Random Time Management
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 14:12
Mark Forster in Articles

As promised in my last post, here’s the method I am using at the moment with great success. You need a random-number generator to work it. The one I’m using is at http://www.random.org/integers/

I am using paper and pen, but I’m sure it can be adapted for electronic use.  I just haven’t yet attempted to do so.

I’m using a loose-leaf binder with lined pages of 32 lines, but the method will work perfectly well with a bound notebook and pages of any number of lines.

First I list all my tasks in the notebook - one per line.

I then set my randomizer to produce integers in the range 1 and 32 inclusive. The upper number is the same as the number of lines on a page. This is just a convenient number which produces reasonable results, but you can use a lower or higher number if you wish.

Starting from the beginning of the list I use the randomizer to produce a number and move down the page that number of lines. I then do some work on the task on that line. Please note that I don’t have to finish that task, just do some work on it.

Once I have worked on the task, I cross it off. If I have not finished it or if it is a recurring task, then I re-enter it at the end of the list.

I then use the randomizer again and count to the next task (going to the next page if necessary).

When the number the randomizer produces would take me beyond the end of the list, I circle back to the beginning of the list, ignoring empty lines on the last page.

I continue circulating through the list in this way.

When I’m counting forward, I INCLUDE in the count the lines which have been crossed off. If I land on a line on which the task has been crossed out, I move to the next line in which there is an active task. I call this movement a “slide”.

For example imagine I have the following tasks:

Email
In Tray
Invoices
Date of next meeting
Write report
Cash check
Tidy desk

Performance reviews

I throw a five, so I count down the list, remembering to include the crossed out lines. I land on the “Write Report” line. I then “slide” to the next active task which is “Performance Reviews”. Slides work slightly different from counting. If a slide takes you to the end of the page, you circle back to the beginning of the SAME page. So if “Performance Reviews” in the example had already been done, you’d have circled back to “Email” at the beginning of the page.

Email
In Tray
Invoices
Date of next meeting
Write report
Cash check
Tidy desk

Performance reviews

Counting crossed-out spaces and sliding are very important, because they have the effect of increasing the chances of the older tasks on the list being selected. Note that if you don’t include lines with crossed-out tasks in the count, then every task will have an exactly equal chance and there will be no preference for older tasks.

A few points to note:

1) Random numbers behave randomly. They don’t behave in the way we expect them to behave. If they did, they wouldn’t be random. You will find that you are constantly surprised by them.

2) The system as described has a built-in bias towards clearing the older tasks off the list. This means that nothing will stay on the list for very long. How long that is depends on the length of the list and the amount of time you can devote to working on it. If you want things to move on really quickly then keep the list short.

3) The random-number generator is quite indifferent to your priorities, wishes and time-pressure, so if something needs doing now - do it!

4) Any attempts to increase the probability of certain tasks being selected will result in the chances of all the other tasks being reduced. So I advise against it.

Article originally appeared on Get Everything Done (http://markforster.net/).
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