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« Email Difficulties | Main | Goal Monitoring Update »

The Resistance Principle and Colley's rule

A few weeks ago I said that I was intending to have another go at the Resistance Principle. How have I been getting on with it? Well, the truth is that I found it exactly the same as in my previous attempts. After an initial period of success, my mind started to rebel against it and I found myself most days achieving only trivial tasks - and sometimes not even those.

However I then changed tack a bit. Instead of asking myself “What am I resisting (now this moment)?”, I changed the question to “What am I resisting the most (overall in my life)?” To be able to answer this question satisfactorily, I found it necessary to work off a task list. By marking the resistance I felt to each item on the list out of 100, I ended up with an ordered list of things to be done.

This worked brilliantly in getting some major outstanding projects completed. However the problem with this sort of approach is: “When do the low resistance items get done?” If writing an email to a friend has to wait until I’ve cleared all the items I’m resisting, my friend isn’t going to get many emails from me!

So what I am trying out now is an adaption of Colley’s Rule. For those of you who haven’t come across Colley’s Rule before, it is a method designed by a 19th Century mathematician for making decisions. It enables one to come up with a high quality of decision without all the stress of trying to find the “best decision”. According to the rule you draw up the specification for what you want, i.e. a four bedroom house within two miles of the nearest primary school, etc. and then take the first house you are offered as a benchmark. You do not buy this house, but instead buy the next house you are offered which is better than the first one. This has been shown mathematically to produce a very high quality of result.

You can apply Colley’s rule to all sorts of decisions. I’ve used it myself for such things as chosing a restaurant in a strange town, or deciding what to do on my day off. How can I apply it to the list of items I am resisting?

Well, in this case what I am doing to apply the Rule is to take the top item on my list as the benchmark, and move down the list until I come to a task which I am resisting more than the top item. Once I’ve completed that I take the next item on my list as the benchmark and move down the list until I come to a task which I am resisting more than the new benchmark. I continue working my way round the list using the same principle.

I find that this works very well. It ensures that all the high resistance items get done, while giving a chance for lower resistance items to get cleared too. As items tend to rise in resistance the longer one leaves them, there is a natural balance built into it. Using this method one can reduce the average resistance of one’s to do list very quickly. The lower the average resistance is, the quicker you can get through the tasks on the list.

As always, I want to stress that I am trying this out, not recommending it. That will come later - if it works for me!

References (1)

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  • Related
    One of the great social paradoxes of our time is that as personal wealth and consumer choice have increased, personal happiness has not. One possible reason is that this greater wealth has also brought about more choice - and thus more potential for making a dud choice, and moaning about all the opportunities missed as a result.

Reader Comments (8)

I tried this, and found it worked well. I have a question though, I completed one item on the list, then went to use the next as a benchmark, the next being going for a run which I am resisting at the moment because I am supposed to be training for a marathon, it was marked 80/100 resistance, but there were no other higher items on my list, what do I do then?
February 5, 2007 at 19:10 | Unregistered CommenterWendy
I am going to answer my own question now. I did just skip to the next task and use it as a benchmark, but I suppose you could start at the top of the list again. Regardless, I now am going to have to go for a run because it is the next highest resistance item on my list!
February 5, 2007 at 20:08 | Unregistered CommenterWendy
Hi, Wendy

My answer is that if I haven't found a higher resistance task by the time I get back to the item, then I do the item itself.

February 5, 2007 at 22:56 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Interesting related article at The author suggests incrementally increasing diffculty in a batch of tasks helps build a flow state. Perhaps working from the least to the most resistance would have the same effect?
February 12, 2007 at 15:07 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Gregory
Hi, Matt
Thanks for the reference to the interesting article. My own experience has been that working from most to least resistance produces the best results, but I would be interested to know what your findings are if you work from least to most.
February 12, 2007 at 18:11 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark,

I've only been trying an easiest first approach for a couple of days so I can't really tell yet what difference it will make.
My first impression is that getting into the day's work is easy and gives an early feeling of being productive. I'm going to play with it for a few more days to see if I fade as I get to the harder tasks or whether the early momentum remains.

February 14, 2007 at 9:40 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Gregory
Hi, Matt

I've certainly found an easiest first approach can work well provided one is working off a closed list and has enough time to finish it.

Otherwise I have always found that the most difficult items just end up getting carried forward from day to day.

I'll be very interested to hear what you come up during your trial.

February 14, 2007 at 12:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark,

As you suspected, starting with the easiest didn't work for me, at least not across a whole day.
I found starting small with a batch of uninterrupted tasks does allow a certain monentum to develop, but there's no way to remain uninterrupted across a whole day. The end result is, of course, to have the toughest tasks facing me at the end of the day while having lost momentum through interruptions.
If I could have large chunks of the day uninterrupted, say 2 or 3 hours, I think it might have some productivity value to create batches that ease me in to each uninterrupted period. However, that's a lot of organisational overhead and not particularly practical for me right now.

February 19, 2007 at 16:32 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Gregory

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