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Tuesday
Feb162016

The Minor Tasks List

An aid to no-list systems is a form of dynamic list called the “Minor Tasks List”. I mentioned these briefly at the end of my article on dynamic lists, but it was only an easily-missed short paragraph. So I want to emphasize the benefits of using them.

Using these Minor Tasks Lists can speed up the processing of small tasks without affecting the working of the rest of the system. They also help in remembering the sort of easily-forgotten stuff which tends to get written on sticky notes round your computer screen.

How exactly do we define a “minor task”?

My definition is a task which is small enough to be actioned in one go and is not part of a series of connected tasks. So for instance reading a newspaper article you’ve clipped would be fine, but reading a chapter from a book (assuming you’re going to read the rest of the book) wouldn’t.

Obviously there are grey areas here, but if you use the Minor Task List you should ensure that it doesn’t develop into a way of subverting the rules of whatever system you are using.

Like any dynamic list the Minor Tasks List is written off the top of your head, is added to as you think of new things, can be done in any order and expires at the end of the day.

Although primarily designed for use with “no-list” systems, it can be used with virtually any system. It is very effective at allowing the master system to focus on what is important, while still allowing trivial but essential tasks to get done in an efficient manner.

Reader Comments (9)

Mark, can you explain a bit more why this list needs to be destroyed? Do you feel there is a risk that this list might get too big? Also, do you not run the risk of forgetting something that was on the list that you have now destroyed?
February 16, 2016 at 10:42 | Unregistered CommenterNico
Nico:

<< can you explain a bit more why this list needs to be destroyed? >>

Because it is a "dynamic list" and the whole point of a dynamic list is that it is freshly created each day.

<< Do you feel there is a risk that this list might get too big? >>

Yes. In fact I wouldn't describe it as a risk. I would describe it as a certainty.

<< Do you not run the risk of forgetting something that was on the list that you have now destroyed? >>

I would say no greater than forgetting to do something because you have such a long list that you can't possibly do it all.
February 16, 2016 at 11:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark:

In my opinion one of your best comments ever. I'm still not brave enough to follow your advice, though. Maybe I try a start only with gain tasks and still write down prevent pain tasks for more than a day.
February 16, 2016 at 14:16 | Unregistered CommenterLaby
I keep a similar dynamic list throughout the day and use it for ubiquitous capture of any ideas and thoughts I have and any odd jobs that need doing.

At the end of the day I 'process' the whole list down to zero, then get rid of it.

Processing might involve, adding reminders to my diary/schedule, adding notes to Evernote or adding as a job to do tomorrow (a la 'Do It Tomorrow') ... but a lot of the things that I thought were quite important to remember during the day, don't seem so important by the end of the day, so I just forget about them.

Then the next day I start again with a new blank list!

For those people really worried that they might be shredding the best idea they've ever had, I'd recommend a Backburner list where you put those ideas you might want to come back to in the future. But keep this list out of the way and only check it infrequently (weekly/monthly).

Thanks for this post!
February 16, 2016 at 15:50 | Unregistered CommenterDAZ
This dynamic list for minor tasks has been working pretty well the last day or two -- I've been trying it out since you first mentioned it. But I am struggling with the larger items that need attention, that can't be handled in one go. I am thinking just to create a "reminders" dynamic list and use it for a catch-all (but throw it away at the end of the day). This is kind of a sidebar discussion that might distract from the Minor Tasks topic, so I posted about it separately here: http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2575888?lastPage=true
February 16, 2016 at 19:05 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Nico wrote:
<< can you explain a bit more why this list needs to be destroyed? >>

And Mark responded:
<< Because it is a "dynamic list" and the whole point of a dynamic list is that it is freshly created each day.>>

I really like this, and there have actually been some illuminating moments when I actually seem to *get* it.

But then those moments elude me again...

You gave a good overview of the "theory" in your "Effect on the Brain" post -- http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2016/2/16/the-minor-tasks-list.html

Maybe what's missing for me is the practical application. Can you maybe give a couple of examples of how destroying the lists helps keep your mind engaged and also develop better systems?

It really does keep things fresh, and alive, and engaging. But it often feels like "walking on the edge of a cliff" fresh, rather than "walking along a smooth path in the breeze" fresh. :-) I want to figure out how to make this work. I don't think you intend this to be so anxiety-inducing. :-)
February 16, 2016 at 19:26 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim:

<< Maybe what's missing for me is the practical application. Can you maybe give a couple of examples of how destroying the lists helps keep your mind engaged and also develop better systems? >>

I started writing an answer and then realized that it would be better as a blog post. So it is scheduled for Thursday morning as tomorrow's slot is already taken.
February 16, 2016 at 21:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Seraphim:

I will write a short answer to your question now - and the fuller answer will still come on Thursday.

I did briefly experiment with a completely screwy way of deciding what to do next - and it worked amazingly well. Unfortunately it was cumbersome and not at all practical. But it makes a very good illustration of how the no-list principle works.

Anyway here it is:

Write down five possible things that you could do next.
Decide on one of them.
Destroy the list
Do the one you decided on.
Repeat ad infinitum

You might actually like to do that for a bit. If you do, you will probably find that each time you write the list of five possibles that they change. The reason that they change will no doubt partly be that something in the circumstances has changed. But you will also find that the change is due to your mind getting "into" the question more and more. Your mind is getting more and more involved in creating what you are doing, rather than just responding to influences from outside.

And you will find the experience totally different from writing down five things to do, doing one and adding another to the existing list.
February 16, 2016 at 21:41 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Great answers, Mark. Very interesting! I will experiment with this. And I'm looking forward to your post on Thursday!! :-)
February 16, 2016 at 23:14 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

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