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« No-List Types - III: Just Do It | Main | No-List Types - I: The Hammer »

No-List Types - II: Entry by Doing

Entry by Doing is a bit different from the Hammer as described in my post yesterday.

In the Hammer a short list of tasks is written (usually five or less) and then the tasks are done.

However in an Entry by Doing method a task can only be entered on the list by actually doing it there and then.

The simplest form of this is where you write the next task you are going to do and then doing it. You then write the next task you are going to do and do that. The effect of writing it down before you do it is to make you think about what you are going to do next rather than drift into it. It’s an aid to focus.

Once a task is on the list it can be re-entered if there is still work to be done. This can be used with a system like Autofocius or FVP to make an active list in which all the tasks are actually in the course of being done.

Reader Comments (4)

This is the type of no-list that I'm currently favoring, it seems to strike a good balance for me of flexibility and follow-through.
April 14, 2016 at 3:45 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Freckleton
<<The simplest form of this is where you write the next task you are going to do and then doing it. You then write the next task you are going to do and do that. The effect of writing it down before you do it is to make you think about what you are going to do next rather than drift into it. It’s an aid to focus.>>

I'm highly in favor of readers giving this method a go, at least temporarily, or as an exercise. Mark often advocates that the reader "find the system that works for her and stick to it." I've worked AF, SF, FV, DIT, RAF, 5T, GTD and probably some others that I'm forgetting. The method above may not be the right one for _anybody_, but it has helped me immensely in determining what my successful system looks like. Let's call it PEBD for Primitive Entry by Doing.

Using PEBD, I've enjoyed a feeling of freedom. Without any nagging outstanding work or recurring tasks on the list, I choose what matters here and now. That could be urgent matters of little import like answering text messages, or important matters with no deadline like "move forward in career". Having absolutely no list means you can do absolutely anything!

I've enjoyed a feeling of progress. In contrast to the above, where I emphasized no uncrossed items awaiting attention, over the course of just a day, it's possible to amass a huge page of crossed-out, _actioned_ items. You don't write your "todo" list, you write your "done" list! Whether your day involved two tasks or 200, you always made progress toward your entire list. The list can't grow out of control. You don't have to answer any complicated questions about dismissal.

Perhaps most importantly, since I stopped populating my list with reminders, I've learned what types of support materials I need. At the end of the day, whatever system we use to enter and scan and choose and dot and work all of our "todo" items is, frankly, bullshit. What we care about is whether we get the "right" things on our "done" list. PEBD helped me improve my process of deciding on a best next action in my current context. I've also improved my process of reminding myself about things that don't naturally grab my attention, but still need to move forward. (Note that this method by no means precludes re-entering an item you worked on earlier in the day).

In summary, this blog serves as a great introduction to the concept of productivity in general. Conversely, it's a terrible conclusion. Start here and don't stop!
November 18, 2017 at 1:13 | Unregistered CommenterVoluntas
Hi Voluntas,

Thanks for the insightful share about your personal use of no-list system, particularly the 'entry by doing/ done list'. Not a month back ago, I almost went full ahead implementing GTD in its full form. This time, I understood it - the systems and the processes (at least that is what I thought) - however as with everyone, I fell off the wagon. I tried to find answers in various forums. Everytime, the response was that 'I' did not implement this part of the system or got that part of the process wrong. It was too much for me. I am NOT here to criticize the GTD, but I guess, not appreciating the evolution of one's mind over the period of time could be detrimental both to one's productivity and the system one's implementing. In that end, I like your take on using to-do list. (And obviously a big thank you to Mark Forster on inventing a variety of systems and offering it to the world - that helps such unfortunately unstable mnds like mine.)

As a last resort, I came to execute AF/ FVP/ SF and its variants. Something about the catch all list was both mesmerizing and at the same time, I could sense something is wrong. Hey! It could also be me! May be my mind simply refuses to accept, like you said, the long list of uncrossed items.

I read about this interesting technique by Coach Tony ( - called first action/ interstitial journaling. I wrote about it here:

Somehow, it reminded me of Mark and I started reading ferverently about 'No-list' system. It has only been a week, as apparent it may seem I came to read this post and your comment. (Thanks to Mark again).

While each of us have their own reasons, for me the biggest one is resistance - to do a task that I know that needs to be done. Unfortunately, I have a scatter brain attention span that I can only work on a task if I am on 'flow'. Both this combined, particularly for a freelance knowledge worker, like me is the biggest deterrent to one's productivity.

I am trying to win over slowly, but steadily. While I started with NL-FVP, I realized I am doing more of 'EBD', similar to 'First action' method, but not that 'anal' as Tony describes it. And I don't use a .txt pad, I now use a homemade index card for the purpose. Sometimes it records the task I am about to do (next action/ first action), sometimes a task that I completed (done list/ anti to-do list), or sometimes a task that I eventually started working (task in progress). Sometimes, I write next tasks, work on the next next task, or in NL-FVP style, the last task (I couldn't make up mind - I told I was scatter brained), but it's sort of working.

3 things are happening:
1. I don't have to carry around the guilt of not doing a list of so many tasks on my list. I do brainstorm occassionally but they are not my to-do list or might-do list. I find that a catch all list is good to have, but a terrible to tool to dictate one's work.
2. The 'collect/ capture all' high is slowly fading away and I seem okay to live WITHOUT capturing all my committments. Two days before, one of my clients reminded that I had send that report. I confessed that I forgot. But it was okay. He forgave me. And I completed the report yesterday, not out of pressure, but out of love for my client :)
3. 'On top of things' is what Mark seems to always aim to achieve in his task management process. I feel like I am on top of things. I have list of 20 crossed tasks on my index card. Yes, out of it, only 5 were "important", but hey who's to judge. There were reasons I get to do it. (like writing this reply, that was not part of any plan/ scheme, but I am doing because it is enriching me as a person. If someone else finds it useful, good too).

I didn't mention that I got to keep up with my habits on meditation, 10 ideas and day journaling consistently. But I guess there could be other reasons to. So for now, I am going to stick a little longer with my no-list system.

Will report back with some more development, hopefully, serving me/ my scatter brain for the better.

Did I thank Mark already! It's ok. Thanks again Mark :)

- Sathya
October 11, 2018 at 15:14 | Unregistered CommenterSathya
This makes me want to go back to No-List. :-)
October 11, 2018 at 23:36 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

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