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« SF Tips - #3: Use Paper and Pen! | Main | What's Next? - Progress Report #3 »
Wednesday
Feb232011

SF Tips - #2: Being Consistent

How does one deal with daily (or more frequent) tasks that require to be consistent? I mean things like producing these daily tips or the daily What’s Next report, or doing the dishes faithfully after every meal.

The common characteristic of these tasks is that there is no specific time involved. Tasks which do have a specific time would include cooking a meal, picking up the children from school, making a news broadcast - these are all done on a time schedule and therefore don’t appear in your SuperFocus list at all.

Producing daily tips or the like doesn’t have to be done at a particular time - but it does have to be done during a particular day. It’s not sufficient therefore to put the task in Column 1 because you can’t guarantee that it will get done within that time window.

These types of task are best handled by being treated as urgent tasks in Column 2. When the time approaches that the task should be done, put it in Column 2 and it will get done - regularly and consistently.

Reader Comments (27)

How will you remember to put the task in column 2 at the right time?
February 23, 2011 at 19:02 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan: good question! would be good to hear a response from Mark.

Mark: I can't seem to resolve the 'urgent' labelling for the type of items often described for column 2 (e.g. washing dishes).

In many of the examples given I don't know if I'm being pedantic about this. I wonder if terminology like 'today', 'priority', 'alert' or even 'soon' is more accurate?

Don't get me wrong - I feel this is an excellent system ( the New & Recurring and Unfinished lanes are genius) - but I think the indiscriminate use of 'urgent' items within column 2 seems lacking somehow.
February 23, 2011 at 20:50 | Registered Commenterleon
Would you recommend this rather than the Current Initiative (that you suggested in DIT the book) for endeavours such as "learn portuguese" or "learn how to play guitar" (which require regular, ideally daily practice to be optimal)?
February 23, 2011 at 20:50 | Unregistered CommenterDaouda
@Leon
Maybe thinking "urgency" in terms of Covey/Eisenhower quadrants could help?

In a response to a comment by Rich, Mark wrote
<<If your policy is to wash the dishes between every meal then it's urgent.
(...)
You're confusing urgency with importance. What the consequences are of not doing something is irrelevant to its urgency.>>

"Washing dishes" falls into the not important/urgent quadrant, which makes it a good candidate for C2?
February 23, 2011 at 21:03 | Unregistered CommenterDaouda
I tend to view 'urgent' in the context of SuperFocus as having to be done today.

I can see how something like 'daily tasks' would go into column 2 as you do it every day, so once the current task is performed you can add it again either in the current page or the next page. I'm not clear on how you are prompted to put something in column 2 if it is not a daily task, but is recurring.
February 23, 2011 at 21:55 | Registered CommenterAlison Reeves
Marke wrote in the discussion forum :

<<Basically I only regard something as "urgent" if I need or want to do it within the time I'm on the current page.

I don't put things in Column 2 just because I need to do them today. >>

I must say i'm a little confused, as seem to be many others, regarding the use of C2, maybe the rules need to be refined or worded differently ?
February 23, 2011 at 22:41 | Unregistered CommenterDaouda
Alan:

<< How will you remember to put the task in column 2 at the right time? >>

I don't have a problem remembering these things, so I just remember.

But if you have a problem remembering something then use an Outlook reminder or something similar.

Don't make things more complicated than they need to be though.
February 23, 2011 at 23:01 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
leon:

<< I can't seem to resolve the 'urgent' labelling for the type of items often described for column 2 (e.g. washing dishes). >>

I don't see the problem here. If your policy is to wash the dishes between meals, then it's urgent. If your policy is to wash the dishes once a month then it's not urgent (not until the end of the month anyway).

<< I wonder if terminology like 'today', 'priority', 'alert' or even 'soon' is more accurate? >>

None of these are necessarily urgent, so they wouldn't qualify for Column 2 (except "today" towards the end of the day).
February 23, 2011 at 23:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Daouda:

<< Would you recommend this rather than the Current Initiative (that you suggested in DIT the book) for endeavours such as "learn portuguese" or "learn how to play guitar" (which require regular, ideally daily practice to be optimal)? >>

This type of endeavour is not actually what the Current Initiative in DIT is designed for. But leaving that aside, there are basically two ways you can tackle this type of project in SuperFocus:

1) Have a special blocked off time for each task, e.g. Guitar Practice 10 am - 11.30 am (which is what I actually suggest in DIT).

2) Treating the task as urgent as described in today's Tip.

Which you do is up to your own preference.
February 23, 2011 at 23:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Daouda:

<< "Washing dishes" falls into the not important/urgent quadrant, which makes it a good candidate for C2? >>

Except of course if you don't wash the dishes, you soon discover that they are quite important (at least my wife thinks so!). This is where Covey falls down.
February 23, 2011 at 23:11 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Alison:

<< I tend to view 'urgent' in the context of SuperFocus as having to be done today. >>

"Urgent" in the context of SuperFocus means you want or need to do it NOW (which basically means during the life of the current page). So you add "Do Dishes" after you've had a meal. You add "Write Today's Report" near the end of the day. You add "Guitar Practice" in the morning if you want to do it in the morning, in the afternoon if you want to do it in the afternoon.

<< I'm not clear on how you are prompted to put something in column 2 if it is not a daily task, but is recurring. >>

See my answer to Alan (four above).
February 23, 2011 at 23:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I'm not into outlook so I'm thinking sticky note and a watch alarm.
February 24, 2011 at 0:24 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan:

<< I'm not into outlook so I'm thinking sticky note and a watch alarm. >>

Fine, if you feel you really need it.
February 24, 2011 at 0:33 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I'm actually astounded you don't! I may remember to do something at a particular day and time, but wouldn't count on this memory if it was important. There's too many other things happening to keep it in mind. (I mean of course non routine things)
February 24, 2011 at 0:39 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
I don't think anyone has asked why you would even use your SF lists to track routine and mundane personal tasks such as washing the dishes. I would just do them as part of a normal day's routine.

However, if I identified some resistance to undertaking and completing these tasks, then I would put them on my lists.

Jack
February 24, 2011 at 0:42 | Unregistered CommenterJack C.
Here are some things I write in Column 2 (on the current page) when prompted by an Outlook reminder or a cell-phone alarm, and it works great:

- "Watering" (recurs 6 AM every other day) -- stays in Column 2 during the day, till all the watering is done for the day. It also provides a nice physical break from the desk / computer.

- "Feed dogs" (recurs 4 PM every day) -- dogs get fed within an hour or two, and task is deleted

- "Vitamins" (recurs 6 AM every day) -- vitamins get taken sometime that morning

- "Send out agenda for XXX meeting" (recurs 6 AM the day before the meeting) -- the agenda gets started in the morning and finished by end of day

- "Continue DVD at 46:30" (single event, 6 AM Saturday morning) -- I told the kids we'd finish this DVD this weekend...

- "Time Card" (recurring event, 12 PM every other Friday) -- Time card gets submitted by EOD every other Friday


Here is a task that I try to keep in Column 2 almost all the time:

- "BP / headaches" -- This forces me to record my blood pressure and headache pain levels in my medical journal for review with my doctor at my next appointment. I keep it in Column 2 all the time, thus I check and record it several times a day. If I happen to be moving quickly through my list that day, and hit this item more than enough times, then I will say to myself "OK this is done for today" and create an Outlook reminder to re-enter it in Column 2 at 6 AM the next day.


Reminders and alarms can also be used for things that aren't quite so urgent. For example, here are some items that go into Column 1 (on the last page) when triggered:

- "Enter your action items from Meeting XXX" (recurring event, 6 AM the day after the meeting) -- I want to make sure I get my action items done, but they don't need to be done the very day after the meeting -- I usually have a week or more to get them done.

- "Set up quarterly meeting with XXX" (recurring event, 1st week of every quarter) -- Meeting is to be set up sometime for the first few weeks of the quarter, doesn't really matter exactly when. Obviously I haven't triggered this one yet, since SF has only been public for a few weeks, but I expect it to work just fine.
February 24, 2011 at 5:30 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Alan:

<< I may remember to do something at a particular day and time, but wouldn't count on this memory if it was important. There's too many other things happening to keep it in mind. (I mean of course non routine things) >>

Forgive me, but I thought we were talking about routine things. I would of course use a reminder for something that wasn't routine. But doing the dishes and writing daily reports and tips are routine.
February 24, 2011 at 11:59 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
After reading Seraphims comment I really need to use my outlook more! As it is linked to my phone it should be giving the right alerts. I have now gravitated to using a hard copy diary so I always have it with me in my chosen format, so just using outlook for this sort of mechanical alert would fit in pretty well.
February 24, 2011 at 12:01 | Registered CommenterAlison Reeves
Seraphim:

Yes, those are exactly the sort of things which Column 2 can be used for.

My only caution would be don't use Column 2 (or Column 1 either for that matter) for something you'd do anyway. I don't for instance use the list for taking my various pills and potions because that is engrained as part of my getting-up routine.
February 24, 2011 at 12:04 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, forgive me. I think this was a case of projection. I understood we were talking about non-routine things like washing dishes and writing reports and tips :-). If those have become habitual, then no problem :-)

I have another helpful practice for those daily not-yet-habits. I keep a page listing all those things I should do when I arrive at the office, when I leave the office, when I get home, etc. So whenever I do something routine, I check instructions for that routine. Those list the nonroutine things I should also do.

But somehow dishes keep falling through the cracks :-)
February 24, 2011 at 13:06 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Seems to me that everyone's time management problems woud be solved by disposable crockery (?)
February 24, 2011 at 14:28 | Unregistered CommenterIan S
Mark Forster wrote:

<< My only caution would be don't use Column 2 (or Column 1 either for that matter) for something you'd do anyway >>

Yes, absolutely. You are fortunate in that taking your vitamins has become a habit -- your mother must have taught you well. I was an obstinate child, however, and regularly forget to take mine unless reminded. :-)
February 24, 2011 at 19:48 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
At the top of my page, I label my columns. Not C1 and C2 nor Normal and Urgent, but :) and ! drawn as big as the paper header.

Having the exclamation mark instead of Urgent attaches better feelings to the list. While ! can mean "hurry!" and "oh no!" it can also denote "yea!" and "wow!"

To me "Do the dishes" fits better under "!" than "Urgent" and "C2."
February 25, 2011 at 6:15 | Unregistered CommenterMichael
Mark Forster wrote:

<< My only caution would be don't use Column 2 (or Column 1 either for that matter) for something you'd do anyway >>

I actually use Column 1 to *keep* myself from doing something! At my company, we get emails by the drove and checking it can drain a lot of time, but is necessary. Having a recurring "Check email" task in the first column let's my mind be assured that I'll get around to it a few times during the day.

And now checking email is a lot faster too! If I need to do something related to an email--including an involved reply--I merely tack it to the end of my list or add it to column 2. In this manner, I power through the email so I get on to something more substantial.
February 25, 2011 at 7:05 | Unregistered CommenterMichael
Michael:

<< I actually use Column 1 to *keep* myself from doing something! >>

Good point!
February 25, 2011 at 8:42 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Remind me again, how are different days determined in this system? Is it like one of the AF where a line is drawn everyday?

Also, where is the start point of each day?

thanks

Jeff
February 26, 2011 at 18:34 | Unregistered Commenterjeff
Jeff - You start the day where you stopped yesterday. Other than that, there aren't any "days" in the system.

I do write the date at the top of each new page, and also note the date whenever I visit a page (since sometimes I move pretty slowly through the list). But that's just me, for my own analysis of how I am using the system. It's not part of the rules.
February 27, 2011 at 0:15 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

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