As you may have noticed I have been writing a lot recently about no-list methods of working.
The hyphen in no-list is important to distinguish it from working without a to-do list at all. Nor does it mean having no lists of any kind whatsoever.
What it does mean is that, instead of having a long to-do list that gets carried over from day to day, you work from a short buffer of tasks which you write from the contents of your own mind. There a many possible ways of doing this, but a typical example is the one given in my book Secrets of Productive People in which you write down five tasks and replenish the list back to five every time only two tasks are left.
The point of no-list methods is that, instead of relying on a list written in the past about what you might do in the future, you are working directly from what is fresh in your mind. You are involved in your own work, and you know better than anyone else what needs doing at the moment.
There are other advantages of the no-list approach:
You can see exactly how much you have done during a day
There is no carry over of undone tasks
It suits inbox zero working
A no-list approach is closely allied with an inbox zero approach. In the inbox zero approach the driver of your work is your inboxes. These may be an actual physical inbox in the case of paper, electronic inboxes in the case of email and suchlike, or metaphorical inboxes in the case of actions falling due for projects. One of the things that needs stressing about the no-list approach is that it is not an exercise in memory. The most common objection to it is “How am I going to remember all those things that I have got to do?”. The simple answer to that question is that there shouldn’t be any things you have to do - because you keep your inboxes empty!
The inbox zero approach is this. Work should never be put off into the future if it belongs in the present. Of course much of our work often does belong in the future. If you are writing a book to a deadline, scheduling construction projects, booking cars into your workshop and so on, then much of the work belongs in the future and that’s when it should be done. Most detailed plans in organizations require the work to be done in stages. But with an inbox zero approach you should always be up-to-date with the current stage.
With future projects the whole point of scheduling is that you avoid taking on more than you are able to do. If you are booking cars for service into your workshop you know how long it takes to service a car and you don’t book in more than you can handle. If you are writing a book, your present work is the number of words you need to write per day to meet your deadline. You are not putting this work off into the future. It belongs in the future.
Everyone adopting a no-list approach needs to be vigilant in not using project plans and schedules as a way of disguising present work as future work. The basic principle to remember is “If it can be done now then it should be done now”. If you can’t do it now because you don’t have time, then you are overcommitted.