Systematic, Fast and Flexible
Sunday, December 18, 2016 at 1:09
Mark Forster in Articles

I’m still working on the task which I set myself some months ago (sorry, can’t find the reference) of designing a time management system which would enable me not just to get things done quickly, but to get everything done quickly.

Consequently I’ve been looking at my favourite systems to try and identify how far they measure up to this challenge. While doing this I identified three qualities that would be needed to achieve it in a really effective way.

These three qualities are:

Systematic - The system must work systematically through everything that one has to do.

Fast - There should be a minimum of system overhead, meaning that time spend prioritizing, scanning or procrastinating should be negligible.

Flexible - The system must be able to react quickly to changing priorities and circumstances, without having to spend time re-prioritizing or making exceptions to the rules.

Unfortunately when I started to judge my favourite systems in the light of these criteria, I discovered that the best systems all shared the same characteristic - they were good at two of these qualities, but not all three. Which of the three they were good at varied from system to system.

Let’s look at three examples of this:

  1. Autofocus (AF1) is systematic and fast, but not flexible. It focuses systematically on each page on its own - which is fast but takes little account of what is most relevant at the time.
  2. Final Version Perfected (FVP) is systematic and flexible, but not fast. The scanning algorithm responds well to what is going on, but often involves repeatedly scanning most of the list.
  3. The Next Hour is flexible and fast, but not systematic. It allows you to do a lot of work, but not systematically deal with all your commitments.

Each of these has two of the three qualities I’m looking for, but none have all three.

The question I am asking myself is whether it is possible to design a system which has all three qualities. The obvious place to start is to look at one of the existing systems which has two of the qualities and see if there is any way in which it can be redesigned to have all three.

I think I may have found the answer. More on this soon.

Article originally appeared on Get Everything Done (
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