My Latest Book

Product Details

Also available on Amazon.com, Amazon.fr, and other Amazons and bookshops worldwide! 

To Think About . . .
The body is the servant of the mind. It obeys the operations of the mind, whether they be deliberately chosen or automatically expressed. James Allen
My Other Books

Product Details

Product Details

Product Details

Product Details

Click to order other recommended books.

Find Us on Facebook Badge

Search This Site
Log-in
« Random Thoughts on the Random Method | Main | Monthly Newsletter Delayed »
Sunday
Jul102016

A Thought About Procrastination

Over the last months I’ve been doing a whole load of experimentation with no-list methods. More recently I’ve been re-visiting the idea of randomness in time management. And I’ve realised that the two methods have something in common.

The common factor is that they both have a reputation for reducing procrastination.

I started wondering about why this was and I realised that both methods do not involve rejecting tasks.

What do I mean by that?

In most list-based time management systems, whether mine or other people’s, the process of selecting the next task for action involves scanning the list and selecting the task from it. But you’re not just selecting a task; you are also rejecting every task that you scanned before selecting that task. If you have a long to-do list some tasks may end up being rejected scores or even hundreds of times.

My theory is that every time you reject doing a task you increase the amount you are resisting doing that task.

By contrast the selection process in both no-list systems and random systems does not involve rejecting any tasks.

In most no-list systems you make a short list (usually 1-5 items) of what you are going to do and then do them in order. You don’t at any stage scan over any of the tasks and reject them.

In a random system you are simply told what to do by the randomizer. You don’t have to reject anything. The randomizer selects the next task from the list for you.

So the converse of my theory is that the less often you reject a task the less you build up resistance to doing it.

So what sort of system can we design round this? We need a system in which we know what to do next without having to reject any tasks during a selection process.

Here are four ways of achieving this:

  1. By having a boss who tells you what to do all the time
  2. By doing everything on your list in the order you wrote it down
  3. By not having a list but instead just writing down a few tasks at a time and doing them
  4. By having a randomizer select tasks from a list for you

Can you think of other ways of achieving this?

Reader Comments (22)

Mark, I have tried several of the No Lists and they work for me for a short time but I always end up back at the Randomizer system you created. I think this is because I am always worried about forgetting something such as a commitment or a deadline. The randomizer does not address that either but having a list of all commitments allows a quick search every couple of days to see if anything has become urgent. The act of doing what the system "tells me" to do next does not allow resistance to develop as you say. I think its excellent.
July 10, 2016 at 9:50 | Unregistered Commenterskeg
Do It Tomorrow changed my life, so naturally I would go with n°2, slightly rephrased : "By doing everything you wrote on your list the day before, in the order you chose at the end of that day".
July 10, 2016 at 11:55 | Unregistered CommenterViP
Funny thing, lately I have been really stretching myself to try the no- list systems. Right now I"m having a very good experience with the one hour method, but, as Skeg mentioned above, "I"m always worried about forgetting something such as a commitment or a deadline." I've written about that before. I was just thinking this morning of returning to the raondomizer system, which has always been my favourite system.

I've also been reading The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin, and he has some good observations about how memory works and keeping our commitments out of our heads and into external systems. To borrow a phrase that is becoming tiresome, "It's all based on neuroscience." I wonder if part of the value of the random method is in letting us use the list to assist our memory. Unlike Skeg, I've never scanned my random list, I don't use it as a memory jogger or anything, I just know that once an item gets on the list it will eventually get done, and I enter items as they occur to me. Because procrastination is eliminated, the items usually gets done very quickly (because I find the list shrinks both in size and in age). That's a very liberating feeling.
Also, just one more point: One of the values of AF1 (back in the day) was dismissal. Would it help if we brought that back into the picture? I sometimes think of the no-list system as a catch all system with a huge dismissal built into it.
July 10, 2016 at 12:43 | Unregistered CommenterPaul MacNeil
Interesting. I have been combining both no list and randomization with do it tomorrow for the past week with good success. Here's how it works

Rule 1 don't do any task that comes from email that day unless lIt is eally urgent, instead add to a tomorrow list
Rule 2 do no list fvp. Do not refer to Today's list.
Rule 3 when you are ready to do today's list roll the dice to select the first task.
Rule 4 repeat Rule 3 until list is dome or if there is something you want to do more than that, which you add and do on your no list fvp.

I agree that the lack of having to reject a task makes the process have less friction.
July 10, 2016 at 15:08 | Unregistered CommenterVegheadjones
I use the reminder system in Outlook, using Mark's DIT system -- everything that has to be done tomorrow, at no particular time, just gets a reminder the next day. Then I just go through the tasks in whatever order they are in the Outlook list. And when there is something time sensitive, I add a specific time to the reminder, so that it comes up on top at the time when I need to do it. That allows me to both handle the time sensitive things, and still never get involved in choosing or rejecting tasks.
July 10, 2016 at 15:56 | Unregistered Commenterentirelyuseless
VIP:

<< By doing everything you wrote on your list the day before, in the order you chose at the end of that day. >>

Doesn't choosing an order off an existing list involve scanning and rejecting tasks? Or have I misunderstood what you mean?
July 10, 2016 at 19:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Vegheadjones:

I'm not very clear on how you make the jump from No-List FVP to the Random method. Could you explain it in a bit more detail?
July 10, 2016 at 19:07 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
entirelyuseless:

<< I just go through the tasks in whatever order they are in the Outlook list. And when there is something time sensitive, I add a specific time to the reminder, so that it comes up on top at the time when I need to do it. >>

That sounds a good way of doing it. And as you say, it gets things done at the right time without needing to reject anything.
July 10, 2016 at 19:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
skeg:

<< having a list of all commitments allows a quick search every couple of days to see if anything has become urgent >>

Provided you keep your list reasonably short the bias of the Randomizer System towards the older tasks on the list should more or less cope with that anyway.
July 10, 2016 at 19:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Re the 2nd point, there may be exotic ways of how you write things down. For example if your list is in your diary and you pre-schedule every task, then you can write them down in an order other than FIFO (first in, first out). Instead of a diary you could use other "grid-systems". For example GED has this grid: ordered by subject first by duration second.
July 11, 2016 at 1:01 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher
5. By having an non-random (or only partially random) algorithm select the task you should do next.
July 11, 2016 at 3:44 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen
For instance, the algorithm could weight tasks by current day of week, current time of day, task importance and task due date and then select randomly among equally weighted tasks.
July 11, 2016 at 3:49 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen
Kathleen:

I tried to design something on those lines but it became so complicated and needed re-scheduling so often that it became unworkable. Though it would be great if it did work!
July 11, 2016 at 12:41 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<<<< By doing everything you wrote on your list the day before, in the order you chose at the end of that day. >>

Doesn't choosing an order off an existing list involve scanning and rejecting tasks? Or have I misunderstood what you mean? >>

Mark,

Yes it does, but I do it only at the end of the previous day. On the day, I try to follow exactly the order that Yesterday-me decided on.
July 11, 2016 at 12:57 | Unregistered CommenterVincent P.
Hi Mark (et.al)

Here's how, no-FVP, DIT Random works:

I arrive at the office, open my notebook, add today's date and start no list FVP. The first task I write is "Go home :)"

Sooner or later one of the tasks I write is "Do today's list" Today's list is in Outlook and are primarily yesterday's emails, some recurring tasks and worki in progress from previous day's that got moved to today. I use a randomized (3 six sided dice) to work through the outlook list. When I am done (list is cleared) or if there is something I want to do more than this, it is back to no-list FVP.

Hope this makes sense. I like the balance between the two ways of working.. No list FVP gets me to focus on the moment and also on more urgent tasks as well as long-standing projects (These are the things on my mind) and the random DIT list does the rest.

Hope this is clear. Please ask if you have any questions
July 11, 2016 at 13:24 | Unregistered CommenterVegheadjones
Kathleen - Skedpal is essentially trying to do what you are describing. http://www.skedpal.net/
July 11, 2016 at 19:26 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Vegheadjones, that sounds pretty cool. I noticed you use 3d6 (three six sided dice) which gives you a number from 3-18 but in an unequal distribution (for example, "3" appears in only 1 out of 216 rolls). You might want to use a d20 (20 sided die) which gives you 1-20 with equal chance, if it matters.

See the graph at the very bottom of this page: http://gamesandgadgets.org/theblogs/perrol/dice-odds-for-3d6/

You can find them at your local gaming store or search for polyhedral dice sets online (you can often get a set of matching 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 20 -sided dice).
July 11, 2016 at 20:52 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Thanks Don. I'll look into that, but only if I get to be a chaotic good thief (which was my favorite character to play) 🙂
July 11, 2016 at 21:08 | Unregistered CommenterVegheadjones
This article has so much wisdom in it than loads of articles/ books I read elsewhere.
I've been a strong proponent of FVP.
http://1000gratitudes.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/gratitude-33-consistency/

But I stand different now. Thanks to NL-FVP, which I'm currently experimenting.

To be exact, it is Mark's theory on 'that every time you reject doing a task you increase the amount you are resisting doing that task.' - the problem with to-do list, GTD and every other productivity tool/ app made.

I would want to get back to this discussion after I get a strong hold on my current experiment.
September 2, 2016 at 13:43 | Unregistered CommenterSathya
"every time you reject doing a task you increase the amount you are resisting doing that task"

Yes, yes, yes.
Now I finally understand why AF1's effectiveness seemed to break down over time.
Thank you.
September 21, 2016 at 17:18 | Unregistered CommenterJulie
Have been a serial list-maker. However, my recent my experiments in NL-FVP threw some insight into my own workflow.
I have recorded how and why it benefited me here:
http://sathyawrites.com/10-reasons-no-list-system/
Though I'm not sure whether I would continue with this system in the future, it did yield some quite an interesting perspective on my own personal task management systems and processes.
Thanks to Mark for being a fore-runner in such productivity micro-experiments.
December 15, 2016 at 17:16 | Unregistered CommenterSathya
Yes. Change the task item to a time item where the only choice is 5-10 or 20 minutes (or whatever is a minimal amount you believe you can do something and make some progress). Even if you do the lesser amount, you've made progress, thus reducing the buildup of barnacles of resistance.

In other words, every task gets the minimum time regardless, because you as your own "boss" have told you that's how it's going to be. It reminds me of my Grandmother who would say, "Let's just do it a little bit to see what happens" and also your "just get out the file folder" article.
April 18, 2017 at 21:31 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

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):
Post:
 
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.