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Tuesday
Feb022016

Types of Lists IX - An Effective "No List" System?

I put a question mark in the title of this post because I admit that I have not as yet succeeded in designing a system which fills all of the requirements I set myself.

How far have I got? Here’s my assessment of my new system so far.

Re-entering tasks. I’ve solved the problem of multiple re-entered tasks.

Simple to work. Yes.

Urgent stuff. Not as good as I’d like. This is the main failing, though I don’t want to give the impression that it makes the system unworkable - far from it.

Keeping the list short. The list is always kept short and  relevant throughout the day.

Getting tasks done. All unfinished tasks get worked on multiple times during the day.

Remembering tasks. I’ve solved the problem of multiple task entry.

Not deceiving yourself. Absolutely ideal for monitoring exactly how much you have succeeded in doing during a day.

Once I’ve improved how it handles urgent tasks this system will be amazing. It’s pretty amazing already!

This is the last in my series on Types of List.

 

If you found the series interesting and would like to support this website, especially the development of the effective “No List” system, then please give by clicking on the Donate button below.

 

Reader Comments (12)

6 out of 7 that's make nearly 86% on the target - Great point ! I am impatient to read the rest and see how you build a global method around it. Sure it will be very instructive.
February 2, 2016 at 7:46 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
I too am excited to see the method you've come up with!

And if it should spark anything in your mind, the best "No-List" method I've used to handle urgent tasks was SMEMA. I did SMEMA exactly as originally proposed. However, I basically had 2 SMEMA lists going – a normal SMEMA list, and an Urgent SMEMA list.

Normal SMEMA was the SMEMA we know and love. It always had 2-3 tasks (because if it ever got down to 1, I’d add 2 more, of course). As with normal SMEMA, if an urgent task came up, I would just let it wait until I added 2 more tasks, and I would make that urgent task one of those 2 I added.

Urgent SMEMA would have 0-3 tasks. I would only add a task to urgent SMEMA when something came up that was so direly urgent, that it COULDN’T WAIT its turn to be added to the normal SMEMA. So the Urgent SMEMA list consisted of valid interruptions to the normal flow of things. The rule was to work the Urgent SMEMA list, using the SMEMA algorithm, until it was empty, then resume normal SMEMA. An important note: when adding 2 more tasks to the urgent list, I would re-add a task to the urgent list only if it were not finished, and it was STILL so urgent that it couldn’t wait its turn in the normal flow of normal SMEMA. Sometimes I would work an urgent task far enough to reduce the urgency, but not far enough to complete it. Then I would put it in the normal SMEMA to finish the task off.

In practice, I kept both list in one “list.” (similar to having a preselected “list within a list” with FV and FVP). Urgent SMEMA tasks had checkboxes in front of them, while normal SMEMA had nothing in front of them. I just always SMEMA’d the checkboxes first. Though I tried this method for a month or so, I rarely had tasks dire enough to not wait their turn, so I never had more than 2 checkbox task at a time.

Over the period of a month or so, this provided me not only with an illuminating log of my work, but also an illuminating log of dire interruptions to the flow of work. (ie: the checkboxed items.)

So to solve your “Urgent Tasks” problem, if your system is short and light enough, perhaps you could just double it up, and have one instance for normal processing, and a second only for things so urgent that they can’t wait for normal processing?
February 2, 2016 at 16:37 | Unregistered CommenterMiracle
Miracle:

Thanks for this. That's given me something to think about.
February 2, 2016 at 17:56 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I love Miracle's urgent SMEMA. Tried it for three days and found, so far, that it's a really useful addition to my organising processes.

Also awaiting with interest to hear about the new system!!
February 6, 2016 at 4:09 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Jane
Miracle:

A question re "Urgent SMEMA":

If you have only one urgent task, what do you do if you want to re-enter it and it is still urgent? I'm guessing that you do the first non-urgent task on the list and then the urgent task again. If that's the case, do you count the urgent task in for the purpose of adding new non-urgent tasks?

For example you have just re-entered the urgent task "Tax ReturnD" at the end of the list as follows::

Shuffle paper
Re-arrange paper-clips
Sharpen pencils
□ Tax Return

You do and delete "Shuffle paper" before returning to "Tax Return". Do you at this stage add three new non-urgent tasks, or do you wait until all the tasks (including the urgent one(s)) are reduced to two?
February 6, 2016 at 23:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I have two solutions to the Urgent Tasks problem:

1. If a task is so urgent that it needs to be done now, like an emergency, or an extremely timely next action, then simply do it. What's the point of adding it to the list if you're going to do it immediately? I run into this when I have an employee or customer who has an immediate need or a business-critical piece of equipment goes down that I have to fix.

2. For anything that is urgent, but doesn't need to be done immediately? At this point, just trash the current no-list (vanilla 5T seems the best to me) and simply make a new one with the new urgent thing at the top of the list.

I'm starting to come around to dropping my catch all FVP list. It's a monster at this point.
February 7, 2016 at 18:52 | Unregistered CommenterJesse
Mark:

Sorry I didn't see this until now. I checked the "Notify me of follow-up comments" box, but I think my email might be tossing the notifications in the spam folder.

In any case, the point may be moot now since you've concluded your development of your new system (Congrats by the way!) but all the same...

So I recall hitting the same snag now that you bring it up, and I don't recall how I handled it in my trial. So I dug up my old notes, and it looks like the trial concluded with a modified version of SMEMA. The rules are as follows:

1. Write 3 things you want to do "right now" in the order you want to do them
2. Do them in order, putting a checkmark in front of them when you finish them
3. Don't re-enter unfinished tasks
4. When you get down to 1 task remaining, add two more to do "right now" after it
5. When something urgent comes up, just add it to the list and let it wait its turn
6. If it can't wait it's turn, put a checkbox in front of it
7. Do all checkboxed tasks first, put a check mark inside the box upon finishing them
8. There can be no more than 6 tasks on the list, with or without checkboxes - anything above 6 will have to wait until you clear the list with action, and can be taken as a good sign that you have too much coming at you at once

I began with the "doubled SMEMA" idea first and through the month-ish trial, I developed the rules into the above. The way it handled unfinished urgent tasks was as follows.

Having finished working on a checkboxed task (with that task still unfinished) you would not get the opportunity to enter more tasks onto the list until you worked it down to 1 item. At which point you could name it as one of your two, and it could wait its turn as normal. If it still couldn't wait that long, I would just re-enter it on the list when I could bear the waiting no longer and checkbox it again.

Side notes: Not re-entering tasks really stretched my questioning and memory muscles. It also meant that I could not let go of a checkboxed task until I'd worked it enough to feel ok with it being a part of my normal SMEMA processing. As above, if I finished working on it now, it would have to wait until I got SMEMA back down to 1 before I'd have a chance to re-add it. I would wait as long as I could, and if I couldn't wait that long, I'd put it back on with another checkbox anyway. So basically, the natural urge then is to not work such urgent tasks via "little and often" but rather in "sustained bursts" until the urgency had subsided enough to put into normal processing. Until the urgency subsided, it would continue to be a disruption to the flow of things. This also encouraged me to try to work urgent things into the flow of things (uncheckboxed) so that they would not cause this level of disruption.

Speaking of checkboxed disruptions, I found a new level of honesty when using this method. I see in my old notebook, more than a few entries of "Mindless web browsing," and other such non-tasks. They are checkboxed, meaning I stopped work and followed a distraction on the web, and then acknowledged the distraction by writing down "Mindless web browsing," drawing a box, and checking it (retroactively, after I'd realized that I'd just wasted a half hour pursuing my feeds). So checkboxes don't really mean "urgent." I did my best to work urgent tasks into the normal flow of SMEMA, and I was checkboxing distractions as well. The Checkbox more means "Disruption" and as such, I did my best to avoid them by either working things into the regular flow, or just not doing them.

Also, when writing tasks that I want to do "Right Now" I was trying to prompt myself to think enough about what I wanted to do to define it as a concrete action. Rather than putting "Alternator for car" on the list, I would write "Call AutoZone about cost of new Alternator". The latter is defined enough to be done "right now," while the former is too vague. Also, I would need to think about the goal of "Alternator for car," the progress already made toward that end, and the present circumstance at hand, to distill from it the task of calling AutoZone. (via Questioning, as I have now come to understand) Don't get me wrong, the former sets a nice REMINDER of a NEED to address, but the SMEMA list is not a laundry list of reminders. It's a meat grinder designed to crank out actions. So the "right now" distinction helped me keep the task down to the working level.

Finally, it was this need for reminders that ultimately caused me to abandon this version of SMEMA. At that time, we were selling a condo, buying a house, moving to the house, and I had just taken on a new position at work. The sheer volume of tasks coming from so many directions left me very stressed out without a list of reminders. I was losing sleep worrying that I had dropped a commitment somewhere, I just couldn't turn the SMEMA crank fast enough. So I went to FV, then you came out with FVP. Both of which I used to keep a laundry list of reminders from which I regularly preselected more focused sets of tasks.

Now, looking over my old notes of this trial period of this version of SMEMA, amid all the posts extolling the virtues of No List Systems, I'm considering going back to it...
February 11, 2016 at 18:09 | Unregistered CommenterMiracle
Miracle:

Thanks for this detailed and useful summary of your experiences. The one thing that always strikes me about the No List method in all its forms is that it involves an entirely different style of thinking from a Catch All - which is of course something that takes getting used to.
February 11, 2016 at 19:35 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark:

I agree. Entirely different mind-set. I find it's a difference between either managing your commitments, (on a catch-all list) or focusing your actions (on a No-List). The two seem mutually exclusive in practice. From what you're saying about your new system, it sounds like you've found a way to bring the two mind-sets together when you say:

"Remembering tasks. I’ve solved the problem of multiple task entry."

Is that so? Can I work off a "No List" and keep my reminders too? If you so, then I'd say you've truly found the holy grail of task management!
February 11, 2016 at 20:17 | Unregistered CommenterMiracle
Miracle:

<< Is that so? Can I work off a "No List" and keep my reminders too? If you so, then I'd say you've truly found the holy grail of task management! >>

That's not actually what I meant. But I've always said that you should use reminders with a no-list.
February 11, 2016 at 21:13 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark:

I have been hesitant to return to a No-List solution, but I’m totally convinced that they are the way to go. My aforementioned SMEMA experiment is the extent of my experience with them. And going over my notes has brought the experience back to mind. I recall that writing the tasks small and discreetly had the effect of dropping me into a “Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi-ish” Flow State in which the work would just fly by, because the list was about focusing my actions and not managing my reminders. I recall a feeling of accomplishment, and satisfaction with my work. Also, I can see on my old lists, every day started with the same handful of tasks in roughly the same order nearly without fail through the whole trial. Just as you said, this shows what systematic low-level process I had in place then.

But I’ve been hesitant to return to SMEMA because when my commitments picked up, I could not do without a Catch-All list of reminders, and I went back to FV (and soon thereafter, to FVP). Many here say they can’t do without the Catch-All list of reminders, and you reiterate that No-List methods can still use reminders, just not neverending Catch-All lists of reminders. I agree with you.

So the question I’ve spent much of last evening answering was “How can I use a No-List method if my commitments are too great for me to keep a hold of mentally?”

I think I’ve arrived at my conclusion. I will use my version of SMEMA as my No-List method, using “normal” reminders like calendar appointments, and paper inboxes instead of a Catch-All list of reminders for normal day-to-day processing. Just as you recommend. Also, I should note, that I will write my SMEMA list at the “action level” rather than the “commitment level” (ie: “Call AutoZone about cost of new alternator” instead of “New Alternator for Car”).

When my commitments become too much for me to keep up with mentally, I will not take it as a sign that the No-List method has failed and retreat back to a Catch-All method like FV. Instead, I will take this overwhelm as an indication that I am over-committing myself. That I’m committing to more than I can action off. If this were DIT, it would trigger an audit.

To handle this commitment overload, I will continue using my SMEMA for moment-to-moment action, and I will use the 3 step Backlog Method you first presented in “Do It Tomorrow” (pg 28-30), and later posted here (http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2009/8/31/backlog-method.html ) to eliminate my backlog of commitments.

STEP 1: I will write out all my current commitments on a single Closed list, stating each at the “commitment level” (ie: “New Alternator for Car” instead of “Call AutoZone about cost of new alternator”). Again, this will be a Closed list, not an open Catch-All list.

The goal here being to isolate my backlog of commitments, and keep them contained. This will serve as a measure of whether I am amending the over-commitment (ie: the Closed list whittles away over time) or if I yet have work to do (ie: I’m tempted to add further to the Closed Commitment List).

STEP 2: I will write 5 Best Ideas daily on the 3 topics of a DIT Audit (“Do It Tomorrow” pg 154-157) which are:

How can I reduce my incoming commitments?
How can I leave more time to work on my incoming commitments?
How can I work on my incoming commitments more efficiently?

These daily Best Ideas (5 daily on any of the three questions, not 5 daily on EACH of the three questions) will be fodder for changes I make in my life, and my systems. Changes which attempt to cure the over-commitment. Since I will still be using SMEMA, I will have a nice log of the systematic and routine changes I make. Also, I will watch my temptation to add new commitments to the list I closed in STEP 1. Between my SMEMA, and monitoring this temptation, I should be able to gauge the effectiveness of the changes I make.

The goal of this step of course, is to continue using SMEMA to handle incoming commitments, without being tempted to add to the Closed list further, thus ensuring that I am working at a pace sufficient to keep up with my commitments, and that I am committing at a pace I can realistically make good on.

STEP 3: Simultaneously to STEP 2, I will weed the Closed Commitment List daily. Also, I will use the FVP algorithm and the question “What is more urgent than X?” to identify the most urgent commitment on the Closed list. I will consider the selected commitment to be a Current Initiative of sorts. I will hold that CI in my mind as a guide when plotting out my SMEMA list actions. This way I can work off the CI until that commitment can be crossed off the Closed Commitment List, and use FVP to select the next most urgent CI from the list.

The goal is to whittle away at the Closed Commitment List, either by letting go of the less important commitments, or by working them off in order of urgency, until the backlog has been eliminated.

This will allow me to use the No-List method for focusing my action (ie: my SMEMA), unfettered by a burgeoning Catch-All reminder list, as you recommend. It will also allow me to treat overwhelm as an opportunity to adapt my systems to better manage my commitments, allowing me to become better at both making realistic commitments, and working them off efficiently. Rather than blaming the system I’m using for my sense of overwhelm, I will take responsibility for that overwhelm on myself, thus giving myself the responsibility, and thus the ability, to set it right. That’s a curiously liberating and empowering feeling, even to just think about.
February 12, 2016 at 15:51 | Unregistered CommenterMiracle
Mark:

I have been hesitant to return to a No-List solution, but I’m totally convinced that they are the way to go. My aforementioned SMEMA experiment is the extent of my experience with them. And going over my notes has brought the experience back to mind. I recall that writing the tasks small and discreetly had the effect of dropping me into a “Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi-ish” Flow State in which the work would just fly by, because the list was about focusing my actions and not managing my reminders. I recall a feeling of accomplishment, and satisfaction with my work. Also, I can see on my old lists, every day started with the same handful of tasks in roughly the same order nearly without fail through the whole trial. Just as you said, this shows what systematic low-level process I had in place then.

But I’ve been hesitant to return to SMEMA because when my commitments picked up, I could not do without a Catch-All list of reminders, and I went back to FV (and soon thereafter, to FVP). Many here say they can’t do without the Catch-All list of reminders, and you reiterate that No-List methods can still use reminders, just not neverending Catch-All lists of reminders. I agree with you.

So the question I’ve spent much of last evening answering was “How can I use a No-List method if my commitments are too great for me to keep a hold of mentally?”

I think I’ve arrived at my conclusion. I will use my version of SMEMA as my No-List method, using “normal” reminders like calendar appointments, and paper inboxes instead of a Catch-All list of reminders for normal day-to-day processing. Just as you recommend. Also, I should note, that I will write my SMEMA list at the “action level” rather than the “commitment level” (ie: “Call AutoZone about cost of new alternator” instead of “New Alternator for Car”).

When my commitments become too much for me to keep up with mentally, I will not take it as a sign that the No-List method has failed and retreat back to a Catch-All method like FV. Instead, I will take this overwhelm as an indication that I am over-committing myself. That I’m committing to more than I can action off. If this were DIT, it would trigger an audit.

To handle this commitment overload, I will continue using my SMEMA for moment-to-moment action, and I will use the 3 step Backlog Method you first presented in “Do It Tomorrow” (pg 28-30), and later posted here (http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2009/8/31/backlog-method.html ) to eliminate my backlog of commitments.

STEP 1: I will write out all my current commitments on a single Closed list, stating each at the “commitment level” (ie: “New Alternator for Car” instead of “Call AutoZone about cost of new alternator”). Again, this will be a Closed list, not an open Catch-All list.

The goal here being to isolate my backlog of commitments, and keep them contained. This will serve as a measure of whether I am amending the over-commitment (ie: the Closed list whittles away over time) or if I yet have work to do (ie: I’m tempted to add further to the Closed Commitment List).

STEP 2: I will write 5 Best Ideas daily on the 3 topics of a DIT Audit (“Do It Tomorrow” pg 154-157) which are:

How can I reduce my incoming commitments?
How can I take more time to work on my incoming commitments?
How can I work on my incoming commitments more efficiently?

These daily Best Ideas (5 daily on any of the three questions, not 5 daily on EACH of the three questions) will be fodder for changes I make in my life, and my systems. Changes which attempt to cure the over-commitment. Since I will still be using SMEMA, I will have a nice log of the systematic and routine changes I make. Also, I will watch my temptation to add new commitments to the list I closed in STEP 1. Between my SMEMA, and monitoring this temptation, I should be able to gauge the effectiveness of the changes I make.

The goal of this step of course, is to continue using SMEMA to handle incoming commitments, without being tempted to add to the Closed list further, thus ensuring that I am working at a pace sufficient to keep up with my commitments, and that I am committing at a pace I can realistically make good on.

STEP 3: Simultaneously to STEP 2, I will weed the Closed Commitment List daily. Also, I will use the FVP algorithm and the question “What is more urgent than X?” to identify the most urgent commitment on the Closed list. I will consider the selected commitment to be a Current Initiative of sorts. I will hold that CI in my mind as a guide when plotting out my SMEMA list actions. This way I can work off the CI until that commitment can be crossed off the Closed Commitment List, and use FVP to select the next most urgent CI from the list.

The goal is to whittle away at the Closed Commitment List, either by letting go of the less important commitments, or by working them off in order of urgency, until the backlog has been eliminated.

This will allow me to use the No-List method for focusing my action (ie: my SMEMA), unfettered by a burgeoning Catch-All reminder list, as you recommend. It will also allow me to treat overwhelm as an opportunity to adapt my systems to better manage my commitments, allowing me to become better at both making realistic commitments, and working them off efficiently. Rather than blaming the system I’m using for my sense of overwhelm, I will take responsibility for that overwhelm on myself, thus giving myself the responsibility, and thus the ability, to set it right. That’s a curiously liberating and empowering feeling, even to just think about.
February 12, 2016 at 17:57 | Unregistered CommenterMiracle

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