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« Types of List V - Using no list at all | Main | Types of Lists III - The Daily Open List »
Thursday
Jan282016

Types of Lists IV - "No List" Lists

A “no list” list may sound like a contradiction in terms, but what it means is that you work at tasks with no list other than a short buffer list of about one to five items. You keep the buffer topped up by adding new tasks to replace the tasks you have finished working on.

The essential characteristic of a “no list” list is that you do not work off any form of master list. You decide what needs working on next in accordance with your knowledge of what needs to be done.

The shortest form of “no list” is just to write down the next thing you are going to do, immediately before you do it.

Whatever form of “no list” you use, you are continually forced throughout the day to ask yourself the question “What am I going to do next?”. At the end of the day you have a list of what you have actually done. By examining this you can get a better idea of exactly how much you can do in a day, what important things you are neglecting and what inessentials you are wasting time on.

An example of a “no list” system is the Productivity system found in my book “Secrets of Productive People”.

Although it may seem frightening at first to work with a “no list” system, they are very effective at quickly consolidating good low-level routines and systems into your work. These in their turn free you to concentrate on the high-level work.

My verdict:

Of the types of lists I have looked at so far in this series, a  “no list” list used properly is the most likely to be the winner in the evolutionary stakes. But we’ve still got one comparison yet to make.

 

Tomorrow:

Using no list at all

Reader Comments (15)

Mark,

Can you expand on how the "no list" lists consolidate good low level routines, please?

Thanks,

Will
January 28, 2016 at 12:20 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Will:

There is a natural tendency when using "no list" to follow much the same sequence of actions each day. However as you are actively thinking about what to do next these routines get amended until they are optimal. To some extent this happens with all systems - but it's particularly pronounced with "no list" systems because you are not distracted by all the other items on a huge list.

It doesn't work though if you keep chopping and changing systems.
January 28, 2016 at 15:30 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
This no list method frightens me. For someone with perfect robot memory, I understand how it might work. Although even for that person, I could see how might be nice to still have a list to remove the continual effort of running their robot memory. For the rest of us, seems essential to have a list.

Pick up friend at 3:00pm today. Change filter in the furnace anytime in May - June. Change registration sticker on car before next Friday. Apply for new registration one year from now. Respond to email from my cousin.

And even more detailed, non calendar items on a project I might be in the middle of right now. Review the new logo, change color on side bar, consider new typeface, talk to code team about revise HTML: there are usually 100's of such steps with even a simple design project. And there are many steps and phases that are in a branched sequence, only do this after X and Y are finished on two removed phases. After Z start A, after talk to Ms D.

Atul Gawande wrote a book showing that checklists provide for better medical care, compared to doctors who believed they could do things from their own knowledge.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right: Atul Gawande

Summarized beautifully in this article: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/12/10/the-checklist

So I love the theory of no list, the purity attracts me, I just don't understand how could actualy work in actual use - at least for me.
January 28, 2016 at 20:29 | Registered CommentermatthewS
Hi Mark and all,

I love to see all I, II, III ... It very interesting to see your experiences. Of course I red your book and the 5 task system. I just wonder were these tasks comes from. I have project, I mean subjects containing tasks how do you choose these tasks? Do you follow your intuition and do what happens ? Do you take some of them and list them then do it... It is a bit confusing for me.
January 28, 2016 at 20:39 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
matthewS:

<< This no list method frightens me. For someone with perfect robot memory, I understand how it might work.>>

The no list method is not a matter of memory. It's a matter of doing the things which are of most concern to your mind at the moment. Those will be a) the things that you are actively concerned with at the moment b) the things which are causing you tension because you know you ought to be actively concerned with them at the moment.

<< Pick up friend at 3:00pm today. Change filter in the furnace anytime in May - June. Change registration sticker on car before next Friday. Apply for new registration one year from now. Respond to email from my cousin. >>

How many of these do you put on a to do list anyway? Pick up a friend would be in your schedule and you've have set your alarm to remind you at the right time. Change the filter. Set a reminder to appear weekly until you've done it. Change registration sticker - have the reminder letter (or whatever you have in the US) in your intray and deal with it when you clear your intray. Apply for new registration in a year. Put it in your schedule. Respond to email from my cousin. Do it when you clear your email.

<< And even more detailed, non calendar items on a project I might be in the middle of right now. Review the new logo, change color on side bar, consider new typeface, talk to code team about revise HTML: there are usually 100's of such steps with even a simple design project. And there are many steps and phases that are in a branched sequence, only do this after X and Y are finished on two removed phases. After Z start A, after talk to Ms D. >>

How long did it take you to think up this list? You already know how to do the project. If you need project notes, make project notes and work from them. "No list" refers to to-do lists not project notes of action outstanding.

<< Atul Gawande wrote a book showing that checklists provide for better medical care, compared to doctors who believed they could do things from their own knowledge.>>

And when you last went to see the doctor did they get a checklist out and start ticking the boxes? Unlikely, because they will almost certainly have internalized the checklists.

In any case a checklist by its very nature is something that is the same each time you do it. So it's quite different from a to-do list, which is what I'm talking about with "no list". It doesn't mean no lists of any kind. It means no to-do list.
January 28, 2016 at 23:39 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Jupiter:

<< I just wonder were these tasks comes from. I have project, I mean subjects containing tasks how do you choose these tasks? Do you follow your intuition and do what happens ? Do you take some of them and list them then do it... >>

I don't know. I don't know anything about your business. What would you advise?

I mean it's your business. You are at the heart of it. What needs doing? No one is better placed than you to decide.

If I ask you what are the five most pressing things that need doing in your business, do you have a problem deciding?
January 28, 2016 at 23:47 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
@Marc

Good point.

"I don't know. I don't know anything about your business. What would you advise? I mean it's your business. You are at the heart of it. What needs doing? No one is better placed than you to decide"

I am a broker in realestate corporate investment. so I find, study and sell Buildings. I also advice clients in their search finding their investments which can be offices, retail properties, and sometime residential buidings or flats.

" If I ask you what are the five most pressing things that need doing in your business, do you have a problem deciding?" Yes and no. Clients calls continuously and I have many engagement about the owners. So it is not a continuous job were you do all the time the same job or even the same way to do it. But anyway.

I wonder about the "5 tasks" if it will be more simple and operational to simply having a list as reminder (not a list) of clients, buildings and obligation. Juste one or 2 words.

Then review it I would just decide what to do at the present time or plan complicated subjects for a few hours.
January 29, 2016 at 9:24 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
Jupiter:

<< I wonder about the "5 tasks" if it will be more simple and operational to simply having a list as reminder (not a list) of clients, buildings and obligation. Juste one or 2 words. >>

You definitely need full client and buildings records and notes. And you need good systems and routines for setting these up. In your type of business order and method are fundamental. This applies whatever type of to-do list you use.

There's nothing compulsory about using a "no list" list. If you find GTD suits you better then use that.
January 29, 2016 at 10:37 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
@Mark Many thanks for your answer. Just a parenthesis.

As I said before regarding to my activities GTD is the best and the worst system for me. The best because at a glance you have a all view of your comitments and as I use Omnifocus it tells me regarding each subject client, building and so on what I attend, what on the fire and what I plan to do for the next future or even someday may be.

The worst because it is too structured for me. The 5 phrases avec overwhelming. The next action is alway changing from what happen about most subject. Since 5 years despite all my efforts I never really succeded with it. I had better results with more intuitive methods such as AF or AF4 when they are controled to the strict minimum ie the operationnal. Dit doesnt really work for me. FV doesnt suits to me.

What works is working project by project and decidind what to do (planification) at a certain day and time (it me change during the day) And work reactivly on what happens day to day according if my intuition says to me that it is worth for or not.

So I use GTD on the collect part, process ok, organise ins done during processing review twice a day and once a week for highest altitude and do do and do. Sometime I feel like a market place. I never use contexts they are irelevant I work and live at the same place, happily.
January 29, 2016 at 11:14 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
<<<< Atul Gawande wrote a book showing that checklists provide for better medical care, compared to doctors who believed they could do things from their own knowledge.>>>>

<< And when you last went to see the doctor did they get a checklist out and start ticking the boxes? Unlikely, because they will almost certainly have internalized the checklists.>>

Never seen a doctor use checklist. Only issue with this, is Mr Gawande proved a checklist improves the medical care. He is not (I think?) writing about routine visit, rather any more complex procedure. It's a great book, he starts with early military aviation, and how once a certain complexity was reached in airplane design, a checklist became essential.
January 29, 2016 at 21:27 | Registered CommentermatthewS
Mark, so if I understand correctly, and I was a private pilot (I'm not), I'd have on my calendar to fly today, and on my alarm the needed time before when need to go. And at the airplane, I'd still use a checklist (because unlike with medical care, it IS a requirement to use a checklist). After flight I might enter in the log about distance logged which might inform a later date to change some part.

Meet with client after flight, their name be in contacts. The details of project be in project list. So where does the no list fit into all of this? Or is that the point, no list is needed? Everything else just flows one into another.
January 29, 2016 at 21:35 | Registered CommentermatthewS
matthewS:

<< Only issue with this, is Mr Gawande proved a checklist improves the medical care. He is not (I think?) writing about routine visit, rather any more complex procedure. >>

Checklists are fine. But as I said above they are not the same as to-do lists.
January 30, 2016 at 0:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
matthewS:

<< So where does the no list fit into all of this? Or is that the point, no list is needed? Everything else just flows one into another. >>

Well, where would any type of to-do list fit into that? You don't need a to-do list to do a job which you know how to do. When a mechanic services my car he doesn't use a to-do list, he uses a checklist. When the hotel receptionist books me into the hotel, she doesn't use a to do list; she follows a set routine (i.e. an internalized check-list). When the surgeon operates on me, it's not a to do list he uses for sure. Maybe he uses a check-list - I don't know - I'm asleep.

When I get up in the morning I have a standard routine which gets me sitting in front of my computer after breakfast, with schedule checked, email checked, voicemail checked, Facebook checked, stock market valuation checked, desk tidy, I don't need a to-do list to get that far. But then I have to start making decisions about what to do. So at that stage what is going to help me the most? A to-do list of 120 unsorted items ranging from the completely trivial upwards? Or my own knowledge of what the most important thing I'm working on at the moment is?
January 30, 2016 at 0:23 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark:

"So at that stage what is going to help me the most? A to-do list of 120 unsorted items ranging from the completely trivial upwards? Or my own knowledge of what the most important thing I'm working on at the moment is?"

For this, AF4R (Autofocus 4 Revised) is one of the better systems. It naturally groups unsorted tasks into something more manageable while still using a single list and allowing for universal capture.
January 30, 2016 at 4:07 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
For sure check list are the most powerfull toll in some activities.

When I pitch a building (ie study) I need many things( such as lease, taxes and so on) there are 152 points on my CL but only 23 I must get and know. If I don't I will sureley get trouble. I dont need to do list sure if I put all the points on a daily list it would be irelevant. Since 30 years I noticed that there are depending on my activities some crucial point. Yes matthews it is like an airplane check list. Things are so complex that I would be un able to do it in certain case without checklists (I mean the tehnical part for instance). So I think I will more and more use CL but not lists. I will also use GTD for his collectors what david allen call workflow ie "a series of containers and a series of checklist" but is it still GTD not sure....

I am so found of check list that I am planning to make my method around it. As you said when you perfectly know what to do you d'ont need a List.

I think the keys of the methods are around a few laws or rules may be 3 or 5 key points.

1. is the laws of life. There are law wich are there http://ceclair.fr/6-lois-gestion-du-temps-de-travail (sorry it is in french but you will find it in englich somewhere) All are true they all happened in my life and now one of them more than the others.

2. Is Checklist, when you know your job. They are fully operational. No lose of time. No procratination. It is hard acting. Methodic. Like a robot. No feeling, just do it...

3. Is building a collecting and task system by subjects to control and forcast all projects you intend to do. Even if you dont do it. It can be full by urgencies depending on what is hot or not. This is what I explained above (Cf omnifocus and how I organised my project) You have to have a global view of what is on the fire. It could be a check list and a container somewhere to collect all stuff about each. It is faster to know what to do and how, later.

And for acting and doing things I also agree about AF4R. AF4 and most of all AF4R are the best system I ever tried even if AF1 what interesting too for it was easy and there was for me a kind of pleasure I never found later. I tried to do it on the context view with omnifocus but if digital is perfect for collecting, organising, sorting and so on when I am in the battle looking at the computer as a bad effect with my intuition and feelings. I need a paper and a pen.

So I have to find a bridge from my collecting and controling tool Omnifocus + Lists on a day to day basis for acting + My paper note book which helps me to note everything except tasks. Calls reports, ideas, numbers, and so on which will be exploited later or soon depending on how important and urgent the subject is.

I am still buiding my method. I feel beeing on the way. The light is near. I see it but far away...

This is why this forum is for me one the best I found on the web. So many people looking at the graal of productivity and organization, it is exciting !!! and so many intelligences and shares of experiences it is fantastic !
January 30, 2016 at 7:04 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter

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