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« Types of List VI - So which is best? | Main | Types of Lists IV - "No List" Lists »

Types of List V - Using no list at all

It’s always worth reminding ourselves that the great majority of people use no time management system at all. They will probably be following quite a large number of routines during their day, but they will have fallen into these and many of them may be very sub-optimal. Yet most people survive perfectly well - sometimes better than the time managers.

Others don’t use a master list of any kind, but have taken the trouble to work out good routines and systems. People like this usually use ad hoc lists for specific projects. My wife is an example of one of these people and she is a very good organizer.

Another way of not using a list is to use a question instead. When you finish one thing and are ready for another, you ask yourself “What is the most important thing I could do now?”, “What would I really like to do now?”, “What is the most loving thing I could do now?” or any other question which helps you focus.

My favourite question is “What am I resisting?” This is short for “What am I most resisting doing at this precise moment of time?”

I still use this on occasions, particularly when I am in an unfamiliar situation.


My verdict:

Using no list has been, when you come to think of it, the most popular time management method throughout the ages. But that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective. To work well it has to be backed up by sound systems and routines and a clear sense of what you are trying to achieve.



So which is best?


Reader Comments (4)

The more I think about this, the more I like this. I am an obsessive list maker but I tend to write down things over and over again or write down things I will never do. But I think this effort could be better served if I focused instead on, as you said it: "sound systems and routines and a clear sense of what you are trying to achieve"

The analogy that keeps coming to me is a keeping a menu of choices. Like at home or a restaurant we know that a food menu is simply a list of things we could make or order and then eat at the moment. We usually make this choice in the moment based on what we have on hand at home or what we feel like at that moment when at a restaurant. If we are at home and we've had the menu item many times we don't need a recipe (list) to help us make it but if it is new or complex we can consult the recipe (Project reference).

If productivity, was like healthy eating, then the most productive people could be analogous to the most healthy eaters. Healthy eaters tend to focus more on routines (when to eat) and systems (ingredients or what to eat). They do best when they avoid impulse eating or buying or eating junk that just shows up begging to be consumed. Similarly, I think productive people avoid the junk (interuptions/random thoughts) and stick to the routines and systems that produce desired results. I don't need to write it down everytime I think a donut sounds like a good idea.

In GTD terms I think this means we can keep the reference lists and the projects lists like a menu, but keep it down to just a menu of good choices and items you really want to serve (pun intended). We shouldn't feel like we have to document everything we ever thought about eating in a list. Just wait for the craving to come again. If it comes again and it is good for you and you don't have the ingredients then decide then and there whether it is important enough to do something about it or not. I'm thinking shopping lists (next actions?) are still OK but we shouldn't feel compelled to write every ingredient for every meal we may ever want to eat on it. Perhaps just think about what you are going to eat (do) today or at most this week and list only what you are missing.

February 5, 2016 at 23:47 | Unregistered CommenterBrent
After reviewing the different approaches again and the methods I have used over the years, I am not convinced yet that a "no list" list is really better than the true no-list approach with effective routines, habits, schedule, etc. I'd like to see explored further why or whether the "no list" list is really better than no formal system. It seems to me that no formal system but effective and ever-improving habits, methods, routines, etc. can provide the focus of the "no list" list with more needed flexibility.

I'm thoroughly enjoying all the new posts and the shifting methods and thoughts, as they are tending in many ways to mirror my own developments. But I am not convinced there is sufficient evidence at this point to declare victory for the "no list" list over truly having no formal list system.
February 13, 2016 at 23:19 | Unregistered CommenterAustin

<< It seems to me that no formal system but effective and ever-improving habits, methods, routines, etc. can provide the focus of the "no list" list with more needed flexibility. >>

I sort of agree with you, which is why in my "Secrets" book time management is one chapter out of 50. On the other hand I have a couple of questions for you:

1) How do you develop the ever-improving habits etc, without a framework to do it in? Some people (my wife for instance) seem to do this naturally, but I suspect that most of the people who read this website aren't in that category!

2) What would you class as "more needed flexibility" over a system which combines focus with the ability to do any task at any time, plus the framework to develop routines and work little and often?

I would certainly agree that once you had worked a "no list" system for long enough, you could probably do without it. I haven't got to that point myself yet, and I'm not convinced that even if I theoretically could do without it that I actually would. What about you?
February 14, 2016 at 9:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
This may in essence be about being more conscious about choices and less reactive and automatic. Perhaps creating a gap between stimulus and response better allows for new insights.
November 4, 2016 at 17:59 | Unregistered Commentermichael

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