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Tuesday
Jun072016

How to Handle Re-entered Tasks in No-List Systems

Perhaps the thing I’ve found most difficult to get right in designing the best possible no list system is the question of how long to hang on to re-entered tasks.

My answers have at various times included the following:

  1. Have no re-entered tasks at all.
  2. Re-enter a task only if there is current work still outstanding on it.
  3. Re-enter a task if you expect it to be needed again the same day.
  4. Re-enter all tasks regardless of whether they are going to be used again.

I’ve chopped and changed systems to fit one or other of these, but none have proved entirely satisfactory. At one extreme, a lot of tasks are started but don’t get worked on to completion. At the other, there’s a long tail of re-entered tasks to plough through.

And what does one do about open-ended tasks like reading books? Reading a stated number of chapters or reading for a set time are too rigid for my liking.

How to handle these re-entered tasks is a really important question because, you will recall, my intention is not to do anything but to do everything!

I had a flash of light recently about this. If, I asked myself, a task can only get onto the list by being done, then perhaps it should only be able to get off the list by not being done.

So I’ve added the following rules to the May 9 System:

  1. Whenever a task on the list has been worked on it must be re-entered, whether or not it is going to be needed again.
  2. There is no compulsion to work on any re-entered task.
  3. When you come to a re-entered task and for any reason do not work on it, that task is deleted.

These rules involve a little bit more re-writing than before, but they seem to have solved the problem. The question of how long to keep a task on the list now boils down to the simple principle: “Work on a task and it’s on the list; don’t work on a task and it’s off the list”.  

Monday
Jun062016

Ridiculous Goals

We are often told that our goals should be realistic, and this is no doubt true in a tightly controlled business environment. But is it always the case?

I’ve often found that setting a goal way beyond my ability to do it has great results. Why is that? It’s all a matter of context. Walking a quarter of a mile to post a letter may seem like a drag. But a quarter of a mile in the context of of training to walk from the south of England to the north of Scotland is hardly noticeable.The ultimate goal affects the way you go about even the smallest part of your process.

How does this work in practice?

When I was a life coach I started off by dabbling at life-coaching with the intention of finding something I could do as a self-employed person in place of my salaried occupation. And dabble at it was just about all I did for a couple of years. Then one day I decided to re-frame my goal so that it was to become the best life coach in the world.

I don’t think I ever got anywhere near reaching my goal, nor did I seriously think that it was possible even to identify the “best” coach in the world, let alone become him or her. But re-framing it in that way involved a radical change in attitude. No longer was I dabbling in it and no longer was I just accepting what other people said about how to do it. After all, whatever the “best” coach in the world was like, you could be quite sure that one of their qualities would be that they were a trailblazer.

The real point is that having this ridiculously large goal make me do quite different things from what I’d have done if I’d a goal like “Make a living as a life coach” or  “Be a competent life coach”.
And the result was I had a successful and innovative business, in a field where many fail or stick to well-tried paths.

If I look back on my life I can see that there are many other things I would like to have done, but which I have consistently failed to accomplish. One of these is to be a singer. I don’t want to a brilliant singer, just be able to sing so that other people don’t have to cover their ears or smile though gritted teeth at my efforts. Unfortunately over the years I have more or less given up any hope that I might reach even this very limited goal.

But what if I hadn’t given myself a limited goal? What if I’d given myself the goal of becoming a soloist in an opera company? It wouldn’t really matter if I succeeded in the big goal or not (though you can’t rule anything out) - but I would almost certainly have left the original limited goal far behind. At the very least I would sing a lot better than I do now!

You don’t necessarily have to believe that your ridiculously big goal will ever come about. You just have to set the processes in motion to reach it. And by doing that you will encompass all your lesser goals along the way.

If you want to learn a language, make your goal extravagant like “Speak French so a French person can’t tell you’re not French”. Then set the processes in motion. You may never succeed in speaking like a native, but you will speak a lot better than if your goal were just to “learn a bit of French for my next holiday” or “pass such-and-such French exam”. Of course speaking French during your holiday and passing the French exam may staging posts on the way to your ridiculous goal.
.
My latest ridiculous goal is to be the oldest person ever to complete the Marathon des Sables.
That’s about as ridiculous as you can get as I’ve never been a runner, am not particularly fit, hate the heat and dislike being uncomfortable!

But there are plenty of staging posts along that way which will get me to my real aim which is simply to get as fit as possible. In September I will be taking part in a Tough Mudder Half - and that I am convinced I can do it if I train hard enough. To keep myself going on the training I need to be looking beyond the Tough Mudder to half-marathons, then marathons and then the ultimate goal.

So here’s my challenge to you:

What ridiculous goal could you set yourself? What would you accomplish along the way if you did?
Saturday
Jun042016

The Blank Canvas - Day 3

Friday

Up at 7.30 a.m. and cleared my email and blog comments, read the blogs I follow and had breakfast. The email included a lengthy correspondence about a glitch in the computerised system for Gift Aid claims. I tested my end to see if the glitch was still there - it was - and reported accordingly. I didn’t have time to do anything more about it before going to the Gym for 9 a.m. to be introduced to the Phase 3 Circuit - very hard work.

On return at around 10.30 I tested again and the glitch had disappeared, so reported accordingly and uploaded the May standing orders. Downloaded the photos of yesterday’s golf function from my camera and started to process them. They should be finished by the time I’ve written this.

So let’s take a look at what I’ve got to get done now. A huge amount of washing up as my wife has been cooking for the arrival of our grandchildren this evening. Processing, selecting and publishing the golf pictures. Processing, selecting and publishing the 2,000 plus photos I took in Romania, restoring my office to pristine tidiness, and clearing my paper in-tray. Cutting the hedge. Finishing the BBC’s Richard III. Plus having lunch of course. (I wouldn’t normally write out a list like this - it’s just for demonstration purposes). Let’s see how long it takes to get that all done using the May 15th method. Starting stop-watch now.

3 hours 36 minutes later

What have I achieved so far?

Golf pictures - finished and published

Huge amount of washing up - finished

Paper In-Tray - finished

Richard III - finished

Lunch - finished

Romania pictures - in progress

Tidying - in progress

Cutting Hedge - not started

2 hours 30 minutes later

Tidying - finished

Romania pictures - first 1,000 selected and processed

Cutting Hedge - half done


That’s as far as I’m going for the day. The rest of it will be devoted to family.

Friday
Jun032016

The Blank Canvas - Day 2

Thursday

10.30 a.m. It’s the same time of day that I started feeling that I’d done everything yesterday, and it’s just the same feeling now except that today I got up an hour later. So the improvements I noted yesterday have had quite an effect.

10.30 p.m. I felt I was losing focus during the afternoon, so switched to a “tighter” no-list method, the one I described in my post on May 9th. It was my original intention to stick to the same system throughout, but in fact it’s one of the advantages of no-list that one can change systems mid-stream without causing a problem.

I’ve got a few points about the order in which I’ve been doing things in the morning which I want to change tomorrow.

Thursday
Jun022016

The Blank Canvas

Tuesday

Tomorrow is a blank canvas. I have no set plans for it. I have deliberately not made any lists of things I would like to achieve that day, this week, this month, indeed at all. I want to see what emerges from the consistent use of a no-list system. Will it be just the same old things? Or, as I hope, will it encourage me to live life to the fullest whatever that means in my case.

Wednesday

10.30 a.m. I got up at 7 a.m. and am already feeling that I’ve done just about everything that needs doing today. I’ve cleared all the backlogs left over from my holiday, done most of the tasks that are outstanding and am wondering what I’m going to do for the rest of the day. This is not the first time I’ve felt this way using a no list system, but I’ve never got this feeling with any other system. With other systems (or none) it always feels as if I’ve got a ton of work to get through and can never get to the end. So now I have got to the end - and am faced with getting through nearly a whole day of nothing. Actually that’s quite scary!

10.30 p.m. Of course in the event I did find plenty to do today - and a lot of it highly significant. At the end of the day I felt I had learned some useful lessons. The first was that today by 10.30 a.m. I had got through all of my usual routines. That part of the day was virtually on autopilot. I did actually note that some of the routines needed improvement. So perhaps tomorrow I shall get through them even quicker.

But for the rest of the day, I didn’t have the well-worn channels that routines provide.  Here there was another lesson - I had to think carefully about what to do. In no-list it becomes painfully obvious if I am wasting my time. The system encourages me to go for the significant things. The problem though was to identify what the significant things were that I should have been going for. I think I will be better at doing that tomorrow, especially as I have less time available and therefore will need to concentrate my efforts more.

Wednesday
Jun012016

The System I'm Going to be Using for This Experiment

I don’t think it actually matters which no-list system I will use for this experiment since they are all very effective. But I’ve had to settle on one because I want consistency - and naturally I’ve settled on one I know I can trust.

I haven’t, as far as I can remember, described exactly this system before. But it’s very similar to several I have described so there’s nothing super-specially new about it.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The list is valid for one day only. The next day a new list is started from scratch.
  2. Tasks can only be entered on the list by being done.
  3. Tasks are re-entered at the end of the list if they are going to be needed again the same day (i.e. if there is still work to be done on them or they will recur again that day).
  4. When you have entered as many new tasks as you want to, you scan the list from the beginning and work on any tasks that you want to.
  5. When you reach the end of the list you can add new tasks again as in 2 above. When you have added as many as you want you start scanning again from the beginning of the list.
  6. You should not feed the list from a larger list. Reminders of things that you intend to do at a specific time or date are fine.

Example:

You decide to work on email. Write it as the first item on your list and start working on it. When you’ve finished cross it out and, since it’s recurrent, re-enter it.

Email
Email

Next you decide to work on tidying your office. Again it’s recurrent, so when you’ve finished working on it cross it out and re-enter it as before.

Email
Email
Tidy Office
Tidy Office

You add some more tasks in the same way.

Email
Email
Tidy Office
Tidy Office
Phone Julie
Draft Project X Report
Draft Project X Report

Note that “Phone Julie” is not a recurrent task and so is not re-entered.

At this stage you decide to revisit some of the tasks on the list, so you scan through the list from the beginning and work on any tasks you want to. In this case you check your email again and also do some more drafting of the report.

Email
Email
Tidy Office
Tidy Office
Phone Julie
Draft Project X Report
Draft Project X Report
Email
Draft Project X Report

As you’ve now reached the end of the list you can now enter any new tasks that you want to work on.

Wednesday
Jun012016

An End to Small Experiments - Let's Have a Huge One

I’ve grown tired of experiments - or at least of experiments on the small scale. I’m tired of developing time management systems in isolation.  I want to to experiment on a grander scale. I want to see what happens if I live with one method for an extended period. The method I want to live with is the no-list method because it has impressed me with the way it works as an extension of my brain. I’ve spent a lot of time lately experimenting with all sorts of different types of no-list systems, and at last I’ve found one that I’m satisfied that I can live with for the foreseeable future. So this is going to be a gigantic experiment about living life with that method.

What I’m going to be exploring are two of the three things which I mentioned in Bank Holiday Thoughts:

  • Getting Everything Done
  • Emergent Strategy

My theory is that a no-list method, properly used, can cope with both of these. Rather than using a time management system to execute a pre-planned strategy, this will be a case of letting the strategy emerge from using the system.

We’ll see how it develops.

Tuesday
May312016

Blog Subjects (proposed by Facebook followers)

Here’s the list of replies to my post on Facebook asking for suggestions for blog subjects. I think they are all good suggestions, so I’ll start working my way through them at intervals over the next few weeks.

  • I think you should write an autobiography - a blog article would be a great place to start.  
  • Checklists ?
  • Multiple sequenced action projects with fvp?
  • Nolist?
  • How to identify the less obvious backlogs and work them all. I suspect that simply setting up current initiatives to (1) fix the systems and (2) hack away at or explode the backlogs in sequence might not be the best approach. But this is only conjecture.
  • Outliner. Mind mapping. Scatter map.Tools to capture thoughts.Organize thoughts.
  • Joe Cool and how he works.
  • You could use the Poll feature and seed it with a couple ideas, allowing everyone to vote and/or add their own.
  • No list methods for a work environment that contains a lot of urgent tasks.
  • I’d also like to see more love for FV (there’s good reason that method got so much attention). Maybe articles about keeping the FV list from expanding to an unmanageable length (I prefer FV to FVP because I tended to procrastinate more with FVP since I would never get to the top of the list (where all the tasks I was resisting resided).
  •  I’d be interested in a blog post about the psychological forces that make no list so addictive. On the surface it almost seems like just doing whatever grabs my fancy. But somehow writing down what I am going to work on makes it more focused.
  • Though I much favour paper myself, I’d be interested in a consideration of very basic to-do apps. I’m thinking particularly of Gina Trapani’s (Lifehacker) todo.txt protocol that applies a simple format to plain text editors.
Monday
May302016

Bank Holiday Thoughts

It’s a public holiday in the United Kingdom today and I have no intention of doing any blogging except to say that there are three subjects going round and round in my mind at the moment - and I’m interested to see what will come of them as they bounce off each other.

They are:

  • Getting Everything Done. I’ve dealt with this a bit in two previous posts earlier this month, and I want to take it further.
  • Emergent strategy. Is strategy something that emerges naturally from the no-list way of working - or does it need a bit of help here and there?
  • WOOP. I’ve had some successes and some failures with this, but trying to implement it while touring Romania (which is where I’ve been for the last two weeks) is probably not the best way to give something like this a fair trial.

Thoughts anyone?

Friday
May202016

Get Everything Done's Facebook Page

I’m going to try to encourage people to use the Facebook page for this site, which at the moment is languishing. It’s been my fault as much as anyone else’s.

In order to get things moving a bit, I’m not going to do any further blog posts for the next week, nor am I going to take part in any discussions in the Forums. If you want to interact with me you will have to do it on Facebook.

You can of course open threads on the Facebook page yourself - you don’t have to wait for me to do so!

Thursday
May192016

The Scatter Map

I know some people swear by them - though I have hardly ever seen anyone using them to take notes - but I have never been able to get on with Mind Maps, especially for thinking. I find the need to join everything together in a rigid structure branching out from a central point doesn’t fit the way I think, which is far more discursive and with conclusions emerging rather than being arrived at by a logical procedure.

At the time I wrote Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play, I developed something which I called a Scatter Map. The basic idea was to scatter thoughts at random across the page and then do any linking, commenting or emphasizing that seemed necessary. There were basically no rules - which is what I like when I’m thinking.

At the top left is the sample scatter map from Get Everything Done (click on the thumbnail to enlarge). For reasons of legibility it is quite a simple one, orginally written on a sheet of A4 paper and then reduced to the size of the book page.

Looking at it now, more than 16 years after I wrote it, I can still understand it exactly. The thoughts, the situation, the feelings, the questions, the answers are all totally fresh in my mind.

I doubt whether that would be the case if I’d written a mind map on the same subject. Come to that, what is the subject? There is no subject. It’s just a collection of more or less random thoughts. Some are independent, some follow on from others, some arose separately but have been linked together.

No doubt if I tried hard enough I could succeed in organizing this as a Mind Map. But it would be much less intelligible to me today, and would probably have meant much less to me at the time.

Wednesday
May182016

Sleep and the No-List

There’s an interesting article on the Fast Company site about how the brain sorts what is important and what is not. Sleep is a particularly essential part of this process.

Here’s how I suggest that you make this work for you if you are using a no-list method. Read the list of what you have done today to yourself immediately before you go to sleep.

You can use this during the day too if you have suitable facilities at your place of work. Read the list of what you have done so far and then take a 10 minute nap.

Tuesday
May172016

How to Do Everything - II

In yesterday’s post I left you with a cliff-hanger:

The process of getting to the stage of being able to do everything consists of one thing and one thing only.

That one thing is… (to be continued)


… to get rid of all backlogs.

You don’t stand a chance of doing everything that you want to do if you have backlogs.

Any backlogs at all.

Remember I’m only talking about getting to the stage of being able to do everything. If you want to do everything then you must go through the stage of getting rid of all your backlogs.

Another way of looking at this is that you must stop pushing present work forward into the future. I don’t mean work which belongs in the future - that isn’t the problem. I’m talking about current work which you are not dealing with currently. It’s very similar to getting into debt.

This is not just a question of catching up with a backlog, it also means keeping it at “inbox zero” once you’ve caught up.

To put it in financial terms, once you’ve paid off debt and balanced the budget, then you have a sound financial basis on which to expand.

As I’ve said frequently recently the best way to get rid of backlogs and keep at “inbox zero” is to use a no-list system.

Monday
May162016

How to Do Everything - I

Following up from  my previous blog posts Doing Everything? and Doing Everything - Yes? these posts will be a tentative stab at answering the question of how to do everything. As I’ve said before, what I mean by doing everything is doing everything that you want to do

I think the first step is to abandon the idea that you can’t do everything. This is quite difficult to do because it has been so drummed into us by time management gurus and the like - including myself - that we can’t.

The second step is to be clear by what you mean by everything in your life. If you’re not clear about what you mean by everything, then you will spend your time starting things but never finishing them. Doing everything until it’s finished or producing requires a great deal of discipline and persistence. That doesn’t mean that you can never make any changes to your definition of everything, but that you should take a great deal of thought about it.

Getting to the stage that you can do everything you want to do takes time to build up. I don’t pretend to have reached that point yet, so I am expecting further insights as I progress.

The one thing I am sure of though is that the real challenge lies not in doing everything, but in the process of getting to the stage where you are able to do everything. The process is what it’s all about.

The process of getting to the stage of being able to do everything consists of one thing and one thing only.

That one thing is… (to be continued)

Sunday
May152016

A Second Variation on My No-List System

The sharp-eyed may have noticed that in the two-page spread in my note book yesterday I was working on a variation of the no-list method.

So how did that variation turn out in the end?

It appears to be surprisingly successful and has at least two potential advantages over the previous two variations:

  1. It makes the repetition of re-entered tasks significantly less tedious.
  2. It provides a better (and much-needed) structure for the system

Here’s how it works.

Four rules:

  1. Tasks can only be put on the list by writing them down and taking action on them immediately.
  2. You can only take action on the last active task on the list.
  3. A task can only be re-entered if it has not been finished.
  4. You add a new task in the following circumstances only:
    •  There are no active tasks on the list OR
    • The last active task on the list is the one that has just been re-entered.

Example:

You decide that you want to do some work on writing a report; so you write down:

Write Report

Once you have worked on it for a period you decide to take a break from it and work on something else for a bit. So you cross it out and re-enter it. You also enter the task you intend to do in its place.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post

You work on the Blog Post for a bit and then cross that out and re-enter it:

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post

In accordance with the rules you need to add another task to the list.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post
Watch Movie

You watch about half the movie and decide you need to take a break from it. So you cross the task out and re-enter it.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post
Watch Movie
Watch Movie

In accordance with the rules above, you now need to add another task. This time you select a simple task you can do in one go. You enter it, work on it and cross it out without re-entry.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post
Watch Movie
Watch Movie
Check Calendar


What do you do now? In accordance with the rules the last active task is “Watch Movie”. So you watch the rest of it and cross it out.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post
Watch Movie
Watch Movie
Check Calendar

The last active task is now Blog Post. You work on it but don’t finish it, so re-enter it.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post
Watch Movie
Check Calendar

Blog Post

And you need to enter another task since Blog Post has just been re-entered.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post
Watch Movie
Check Calendar

Blog Post
Tidy Office

That’s as far as I’ll take the example. Note a couple of things about how the method works:

Re-entered tasks are only worked on one at a time. You don’t get a string of re-entered tasks all having to be worked on one after the other - which can be an annoyance with other variations. Nevertheless re-entered tasks get dealt with very effectively and new tasks are frequently added.

Since I’ve only just invented this variation, I obviously don’t have more than a tiny bit of experience with it, but I’m hoping it will get the tricky balance between new tasks and re-entered tasks just about right.

Saturday
May142016

Sideways

Following the example of some book publishers, I’ve decided to start writing in my large Moleskine unlined notebook sideways on. The result is that I get a writing surface which is as wide as an A4 sheet and slightly shorter. As a writing surface it’s beautiful - which is more than can be said for my handwriting!

(I always have trouble with the size descriptions of Moleskine notebooks. They come in three sizes, Pocket, Large and Extra Large - which any normal person would call Small, Standard and Large respectively.)

Friday
May132016

Doing Everything - Yes?

Here are a couple of quotes from the Forum today (Thursday):
First, one from Wooba:
Since using no-list methods, I have often had days when I feel like I have done everything, and that there is nothing else I need to do. That is a great feeling in some ways, but scary too. Sometimes the idea appears that I will never have anything else to do. Which is odd, because before no-list I was always scared of having so much to do. So when everything is done in a day, I can truly relax and kick back, guilt-free. It is a totally different way of being.
and one from myself (slightly edited):

I think it’s a matter of gradual accretion. I find no-list results in a fairly standard list of things I’ve worked on each day - the well-trodden pathways of the mind. And as I get more and more on top of these subjects I find that I’ve got more capacity. That leads me to work on a few more things and some of those will “stick”.
Most of the time this method of working copes quite happily with emergencies and the like because they usually fall within the existing things I’m working on. Sometimes of course that pattern will get disrupted and sometimes that disruption will result in new stuff being added to the regular work I’m doing.

Both of us are finding that with no-list we come to a point where we seem to have done everything. That is the point where we need to push forward and extend our activity into further worthwhile projects - which can of course include having more leisure.

Speaking personally I’m finding that the best no-list method for achieving this state is the one I described last Tuesday under the heading  A Variation on My Current No-List System. But as I’ve said before, there’s not that much to chose between no-list systems and you can swap systems with little or no adverse effect.

Thursday
May122016

Blog Posting Time

I want to get back to having the daily blog post appearing at 7 a.m. (UK Time) each morning. That means either writing two blog posts today or publishing the post I’m writing today tomorrow morning. Naturally since I’m too lazy to write two posts in one day I’ve chosen the second option. So this is all you’re getting today. Sorry!

Wednesday
May112016

Doing Everything?

There’s a well-known saying, which I’ve quoted myself on many occasions, which runs “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything”.

Recently I’ve been wondering whether it’s true. Not the bit about being able to do anything but the bit about not being able to do everything.

Obviously no one person can literally do everything, but no one wants to do everything in that sense. What people want to be able to do is everything that they want to do.

Looking at the popularity of books with titles like “1000 [Things to Do] Before You Die”, it seems that a lot of people would very much like to be able to do a whole lot more than they are doing at the moment. And they want to do things which would be meaningful to them.

Perhaps we don’t need “Someday/Maybe” lists but “Now/Definitely” lists.

The reason I’ve been wondering about it is my experience with no-list methods. Rather than feeling overwhelmed with work as one tends to be with a “catch-all” list, I’ve recently caught myself thinking “I could do everything!” I’ve also noticed that my reaction speed to things that I want to do but which involve quite a challenge is much faster than it used to be.

More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday
May102016

A Variation on My Current No-List System

This is a variation on the system I wrote about yesterday. It’s what I use when I’m not using the other. I’ve never been able to decide which is better, so I tend to switch between them when I feel like it. As I’ve said before there is no real penalty in switching from one no-list system to another.

This system works in very much the same way as yesterday’s but has a rather more rigid structure.

Like the other it’s also fast, effective, flexible and thorough but in a slightly different way. You really have to try both to appreciate the differences - so I’m not even going to try to describe them!

Just as in the other system entry for new tasks is without a buffer, ie. a task is done immediately after it is entered on the list.

The differences in the rules are as follows:

  1. There is an entry phase and a follow-up phase.
  2. In the entry phase you can enter as many new tasks as you like in succession, re-entering them  as necessary at the end of the list. During the entry phase this will always be on the following line.
  3. Tasks are re-entered if they are likely to be required again the same day, regardless of whether there is any work to be done on them at the moment.
  4. In the follow-up phase all open tasks above the last crossed out task are worked on again in the order they are written and re-entered at the end of the list if necessary. When all the tasks have been worked on you go back to the entry phase.
  5. If there is no work to be done in a task (e.g. no more email has arrived) it is crossed out and re-entered.

The list should be started afresh each day.