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« The Blank Canvas - Day 2 | Main | The System I'm Going to be Using for This Experiment »
Thursday
Jun022016

The Blank Canvas

Tuesday

Tomorrow is a blank canvas. I have no set plans for it. I have deliberately not made any lists of things I would like to achieve that day, this week, this month, indeed at all. I want to see what emerges from the consistent use of a no-list system. Will it be just the same old things? Or, as I hope, will it encourage me to live life to the fullest whatever that means in my case.

Wednesday

10.30 a.m. I got up at 7 a.m. and am already feeling that I’ve done just about everything that needs doing today. I’ve cleared all the backlogs left over from my holiday, done most of the tasks that are outstanding and am wondering what I’m going to do for the rest of the day. This is not the first time I’ve felt this way using a no list system, but I’ve never got this feeling with any other system. With other systems (or none) it always feels as if I’ve got a ton of work to get through and can never get to the end. So now I have got to the end - and am faced with getting through nearly a whole day of nothing. Actually that’s quite scary!

10.30 p.m. Of course in the event I did find plenty to do today - and a lot of it highly significant. At the end of the day I felt I had learned some useful lessons. The first was that today by 10.30 a.m. I had got through all of my usual routines. That part of the day was virtually on autopilot. I did actually note that some of the routines needed improvement. So perhaps tomorrow I shall get through them even quicker.

But for the rest of the day, I didn’t have the well-worn channels that routines provide.  Here there was another lesson - I had to think carefully about what to do. In no-list it becomes painfully obvious if I am wasting my time. The system encourages me to go for the significant things. The problem though was to identify what the significant things were that I should have been going for. I think I will be better at doing that tomorrow, especially as I have less time available and therefore will need to concentrate my efforts more.

Reader Comments (12)

Thanks, Mark.

I'm interested in what you did in the first three hours and how you identified and cleared your backlogs.
June 2, 2016 at 11:51 | Registered CommenterWill
I note that if you had a project you estimated would take 3 hours, and chose to start that first hing,alongside other stuff, you likely wouldn't have that project complete, nor your list clear at 10:30. This leads me to surmise that you deliberately focused on routine work when making your initial list, because you knew it needed doing, and following this strategy leaves cleaner feeling day. Well perhaps today you just didn't have projects, but in general?
June 2, 2016 at 16:14 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Mark - I noticed something similar to what Alan Baljeu wrote. Many time-management authors advocate starting your day with the hardest, most important, most significant thing -- so you focus on this when you are freshest and most alert, and so you always get something significant done every day. You advocate this in DIT, too, with the Current Initiative being the first thing to be done every day.

Obviously you aren't doing that here, and I've noticed some writers are now advocating clearing your inbox first thing (e.g., Tony Hsieh of Zappos).

Over the past few years, I found it works best for me, too, to start with the routines. The routine work must be kept up. If it falls behind, it causes everything else to come to a grinding halt, creating all sorts of chaos in the process.

Another advantage of starting with the routines is that it helps me get primed for the day -- refamiliarizing myself with current work, deadlines, appointments, etc.

Did no-list naturally lead you in this direction, or was it a conscious choice to clear your routine work for the day before focusing on projects?
June 2, 2016 at 16:28 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Remember that Mark is retired, so one could surmise that he had no time-consuming must-do major project to tackle on Wednesday. A lot of his recent advice seems better suited to a retired or self-employed entrepreneur than to an office worker with frequent report-to-management responsibilities.
June 2, 2016 at 17:51 | Registered Commenterubi
Will:

<< I'm interested in what you did in the first three hours and how you identified and cleared your backlogs. >>

Well, what sort of backlogs does one get when one comes back from holiday? Usually a lot of email, paper, voicemail to clear. If you were up to date with your projects when you went away on holiday and made allowance for the holiday when scheduling your work, you shouldn't have any project backlogs on return.

How do you identify a backlog? It looks like a load of emails, paper, etc which is more than one day behind.
June 3, 2016 at 1:28 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Alan Baljeu:

<< This leads me to surmise that you deliberately focused on routine work when making your initial list, >>

There is no initial list. I just do what needs doing one task at a time.
June 3, 2016 at 1:30 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Seraphim:

<< Did no-list naturally lead you in this direction, or was it a conscious choice to clear your routine work for the day before focusing on projects? >>

My first priority was to get rid of the backlogs of email, etc, which had built up while I was away. My second priority was to deal with the stuff that fell due that day.
June 3, 2016 at 1:33 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
ubi:

<< Remember that Mark is retired, so one could surmise that he had no time-consuming must-do major project to tackle on Wednesday. A lot of his recent advice seems better suited to a retired or self-employed entrepreneur than to an office worker with frequent report-to-management responsibilities. >>

Have you never heard retired people say that they are busier now than they ever were when they were working? And it's much easier to work in the heavily-structured environment of an office than as a self-employed person who has to provide their own structure. I've done both, so I know.
June 3, 2016 at 1:38 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Okay, there's no initial list, but when you choose something to do, is it just the first thing that stands out, or do you weigh different things that come to mind? Like perhaps, you deliberately chose something short over something complex.
June 3, 2016 at 2:45 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

<< Okay, there's no initial list, but when you choose something to do, is it just the first thing that stands out, or do you weigh different things that come to mind? >>

Since there's no list, there's nothing for it to stand out from. But, as I've mentioned in the past, one normally falls into a routine. This is to be encouraged because it means heightened speed and efficiency, but also because the routine can be consciously adjusted to produce the best results.
June 3, 2016 at 8:22 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I think Alan is simply asking how you decide what to do next.

I can imagine how routine guides the activities when you get started for the day, clearing inboxes and, well, routine tasks of that kind. But when all that is out of the way, how do you decide what to do next? How do you choose what to write on your no-list?
June 4, 2016 at 3:10 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim:

<< I can imagine how routine guides the activities when you get started for the day, clearing inboxes and, well, routine tasks of that kind. But when all that is out of the way, how do you decide what to do next? How do you choose what to write on your no-list? >>

I don't know. You just choose. Write something down and do it. If it wasn't a sensible thing to choose that will become glaringly obvious when you read through what you've done that day. Result: hopefully you learn to choose better.
June 4, 2016 at 9:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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