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DIT and Focus

I’ve often remarked that I’ve never been able to take full advantage of the Do It Tomorrow (DIT) system myself because I am always experimenting with new time management methods. Each time I experiment with a new method I am letting go of DIT itself. The result is that I certainly sympathise with Edison’s famous remark that he had learned 10,000 ways of not making a lightbulb!

I’ve determined however that I am going to make DIT itself the subject of an experiment. What I want to find out is if consistent use of DIT over a relatively long period results in a virtually automatic focusing of one’s energies in the direction that is most profitable (using that word in its widest meaning) - even if one has no idea to start off what that direction might be.

The reason I think this is probably what will happen is that our minds are naturally creative - too creative in the majority of cases. We get sidetracked onto all sorts of fascinating byways, while what we should be focusing on gets neglected. But at the same time that natural creativity will be coming up with many new ways of being more productive. The problem is of course distinguishing which of these creative ideas are sidetracks and which are productive.

If one implements DIT conscientiously - especially the requirement to carry out an audit if one can’t finish the Will Do list for more than a few days running - one is virtually forced to identify what is really important and cut out the rest. My theory is that this will provide a concentrated focus on what is important which will propel us forward!

So I am going to stick to the rules exactly for the next few months and see what happens. Bear in mind that my aim is not to get through all my work but to monitor continually the validity of what that work should be.

Reader Comments (19)

Mark: I read your DIT book last year and began working with the system only to abandon it and try the Autofocus systems you have created. I am back to trying DIT again. Perhaps I am not understanding the Autofocus system rules, but it seems like DIT creates a more defined closed list of items. I find that the review process is easier for me with a calendar style list that gets trimmed every few days. Deciding not to do an item is almost as important as deciding to do it.

I spend most of my day in appts. out of my office and have little time to get all the little things done. I am finding that having a closed list is really important or I won't ever feel done for the day/week.

I found some entries on your site about DIT2. I read the idea and its seems like you have dropped it. Is that the case?
November 16, 2010 at 17:14 | Unregistered CommenterDawson

<< I found some entries on your site about DIT2. I read the idea and its seems like you have dropped it. Is that the case? >>

Yes, it looked promising for a while, but didn't work out.
November 17, 2010 at 12:24 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<<my aim is not to get through all my work but to monitor continually the validity of what that work should be.>>

Did you succeed in that?
November 17, 2010 at 21:39 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Mark, just wondering what you think about DIT now. I am thinking about how I applied it to my own life and I think one change could make it much more effective.

I have days where I am home most of the day. These are the days that I complete more tasks and also generate more tasks. Then I have days where I am gone most of the day. I get few tasks done and generate few tasks. I wasn't taking that into account when I planned to DIT. Instead, I thought I really should be able to power through the tasks from the day before even though I had very limited time.

I know DIT says you can skip days that you're gone, but since I am not really out of town, I was holding myself to a higher standard. Any thoughts?
October 5, 2013 at 6:03 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson

I'm not quite sure what you are proposing here. You mention "one change", but then don't describe what it is - or am I misunderstanding you?

The point about DIT is that it works on averages. The formula is: "The average amount of work done each day must equal the average amount of work that comes in each day". So it doesn't matter if you are here all day one day and away for half the next. You must still be able to catch up with your work within a few days - five days is about right.

Note that this does not mean that you can permanently lag behind for five days - it means that you must succeed in getting completely up-to-date within five days.

If you can't, then you must face up to the reality that you have more work coming in than you can deal with, and cut back your commitments. This is actually the most important part!

As for what I think about DIT now, I think it is an excellent system provided that you take what I've said in the previous paragraph seriously. The trouble is most people don't.
October 6, 2013 at 9:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I've been thinking a bit more about DIT since writing the above answer to Melanie.

What I'd like to do is make the process of auditing one's workload as automatic as possible. I don't think I tied it down quite enough in the book, with the result that many people try the system without doing the auditing and the result is of course that the whole system bogs down.

So here's a possible way of doing it:

1. Whenever you fail to keep completely up to date, enter a task in seven days' time (i.e. on the same day of the week one week later) to "Destroy Backlog". I've extended the "period of grace" to seven days purely to make it easier to keep track.

2. If at any time during the seven days you succeed in catching up completely, you delete the "Destroy Backlog" task. (You have caught up completely when you have no tasks remaining on pages earlier than Today.)

3. If the "Destroy Backlog" task has not been deleted when you reach the day on which it is written, then your first action of the day is to delete all tasks remaining on pages earlier than Today.

There are a couple of things to note about this:

a) It is not just a matter of deleting tasks which are seven days' old. ALL tasks earlier than the current day are deleted.

b) The effect of this is to make you think seriously about what tasks it is important not to delete. In order to avoid deleting them, you have to do them in preference to other less important tasks. Obviously this will become more pressing the nearer the seven days will be up, but the overall effect will be to adjust your priorities so that they really do fit the time available.
October 6, 2013 at 14:40 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark,

Thanks for sharing this tip. I'd like to do this. Do you consider a prompt to 'review commitments' or 'audit commitments' to be another useful brief prompt to use along with 'destroy backlog' and one other I wondered about 'close list'?

One's 'commitments' to review could be located in a seprate place for revising as necessary as I feel it helps with a top-dowm approach to managing time.
October 6, 2013 at 18:25 | Unregistered Commenterleon

I can't see that it would do any harm. But my feeling was that having the "seven days to destruction" period would more or less force me to review my commitments in any case.

I'm only on Day 1 of trying this out myself, so ask me again next Sunday!
October 6, 2013 at 20:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

"seven days to destruction"

I love your sense of humour!

It will be great to hear how you get on!
October 6, 2013 at 21:35 | Unregistered Commenterleon
I've had a rethink about my definition of being completely up to date:

"2. If at any time during the seven days you succeed in catching up completely, you delete the "Destroy Backlog" task. (You have caught up completely when you have no tasks remaining on pages earlier than Today.)"

Really the last sentence should read:

"You have caught up completely when you finish a day and there are no tasks remaining on the Today page or any earlier pages.)"
October 7, 2013 at 10:21 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
At the end of Day 2 I had 26 tasks outstanding, some of them important and reasonably urgent. I'm away for a good chunk of today, so I'll be interested to see how I get on.

I'm already finding that the threat of cancellation on Day 7 is making me think more about which tasks I do and which I don't do.
October 8, 2013 at 9:11 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

I am keenly interested in seeing how this works out. By chance, I had just begun using DIT myself. I've tried every other system you've ever come up with (including "How to Make Your Dreams Come True" - or as I call it "How to Make Your Dreams Come To You"). But this is my first foray into DIT. I log back into your website for the first time in months, and here you are trying something new with DIT!


I think I'll give myself a week to gain practice and momentum DIT as originally written, and I'll avidly watch your experiment here. If your suspicions are correct, and this "D-Day" method helps catch you up on your backlogged tasks, then I'll give it a try when your experiment concludes.

Best of luck!
October 8, 2013 at 18:08 | Unregistered CommenterMiracle
Mark, for some reason, if you respond to my comments, I am not notified via email. Only if someone else comments, do I get a heads up. This really came at the right time because I've been thinking that I need some kind of limit to keep from adding tasks to my list that I really don't need to do. I'm very interested in testing it.

For some reason, I had forgotten that I had a few days to get caught up if I didn't all the day's tasks done. So I understand what you were saying about not scheduling tasks out further than a day. I also just realized that the 7 days to destruction is ONLY to be used when you have failed to keep up. That is 3 days in a row that all work isn't completed?

Since that is the case, this is another one of those tests that really requires more than a week. Knowing me, I will be very diligent about getting my work done the first week anyway. I think I will start to test it and will only announce the test on my blog when I've gotten to the point of adding Destroy Backlog as a task. Any bets on how long it would take? :-)
October 8, 2013 at 22:55 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
Mark, how'd you go with focussing on realising what was valid work, rather than necessarily getting more done?

i find that this is one of the biggest problems people have, even when implementing new systems such as GTD, DIT etc

It's discussed a little at the discipline blog and the book;
October 9, 2013 at 4:21 | Unregistered CommenterConnorBryant
Hi Mark: Are you using a page-per-day diary (planner)? Could you specify what tool(s) you are using? How do you identify the 'current initiative' if you are using this?

October 9, 2013 at 11:45 | Unregistered Commenterleon
I think the most important issue for me with DIT is differentiating between true tasks and ideas. Ideas need to be added to my notes (I'm using SpringPad right now). A task could be to review SpringPad for action items, but this makes more sense as part of a routine.
October 9, 2013 at 13:23 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
Melanie - I had the same issue with DIT (as much as I loved it!)

The book says to write ideas / thoughts on the Tomorrow page - there is an implicit task, "what am I going to do with this idea?"

But for me, I found I needed more than a day to let ideas incubate / percolate, before I decide what to do with it. So, I'd see the "task", think about it, come to the conclusion "I have no idea what to do with this yet, I need to let it percolate", cross it off, and rewrite it on the next Tomorrow page.

That didn't work. It was too tedious. Also, the number of items that had to be treated that way was too large and kept growing.

So, I tried a different approach. If I don't know what to do with it, just leave it there on the list. After several days, all those ideas would trigger a "backlog declaration". But these were often false alarms - I didn't really have a backlog of WORK, I had a backlog of UNPROCESSED IDEAS. And now, frankly, was not the time to worry about a list of unprocessed ideas. I had more pressing work to deal with. I could deal with all these ideas on the weekend, or maybe at the end of the month or end of the quarter, when current quarterly objectives are wrapping up, and I'm thinking about the objectives for next quarter.

PROBLEM: I didn't always realize the false alarm was a false alarm! I'd "declare a backlog" and start doing an "audit of commitments" only to realize I didn't really need to do all that. Or, maybe I had a real backlog happening, and I needed to spend time differentiating the backlogged work from the unexplored ideas.

SOLUTION: When I got one of these "backlog alerts", I'd take a special-colored highlighter, and go through my DIT book, and highlight all the backlogged "ideas". This would often cover most of the backlog. There'd be a few really backlogged tasks - which I could deal with quickly and get back on track. RESULT: I create a nice list of highlighted ideas for future review -- I clear the real backlogged tasks more quickly -- and I can still use DIT as a universal capture tool.
October 10, 2013 at 8:03 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Hi Mark,

I'm testing this additional DIT idea and I think it could work well! Good news for me as I originally got interested in your work because of DIT and the daily closed list saved me many times. Although I was one of the people who didn't really manage to audit my backlog well - this addition does appear to make this more automatic.
October 10, 2013 at 13:28 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
Seraphim, I'm glad to know you had a similar problem. I'm still thinking about this. I'm not convinced your backlog auditing approach would work for me. Maybe? I have a couple of alternate ideas. I'm talking to myself here:

1) Be clear about what your active project(s) are. By project, I mean a true project and not a David Allen project (something that requires more than one step). An evaluation of the project list could be scheduled on a weekly or monthly basis (I prefer weekly). So if I get an idea for a new project, I wouldn't put anything related to that on tomorrow's list. I could just add it to my project list and then review that list during my next weekly review. (I've become convinced this is necessary for me). If I get an idea related to a project already on the list, I would add it to a corresponding notebook in my notes app (I'm currently using Springpad). I think treating project ideas this way will give them adequate time to incubate. I'm not talking about projects that I'm committed and obligated to do here. For example, if I am asked to speak for an event and I accept, I won't add this to a project list to decide whether it's active or not later. That's an active project and should be dealt with according to traditional DIT.

2) Make other decisions that limit the amount of ideas you add to DIT. As a homeschooler, I'm constantly getting ads or recommendations on new curriculum. If I have decided (and I have) that I am not going to invest time in researching new curriculum until next spring, there's no reason to add these things to my DIT list for tomorrow. I can either add them as a task in my list with a due date for next spring or preferably I can add them to my notes list. I wouldn't even need to assign a date to these notes because I already know when I research curriculum. I do it the same time every year.

2) Any ideas that aren't really project related and are low priority could also go into my notes app. I could add them to a free time notebook. When I have free time, I can go to this notebook and check things out. The likelihood that I will is small though. I tend to pursue whatever is in front of me in the moment during free time. I think we all need time to do that. At the same time, I need all of the ideas OUT of my list/task diary. As you said, I can feel like I'm behind, failing, and on and on, when I'm not. Alternately, I can miss what is truly a priority because they're buried in my mountain of ideas.

I'm going to review my current list in light of these ideas and see if I can make my list more manageable.
October 12, 2013 at 5:27 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson

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