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« Working in the Present | Main | Trending this week »
Saturday
Feb132016

Dynamic Lists

In my book Secrets of Productive People I advise the use of “dynamic lists” along with the simple five task system described in Chapter 9. They can in fact be used with any no-list system.

What is a dynamic list and how does it work?

Like the no-list system itself, the dynamic list is intended to keep your brain actively involved and your creativity at high power.

There’s nothing at all difficult about dynamic lists. A dynamic list is just a list which you draw up of what needs doing for a specific project and which you add to as you think of new things to do. The tasks on the list can be done in any order.

You may be thinking to yourself, “There’s nothing new about that” - and you’d be right! However there are a few extra rules:

1) The list is drawn up fresh each day without referring to any previous lists.

2) At the end of the day, you feed the list through your shredder (or equivalent) and keep no copy.

3) The next day you draw up the list again from scratch.

To give you an example, at the moment I am working from a dynamic list which relates to the project/task “Blog”. This is the second time I’ve worked on “Blog” today (Friday).

When I started the Blog task earlier this morning I drew up a dynamic list which read:

Draft “Dynamic Lists”

Write “Trending this Week”

Statistics

Twitter?

Facebook Link

In my first “Blog” session I did a first draft of this article - which consisted only of the title, the publishing date/time (which I always do first so I have to finish the blog post or it’ll be the draft that gets published!), copied text from a comment I wrote earlier, and a few extra thoughts in rough. After that, I looked at the web stats and wrote Trending This Week from them. Finally I linked yesterday’s article to Facebook.

At that stage I decided I’d done enough for the time being. My Dynamic List now read:

Twitter?

Draft “Dynamic Lists” (re-entered)

Links in the Text (an extra task I added)

Now that I’m on my second visit I’m working on the draft again. It’ll probably take another two drafts before it’s ready for publication.

While drafting, I’ve added another couple of tasks - “Also see…” and “Check Chapter Number” (for the reference in the first paragraph of this article) :

So by the time I finished this session on “Blog” the list read:

Twitter?

Links in the Text

Also see…

Check Chapter Number

Draft “Dynamic Lists” (re-entered)

(Later) On my third visit the list had expanded a bit because I’d added a few points I wanted to include in the article:

Fate of “Twitter?”

Solidified Dynamic Lists

Examine 3-T list for granularity

One of the advantages of Dynamic Lists is that you can add thoughts like this without gumming up the main list.

(Later) The day ends with only one task outstanding: “Twitter?”

You’ll notice that this task was on the list right at the beginning of the day so it’s survived the whole day without being actioned. This was because I was thinking of opening a Twitter account for this website but was unsure about it. I haven’t felt ready to do that today. It’ll be interesting to see if it makes it onto the list tomorrow. This may remind some of you of the questioning techniques in “Secrets”. You’re right - that’s exactly what it is.

At the end of the day before you shred your no-list, it’s worth having a look through it to check whether some of the tasks would be better off on a dynamic list. A good example of this would be communications tasks, such as Email, Comments, Facebook, Voicemail, etc. So rather than having to keep re-entering these individually on the no-list, you could have one task “Communications”.

A dynamic list used in this way may solidify into an unvarying routine. Once it has done that, you can just write the task “Communications” and do the whole routine from memory. Since good routines and systems are one of the basics of productivity according to “Secrets”, you can see how easy it is for the no-list to progress from questioning to system.

The basic idea behind a dynamic list is that you work off a list which remains fresh, relevant and above all creative - rather than off a huge depressing list of things which you haven’t got around to doing yet and which you are very likely never to get round to doing.

I use dynamic lists a lot and they are very effective. I very seldom forget things these days, and when I do it’s usually because I’ve deviated from the system for some reason.

A word of warning: You might be tempted to use a “dynamic list” for everything during the day. This doesn’t work. They need the tight boundaries of a specific project. However I do find it works to have a dynamic list called “Minor Tasks” for one-off tasks which are short enough to be done in one go. Of course this needs to be destroyed at the end of the day like any other dynamic list.

 

Also see:

Discussion: Getting More Focus with FVP

Reader Comments (13)

Thanks so much for this post! Along with yesterday's it really clarifies your method and helps make it clear in my mind.

It's very similar to what I end up naturally doing - ignoring my catch-all list and just making short lists each day.

Despite your warning at the end I have had some success using a similar method for 'general stuff' to do in the day. This is an open list and after brain storming things to do at the start of the day I also add to it as the day goes on. I then choose 3 tasks to go on my 'Action List' of tasks I am currently doing, write them on a post it and then focus on those until I get them done (and adding anything else I think of to my daily dynamic list). This is very similar to your 3T method, but I actually got the idea from the Kanban method of 'pulling' tasks rather than letting them 'push' themselves onto you (http://leankit.com/learn/kanban/kanban-pull-system/)


At the end of the day I can't quite bring myself to go the whole way and shred my daily list, so instead I go through what's left on my list and apply the following to each item:

Is it just a note really? If so, then add it to Evernote
Do I really need to do this? If so, then remove it
Does it need doing on a specific date? If so, then add it to my diary/calendar for that day
Is it still important or urgent? If so, then add it to tomorrow's list (which I start producing the night before)
Is it actually a project? This has been a problem for me in the past, but after reading this post, I will keep it as a single item, but when I come to work on it I will create a new dynamic list and follow the steps above
Might I want to do this at some time in the future and don't want to forget about it? If so, then add it to my Backburner/Someday-Maybe list

After reading this post and yesterdays I will be trying trying to refine my system based on your suggestions - mainly by using dynamic lists much more for projects and trying to be a bit more ruthless with getting rid of tasks not done at the end of the day.

I ordered Secrets of Productive People at the start of the week and can't wait for it to arrive and read more about this!

Thanks again!
February 13, 2016 at 10:55 | Unregistered CommenterDAZ
If I'm understancing you right you might have several dynamic lists operating on any one day?
February 13, 2016 at 11:37 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Jane
I'm still not getting it. With this system, how do I know what project(s) I should be working on? And if I'm not allowed to refer to any previous list, how can I use it with complex, structured projects that require planning? I'm really not seeing the point of this approach.
February 13, 2016 at 15:11 | Unregistered CommenterEurobubba
Eurobubba,

One way or another, either in your head or a project list or a pile of project folders on your desk, you will know what your projects are, and the complex, structured projects that need planning will be planned in a separate project file or folder.

The no-list approach is for handling your tasks day-to-day. So if you don't know which project you should be working on, you might have an item on your 5T list such as "Choose a project", and then "Do Complex Project", and when you get to that item on the list you could get out your folder that documents the complex project. In practice, we usually know what we need to do next, even if it is to decide what to do next, so if you trust your knowledge of the project you could just make a dynamic list as Mark described above. One of the items on the dynamic list might be "check the project folder". By doing a new dynamic list each day that you work on that particular project, you will strengthen your knowledge and understanding of the project.

That is how it seems to work for me, at least.
February 13, 2016 at 15:48 | Registered CommenterWooba
DAZ:

<< trying to be a bit more ruthless with getting rid of tasks not done at the end of the day. >>

It doesn't mean getting rid of the tasks. It means getting rid of the old list and making a new list the next day. This may or may not include any particular task.

It's a wider application of the questioning method of writing out all the answers to a question you can think of, and then the following day writing out all the answers you can think of without referring to the previous day's list.

This allows tasks to die a natural death while keeping those that are alive for you.
February 13, 2016 at 17:49 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Sarah Jane:

<<If I'm understancing you right you might have several dynamic lists operating on any one day? >>

Yes.
February 13, 2016 at 17:50 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Eurobubba:

<< With this system, how do I know what project(s) I should be working on? >>

No system will tell you what projects you should be working on. You are the one that knows your own work, not a system.

<< And if I'm not allowed to refer to any previous list, how can I use it with complex, structured projects that require planning? >>

This is not intended to take the place of normal project documentation. It is more than anything else an exercise in thinking leading to action.

<< I'm really not seeing the point of this approach. >>

If you can't see the point of it, then you would be better off using another approach. There's nothing compulsory about this, and there are plenty of other approaches on this website which all work as well as they ever did.
February 13, 2016 at 17:59 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Wooba:

A very good summary!
February 13, 2016 at 18:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I found both the article and the conversation helpful. I admit to stuttering over the concept of transferring something from one transient list to another and then immediately destroying both lists, but I think I got there in the end.

I wasn't sure about, "If you can't see the point of it, then you would be better off using another approach."

Is this different in some fundamental way from the other systems, where the strong advice was always to try them for an extended period before making a decision?
February 15, 2016 at 17:25 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Mark, I think I'm groping towards an understanding.

I think there are basically three types of list:
- the detailed lists in your calendar, project workpapers and so on which endure until addressed or events render them irrelevant
- the daily "no-" list of the next few projects/ commitments areas for your focus and
- the transient dynamic lists which you build on the fly as you pick up lines from your daily "no-" list

When you get to work on project X, your dynamic list may well start with something like:
Project X
- Review schedule
- Review status
- Review issues
- Scan mail
- Draft Communications Plan
- Talk to Fred to understand the Rift issue

And will grow as you decide which of the Events, status items, issues and mails need your attention now.

Am I on the right track?
February 15, 2016 at 19:28 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Will:

<< I admit to stuttering over the concept of transferring something from one transient list to another and then immediately destroying both lists >>

I'm trying to work out how you got that from what I wrote.

<< Is this different in some fundamental way from the other systems, where the strong advice was always to try them for an extended period before making a decision? >>

I've never advised people to stick to a system at all costs if they don't think it suits them. And I've always said that just because I invent a new system that it doesn't mean they have to try it.

What you're probably thinking of is that if someone does try one of my systems, I advise that they should try it first as I've written it before thinking up their own amendments.
February 15, 2016 at 19:55 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Will:

<< the detailed lists in your calendar, project workpapers and so on which endure until addressed or events render them irrelevant >>

They should be no more detailed than they need to be, and no less. Otherwise you are getting into rigid planning, together with huge expanding project lists, and the whole point of a "no-list" is lost.

<< the daily "no-" list of the next few projects/ commitments areas for your focus >>

The no-list doesn't have to be solely, or even mainly, at project level.

<< the transient dynamic lists which you build on the fly as you pick up lines from your daily "no-" list. >>

Yes, though most items on the no-list don't need a dynamic list. I wrote a dynamic list for "Blog" on the day of the "Dynamic List" article because it was a particularly complicated blogging day due to the number of links, stats, etc. For subsequent days I haven't needed to because I have known exactly what I needed to do.
February 15, 2016 at 20:22 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark,

<<<< I admit to stuttering over the concept of transferring something from one transient list to another and then immediately destroying both lists >>

I'm trying to work out how you got that from what I wrote.>>

I got that from:

<<At the end of the day before you shred your no-list, it’s worth having a look through it to check whether some of the tasks would be better off on a dynamic list. A good example of this would be communications tasks, such as Email, Comments, Facebook, Voicemail, etc. So rather than having to keep re-entering these individually on the no-list, you could have one task “Communications”.>>

Then I realised that you were talking about something you would remember the following day, not something you would actually do that day. Sorry I wasn't clear.
February 16, 2016 at 10:21 | Unregistered CommenterWill

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