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« Types of Lists II - Daily and Weekly Lists | Main | The Evolution of Time Management Systems »
Monday
Jan252016

Types of Lists I - The "Catch All" List

Following on from my posting yesterday about the evolution of time management systems, what type of system do you think would win the evolutionary stakes? We’re looking at one that will emerge from the evolutionary shadows and supersede every system so far developed. Is that likely to happen? - almost certainly in the fullness of time.

Let’s do a bit of speculating.

First of all, what sort of list would it use? Existing time management systems are based on differing lengths of list, ranging from a “Catch All” list to no list at all.

Over the next few days I’ll deal with each of the main lengths of list. Today I start with the “Catch All” list.

Examples of “Catch All” lists include David Allen’s  in “Getting Things Done”, my own Autofocus and Final Version series, the traditional prioritized list and a whole multitude of others.

As the name implies you list everything that you need or want to get done, sometimes even including things which you are not sure about. You can add more tasks and projects as you think of them. There are many different ways of then processing the tasks on the list, but the basic similarity is that you are aiming for completeness. Everything is out of your head and onto paper.

Following David Allen, many people also use a “Someday/Maybe” list. This means that you are not only writing down what you need or want to get done now, but also the things which you would like to do in the future. Again the idea is to get everything out of your head onto paper.

In the evolutionary stakes, what are the advantages of the “Catch All” list? The biggest advantage is completeness, but this is only achieved at the price of losing focus - or at the very least having to do a lot of work on keeping your focus.

My verdict

A system based on a “Catch All” list is very vulnerable to being overtaken in the evolutionary stakes by a system which produces a greater degree of focus.

What do you think?

 

Tomorrow:

Daily and Weekly Lists

Reader Comments (16)

<<A system based on a “Catch All” list is very vulnerable to being overtaken in the evolutionary stakes by a system which produces a greater degree of focus.>>

Cal Newport's new one - http://amzn.com/1455586692 - seems to preaching just that. I finished Deep Work last week, and was impressed (but not enough to employ the - imho - rigid rules he suggests.
January 25, 2016 at 15:25 | Registered Commenteravrum
avrum:

I haven't read it yet. What sort of list, if any, does he recommend?
January 25, 2016 at 16:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
> Following on from my posting yesterday about the evolution of time management systems, what type of system do you think would win the evolutionary stakes?

To win out evolutionarily, I would argue that the system has to have three properties:
1. Easy to communicate to others (i.e. simple)
2. Usable over the long haul (i.e. simple, sufficiently flexible and habit forming)
3. More effective than ad-hoc systems

Based on my experience, I agree that a full-capture system falls short, becoming too easily bogged down by trivia or hair-brained ideas.

Not to steal avrum's thunder, but Cal seems to be advocating a very short list, a "depth deck" that provides the next one or two steps on each one of your deep projects: http://calnewport.com/blog/2015/01/18/deep-habits-use-index-cards-to-accelerate-important-projects/
January 25, 2016 at 17:38 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Freckleton
Ryan:

Thanks for the link to Cal Newport - and I was particularly interested in the link in his article to another of his articles on "decidable" and "undecidable" problems.

His "depth decks" sound not unlike my concept of the dynamic list. See ch. 31 in "Secrets of Productive People" and http://markforster.squarespace.com/fv-forum/post/2560976#post2561011
January 25, 2016 at 17:53 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
In the end, Cal's suggestion is to block off time - a la Covey's "Big Rocks" - and focus on Deep Work (90 min - 3 hr blocks of time). He argues that this skill will be highly coveted by employers, and that is the best life one could have. The book is a mix of philosophy, habits and scheduling.

He recommends, if possible, getting rid of your Twitter, Facebook, etc accounts. And spends little time discussing lists - though he mentions employing a bare bones version of GTD.
January 25, 2016 at 21:29 | Registered Commenteravrum
avrum:

<< In the end, Cal's suggestion is to block off time - a la Covey's "Big Rocks" - and focus on Deep Work (90 min - 3 hr blocks of time). >>

Sounds like the Pomodoro technique with 2-4 pomodori per subject.
January 25, 2016 at 21:41 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Cal also advocates loosely planning out your entire day and expands on this somewhat in his new book

http://calnewport.com/blog/2015/09/29/deep-habits-three-recent-daily-plans/
January 26, 2016 at 5:55 | Unregistered CommenterSimon
Simon:

Thanks for posting this link. Roughing out a schedule on paper is great for those who like it, but it's never worked for me. I guess it all depends on how your brain works!
January 26, 2016 at 8:57 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<< but it's never worked for me. I guess it all depends on how your brain works!>>

I'm drawn to the idea, even tried it a few times, but it has never stuck.
January 26, 2016 at 17:22 | Registered Commenteravrum
I like the way Cal makes his schedules with pen and paper. He seems to find it very easy to deal with interruptions -- just scratch out the rest of the schedule and take 5 minutes to rebuild the rest of the day after the interruption is over.

That being said I find it much easier to allocate time to specific tasks and then process them in whatever order seems right (eg 60 minutes for task A at some point during the day), rather than setting the order in advance (eg task A from 1:15pm to 2:15pm). Hard to do without electronic devices though.
January 27, 2016 at 0:21 | Unregistered CommenterSimon
From my own experience of entrepreneurs full of projects, tasks, goals and so on.... I really think that a catch all list is indeed a necessity. If I agree with you Mark and even if the method is a bit difficult applying on a day to day experiment GTD is really the only method which suits to me. Yes, it is sometime awful, yes, I am sometime fed up of it, yes, I prefer AF, FV way, but GTD only gives me a real sense of control even if 90% goes directly in the rubbish or is full non actionable.

My challenge on a day to day basis is to clean the list. Decide what I must do or not at the moment (it can change) sometime I do 2 or 3 daily reviews. I do it with THINGS because Omnifocus was finally less operational for me.
I still read and apply some of yours methods. I still love reading this forum. I still try some experiments. But I always go back to GTD.


Contrary to what GTD says my mind is not like water. It is more like a storm or a huricane. But GTD among everything let me stay focus on what I do and do it quiet well because all is group by project and I keep on things only actionable stuff. All the rest goes to reference. I understood finaly GTD watching tiago FORTE videos on you tube. He made 15 free incredible videos perfectly clear even for a non british or american citizen (LOL !)

Things are going too fast. World is changing too much to quicky too. The real question in now life is not for me about long open, close list. The real question is deciding as you said in your great book Why and How and to stay focus on a few things at the same time even if it will move forward twice or tree times at a glance..
January 27, 2016 at 12:30 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
Jupiter:

As long as what you are doing works for you, that is fine. And I don't want to criticize GTD. It's a system which has proved its worth over a long period now. It doesn't suit everyone, but what does?

The problem with a "catch all" list in my opinion is that it gives the illusion of control rather than actual control. And you are still left with the problem that you can only do so much during a day.

You say that 90% of what you put on the list doesn't get done. Wouldn't it be better not to allow the stuff on the list in the first place? Then you wouldn't need to spend so much time weeding it out. "Mind in a hurricane" doesn't seem a very good recommendation for what you are doing at the moment.

The real secret of getting in control is the building up of sound routines and systems combined with a very strict focus on a few priorities.
January 27, 2016 at 13:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
>> system which produces a greater degree of focus.
What if the "catch all" list was used to catch all. To stave off that feeling of missing something: idea, appointment, task, goal, information - anything. And then, there was a cascade of more lists? Such that then another list of only the items that are on the list that I know I really need to do something about in the next ~year. And a few more lists from that down to today. Also, to move items from the catch all list to other places. Information, ideas, journal. With at least all of this starting on the catch all list? Or was the idea on review of catch all, more about everything is actually RUN from that list? Plans, information, projects, tasks, ideas and so on?
January 27, 2016 at 19:15 | Registered CommentermatthewS
Thank Mark for the 2 great advices " You say that 90% of what you put on the list doesn't get done. Wouldn't it be better not to allow the stuff on the list in the first place?" + "The real secret of getting in control is the building up of sound routines and systems combined with a very strict focus on a few priorities"

You know life is tricky. The system I built on THINGS has crashed this afternoon. Happily the data base was saved and I tranfered the all part again in Omnifocus keeping the idea of today, next and someday and using perspectives. It is much easier on OF and clearest and tags were un usefull for me. Happily it only tooks me one hour... It could be worst !

Anyway for answering to you I dont agree exactly with ""catch all" list in my opinion is that it gives the illusion of control rather than actual control. And you are still left with the problem that you can only do so much during a day"

Yes 90% is rabbish. But thinking on regular basis to a project + Listing them + Choosing carefully on a today's perspective gives me a real sens of control. My problem with my hurricane is more or less due to the numerous project I have to lauch for making only one... Real estate market is indeed complicated for the time beeing.

Sometimes I have ideas in the metro or in the kitchen. Sometime it is anywere else. All these ideas have to be collected then carefully studied if necesssary and then effectivly I choose a hand of projects (mostly buildings I work on) and do what I have to deal them.

I dont critisize FV nor AF each of them are a fantastic acting system. they are only non adapted to my activities. And as you said " It doesn't suit everyone, but what does?"

As thimothuy ferries I see life like opportunities. They are like the sand numerous... The question is to choose the right adapted. Making a short list per day or doing like swab did at his time is for me totaly old fashion and irreleva,t in now societies.

There are some laws. Some must principle. Unavoidable for me.
1) is to collect things if you dont they vanish and you loose opportunities
2) is to choose what are your big stones. Yours gut. Yours aims. Ie your crucial perspectives.
3) Is to make plan if you donc stuck to something it may fail. Things are mostly going wrong...
4) Is when you are a decider to take time to think about why and how.
5) a Paradoxal one is to be lazy. Work is not suffisant.
6) is to act immediatly on things which must be
7) is to lesson carefully to opportunities.

So Gtd is an answer to this. But it is terribly complicated. It is very structured. It doesnt suits to anyone. You can get nut with it I believe. And it has a terrible lack intuition. Intuition comes only when you control perfectly the method. I belong to a GTD club in France most of people dont really succed with it on the long term.

So it is not as simple as that. As said onassis more I play more I win ! and we are all searching the graal of a method wich suits to our intuition, personality and about ourselves.
January 27, 2016 at 21:23 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
matthewS:

<< Or was the idea on review of catch all, more about everything is actually RUN from that list? Plans, information, projects, tasks, ideas and so on? >>

Yes. Though there may also be a "Someday/Maybe" list of tasks/projects which are not appropriate to be worked on at the moment.

In some TM systems the contents of the "catch all" list are used to fill weekly and daily lists. See my comments on those in the next post.
January 27, 2016 at 22:07 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Jupiter:

Whatever system one chooses to follow is not going to solve the problem of too much work.

As you say, opportunities are as numerous as the sand. Which means that you cannot possibly hope to do them all.

As the ancient Chinese proverb says "The man who chases two rabbits, misses both.
January 27, 2016 at 22:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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