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« Systematic, Fast and Flexible | Main | In Memoriam »

The Next Hour

Since the diagnosis that my cancer had returned, the last month has been quite stressful - as you can probably imagine.

From the point of view of time management and personal organization it’s been very difficult because planning ahead has been virtually impossible. I usually haven’t known what I’m going to be doing the next day, let alone the next week. Indeed as I write this at 9 a.m. I’m waiting for a phone call to tell me whether I’m going to have an appointment with an oncologist later today. That will involve an hour and a half’s travel, plus a good deal of waiting around time in addition to the consultation itself.

And we’re still sorting out some of the effects of having had to move out of our house for a month and a half due to its being flooded by a burst water pipe.

It’s at these sort of times that good time management becomes a) even more difficult and b) even more necessary. I’ve found that in these circumstances one method has stood out above all the others. I described it a few months ago under the title of The Next Hour of Your Life.

The Next Hour is a development of the 5-2 method described in my book The Secrets of Productive People

In the 5-2 method you write down a set number of tasks. But in The Next Hour you write down an hour’s worth of tasks and keep it topped up so you always have an hour’s worth on your list. The “hour” doesn’t have to be taken too literally - it’s intended to be a guide only.

It’s highly effective. I’m on my 16th task of the day and have five more on my list. By the end of the day I will probably have done something like 40 or 50 tasks, even if I have to spend three or more hours on the hospital appointment. The really important thing is that the system can cope quite happily with the uncertainty. It can make maximum use of your time whether it’s just odd scraps in between appointments, or a whole day with nothing scheduled.

Well, no sign of that phone call I’ve been waiting for. I think I’ll phone them and see what’s happening. And yes, that call is on my Next Hour list!

Reader Comments (61)

Thanks for sharing, Mark. Praying for you during this difficult time.
October 11, 2016 at 11:29 | Unregistered CommenterRay Fowler
Thanks, Ray.
October 11, 2016 at 12:36 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I'm so sorry to hear of the return of your cancer Mark. Sending love and best wishes from all of us. I hope top of your list is to KICK cancer up the *RSE!
October 11, 2016 at 13:11 | Unregistered CommenterKyleigh
All the best Mark.
October 11, 2016 at 16:58 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
Very interesting Mark. Je suis de tout coeur avec vous dans l'épreuve que vous traversez et vous souhaite tout le courage possible. Bien à vous.
October 11, 2016 at 20:23 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter

Did you try other systems over the last 30 days? I'm curious about the 2nd place systems too, if any.
October 11, 2016 at 22:05 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
Thanks to everyone for your good wishes. They are very much appreciated.
October 12, 2016 at 10:41 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Michael B.

<< I'm curious about the 2nd place systems too, if any. >>

In fact I used The Next Hour most of the time.
October 12, 2016 at 10:43 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

Thank you for continuing to share your ideas through such trying times. My best wishes are with you.

The fact that the Next Hour has seen you through a lot of it demonstrates its strength.

In my most stressful times, when I have to deal with things flying back and forth, it's usual for any system I am on to break down temporarily and I tend to "wing it' as they say.

By that, it means I deal with the situation as it evolves.

I believe that by roping things into an hour would help to focus on those things that need attention and doing. For mad days and for normal days.

I will definitely give the Next Hour a fair shot and see how it stands up to differing work momentums
October 12, 2016 at 17:22 | Unregistered CommenterJD

I hope it works for you. Let us know how it goes.
October 12, 2016 at 18:32 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
This really does work well when I'm dealing with lots of little tasks, and short windows of available free time. For a window of just one hour, I can make up a realistic list of things I'm ready to do right now. I don't have to worry about procrastination, because even if I say "I'll do this one later," it doesn't matter because "later" is only a few minutes away, not some undefined point in the hazy future. That sense of immediacy is very helpful.
October 12, 2016 at 21:28 | Unregistered CommenterJulie
So sorry to hear the news, Mark - you are in our thoughts. The Next Hour sounds a great idea for an uncertain schedule and I'm sure everyone appreciates your sharing it. I'm going to try it right now with my ongoing to-do list and see how it works.
October 12, 2016 at 21:46 | Unregistered CommenterRosalind

The Next Hour sounds like a phenomenal workflow tool, especially when one has oddities in their daily schedule that creep into the mix. Thanks for sharing it.

I'm sorry to hear about the return of your cancer. I wish you strength and resilience - and will keep you in my thoughts.
October 13, 2016 at 7:07 | Unregistered CommenterMike Vardy
Keep strong Mark. Wishing you all the best.
October 13, 2016 at 23:34 | Unregistered CommenterBrent
To a greater or lesser extent, I've been using "Do It Tomorrow" for a number of years and have always found it very helpful, especially in terms of clearly understanding what I've to do on any given day and knowing when my day's work is complete.

Since in DIT one has a "will do" list for the day, but the task order doesn't matter, I'm finding "The Next Hour" works very well with it, in breaking the list down into chunks and keeping one on track to actually finish the list.
October 14, 2016 at 15:45 | Unregistered CommenterFintan
I just wanted to add my heartfelt best wishes to you and your family. And i'm going to try The Next Hour. If it's good enough for you, it's good enough for me! Take care, all the best Mark.
October 15, 2016 at 21:50 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Gooch
Thanks, Simon

I hope it works for you too.
October 15, 2016 at 22:52 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I find it interesting that short views of time are helpful in a crisis. Plans are abandoned. Preconceptions are dropped. Perhaps we loosen the need for certainties and allow more space for insights.

My hope for you Mark is that the wisdom and courage you have brought to these pages is a strength to you in illness.

The wisdom of yours that I would like to believe helps would include:

“What is my heart saying?”

Problems as friends

Inner dialogues
October 21, 2016 at 18:58 | Unregistered Commentermichael

The second certainly encourages a different way of looking.
October 21, 2016 at 21:07 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
michael wrote:
<< I find it interesting that short views of time are helpful in a crisis. Plans are abandoned. Preconceptions are dropped. >>

This reminds me of something that Eli Goldratt said in an interview in 2010:

<< Every manager faces emergencies. And he reacts to emergencies. What can he do? As a matter of fact, a good manager will react quite well to emergencies, and he solves the problem. And what we have to realize is: whenever we react to an emergency we actually deviate from the standard rules. Always! What people do not pay attention to is that you don’t just deviate from the standard rules, you are actually following a different set of rules. And the point is: after the emergency is over, why won’t you take the time to verbalize the new set of rules that you just followed? Then think on the following; if I would have used this set of rules not just in emergencies, but in the normal day to day, what damages will happen? What undesirable effects will result, and how can I prevent them? Because, if you will now augment this new set of rules with what should be happening, in order that, when I’m using them in day to day life at the normal time they do not lead to anything negative, what you are ending up with is a set of rules that is so much better than your current rules. So much better, that even emergencies are handled as if there is no emergency. >>

Mark, it occurs to me that Next Hour (and indeed, nearly all the no-list methods) are actually doing precisely what Goldratt is talking about here, whether intentionally or not.
October 22, 2016 at 18:24 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Slightly off topic - or maybe not - but don't miss the interesting thread on problem-solving started by Seraphim in the FV/FVP forum.
October 23, 2016 at 10:47 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
^ Chris Cooper’s reference is this thread:
October 23, 2016 at 11:26 | Registered CommenterHugo Ferreira
Thank you Mark for the huge difference you have made to my life. I wish you a speedy recovery.
October 28, 2016 at 16:11 | Unregistered CommenterNick Bell
Thanks for your good wishes, Nick.
October 28, 2016 at 16:45 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I've been doing a variant of Next Hour that has been working well for me.

Using the iPhone app 30/30, I set a sequence of tasks as follows:

1. Write the No-List (2 minutes)
2. Work the No-List (48 minutes)
3. Break (10 minutes)

When I write the No-List, I just do a brain-dump of all the things on my mind. Then use the FVP algorithm to choose the top things, till it looks like I've got an hour's worth. Then I erase everything else.

When the time comes, I have been forcing myself to take the break, and it's actually really helpful. I step away from my desk and go do something else, put away the laundry or something for a few minutes. My mind keeps going over the work, and when I get back to my desk I've got a much clearer picture, either (1) how to keep moving forward with whatever I'm working on, or (2) realizing that it's time to stop on that project for now, and move to something else.

I tried refilling the list as I go -- whenever I finish a few things, to add some more to the list and keep it filled at an hour's worth of tasks. But I had some problems with that. I felt like I was always mixing "planning" and "doing" without really doing either one. And I felt like I was always interrupting myself. It's been working much better for me to commit to an hour's worth of work and keep focused on it, and then re-assess when the hour is done.
October 29, 2016 at 22:30 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

I like the idea of working on a list for a standard length of time and then abandoning what hasn't been done and writing another list. That contains some very good principles, including the end effect and questioning. I must have a go at it.
October 30, 2016 at 0:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I'm noticing a really nice side benefit: very quick feedback on my time estimations. I usually think I can do more in an hour, than I really can do. This method gives much faster feedback than anything I've ever tried, and is making me think harder about what I really want to get done. I like it!
October 30, 2016 at 17:00 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I'm wondering whether this is the answer to the problem that people often have with Do It Tomorrow - that of not being able to keep up. They seem to be always reluctant to use the audit procedure to cut their commitments.

Instead, why not just abandon anything that hasn't been done by the end of the day? Instant audit!
October 30, 2016 at 17:32 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, that's essentially what I've been doing this last week.

A few months ago, I started feeling like I needed a better way to track my commitments than I was doing with No-List. So I started experimenting with some ideas borrowed from FVP and AF4. It worked pretty well for a week or two! But then it started to accumulate too much of a backlog and the lists just kept getting longer, I felt more and more behind, and unhappy with the results. I felt like I was processing lots of trivia instead of getting important things done.

In the last couple of weeks, I found myself going back to No-List just as a survival mechanism.

And what do you know, suddenly I was getting things done, important work started moving again, I felt more engaged with everything, and started getting back on top of everything.

And what do you know, all that stuff I was accumulating in my AF4/FVP lists just didn't seem relevant anymore. I could just delete most of it.

Remembering back to my DIT days, this was pretty much the same experience I was having then. My backlog would grow, I'd get 3-5 days behind or more, and it just seemed like too much work to do an audit. I was behind! How could I find time to do an audit!! LOL So I'd steal some time on the weekends or evenings, or force myself to go hide in a conference room somewhere for a couple hours and do that audit -- only to find myself in the same situation within a matter of days or maybe weeks.

So yes, I think this does help a lot with that. Instant audit. Erase the whole list every day! If there's something that screams "Don't erase me!", then email that item to yourself for the next day. But tomorrow it will probably not be so important and will be more amenable to deletion. :-)
October 30, 2016 at 19:20 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I do feel like I need to supplement No-List with some good method to avoid forgetting important things. I've tried Outlook reminders; scheduling blocks of time; keeping a list of flagged emails; capturing things in OneNote; putting things in Rally; printing out things and putting them in project folders; keeping a side list (simple notebook, or maybe using AF1, FVP, AF4, or DIT); etc. But these all turn into monsters that need to be fed and groomed.

The thing that seems to work best is to keep a simple standing list of reminders. I try to do it in the spirit of a dynamic list -- simple and temporary things like stickies, white board notes, etc. -- to prevent it from growing into another monster. But I don't follow the normal Dynamic List requirement to delete the list at the end of the day. I don't use it as a "feeder list" -- I just read through it a few times per day.
October 30, 2016 at 19:29 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
On setting my timer for an hour -- when I have a bad headache (like I've had most of the day), an hour just seems too overwhelming. So I've been experimenting with "lightning rounds":

1. One minute to write the No-List
2. Seven minutes to work the No-List
3. Two minute break

Ten minutes total.

It's amazingly effective! I totally forgot that I had a headache. And I wrote three posts here!
October 30, 2016 at 19:31 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

<< The thing that seems to work best is to keep a simple standing list of reminders.>>

The easiest way to do that of course is to put post-it notes around the screen of your computer.

Plus ça change...
October 31, 2016 at 7:44 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

I just tried your "lightning round" and have a question before I go further.

In step 1 I wrote down seven tasks, and in step 2 I succeeded in doing five of them. (They were very minor tasks).

My question is:

What do I do with the remaining two tasks?

As far as I can see there are three possible answers:

a) delete them and generate another list from scratch

b) take a break of two minutes and then work on them for another seven minutes

c) leave them on the list and spend one minute adding further tasks.

Which is the way you intended?
October 31, 2016 at 8:32 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark wrote:
<< The easiest way to do that of course is to put post-it notes around the screen of your computer. Plus ça change... >>


Actually, I was thinking, this PINASYC system has its advantages:
- Simple
- Cheap
- Easy
- Naturally occurs in the wild
- Messy - prompting the operator to clean up regularly (delete or do!)

It also has its disadvantages:
- Messy - easy to loose focus
- Becomes invisible - notes stay attached for decades without any action
- Cats cause the notes to become dislodged, triggering unexpected events (cf. )

Is it possible to mitigate or transform the negative effects and thereby arrive at a workable system?

- The use of No-List as the primary system could help address the loss-of-focus issue.
- If the notes are creating a distraction, the natural response (using No-List as the primary system) would be to eliminate the distraction -- thus closing out those commitments.
- If the notes are becoming invisible, one could work at establishing the habit of regularly pruning the post-it notes along with other inboxes and queues.
- To avoid the Cat issue, one could dedicate a whiteboard with no easy Cat access as the place to put post-its. Actually, this dedicated whiteboard could help address the other negative effects as well.
October 31, 2016 at 19:58 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

<< Which is the way you intended? >>

My preferred method is to delete them and generate another list from scratch. It seems to work best if I delete them before I take the break.

In practice, I would get frustrated when it happened too often that I couldn't finish everything on the list. I felt like I was getting interrupted and couldn't really finish anything. But I quickly realized I was frustrated because I didn't need lightning rounds any more. I was ready for half-hour or full-hour blocks of time instead.

In other words, the lightning round really helped to get me moving when I was feeling like I didn't want to do anything at all. And once I got moving, I was ready to take on full time-blocks again.
October 31, 2016 at 22:13 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

I'm trying the method at the moment using the length of time until my next break or appointment. It seems to work quite well but this is the first day.

So far today:

Session 1 Before Breakfast (half hour)
Session 2 Between Breakfast and Dental Appoinment (two hours)
Session 3 Unexpectedly long gap (35 mins) between Dental Appointment and All Saints Day Mass at Noon.
November 1, 2016 at 11:30 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

"The thing that seems to work best is to keep a simple standing list of reminders."

It worked for 4T:
November 1, 2016 at 13:08 | Unregistered CommenterMichael B.
Mark - That's really interesting! I was thinking of trying something similar -- going up to 2 or 4 hours if I wanted to get into some "deep work". But I haven't had a large enough block of free time yet to try it. I will be interested to see how this works out!
November 1, 2016 at 15:52 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

While I was in the Dentist's chair trying to think of anything other than what was going on I had a sudden flash of inspiration about FVP.

I thought of a way of having a long, fully comprehensive "catch-all" list, but only short scans. And how to do that without forfeiting the ability to deal with new tasks while still working on the older stuff.

I was so impressed with the brilliance of my idea that when I left the dentist my first action was to buy a new Moleskine to put the list in!
November 1, 2016 at 16:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark - I am so sorry to hear about this. I was googling you so I can add a link to my website for you and I see your cancer has returned. Sounds very stressful and yet, typical Mark, here you are taking time to write a helpful blog post for the rest of us! Thank you for my wonderful year of coaching with you. I still do so many of the things you taught me. Love Tessa xx
November 2, 2016 at 2:23 | Unregistered CommenterTessa Souter
<< I thought of a way of having a long, fully comprehensive "catch-all" list, but only short scans. And how to do that without forfeiting the ability to deal with new tasks while still working on the older stuff. >>

Sounds intriguing! Looking forward to see what you've come up with! Do you think it will preserve the "engagement factor" that is so characteristic of no-list?
November 2, 2016 at 5:24 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

So far, yes. But I'm still on the first 24 hours.
November 2, 2016 at 17:51 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

Great to hear from you. I have one of your CDs in my car and still play it over and over!

So far I'm feeling perfectly normal, but I start treatment on Monday and I think things will change after that.
November 2, 2016 at 17:54 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Ugh! Will keep you in our prayers, Mark!
November 2, 2016 at 20:27 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
best wishes and health to you.
amazed and appreciate that even with comments to this post you continue to listen to new ideas, test systems (while at dentist!) and offer feedback.
best of health!
November 4, 2016 at 19:43 | Registered CommentermatthewS
Thinking to you in this difficult time and sending best wishes
November 15, 2016 at 10:38 | Unregistered CommenterLoris
Me too.
November 15, 2016 at 17:55 | Unregistered CommenterLaby
Thanks to all for your best wishes.
November 16, 2016 at 0:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I hope you fell better and are doing well.
November 17, 2016 at 2:26 | Unregistered CommenterAlfredo Dominguez III
Thank you, Alfredo.
November 17, 2016 at 11:04 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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