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Back to No-List

After a few days last week trying out Autofocus again with some revised rules, I’m back on a no-list system. After four days the Revised Autofocus didn’t seem quite so successful as it did after the first couple of days.

A few observations:

1) The fact that I had a long list didn’t mean that I actually got anything more done than with a no-list system.

2) In fact I think I did less important stuff because I got led into doing unnecessary things just because they were on the list.

3) After four days I had 76 tasks on my list. This meant that at the end of the test however much I had done, I still had the feeling that I had failed to do 76 things!

4) Contrast that with a no-list system, which at the end of each day gives you a list of things which you have done. You might have one or two tasks you are conscious you didn’t get round to, but it’s easy to put that right the following day.

5) It basically comes down to a choice of a system which accentuates what you have done, or one which accentuates what you haven’t done.

Reader Comments (8)

"2) In fact I think I did less important stuff because I got led into doing unnecessary things just because they were on the list."

This was my main concern with any of the list based systems. They are limiting because they lead to the question "what should I be doing next - from a selection of tasks I earlier thought to be relevant" as opposed to the much more appropriate "what should I be doing next - period."

FV worked very well for me with in a situation with a lot of incoming external commitments, and I'll probably switch back to it when I'm in the same situation again. But nowadays, my actions should be much more strategic and long term, and I found that it was too easy to spend time on just being busy with FV.

I'm using a 1T-5T approach now, and I find myself being much more thorough in answering the question "what should I be doing next." Often, after picking something, I go back to asking myself "no, what should I be really doing next!" There's no excuse to pick an answer from a catch all list, e.g. "I should be doing xyz because I wrote it down earlier, and it compares favorably to other actions on the list." The no-list approach is much more liberating.

I do however keep a work journal, where I write down important achievements, findings or ideas, sometimes even possible actions. This gives some peace of mind and helps to get back on track after longer breaks. But have yet to go back to the journal to figure out what to do next.
March 28, 2016 at 9:16 | Unregistered CommenterEck

Sounds like it's working well for you.
March 28, 2016 at 10:51 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
My biggest fear with the no-list system is that there will be things that eventually need to be done, which I will forget. For example, I run a number of webinars and online courses. With each course, I put up a replay page, which has a dozen of moving parts to get up and running. It may take me several days to get that page done, because although it is important, it is often not urgent compared with my other work responsibilities. This is a "must do" task, but it is "must do in my first available 4-hour time block" rather than must-do at a predictable time. Since I am currently running a startup, I end up with too many "must do"s across different contexts (finance, marketing, business development) that all WILL get done. But when I'm in "finance mode" for a couple of days, I no longer remember the issues that were top-of-mind when I was analyzing my marketing statistics (marketing being important, but not urgent enough to displace my financial tax prep duties).

Where in your system do you keep mental context when your responsibilities span several areas?
March 29, 2016 at 1:18 | Unregistered CommenterStever Robbins

<< Where in your system do you keep mental context when your responsibilities span several areas? >>

As I say in "Secrets of Productive People" it's perfectly fine to use reminders about things which you need to remember. The point of "no-list" is not to make you rely on your memory for everything, but to prevent the infinite multiplication of things to do which is such a characteristic of to-do lists.

Having said that, our natural knowledge of our work is pretty strong. Did you for instance have to refer to any lists of your responsibilities in order to write this post?

So my answer to your question is in your calendar, in your normal project documentation, and reminder alarms and emails, etc.
March 29, 2016 at 7:36 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
The idea of an accumulating list for things you might forget in a particular context is clear. But this doesn't guarantee against the mind's tricky heuristics for misdirecting your attention to the wrong context in the first place..

I find it helpful to start the day with a quick mind map of my various contexts, to prime the mind before I start to choose tasks.
March 29, 2016 at 9:44 | Registered CommenterWill
Could you share the kinds of reminder lists you have? For the most part, I've been using a catch-all list (AF4) and other than a calendar, I don't have any real reminder systems. So it would be helpful to see how a few of you organize your reminder lists (per project? per person? per type-of-task?)

Curiously, Stever
March 30, 2016 at 2:53 | Unregistered CommenterStever Robbins
Can I ask how you manage several (say 5) projects at one time with a no list system without assigning tasks under a project specific header? If I added up all of the work/tasks I currently have combined there might be 180+ tasks..these tasks aren't imaginary, they're work to do to complete the projects. Cheers
March 30, 2016 at 8:50 | Unregistered CommenterWayne

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