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Thursday
Nov092017

What is a Task?

An email from dvd1955 raises an important point:

Could you please explain a little, maybe in a blog post for all to see, what you consider a “task” to be?  My confusion comes from the fact that the average time you must spend on a task is very low to get the number of tasks completed that you mention in some of your posts. For example, The High-Intensity Use of Time update mentions getting 30 tasks done in less than four hours. That means the average time spent on a task is under 8 minutes. When I look at the first twenty items on my current list, there are only three or four that could be done in under 8 minutes. And many of them would take well over 30 minutes, eating up that four hours very quickly. Some of them could be split into shorter sessions but many cannot.

 Looking at my current list I have some tasks that will take a long time, e.g. 

  • Learn Welsh
  • Write Ebook
  • Tax Return 

Some which are “portmanteau tasks”, which will take as long as I choose to give them, e.g. 

  • Read Kindle
  • Read [physical] Books
  • Watch DVDs 

Some which will take a medium amount of time, e.g. 

  • Walking
  • Visit Friend in Hospital
  • Write blog post 

Some which are variable in time taken but usually relatively short, e.g. 

  • Comments
  • Email
  • Voicemail
  • Arrange Boiler Service 

There’s also a special class of very short tasks. I have a lot of them on my list. Some examples: 

  • Tidy Desk
  • Tidy Office Table
  • Tidy Office Floor
  • Check Overcoat Pockets
  • Put Papers Away
  • Check Lowest Point Bank Balance
  • Shred Papers 
  • Check Diary

These last ones are essential for the smooth running of my work. I do many of them several times a day and they may take only seconds to do. But they are what keep my office efficient and tidy, my papers where I can find them, and so on. 

They are the sort of things which you might find on a checklist. So why not use a checklist? There are some very good reasons. The first is that a checklist is another document that I would have to find. The second is that “Office Checklist” is a large task and therefore tends to get done only once a day. “Tidy Desk” is a small task, especially if it’s done three or four times a day. Having this type of task on the main list gives much more flexibility.

So what is a task?

My answer is “Whatever you want it to be”. The way I write my tasks is the result of long experience in the best to write a particular task for me. I have no standard rules about length or format. My only rule is to write all tasks in such a way that I can remember what they mean. I don’t want to find myself trying to work out what the task “John re Email” refers to. Who on earth is John? His email or mine or someone else’s? What about? Did I mean Joan not John?

Sunday
Nov052017

High Intensity Use of Time - Ebook

I’m so pleased with this new system that I’ve decided that a blog post won’t do it justice. So I’m aiming to write an ebook which I will make available on this website.

I haven’t yet even begun to sketch out the contents, neither do I have any idea what the word-count of the book will be. So it will be a measure of the system’s effectiveness how long it takes me to write the book without a publisher breathing down my neck.

All the rest of the details will begin to take shape once I start working on it.

Saturday
Nov042017

Thoughts on the Long List - High Intensity Use of Time

Using my latest method, which is designed to be a High Intensity Use of Time, I have done 94 tasks out of 149 in the last 24 hours with 55 tasks remaining on the list, mostly re-entries.

During the day I was absent at a pub lunch with friends for four hours.

I experienced no resistance, got everything of importance done (and everything of lesser importance too). And instead of feeling exhausted, I have been getting steadily more energetic throughout the day.

Friday
Nov032017

Thoughts on the Long List - High Speed High Volume

As I mentioned yesterday, a system which reduces resistance to zero is a real game-changer. So many of the concerns about time management vanish when you can simply do stuff. You don’t need to worry about the number of things you have to do, you don’t get backlogs building up, and you are not doing anything just as a way of avoiding something else.

It’s not just that you do the work faster. The work itself gets faster. Routines build up faster. Weeding gets faster. Follow up gets faster. Records are better kept. Problems get sorted quicker. Everything is up to date. You can find things faster. And above all knowing you are completely on top of your work gives you tremendous energy.

Sounds good?

More soon!

Thursday
Nov022017

Thoughts on the Long List - The Better Way

In fact there is a better way than Simple Scanning - a way which meets all the criteria which I mentioned in the preliminary post in the Thoughts on the Long List series with particular emphasis on high speed and high volume:

  • Fast
  • Flexible
  • Comprehensive
  • No resistance
  • Any length of list
  • No pressure to do any particular tasks
  • Relies entirely on intuition, i.e. “standing out” 

I’ve been working on this system for months now trying to get it exactly right. As always when I finally arrive, the answer is very simple.

Getting high speed and high volume is largely a matter of reducing resistance to as close to zero as it’s possible to get, plus having a scanning system which doesn’t get in the way. Once that’s been achieved everything else becomes much easier - because if you’re going to do everything and do it fast the concerns about urgent items, backlogs, unstarted projects, length of the list, etc, just fall away.

You also of course get enormous energy just by the fact that you are on top of things.

More about this soon.

Tuesday
Oct312017

Thoughts on the Long List - A Better Way? (cont.)

Since I left off writing my previous post three days ago, I have been ceaselessly experimenting with the issues raised there.

I’ve come to two major conclusions: 

  1. “Standing out for No” tends to become less effective with time, while “Standing out for Yes” becomes more effective with time. I’m referring to one’s mental receptivity to the results here.
  2. A system based on “Standing out for No” has a major disadvantage compared with “Standing out for Yes”. This is that it is far less sensitive to timing, mood, readiness, alertness, etc. 

And arising out of those two conclusions, there is one further conclusion. Simple Scanning is best done the way I’ve done it up to now.

I’ll be exploring the implications of this in future posts in the Thoughts on the Long List series.

Saturday
Oct282017

Thoughts on the Long List - A Better Way?

There is an interesting discussion ongoing on the forum. The question has been raised whether “standing out” is the best way to process a list. The essence of “standing out” is that tasks you want to do will stand out from the list. You therefore proceed from one task you want to do to the next one you want to do.

The trouble with this is that many people find that they never want to do certain tasks - which may be the very ones that they most need to do. They are therefore in danger of endlessly processing trivial easy tasks without ever getting to what really matters.

What is therefore being suggested is the opposite of this. Instead of looking for the tasks that we do want to do and ignoring the rest, we should do every task except the ones that stand out as ones we don’t want to do.

This is similar to the well-known technique for choosing between two alternatives - toss a coin and stick to the result unless you get a strong adverse feeling. That way you’ve cut through all the stuff going backwards and forwards through your mind and discovered which of the two alternatives you really want.

(To be continued)

Wednesday
Oct112017

How to Get a Book Read (Revised)

In March this year I wrote a piece on how to get a book read. Although the technique mentioned there proved reasonably successful, I’ve since been using one which seems to work better for me.

It’s very simple. Imagine you have a pile of books. Starting from the top of the pile, look at the books in turn until you come to one which you feel like reading now. Read it for as long as you want to, then put the book in top place on the pile.

The next time you feel like doing some reading, repeat the procedure. If you feel like reading the book at the top of the pile again, read it. If you don’t, look at books in turn until you come to one you feel like reading now. As before, replace the book at the top of the pile.

What I find usually happens is that I latch on to one book that I select most times. That is of course until I finish it. Then another book will take over pole position.

This can be applied to many situations other than a pile of books. Books on a shelf rather than in a pile work just as well of course. And so do books on Kindle, which automatically shows the last book you read at the head of the list. You can use it for movies, whether a pile of DVDs or streaming videos on Amazon or Netflix. Try it for magazines, particularly if you have to read them for professional purposes.

The above suggestions are not comprehensive. Use your imagination to think of other uses of the technique. Restaurants, walks, types of exercise? What else?

Tuesday
Oct102017

Top 10 Advantages of The Long List

  1. You can throw everything at the list as it occurs to you and leave the sorting, prioritizing (and whether you want to do it at all) to work itself out as you go along.
  2. It will show you clearly whether a projected project or action is a goer. If it ends up on an isolated page surrounded by tasks which have been crossed out, you can be pretty sure it’s not.
  3. Tasks and projects will find their own level - a sort of “survival of the fittest”.
  4. The focus is on what you have done, not on what you haven’t
  5. Because you can put anything you like on the list, it opens the world up to you. Thinking you might want to do something quite extraordinary? Just put it on your list and see what happens.
  6. Every task you are thinking of doing has to be written down, put on the list and subjected to the selection procedure. This is a very effective way of avoiding impulsive activity.
  7. Having multiple alternative actions on your list prevents your getting blocked.
  8. Because selecting from the list is intuitive, the work you do is in the flow. Once it’s on the list it’s not work because you’re either not doing it or you’re enjoying doing it.
  9. If you’re in the flow, you do work to a higher standard.
  10. The repetitive effect of re-entering tasks contributes to the building of good routines, and also assists you in extended study, reading, practice, drafting, etc.
Monday
Oct092017

Thoughts on the Long List - Making Everything Easy

It would be a quite understandable reaction to what I’ve been writing recently about trusting intuition to ask “Won’t that just result in my doing the easy stuff and leaving the difficult stuff?”

This is a very deep rooted attitude and with good reason. Just about everyone has had the experience of the pressure lifting at work and, instead of using the quiet period to get completely up to date, they have just idled the time away until the pressure returns. So the net result is that they still have the existing overwhelm, but with a good extra dose of added guilt.

The prevailing attitude to work is that you can only get it done by will power and that you have to force yourself to do the difficult stuff. In fact many people need the pressure of an impending deadline to get moving at all.

As for to-do lists, they are a continual reminder of how much you still have to do, and what you still have to do seems only to get bigger and bigger. Eventually you develop resistance to the whole list and are in danger of suffering from complete paralysis.

What if I told you that this attitude to work is completely back to front?

It’s a myth based on two misconceptions: 

  • Everything on the list has to be done
  • You need to force yourself to overcome resistance 

The truth is that everything on your list is easy, provided that: 

  • You feel ready to do it
  • You have the habit of doing it
  • You work little and often
  • You split difficult tasks so they are as small as possible
  • You allow your intuition to weed out the tasks and projects that are going nowhere

And just to clarify, when I say everything is easy I am not referring to the level of skill required.

Friday
Oct062017

Thoughts on the Long List - Accepting that it won't all get done

Well, I am back where I began twenty years ago with Simple Scanning. The difference is that I have an entirely different philosophy about it - a philosophy which I will attempt to describe in this and subsequent posts.

As I said in an earlier article, there are two ways of looking at a long “catch-all” list.

The first is that you capture everything on your list which you have to do and then use a system to get all of it done. This is what I was trying to do with it all those years ago. And of course I failed.

The second is that you capture everything that you might do on your list and then use a system to sift the list so that the viable things on it get done, and the rest are sifted out. If there is a lot which you don’t do then you have succeeded.

The basic difference between the two is that with the first what you haven’t done is seen as more important than what you have done. In the second what you have done is seen as more important than what you haven’t done.

With the first, if you didn’t succeed in doing something then you would see the possible causes as: 

  • You experienced strong resistance
  • You couldn’t get yourself in the right mood to do it
  • You didn’t want to do it
  • You kept putting it off
  • You found it really hard
  • You thought it would be a lot of work
  • You weren’t sure how to handle it
  • You just couldn’t get started
  • You did a load of trivial make-work in order to avoid it 

With the second, the reasons would be entirely different 

  • I chose not to do it
  • It didn’t feel right for me at this time
  • I decided it would interfere with my existing work
  • I tried it but it didn’t work for me
  • I found a better way of doing the same thing 

In other words the reasons for the second put you in a positive, not a negative, light. It’s the task which didn’t pass your selection, rather than you who failed to get the task done.

What are the advantages of seeing the list in this way?

I’ll answer that question in a later post in the series. 
Thursday
Oct052017

Thoughts on the Long List - The Panic List

Simple Scanning and other systems are extremely thorough and effective methods of processing a long list, but they do tend to fall down when there is an emergency or other unforeseen (or even foreseen) time pressure. 

In this sort of situation it’s all too easy to get into a state of panic. Personally the time this is most likely to happen to me is when packing for a trip. I hate packing and will put it off until the last possible moment, which unfortunately often turns out to be the last impossible moment. A state of panic usually manifests itself in one of three ways: 

  1. Complete paralysis
  2. Rushing about like a headless chicken
  3. Doing anything other than what you are supposed to be doing

What is required is to re-establish a sense of purpose and at the same time to get yourself moving in the right direction. The tool to use here is the Panic List.

Here’s how it works:

1) Abandon your main list for the time being

2) Take a separate sheet of paper and start to list all the things you have to do before the deadline. Make each action as small as possible.

3) After you’ve written three or four items, scan up from the bottom of the list and select one thing to get working on now

4) Keep adding to the list as things occur to you

5) Each time you finish an item scan again from the bottom of the list to select the next item

6) Keep at it until there are no more things you have to do

This is an extremely effective way of actioning a lot of stuff in a limited period of time. It will work in any situation in which you have a finite amount of things to do and a limited amount of time in which to do them.

Typical situations where this could be used: 

  • Packing for a trip
  • Preparing for a meeting
  • When something urgent comes up unexpectedly
  • Meeting a deadline when you are behind with your work 

Don’t be tempted though to try to use it outside this type of situation. Without the limiting factors you will quickly end up with a very long list which is not being processed efficiently.

Wednesday
Oct042017

Thoughts on the Long List - Preliminary - What system to use?

Much of the work I have been doing on the subject of the long list has been testing out various long-list systems to see which would be the best for my purposes.

What I required was a system which fulfils the following criteria: 

  • Fast
  • Flexible
  • Comprehensive
  • No resistance
  • Any length of list
  • No pressure to do any particular tasks
  • Relies entirely on intuition, i.e. “standing out” 

Not a lot to ask.

I came to two conclusions:

  1. Only one system ticks all the above boxes and that is Simple Scanning (scanning round and round the list doing whatever stands out without any formal method of clearing undone tasks). This is a very annoying conclusion for me because I first started using Simple Scanning in 1997 and have spent the past twenty years trying to invent a better system. The reason I did this is because at the time I didn’t understand what it was the best system for.
  2. More important than which system you use is that once you’ve chosen one you stick to it. None of my theories about the long list will work if one keeps changing systems. Again this is a very annoying conclusion for me because I could have spent the last twenty years becoming a multi-billionaire and secret ruler of the world. Not too late now perhaps… mwahahaha!

Finally, a bit more background reading:

Natural Selection Changes the Emphasis

Tuesday
Oct032017

Thoughts on the Long List - Update

I wrote a couple of short articles earlier this year about long lists (aka catch-all lists):

Thoughts on the Long List

My theory is that a properly handled and practised list removes the need for prioritization, goal-setting, planning and deadline-chasing.

The Natural Selection of Tasks

There is no such thing as procrastination. What we call “procrastination” is just our minds working through the selection process.

Since then I’ve been doing an enormous amount of work on this subject, and I’m going to be writing a series of articles on the results. These might  become the basis for a book. The first one should be up soon.

In the meantime I recommend reading or re-reading the two short articles above to set the scene.

Sunday
Aug132017

She's only just got started

Here’s an update from my daughter in Australia, posted with her permission, (not the same daughter who did the Bridgathon in London with me two years ago). It’s very relevant to my recently reposted article “Feeling Good”

In just over two months’ time we will be moving again, the third time in nine months. This will be the last time hopefully for at least thirty or more years, as we have found our forever home. Only a couple of kilometres away from where we are currently living.
Twenty one acres, house set up on a hill looking over a valley, log cabin style with verandas (but well built and well-insulated!). Creek running through it with trout fishing, powered entertainment area down on the creek, comes with a separate fully self-contained guest house. Orchard, space for animals, and some bush/forest perfect for motorbike tracks. All for a price we can easily afford.
I totally believe all this amazing stuff that keeps on happening in our lives comes from that one decision back in January 2016 to just be happy. Because I wasn’t, I was very very far from it back then. I decided not to wait for circumstances to change before I could find happiness, but to find happiness despite everything being far from perfect, and then I found that all my circumstances changed for the better as a result. And despite things not always being easy, always always returning to that decision to be happy no matter what. Even in the darkest times when I was terrified that my own dad was going to die, to choose to find it in the smallest of things and to express my gratitude every single day.
In the eighteen or so months since then, I’ve lost weight but become totally comfortable in my body regardless of how much weight I’m carrying, I’ve more than tripled my income, my family’s health has improved out of sight, my dad has been diagnosed with cancer again, struggled through gruelling treatment, been paralysed in his legs and arms, given up treatment long before the end, but come out the other side and made a recovery nothing short of miraculous (achieving 10,000 steps the other day!), sold our house in three weeks in a town where nothing else had sold for years, moved states, made amazing new connections and friendships, built two successful businesses that I love, somehow managed to persuade a bank to give us a mortgage despite being self-employed without an income from my husband, and no qualifying income from the previous two years! Moved into the most amazing new shop, and found our forever home.
You might look at my life and feel jealousy or resentment or think that I’m just a lucky bitch who got great opportunities, but I’m telling you, it all came with a change of attitude, and a refusal to go back to the previous negative, pessimistic attitude, no matter what. My life might not appeal to you at all, but you have the capacity to built exactly the life that’s right for you, no matter what your current circumstances.
Now to just wait for settlement and moving in day, then we’re off to the Sunshine Coast for a big family holiday. Shit might go wrong, circumstances very well might change, but I’m relaxed in the knowledge that I can handle it no matter what, and in the long run, those apparently negative things will lead to even better things. And you better believe there’s better things coming because really, I’ve only just got started. 
Friday
Jul282017

First Fruit of the "Feeling Good" Experiment !

My first walk for three months !

Thursday
Jul272017

The "Feeling Good" Experiment

I’m going to try a reckless experiment. I say it’s reckless because I’ve never tried anything like it before, and it could easily turn out to be a complete disaster.

What I’m going to do is to stop using all aids to time management and rely only on the “Feeling Good” method to regulate what I do.

Will it work? I’ve no idea!

But if it does, it could be really sensational.

I don’t advise anyone else to try it until I’ve discovered whether it’s feasible or not.

Tuesday
Jul252017

The Most Important Thing I've Ever Written?

I published this in this blog in 2006, though I’d written it years before. Of all the things I’ve written this is the one that has had, and continues to have, the biggest influence on my own life.

Feeling Good

One way to improve your general ability to work and keep going is to monitor how good you are feeling. Procrastination, stress, overwhelm, burn out are all very closely linked and it is difficult to be feeling good when one is suffering from any or all of these! However the reverse applies too. It is difficult to be suffering from stress, overwhelm, burn out and procrastination when you are feeling good. So monitoring your overall state of mind can have a very beneficial result.

It’s very easy to do this. Let’s try it now. Stop reading for a second and ask yourself “How good am I feeling now?” Answer by giving a mark out of 10. If you are feeling tense and upset you might answer “3”. If you are feeling on top of the world you might answer “8” or even higher. Try it now. What was your answer? Write it down on a piece of paper.

If you did this in the way I just suggested, a couple of questions may have occurred to you. One might be what I mean by “good”. I quite deliberately didn’t give you any definition of what “good” meant. The reason is that you will discover what “good” means for you by the act of asking “How good do I feel?” The more you ask the question the more you will begin to realise what your mind is looking for when it provides your answer. You will also notice which things in your life tend to affect the score. So don’t worry about the definition of “good”. You will find the right definition for you by practising the exercise.

Another question you may have asked yourself is how much you should think about the answer. Should you spend some time deliberating it? No, the best answer is the one you give straight off the top of your head. You may find it easier to give the answer as “4 or 5” rather than as a single figure.

Now, this is important: once you have given your answer do not try to make yourself feel better. Just carry on observing your feelings by regularly asking yourself “How good do I feel?” This will make you more aware of your state of mind and that in itself will tend to have the effect of increasing the score.

Ask yourself the question again now. Write the answer down again. Is it the same as the first time or has it changed? You may find that your score has increased already. If it has, that is simply because you have become more aware. Don’t worry if it hasn’t!

This technique is a very subtle one, but also very powerful. It takes time but you will find if you keep using it your score will slowly rise. If you started out feeling 3 or 4 most of the time, you may find that it rises within a few weeks until you are feeling 6 or 7 most of the time. Bear in mind that when this happens you have altered your entire mental sense of well-being. This will inevitably affect many areas of your life. I cured myself of a fear of flying (caused by being in a helicopter crash) by using this technique. During my first flight for over eight years I was able to maintain a score of 10 throughout the entire flight, including take-off and landing. Since then I’ve flown all over the place. 

Tuesday
Jul252017

"Standing Out"

In the instructions for Real Autofocus - and many of my other systems - I make reference to doing tasks when they “stand out”. Some people find this quite a difficult concept, and others can’t understand it at all.

“Standing out” is what happens when your conscious mind instructs your unconscious mind to identify tasks/items that fit certain criteria.

So for instance if you were given a list of well-known places and asked to tick which ones you would really like to visit, there are two ways you could do it:

1. You could draw up a list of factors, assign a weight to each, grade them with the weighted score, and then tick the places with a score above a pre-determined minimum

OR

2. You could scan through the list ticking the places that stand out as places you’d really like to visit.

My contention is that as well as being much quicker, you are more likely to end up somewhere you really enjoy visiting if you use Method 2.

Of course, method 2 won’t work if you don’t already know at least something about the places in question.

But when we’re talking about tasks on your to-do list, you do know something about the tasks. In fact you are the world’s greatest expert about your life and how it all fits together. You can trust your unconscious mind to come up with better answers than your conscious mind, just as it it did in the places to visit example.

But only if you give it the right instructions.

What are the right instructions?

Tell your unconscious mind to make tasks stand out that you want to do now. Very important - don’t attempt to tell it what you mean by “want” - that’s something the unconscious mind can identify much better than your conscious mind can.

For the DDD list the instructions are a bit diifferent - want to do now  changes to:

DELETE: don’t want to do at all

DEFER: don’t want to do now

DO of course doesn’t need an instruction because it’s everything left over from DELETE AND DEFER.

Wednesday
Jul192017

Real Autofocus?

French translation by Fred Mikusek

This method of dealing with a task list is the most effective I have yet found. It is based on simple scanning, that is to say going round and round the list doing tasks as and when they stand out.

This is in itself quite an effective method, but as I said here it suffers from two major related problems:

  1. The list tends to grow uncontrollably
  2. It gets spread over a large number of pages if you are using a notebook and pencil/pen. 

So what one ends up with is a huge backlog of tasks, which one doesn’t have a hope of ever clearing.

What is needed is a way of getting the list to self-limit in such a way that it focuses on what one can actually do within a couple of days or so.

Here’s how it works step-by-step. I’ve assumed you are using paper and pen/pencil, but it is easily adapted to work electronically. 


FIRST DAY 

  1. Start a new list. Don’t use an existing list.This is very important, otherwise you will overwhelm it before you’ve even started.
  2. Add other tasks to the end of the list as needed or as they occur to you throughout the day. Allow the list to build up gradually.
  3. Work the list by scanning it, taking action on those tasks that feel ready to be worked on.
  4. When you’ve worked enough on a task. cross it out. If it’s unfinished, re-write it at the end of the list. Do the same with tasks that will recur the same day or the next day.
  5. When you finish for the day draw a short horizontal line in the margin immediately after the last task on the list.

 

SECOND DAY

 

  1. Starting from the beginning of the list work as in rules 2-5 for the First Day.

 

 

SUBSEQUENT DAYS

 

  1. Extend the first of the two short line end-of-day markers (see rule 5) so that it goes right across the page.
  2. Start working from that line (i.e. ignore any tasks before it for the time being)
  3. When you reach the end of the list, go back to the beginning of the list.
  4. You now work only on the tasks between the beginning of the active list and the long horizontal line you drew at the beginning of the day:
    1. Scan them and DELETE any you no longer want to do at all
    2. Scan again and DEFER any you don’t want to do now to your schedule/calendar (do not just re-write them at the end of the list without taking any action on them)
    3. DO all the remaining tasks in order
  5. Continue working the rest of the list as in rules 2-5 for the first day.

 

IN SUMMARY, at the beginning of each day you work on yesterday’s tasks in the normal way, followed by today’s tasks. Then you clear ALL tasks remaining from the day before yesterday (DELETE, DEFER or DO). Once you’ve done that you carry on working yesterday and today’s tasks as normal.

Using this myself I was surprised how few tasks I needed to delete or defer. The list seemed to conform almost automatically to the amount of time I had available. I’ll be interested to know if it works that way for you too.