large list scanning would take a long time.

The second aspect is that speed is not just going through the whole list fast, but also doing the work fast. If you are bored and unmotivated your work slows to a crawl. But if you are fired up, you work much faster - and better too.

Unfortunately the two aspects contradict themselves to some extent. If you tried to do your work in a strictly FIFO order, you would probably end up bored to tears and very unmotivated. Any time saved in scanning would be easily outweighed by the slow speed of the actual work.

The ideal system has to be one in which the scanning time is kept as low as possible, but in which the emphasis is on keeping interest and motivation going.


It refers to giving direction to your life - as opposed, at the other extreme, to drifting aimlessly.

The idea behind HITM is that you have a big list which contains everything you might want to do. It’s then by working the list that you discover what you really do want to do. Anything that you decide that you are not going to do gets weeded out. As I think I’ve said before, I think the precise mechanism is less important than the approach. Unlike other approaches where not getting everything on the list done is seen as a failure, with HITM not getting everything done is seen as a success, i.e. it’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s the way you discover what you really want and ride the wave. In short it is what is called “being in the flow”.


Testing an HITM System 3: Bedding In

As I’ve said before, a list needs to become mature before it’s really effective but even on Day 2 there has been some movement.

Basically all the goals I reported on yesterday have remained the same with progress on all of them (except the funny cat videos). But there have been a few additions: 

  • The most important is fitness. I did my 10,000 steps today and intend to keep that going. But I’ve yet to incorporate strength training.
  • French and German have added themselves to Welsh. I know French well and German not so well, but they are both far advanced from where I’ve got to with Welsh. I’ve also got moving again on learning the Armenian alphabet (39 letters compared with 26 for English). 

Remember, these are not goals I’ve committed myself to or New Year resolutions. They are arising directly from what I am actually doing. I expect them to change and develop.