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« A New Method of Learning [Experimental] | Main | Follow Up to the Productive Day Challenge »

Dotting Power

In the FV/FVP Forum there has been quite a lot of discussion about the selection of tasks (which is done by putting a dot before the task).

I want to write a little bit about how to control this selection to one’s best advantage.

First of all the good news is that the process is controllable. In fact it’s possible to exercise quite a considerable degree of control without prejudicing the principle that selection should be done by intuition rather than consciously.

For instance, take the question of how you can ensure that the early tasks on your list get actioned. This can be done very easily by instructing your mind to select no tasks at all, except really urgent ones. This will take you back quite quickly to the first task on the list. How do you instruct your mind to do this? In the same way that you instruct your body to walk faster, walk slower or stand still. You just do it!

You can then instruct your mind to give preference to earlier tasks and lay off selecting recently entered tasks. That will keep you working in the early part of the list, but without having to stick rigidly to a pre-selected order. You instruct your mind in the same way you’d instruct your body to walk fast for a short time and then slow down. You can leave the mechanics of doing that to your body to sort out!

Or if you instead want to clear recently arrived minor tasks, instruct your mind to keep selecting tasks towards the end of the list.  The point is that you have a large degree of control over which part of the list you are going to be working in.

You can even fine tune it so that you are paying attention to both ends of the list, but not the the middle. Why would you want to do that? Well, take a situation in which you are clearing some old tasks, but some of them need several sessions to get them cleared.

One the whole though, I prefer most of the time to allow my mind to select whatever it wants without any special instructions. But I know I can take more control as and when I need to.

A few things to watch:

  1. The more dots you put on the list, the more inflexible the list becomes. Just instruct your mind to select less dots rather than more. You can fine-tune this until you get the list at the right balance between flexibility and direction.
  2. Keep the list well-weeded. It’s a good idea to have a task on the list called “Weed List”. Be ruthless!
  3. Don’t forget “little and often”. The list is very good at multiple sessions on tasks. You just keep re-entering them at the end of the list.
  4. If you need to do tasks in a certain order (i.e. you need to do x before you can do y), remember that dotted tasks are done in the reverse order to list order. So if they are already in reverse order you can dot both tasks, but if they are in the right order on the list then only dot the one you want to do first, and you can then pick up the second one on the next scan.
  5.  If you have an urgent task, just write it at the end of the list. It will be picked up on the next scan (i.e. when you’ve finished the task you are working on at the moment) and will then be the next task to do.
  6. If you know that you don’t want the next scan to select anything, then skip the scan altogether - or just skim it to make sure.
  7. Try and avoid special markings, groupings, tags and similar devices. They all add to the administrative load of running the list.

And finally use pen/pencil and paper unless you are completely addicted to electronic means. It’s far faster and you are not dependent on energy supplies, connectivity or having enough money to pay the bills. It’s also better for the planet!

Reader Comments (9)


I was just berating myself for changing my system (back to my moleskine) rather than making my electronics work. Thank you for providing rigorous intellectual support for my weakness!


I'm not completely convinced by the economic and ecological arguments but, like a knife, paper always works.


June 11, 2015 at 15:54 | Unregistered CommenterWill
"My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength." (Michael Jordan)
June 11, 2015 at 17:01 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I like the quote. Are you a fan of the NBA, Mark? Game 4 of the finals is on in a few hours – 01:00 UTC – very early Friday in the UK. Not sure if it's broadcast over there.

Go Warriors!
June 11, 2015 at 18:19 | Registered Commenterubi

<< Not sure if it's broadcast over there. >>

I don't think so, but I'm not a person who watches much sport on tv - or indeed any!
June 11, 2015 at 19:19 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Watching sports, to me, is like watching a foreign language involving a lot of hand gestures, running, and usually a ball of some sort.
June 12, 2015 at 3:58 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
The further the sport is from being traditional and popular in America, the more I seem to tune in, mentally. Otherwise, my eyes glaze over at the first mention of the word baseball.
June 12, 2015 at 4:11 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
One thing that isn't clear to me about your lists: do you break tasks down to component parts or do you put the task onto the list and trust yourself to do the most important next step and then re-add it to the bottom.

So if I have 5,000-word article to write about a plane crash (to set up a complicated example), is it simply

* write article

And then after every attempt to push it forward, I add that back to the bottom

or is it

*fast draft concepts
* write outline
* write 1,000 words
* write 1,000 words
* write 1,000 words
* write 1,000 words
* write 1,000 words

where then other things will hit the list and thus these individual tasks are naturally dispersed throughout the day

I'm sure there's no "right" answer as to how to set up a to-do list but I'm intrigued as to how you set yours up to complete so many tasks per day.
August 3, 2015 at 0:12 | Unregistered CommenterSylvia

<< I'm sure there's no "right" answer as to how to set up a to-do list but I'm intrigued as to how you set yours up to complete so many tasks per day. >>

You can do it whichever way suits you and/or the task best.

In the particular example you give of the article I personally would do it by re-entering "Write Article" over and over again. Indeed re-entering "Write Book" is the way I wrote my latest book (78,000 words).
August 3, 2015 at 0:20 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
@Mark Forster:

Thank you for this blog article. I do not know why I only read this before superficially, but after re-reading it more deeply and noting the "Afternote July 3rd" in the FVP instructions I started to really "get" FVP. I have come back to "No Questions" FVP (or is it FVP-Q? AFP?) and I am starting to appreciate the whole system now.
August 4, 2015 at 1:55 | Registered Commenternuntym

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