My Latest Book

Product Details

Also available on,, and other Amazons and bookshops worldwide! 

To Think About . . .
If you do not die first, you will have time to do it. If you die before it is done, you don’t need to do it. Russian proverb
My Other Books

Product Details

Product Details

Product Details

The Pathway to Awesomeness

Click to order other recommended books.

Find Us on Facebook Badge

Search This Site
« My Current No-list System | Main | Motivation »

Motivation (continued)

Several people managed to get the right answer to my question yesterday about the factor that caused me to lose my motivation for two of my major daily tasks. The answer was that I had stopped using a “no-list” method while I experimented with a couple of ways of finding an improved “catch-all” system. As soon as I went back to a “no-list” method my motivation came back.

This raises some interesting questions for me. First of all, the no-list method I have come back to isn’t the same as the one that I was using before. So it seems to be the concept of “no-list” that provides motivation rather than any one specific method. I’ve already remarked several times that “no-list” methods seem to be interchangeable. If you use one method one day and a different one the next it doesn’t seem to really matter. Just pick the one that suits you best that day.

But the really important question is “Why does a no-list method provide motivation”? I think there are two reasons:

First, a no-list method forces you to keep asking “What should I be doing next?” and then makes you commit to doing it immediately. You have no list to guide you so you have to rely on the resources of your own mind. Using questioning as a method of accessing your inner resources is very powerful.

Second, this questioning also results in the building up of routines that work. Neural pathways are being laid down in your mind which make it easy for you to find your way in most situations.

If you look at these two reasons you can see that motivation is largely a matter of habit. Once you have laid down a habit then it becomes easier to carry out that habit than not to.

I was exercising every day because I’d got into the habit of doing that. But it’s important to realise that the habit includes a lot more than just running or going to the gym. It’s a whole sequence of actions, which starts from the time I go to bed the night before, what I do when I get up, what activities I do before exercising and what I do when I’ve finished. If any one part of that sequence is disrupted then it’s easy to go off in the wrong direction.

The same applies to writing a daily blog post. It’s not just a matter of writing. There’s collecting ideas for future subjects, researching, writing successive drafts, adding links and tags, and starting the sequence for the next day’s blog post.

No-list suits this because your mind is free to run in the well-established pattern.

But throw in a “catch-all” list and suddenly one is back to a more or less random sequence. That’s what happened to me. The habits I’d built up collapsed and my motivation disappeared.


Reader Comments (4)

Hi Mark,

Just a quick response...I agree with many of your comments. I think a long to do list can interfere and scramble up habits and routines. Looking at a list of options can work against natural habit anchors and triggers. (I have done a Tiny Habits Masterclass course with BJ Fogg and Linda Fogg - Phillips, so know quite a lot about habit formation). Anyway, I'm back to a maximum 4 item list with a whiteboard overview of my commitments, organised a little like a Kanban board though not strictly one. (Inventory, Important, Urgent / Important / Archive (2016). I call it a 4 x 4 system.
May 8, 2016 at 21:46 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
Hi, Mark.
During the last month I was on a similar path: I discovered that the catch-all list is great for capturing everything that goes on your radar, but works against attention and focus. I'm coming to a method that, for me, gets the best of the two approaches, using reminders on Google Calendar (and Inbox). During my weekly review I distribute my reminders through the days and hours of the week. When I'm done with the weekly review, I have several "small list" waiting on my calendar to pop up. It's like having a secretary that shows you different small list on certain times and places. Maybe It lacks the "What I should be doing next", since in an ideal landscape, you organize your entire week in advance, but it gets some balance from the fact that you always have to take in account the randomness and changes day to day. And over all those ideas, the best thing is that I get to the importance of routines too. I think that this is the cornerstone of a productivity method that works for me.
May 9, 2016 at 15:45 | Unregistered CommenterPablo
Omg. This is brilliant. A fantastic exploration of how the mind works and more importantly how to build neural pathways that 'sustain' our productivity habits and routines.
@Mark: Please write more about no-list system. It always seems to excite me.
October 8, 2018 at 19:42 | Unregistered CommenterSathyan

At the moment I'm writing about Problems of Time Management, but I'll see if I can fit one in about No List.
October 9, 2018 at 18:11 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.