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Friday
Feb052016

More about "No List" Systems

“Any system that lets you wallow in the fantasy that one day you’ll get it all done isn’t just useless but dangerous, lulling you into frittering away your time.” (Oliver Burkeman)

As those who’ve read my book Secrets of Productive People will know, I advise people to throw away their to-do lists and rely on a “No List” system. There are two main reasons why I come down on the side of the “No List” system, one positive and one negative.

  • The negative reason is that to do lists have an irresistible tendency to expand. This destroys real focus. I have taken “catch all” systems about as far as I can with AF and FV systems, but I’ve still never really succeeded in solving this problem with them.
  • The positive reason is that a “No List” system has a remarkable effect on one’s mind, creativity and motivation.

A “catch all” to do list typically gets longer and longer, and even if it does level off it will still contain considerably more work than can be done in a day. The person using the list will typically lack focus and will not be progressing anything like as fast or as consistently as they would wish. This type of list may produce an illusion of work being done because a large number of tasks get actioned, but frequently all that’s really happening is that a lot of trivia is getting processed . As I say in the book, the ever-expanding list “refers to a never-never land where you magically get time to do all this work”

By contrast, the person working a “no list” system will quickly find that they quickly get into a routine. This routine can be consciously altered so that it works better and better, thus getting the routine work out of the way quickly. This then leaves more time for the important work. The “no list” user finds it easier to concentrate on a few key projects at a time, rather than diffuse their effort across multiple projects of varying importance.

So in the one case the result is haphazard working coupled with diffuse focus and intermittent effort. In the other case the result is stable work routines coupled with concentrated effort on the key priorities. Which to go for?

Reader Comments (4)

Mark,

I have used the 5T system on and off. I am finding I use when I have a lot of tasks and projects that have become urgent. I intend to use it all of today to clear some really urgent actions. Then when I have done that I tend to use a catch all list with the randomiser system. I certainly churn through items using that system (and you can substitute AF or FV) but as you say potential workload always outweighs available time and I always get behind and deadlines rush up at me and I go back to 5T. So I think I need to use it all the time and trust 5T with one eye on diary and commitments with timescales. I have shared some of the concerns of some others that something important will slip through the net but in reality 5T is actually less stressful as you know you have spent your limited amount of time on the most important tasks.
February 5, 2016 at 10:23 | Unregistered Commenterskeg
skeg:

Thanks for sharing your experiences with 5T.

One of the things I've found with "no list" systems is that it's important to use them consistently, otherwise one doesn't build up the routines that go a long way towards removing the fear that "I've missed something important".
February 5, 2016 at 12:48 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
"The negative reason is that to do lists have an irresistible tendency to expand. This destroys real focus. I have taken “catch all” systems about as far as I can with AF and FV systems, but I’ve still never really succeeded in solving this problem with them. The positive reason is that a “No List” system has a remarkable effect on one’s mind, creativity and motivation." MF

I do agree. Since AF1 I use lists. In dispite of this, I noticed on one hand that they let me feel comfortable knowing that mainly all what I do, think or plan is on it. GTD works idem on the same principle. Except that it "cuts lists" for something more or less manageable and grouping them in project to focus on each of them at a certain time. List a for me a kind of necessity not to forget my activities. Worst of all a spend a very long time reading these list. I wonder now if it is not terrible waste of time.

A few month ago I was at a notary office. I noticed that he had on his desk a little pile of paper sheets. I could not see it closely but since I wonder if the basic Idea would not be to put on paper sheets each projects, or even on a notebook and list things as they come. Then taking each of them and do things.

I never really catch with daily list (closed or open). I notice than when I wake up in the morning I have often a precise idea about what I must do during the day. It is often 1 or 3 things but not more. I also notice than my most efficient days are not working with list. They are the result of a vision about a subject which I so step by step and subject by subject. I can then treat 1 or 2 things before lunch but they are fully treated.

Anyway I am right that lists and list are never really done. Nor by me nor by others. Best results are obtained by doing things that must be done because they are relevant to my goals and immediate results.

Thought ?
February 5, 2016 at 12:59 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
The negative reason is that to do lists have an irresistible tendency to expand. This destroys real focus. I have taken “catch all” systems about as far as I can with AF and FV systems, but I’ve still never really succeeded in solving this problem with them. The positive reason is that a “No List” system has a remarkable effect on one’s mind, creativity and motivation." MF

I have had similar experiences with trying AF, AF4R, FV, and FVP. DIT helped, but my project based work alway fell short. I came across Spinning Plates revised and I am giving that a try. I used it this weekend and was able to finish my taxes, make adjustments to my finances, and get all of my laundry caught up! Things I haven't been able to manage to get myself going on with the other time management systems previously mentioned.
Spinning plates keeps me focused on a select group of activities rather than an ever expanding list with a multitude of tasks to choose from. It also keeps me from taking on too much and I am actually able to make real progress because of this focus. I cannot wait to see how spining plates will turn out this coming work week.
February 8, 2016 at 4:28 | Unregistered CommenterDiana

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