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« A Variation on My Current No-List System | Main | Motivation (continued) »
Monday
May092016

My Current No-list System

Following on from yesterday’s post, where I described the fact that I had gone back to using a no-list method, I though it might be useful to describe in more detail exactly what I am using at the moment. This is one of the no-list methods which I have most often used in the past and it is a good example of the genre.

Unlike some no-list methods this only allows new tasks onto the list by doing them. You write the task down and immediately start work on it. There is no buffer.

The easiest way to explain it is by giving an example:

You decide to do email as your first task so write it down thus:

Email

You work on your email, but before you finish it decide to take a break from it and tidy your office. You cross out and re-enter Email and write Tidy as the next task:

Email

Email

Tidy

You decide to take a break from tidying, so cross it out and re-enter it.

Email

Email

Tidy

Tidy

Now here is a very important rule - Before you can enter a new task, you must take action on any active tasks before the last crossing out. In this case there is only one: Email. So you go back and work on Email. Again you don’t finish the task so you re-enter it.

Email

Email

Tidy

Tidy

Email

Now there are no active tasks before the last crossing out, so you enter a new task.

Email

Email

Tidy

Tidy

Email

Write Report

Remember that new tasks are always actioned immediately after they are entered. So you work on it for a bit and then re-enter it.

Email

Email

Tidy

Tidy

Email

Write Report

Write Report

OK, bearing in mind the rules I have given you (have another look at them if you’re not sure), what are you going to do next?

A. Work on Tidy, re-enter it if necessary, then enter and work on a new task?

B. Work on Tidy and Email, re-enter them as necessary, then enter and work on a new task?

C. Work on Tidy, Email and Write Report, re-enter them as necessary, then enter and work on a new task?

D. Keep working on Tidy, Email and Write Report and re-entering them until you have finished them, and then enter and work on a new task?

(Answer at the end of the article)

 

This method is far easier to action than to explain. In fact if you find it complicated to work, then you’re doing it wrong!

A couple of observations:

  1. Be clear how you define when a task is finished so it doesn’t hang around on the list unnecessarily.
  2. The number of active tasks on the list is flexible and depends on how many tasks you have re-entered. If you don’t re-enter any then the length will be one task at a time.

I’ve found the characteristics of the method to be:

  • Fast
  • Effective
  • Flexible
  • Thorough

Who could ask for anything more than that?

 

 

 

ANSWER TO QUESTION

The correct answer is B. Tidy and Email are active tasks before the last crossing out and so must be actioned before entering a new task. Write Report is after the last crossing-out so is not actioned at this stage.

Reader Comments (18)

Nice! Beginning at once.
May 10, 2016 at 4:37 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
Michael B.

Let us know how you get on.
May 10, 2016 at 8:55 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark,

This looks good.

I'll give it a try as a change from the 3/1 hammer I've been using of late. Couple of questions:

As I read the examples, not only are you not allowed to enter a new task if open tasks remain above the last crossing out: you are not allowed to work on a task below the last crossing out until all tasks above are worked on. Is this right?

Further, do you always work the open tasks in order, top down, as you did in the example?
May 10, 2016 at 9:35 | Registered CommenterWill
Looks interesting as it seems to be a no list with an element of momentum for items within it. I have about 10 items which I want to complete or at least get substantially underway today and they will all take about 30 to 60 mins to complete. So intended to rotate on 15 minute basis as per Get Everything Done but when saw this thought I would give it a try. Been at it since 7.30 so 3 hours in. Very early thoughts:

1. outwith the 10 items, email is a recurring item but this system "tells" me when to spend some time on it rather than let me get distracted by it whenever I am at computer.
2. sits great with little and often. if you know you are going back to something soon you can work through list, not get stale on one task but knowing it won't be long to get back to it.
3. because I had a list of 10 items before I started the system I am obviously referring to that when I want to bring a new task in but its not a catch all list, more what needs to be done today or in next couple of days, and comes from my lists of projects, commitments etc. I don't see any conflict with referring to that list when using this system.

early days but so far its fun! (not a word I would have expected to be using when I made the list up last night before leaving work)
May 10, 2016 at 10:37 | Unregistered Commenterskeg
Thanks Marc
- you keep me busy by frequently questioning my current system and by trying out your new approaches... ;-)

You wrote:
<<Now here is a very important rule - Before you can enter a new task, you must take action on any active tasks before the last crossing out. In this case there is only one: Email.>>

I tried it since this morning. Probably I'm narrow-minded in this regard, but what, when there is one / or only a few Tasks left which I definitely can't be doing NOW (e.g. started a Task at work, which can only be finished at home; or started a Task, but I need to consult a colleague who is currently not available). So, sticking 100% to the rules I can't beginn a new Task, right? IMHO it should be allowed to skip tasks which are not possible to do and start the new Task without worry :-)

How do you suggest to handle repeating Tasks:
I do email according to the "Do-it-tomorrow" rules. So, would you reenter "email", even if emails from yesterday are done?
Do you reenter "tidy desk" even if it's tidy, but you know tomorrow there will/could be a mess?
Do you reenter "take high blood pressure pills", even if you had taken the one for today?
For the last example (pill):
a/ if you reenter and forget that you had taken the pill already, there will be a chance that you take a second one, what I don't recommend ;-)
b/ if you not reenter there will be a chance that you forget it the next day
May 10, 2016 at 11:59 | Unregistered CommenterJens
Will:

<< As I read the examples, not only are you not allowed to enter a new task if open tasks remain above the last crossing out: you are not allowed to work on a task below the last crossing out until all tasks above are worked on. Is this right? >>

Not only that, but you are not allowed to work on a task below the last crossing out until you have entered a new task and worked on it.

<< Further, do you always work the open tasks in order, top down, as you did in the example? >>

The order of working tasks is:

1. Tasks before the last crossing out in order.
2. A new task.
3. Repeat 1 and 2.
May 10, 2016 at 15:29 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Jens:

<< Probably I'm narrow-minded in this regard, but what, when there is one / or only a few Tasks left which I definitely can't be doing NOW (e.g. started a Task at work, which can only be finished at home; or started a Task, but I need to consult a colleague who is currently not available). So, sticking 100% to the rules I can't beginn a new Task, right? IMHO it should be allowed to skip tasks which are not possible to do and start the new Task without worry :-) >>

Once you've done as much work on a task as you can at the present time, you take it off the list.

<< I do email according to the "Do-it-tomorrow" rules. So, would you reenter "email", even if emails from yesterday are done? >>

Whatever rules you are using Email should be taken of the list as soon as you have done all the outstanding email. The next time you want to work on your email it should be entered as a new task.

<< Do you reenter "tidy desk" even if it's tidy, but you know tomorrow there will/could be a mess? >>

No. You put it back on the list again tomorrow as a new task.

<< Do you reenter "take high blood pressure pills", even if you had taken the one for today? >>

As above.

<< a/ if you reenter and forget that you had taken the pill already, there will be a chance that you take a second one, what I don't recommend ;-)
b/ if you not reenter there will be a chance that you forget it the next day >>

You shouldn't be relying on a to-do list for something as important as this. You need to find some means of checking whether you have taken your pill. The method I recommend is to measure out a week's work of pills and use an alarm or nudgemail, etc., to remind you to check whether you have taken your pill. All you have to do then is count the pills.
May 10, 2016 at 15:47 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks Mark, so far I'm loving this method! Just getting onto my 11th task today...
May 10, 2016 at 16:06 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
Further to my post this morning a 4pm update. Have completed 4 of the 10 tasks I had set myself (see earlier post for why I have 10 tasks). On top of email which wasn't one of my listed tasks. 3 other tasks started. Lost a couple of hours to a meeting that was only meant to last an hour. However I feel that I have used the available time to the best of my abilities on the most important issues and whilst there is always more to do that is a very good feeling!

Mark, a question as its a no list presumably I tear it up before I leave the office and start a new one tomorrow?
May 10, 2016 at 16:16 | Unregistered Commenterskeg
skeg:

<< as its a no list presumably I tear it up before I leave the office and start a new one tomorrow? >>

Yes, though frequently I find that as it gets closer to finishing time I tend to select shorter tasks with the result that there's nothing on the list anyway at the end of the day.
May 10, 2016 at 17:29 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
One day isn't much to go on (yet) but I got a lot done by working on the same things so frequently, worked on some important large projects as well, mostly had one or two tasks on my list most of the time. That fact is pretty amazing actually. Most systems I am all over the place and just do a little bit on too many things. I also tend to do 90% of things and then leave them until never to finish but with this I would keep following up until it was really done.
May 11, 2016 at 3:01 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Don R:

"Most systems I am all over the place and just do a little bit on too many things. I also tend to do 90% of things and then leave them until never to finish but with this I would keep following up until it was really done."


I agree with Don R. The ratcheting effect of this system on unfinished tasks is not only fast and effective, it's slightly addictive. It draws you back at a dynamic but fast pace until those nuts are cracked and your tasks are finished.
May 11, 2016 at 4:06 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
I tried this method for several hours yesterday.
It is easy to get started. I like that you start with one task, and the list goes on organically, but the open items do not grow large.
However, I didn't prepare as much for some meetings that I had later that day. I think this method would work well if I had an afternoon to myself with no time obligations looming.
I read over my catch-all list, and there are items that I wrote down that I would not remember making a list like this.
Could one use a dynamic list with this? Such as "prepare for such and such meeting"?
What about urgent matters that one might neglect if one uses a list like this?
I have tried several of the no-list methods, but I feel the need to access other lists, calendar, etc. Could they be used as a feeder for the no-lists?

Mark H.


I
May 12, 2016 at 16:24 | Unregistered CommenterMark H.
Mark H

<< However, I didn't prepare as much for some meetings that I had later that day. >>

Why not? Was there a reason you didn't have "Prepare meetings" as one of your tasks?

<< I think this method would work well if I had an afternoon to myself with no time obligations looming. >>

I don't understand why you feel you need a whole afternoon. This method deals with urgent things very well.

<< I read over my catch-all list, and there are items that I wrote down that I would not remember making a list like this. >>

It's a mistake to use a catch-all list along with this sort of list because it inhibits you from using your mind to decide what is most important.

<< Could one use a dynamic list with this? Such as "prepare for such and such meeting"? >>

Yes, of course.

<< What about urgent matters that one might neglect if one uses a list like this? >>

Why would you neglect them? If they are urgent they will surely be matters of concern to you and be on your mind.

<< I have tried several of the no-list methods, but I feel the need to access other lists, calendar, etc. Could they be used as a feeder for the no-lists? >>

Reminders of things which you have to do on or by a specific time are fine. But if you are going to use a catch-all list to feed a no-list, then you'd do better using a catch-all system.
May 12, 2016 at 17:26 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark H. wrote:
<< I have tried several of the no-list methods, but I feel the need to access other lists, calendar, etc. Could they be used as a feeder for the no-lists? >>

I don't think it's useful to treat them as "feeder lists".

Instead, for the general reminders you are describing, I've usually just started a Dynamic List for "Reminders", and every now and then, I check that list and take care of one or two things.

Here is how it works in practice:
1. I keep my Reminders Dynamic List on my whiteboard together with other Dynamic Lists and the No-List. During the course of the day, it catches my eye. Or I start getting the niggling feeling that I am forgetting something.
2. So, I write "Reminders" on my No-List.
3. Unless something else on the No-List is more pressing, I go check the Reminders Dynamic List. Maybe I do nothing with them. Maybe I take care of one or two things. If several items have accumulated, I usually try to blast through the whole thing so those items stop niggling at my unconscious.

Usually by end of day, all the items on the list are done. Or I've entered them into my calendar for future tickling. Occasionally I'll carry forward the Dynamic List to the next day.

Putting it on the whiteboard ensures that it stays short and current -- there isn't room for it to grow into an accumulation list.
May 12, 2016 at 17:35 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Thanks for the comments. I like the dynamic reminder list. I think that will keep the Urgent matters returning to my attention.
Mark h.
May 12, 2016 at 18:49 | Unregistered CommenterMark h
I disagree with Mark about using a catch-all as a feeder, but do agree that it can cause problems, if it's read too often.

My catch-all is a safety net. If I don't look at it, then I don't really have a safety-net, and things get missed. (Or, just as bad, I worry about things being missed, which throws off my focus and affects everything else.)

However, I only look at it when choosing my top tasks for the day, or even less often. Is there anything there that should be done before my next planning session? Occasionally, Is there anything that I've been putting off too long?

Looking at it more often than that is a waste of time, and gives too much power to the things I shouldn't be doing.

As ideas get old, I weed them out.
May 16, 2016 at 19:29 | Registered CommenterCricket
Cricket;

<< I disagree with Mark about using a catch-all as a feeder, but do agree that it can cause problems, if it's read too often. >>

There isn't any problem using a catch-all list as a feeder so long as you realize that means you are working a catch-all system rather than a no-list system. Many people prefer catch-all systems and that's fine.

However you can't expect to get the benefits of using a no-list system, which are to a large extent psychological.
May 16, 2016 at 20:27 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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