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« Experiment Failed! | Main | Blogroll »

Experiment: The "BBC" System

I should know better than to talk myself into a new experiment just as I’m getting back into the swing of a well-established system - but here goes!

In my recent blog entry Inspiration from the BBC I talked about whether it was possible to make a time management system out of the 7-30-7 pattern which the BBC iPlayer uses for timing out downloadable TV programmes.

Anyway I’ve decided that it is. And, as always, the first person who gets experimented on is myself. So if there’s a long gap in blog postings, you will know that it hasn’t worked!

I’m going to continue to keep a standard Will Do list for things like Email, Paper, Voicemail, Daily Tasks, etc. I will also be continuing to use the Task Diary for follow-ups and tasks that relate to specific dates. But for all other tasks I’m going to use the “BBC” system. This is how it will work:

I will be using three lists:

  • Possible Tasks
  • Probable Tasks
  • Active Tasks

Possible Tasks. Every task that I consider taking on has first to be written down on this list. There is no need to assess tasks at this stage. The tasks on this list time out after seven days if they haven’t been transferred to the list of Probable Tasks.

Probable Tasks. When I decide that a task on the Possible list is feasible, I transfer it to the next list: Probable Tasks. This list times out after 30 days, though to make it easier to keep track I will make it a calendar month rather than exactly 30 days.

Active Tasks. Before any task can be actioned it must be transferred to the Active Task list. Tasks on this list time out after seven days.

What do I see as the advantages of doing things this way? I hope that it will prove the solution to a problem which any list based system is prone to, and that is the fact that lists tend to expand uncontrollably. Even with the Task Diary in the Do It Tomorrow system, there is a tendency for each day’s list to be longer than the day before until it is impossible to keep up. DIT solves this problem by insisting on an audit when this happens. What I am hoping is that the “BBC” system will tackle this automatically. There is a three stage process of sifting tasks. It’s impossible for the list to grow to unmanageable size because of the timing-out procedure.

Another great advantage is that there is no need to assess tasks when writing them down initially. The sifting process will deal with this. This means that any passing thought or impulse can be written down. This may well have the additional effect of reducing distractions too.

Anyway this afternoon I started off the system by drawing up a Possible Tasks list which consisted of all the tasks in my Task Diary, plus any others that came immediately to mind. There were 60 tasks on this list (to which I have subsequently added four more).

Then I did my first “download” of 30 items from these “possibles” onto a Probable Tasks list. And finally I put 10 of the “probables” onto the Active List - writing this blog entry was one. I have already completed 5 of these tasks, and have nearly completed the 6th. Time to make a few more active, I think.

I have to say that my first impression is that this could work very well. I won’t really be able to tell until the first week is up and I start timing out some tasks. The crucial factor will be whether it’s the right tasks that get timed out!

Reader Comments (8)

I'm interested in hearing how things turn out! A couple of observations though. I've tried every time management system out there and I always return to DIT. Hands down it works the best for me. Also, what happens when a task times out? I think, personally, I'd end up putting it back on the possible list. As you can imagine, then that list will continue to grow.
March 3, 2008 at 15:49 | Unregistered CommenterJoe W
Hi Joe,

That wouldn't be a bad thing though would it? If you can't bring yourself to delete it then it's clearly a 'possible' in your own mind, even if it's not quite the right time to do anything about it.

March 3, 2008 at 15:55 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

It's difficult to know until I get there. It's possible I might need to make some sort of rule about how long an item has to stay off the list before it can be put back on (as suggested by Maurits van Rees in the comments on the "Inspiration from the BBC" blog entry). However what I am really hoping is that tasks will time out because I've decided that they are not really appropriate at the moment, rather than because I have been procrastinating over them.
March 3, 2008 at 16:50 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark,

This is a fascinating idea and much like the someday/maybe list in GTD. But I like the timing out features. One question though. Not all tasks will be put on the various lists at the same time, so you will have a whole series of tasks that are of different ages on these lists. How will you manage that? It sounds like that may be a real challenge if you have several new tasks being added every day to the first list.

Best regard,
March 4, 2008 at 3:12 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Drake

That's a good question, and I'm only going to arrive at the answer to it by experience. I'll keep you all posted!
March 4, 2008 at 9:36 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
You could always put the date that you added it to the list next to it.
March 4, 2008 at 12:48 | Unregistered CommenterJoe W

As you say, there's no difficulty keeping track of the dates items were added to the various lists. It's not even necessary to write the date next to each item - just next to the first item on each day.
March 4, 2008 at 13:15 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark!
What a joyous surprise it was to see you on the dit board!

I had such fun with following along with you on your office/systems current initiative. I just finished mine about an hour ago. I didn't much enjoy culling the 2007 files for archiving but I had a wonderful time re-arranging my office. I built a fantastic new desk. I went on a 30 hour straight binge(with the aide of meds) just like I used to before my limitations. I LOVE being in a creativity bubble where time stands still and simultaneously moves faster than the speed of light! Only making love to someone I dearly love and richly admire trumps it! LOL!......(Now I have to draw straws to decide who gets to have my old desk and bookcase and a couple of my old paintings and my modified chair! LOL! It's too bad that I'm disabled so that I can't be reliable with my furniture building and painting. People seem to really like the results of my playing around in wood and splashing canvases! *sigh*.

I have to wait on the second phase of my furniture building as I have other more pressing things right now....but the anticipation of implementing phase II keeps dancing in my mind....

Thank you SO MUCH for allowing me to work along side of you on this project(current initiave)....It really helped to keep me on point! LOL!

Now, I'm rewarded with the delight of choosing a new current initiave!

re: your current experiment. I know right off the bat that this won't work for me for two main reasons.
It's not flexible enough to accomodate my disabilities which dictate my actions at least as much as my intentions! LOL!
And also, sometimes I need "fallow time" to see how my initial ideas/aim percolate in my mind. That requires a flexible attitude....
That said, I'm still QUITE curious to see how it goes for you!
Same time.....Same station....
March 4, 2008 at 16:06 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go

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