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« Evernote for Windows Version 5 (Beta) | Main | The Ultimate Time Management System? »

The Ultimate Time Management System Improved?

I’m experimenting at the moment with some improvements to the system I described in the previous post.

Nothing comes without a price, so here are the advantages and disadvantages of the changes:


Greater sense of progress and forward movement

Faster completion of large tasks once they have been started

More disciplined approach to urgent tasks

No need for two physically separate lists - they can be separated by drawing a line as in AF4.


Introduces an element of compulsion

Loses some of the speed of reaction to urgent tasks

Here are the changes:

1) The AF4 concepts of “scanning” and “making a pass” through the Old List are re-introduced. The signal to move to the New List is making a complete pass through the Old List without any tasks being selected for working on (as in AF4).

2) When a task on the Old List is started but not finished, it is left where it is, rather than being re-entered. It is marked with a dot so it can be identified.

3) Every time you make a pass through the Old List, the dotted tasks must be worked on. This means that you cannot move to the New List while there are dotted tasks on the Old List except under rules 4 and 5.

4) You cannot do the same task twice in succession without an intervening task. This means that if you take some action on a dotted task and then no other task stands out for action when you scan round the list again, the dotted task is ignored for that time only and you can pass to the New List.

5) If you are processing the Old List and a task on the New List becomes urgent, mark it with a dot. As soon as you have completed your current scan of the Old List you move to the New List to do the task(s) marked as urgent - and those tasks only.

I stress that I have not tested these modifications out fully, so I’m sharing them for the benefit of other people who would like to experiment with them.

Reader Comments (41)

Did this really get posted on 7/2? I check the site almost daily, and didn't see this update till now.
July 16, 2013 at 19:33 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Certainly it´s wrinting in this date
But post after :-)
I don't speak english sorry
July 16, 2013 at 20:18 | Unregistered CommenterEoline
Writing arg !
July 16, 2013 at 20:22 | Unregistered CommenterEoline

For some strange reason the date is the date I started drafting it, not the date I posted it - which was today.
July 16, 2013 at 22:00 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark
Why force yourself to stop at only one time working on a dotted task until another task is done? If it's important enough, why can't you take advantage of the momentum? If I'm on a great roll, I don't want to "break the spell". To me, this is a gift! LOL! Plus, it feels good to make good progress on or complete important work.
July 17, 2013 at 6:49 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go

<< Why force yourself to stop at only one time working on a dotted task until another task is done? >>

I'm afraid I don't understand why having stopped working on a task you would then immediately want to carry on working on it again.

"I've had enough of Project X for now, let's move onto something else. What's next? Oh, yes, Project X. Oh, good!"
July 17, 2013 at 9:18 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hm, you might *need* to stop working on Project X because a phone call interrupts what you're doing. Or doesn't that count as "stop working on a task"?

I guess this would qualify as an alternating task, just one that wasn't on the list.
July 17, 2013 at 9:33 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

No, it doesn't count as "stop working on a task". Minor interruptions and breaks are all part of normal working.
July 17, 2013 at 10:06 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark
LOL! It's not that I have had enough. I'm engaged but my mind or body starts displaying some bad symptoms. A break can sometime both prevent the symptoms from getting even worse or it might subside (fingers crossed). Also, when the pain is severe enough (especially if it shocks coming from my spinal cord, I can't even think or move. I'm deadlocked for awhile. LOL! When my body and brain finally allows me the person to function again, I want to continue working especially if I'm either engaged in the work or I want the damn thing done. LOL!
July 17, 2013 at 10:11 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Or just a normal break.
July 17, 2013 at 10:14 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go

Just taking a break with the intention of returning to the task doesn't count as stopping working on the task.
July 17, 2013 at 10:25 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark
Thanks for the explanation.

I don't want to cast shadows but rule #3 sounds very similar to one of the versions of SF3 where you had to work on all of the items in C2. This rule stalemated a lot of people. I, personally, only choose one MIT at a time that I must work on between relief tasks. I hate to admit it but I'd probably get stalemated also if I had 2 or 3 dreaded MITs that I had to hit each session. I'm a weenie. If there's a lot of resistance involved, I can only handle one of those toads at a time. LOL!
July 17, 2013 at 11:03 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
shortsighted me....I'd only dot one at a time. LOL!
July 17, 2013 at 11:06 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go

I'm not pretending for a moment that this method would be suitable for everyone. In fact I warn in the post that it reintroduces an element of compulsion. But there is a certain amount of flexibility about it as you've discovered.
July 17, 2013 at 11:38 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark
Don't go by me. LOL! Even assuming that my brain doesn't short out and I can manage the pain, I still have to thrust a hell of a lot of effort into approaching dreaded work. I am a hard case and always have been! I work in flexible sessions.

Example: 2 hour session: I stopped for a break after only 1'49" minutes. (Yes, I log my efforts.)

1. 55" Dailies:
not so bad except physical pain to surmount. Otherwise, brain-dead easy!

2. 16" Accounts & Calls.
My brain damage makes having to be on the phone scary as hell because people get exasperated by my having trouble processing auditory information and my embarrassing tic of saying wrong word. "I'd like to square up my accounts." Instead, I might say "I'd like to write home but she's.....opps, sorry." I don't blame them. WORST OF ALL, I if it's important enough, I make them repeat it slowly while I write it down and say it back to them. Add the fact that I'm worse than any dyslexic because I'm always writing the wrong letters....and it ENRAGES me every damn time.
16" was plenty enough of going through that. I'll continue next round. LOL!

3. 38"Process stuff: Just seeing all the damn cross-outs because my stupid mind can't even print "print"....rp....damn.....pi.....damn...prnt....damn....I'm attempting to transcribing this....LOL! I actually feel gratitude when I write a word correctly...each word....geez. At this point, I'm frazzled and hugely p.o.'d at my ****ing brain.

BREAK TIME! (forget that damn 8 more minutes....

If there's little resistance or I have to use parts of my brain that regularly fail me, I can go 4 hours as a session.

Otherwise, I just get the toads done a session at a time until I'm done for the day. My brain would probably experience spontaneous combustion if I forced myself to experience too much frustration and failure (and humiliation). LOL! All I've got is my determination and a small amount of pride to complete my MITs for the day. Add my poor attitude toward boredom and you can imagine how tired I get finishing my work where I know that a normal person could complete it in half the time (or less) expending much less determination and effort. I'd never hire me! LOL!
July 17, 2013 at 21:48 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
I can't express how grateful I am that DIT helps me to stay current and actually have the bit of confidence to move forward a tiny bit. LOL! DIT allows me to feel enough confidence that I can sometimes indulge in hope as well. Thank you SO MUCH, Mark.
July 17, 2013 at 21:53 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Hi Mark

On the forum, you endorse the the Original vs the Improved version of your Ultimate Time Management System as "about as good as it gets for starting and follow-through".

Why is the original vs the improved version superior?

( )
July 19, 2013 at 1:36 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Hi Mark

How is the testing going on this one. Aim to give it a go from next week.

July 20, 2013 at 8:00 | Unregistered CommenterNico
I'm loving this new system and its (maybe) improvement, Mark. Powerful stuff. Thank you.
July 22, 2013 at 20:27 | Unregistered CommenterAustin
I have a suggestion that might be worth something. In UTMS, unfinished tasks are not required to be worked on even once while on the Old List as long as there is something else that can be done. Then, in UTMSI (I for improved), all unfinished tasks must be worked on during *each pass* through the Old List. The former may not put enough pressure on unfinished tasks, and the latter may put too much pressure at the cost of resistance building up.

Why not simply make it a rule that every unfinished task must be worked on at least once before moving to the New List, but not necessarily during each pass?

As it stands, if I make 3 passes through the Old List, then I have to work on all unfinished items three times. Under UTMS, I wouldn't have to work on any of them.

How about we meet in the middle and just say I have to work on all unfinished tasks at least once before leaving the Old List, but it doesn't matter what I do in between (i.e., how many passes)?
July 22, 2013 at 21:57 | Unregistered CommenterAustin
Hi Mark, would you consider putting together an updated review of systems? I am relatively new to the site but would like to try each of your systems in chronological order. It seems like you've put together several new systems since you last did a review of systems. I'd love a page where they're all listed with links to instructions. Thanks for all you do! Your time management systems are fascinating. :)
July 24, 2013 at 0:36 | Unregistered CommenterCheyenne
I think the review of the systems very much benefits from the passage of time. I would love to see ALL systems included in the review, added as new ones are developed -- and for those reviews to have initial impressions/intentions, then updated with additional results/evaluation several times, say 1 month, then 3-6 months, then a year. (Even if the system has been abandoned already.) Most systems lose their lustre over time, and having a record of the evolution of opinion on each system would be very helpful and might help illuminate insights into what works and what doesn't work, in practice...
July 24, 2013 at 18:02 | Registered CommenterDeven
As for the proposed changes, I agree that the compulsion element here is too much like C2 in SF3, where every task started becomes a constant burden until completed. Why not just require that at least ONE of the dotted tasks is worked per pass? That seems more reasonable.
July 24, 2013 at 18:45 | Registered CommenterDeven

<< would you consider putting together an updated review of systems? >>

Bearing in mind that the upkeep of this site is not something to which I want to devote a lot of time these days, I think it's unlikely that I will do this. There's nothing to stop anyone else having a go of course.
July 25, 2013 at 23:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thank you, Mark, for the reply! I appreciate it. I might give it a try. What length of time do you recommend to really test out each system?
July 26, 2013 at 19:57 | Unregistered CommenterCheyenne
Hello Cheyenne,

This video really helped me get started with Mark's auto-focus system:

From there, I came directly here to "The Ultimate".

Good luck with your tasks!

August 3, 2013 at 18:14 | Unregistered CommenterTim Barrett

Did you ever decide whether the improvement works better than the original UTMS or not? Are you still using this method or something similar?

Thank you,
August 15, 2013 at 21:13 | Unregistered CommenterAustin

The answer is "no" to both questions. That doesn't mean that the system doesn't work - just that I'm trying out other non-related things at the moment.
August 15, 2013 at 23:10 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I'm liking it a whole lot at the moment myself, Mark. Keep it narrowed to a DIT-style list, focus on two projects at a time, and it's been fairly smooth so far.
August 16, 2013 at 5:08 | Unregistered CommenterHail2U!
It's working well for me, too. I've made a very small modification to the original that puts *slightly* more pressure on unfinished things than the original, but not as much pressure as the improved version.

Original UTMS plus the following:

1. Dot tasks instead of rewriting them, as in Mark's improvement. Not really a modification; this just allows me to use one list in a paper notebook.

2. When I finish a trip through the New List, I must work on at least two tasks on the Old List before I can leave it again. If there are any dotted tasks at the beginning of this process, then at least one of those two or more tasks must be a dotted task.
August 16, 2013 at 21:18 | Unregistered CommenterAustin
FWIW - UTMS without modifications is working very well for me and I'm using it consistently because, I think, I'm moving through the lists quickly.
August 19, 2013 at 19:53 | Unregistered CommenterZane
I'm using the unmodified, original UTMS as well now. Mark, about how often do you think the New List should become the Old List if one is working productively?

Zane, you mentioned you move through the lists quickly. Same question to you. About how often do the lists change?
August 31, 2013 at 19:47 | Unregistered CommenterAustin
Austin - it looks like I'll start a New list 2-3 times a week, although this last week was busy and I worked off the same Old and New lists all week.
August 31, 2013 at 22:46 | Unregistered CommenterZane
I have been using the improved UTMS for over a month. There are 9 items left on my Closed List, this is down from 30 when I started. There are 257 on my New list, imported from my old system. I would love to move on and make the New list the Old list, but is so big.

I'm using Omnifocus on the Mac and iPhone (which gives me the numbers) with contexts for Old and New lists. Seeing progress on those big "Old" projects is what I like about this system.
August 31, 2013 at 23:11 | Unregistered CommenterErin
Has anyone pointed out that it was foolish to name "Final Version"? Obviously there is never going to be a final since this is an ongoing iterative approach that will probably never be finished..

so now we've got "Final Version" and "Ultimate Version" , what's next? You might be better off naming them after animals or something arbitrary :P
September 7, 2013 at 21:02 | Unregistered CommenterJamesR
Obviously Mark intended it to be his final version. Foolish is a strong word if he simply changed his mind. Yes, some of us predicted that he might continue experimenting and sharing his experiments -- and I, for one, am glad he did. And since the newer methods are experimental and the jury's still out on whether they are better than FV, it remains possible that FV may be Mark's final and lasting recommendation for a TM system.
September 9, 2013 at 17:05 | Unregistered CommenterAustin
@JamesR : Square Enix has brainwashed my mind enough so that I know what "Final" actually means. "Final Fantasy XV" is their next game in the franchise ;)
September 10, 2013 at 10:17 | Unregistered CommenterLaurent L.

In that case, I hope Final Version VII is as good as the game!
September 10, 2013 at 19:05 | Unregistered CommenterAustin
@Austin: and I hope for a better French translation. The French texts for FFVII were so crappy that I had to convert back some sentences word-by-word to English to understand what they actually meant.
September 16, 2013 at 9:20 | Unregistered CommenterLaurent L.
Wow! I guess that's nice to hear about it. I guess time management systems and other applications related to time management and productivity tasks indeed helps everyone to become more efficient of using time. Great post!
September 26, 2013 at 13:52 | Unregistered CommenterAnwell Steve
Yeah, a little tricky naming something "final", kind of boxes you in. But you can't complain about the improvements. Would be foolish to stop at something good enough.

Ah, just like life, haha
If you want to gain the willpower tools needed for mega success in anything in life, get this;
October 1, 2013 at 1:15 | Unregistered CommenterConnorBryant

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