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« A Refinement on "Dot and Do" | Main | The Random Method with Day List »
Friday
Jul152016

A Simple Amendment to the Random Method

The major problem with the Random Method is that as the list gets longer so the maximum time it takes to get to a particular task gets longer too. The result is that some tasks don’t get dealt with as quickly as we need them to be.

However this can be dealt with simply and easily by making one amendment to the rules. I call it “dot and do”.

The amendment allows any task on the list to be done at any time by dotting it and doing it. The dotted task is treated just as if it had been selected by the Randomizer, i.e. the next scan starts from it.

Since tasks treated in this way are normally ones which are coming under time pressure and therefore are forcing themselves on your attention, selecting them does not involve rejecting any other tasks. As a result procrastination is not increased.

I find it useful to mark up in advance the tasks which may come under time pressure. Then at any time I can easily see at a glance if any tasks need to be “dotted and done”. However as far as possible selection should be done by the Randomizer.

The way I mark up these tasks is to mark them with an empty dot, i.e. a small circle. But you of course can use whatever way of marking you prefer.

I’ve been trying this out for the last couple of days and it’s been amazingly successful. I’ve only needed to use “dot and do” a few times, but the ability to do it within the rules removes all the anxiety felt when a task gets overdue.

Reader Comments (15)

Hm, this sounds intriguing! It almost makes me want to play with this system again. :-)

It also gives me an idea: use the special dot to indicate tasks that may come under time pressure., as you indicate. Then when you come to a page with such tasks still unfinished, treat all other tasks as though they are crossed out. This will cause you to "slide" to the time-pressure tasks so they get actioned first. "Normal" tasks can only be actioned after all the time-sensitive ones on that page are actioned.

A possible advantage would be that it takes the element of discretion away at the time of action -- no need to "glance and check" and thus perhaps build up resistance through repeated rejection. (Though it sounds like you are avoiding that effect already.)

Hmm, I am currently investigating something else related to no-list, but maybe I will give this a try just for fun. :-)
July 15, 2016 at 7:22 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim:

I'm still developing this method and intend to write more in tomorrow's post about the way to work with time-sensitive tasks.

However the way you suggest won't work because tasks are marked as time-sensitive as soon as they are written down, usually long before they become overdue.
July 15, 2016 at 8:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<< However the way you suggest won't work because tasks are marked as time-sensitive as soon as they are written down, usually long before they become overdue. >>

Hm, that's exactly why I thought it *would* work. It would have you get started on time-sensitive things before they have a chance to become overdue. When you come to a new page, it would have you work on all those things first (and then probably find some other things for you to do as well, before taking you to the next page).

Anyway, I will be glad to see what else you have to say about it! :-)
July 15, 2016 at 8:22 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Couldn't you implement a rule where somehow a task gets deleted randomly? Sort of a task-list entropy to keep the list short? Complete 1, delete 2! The new random method.
July 15, 2016 at 9:54 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher
Seraphim:

<< It would have you get started on time-sensitive things before they have a chance to become overdue. >>

I wasn't thinking of things like projects due by a certain date. Those would get done in the normal course of things unless you have a very long list (to be avoided!).

I was thinking more of things like "Prepare Lunch", "Pack for Tomorrow's Trip", "Change into Running Kit", "Check Email", "Phone Darren This Evening".

Things that have to be done at a _precise_ time of course should be on your schedule, not in your to-do list.
July 15, 2016 at 10:23 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Christopher:

<< Couldn't you implement a rule where somehow a task gets deleted randomly? Sort of a task-list entropy to keep the list short? >>

I don't think it's necessary to take measures to keep the list short as long as you adhere to the rule that you must be fully committed to taking action on everything on the list.That's my experience so far anyway.
July 15, 2016 at 10:26 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark, I like a lot the Random Method (RM) with this last amendment. For me the no-list method (NLM) was a total disaster.

I am an hospital doctor, so in a day I have: type-A tasks) more urgent and time-sensitive things to do, such as, ward round, checking labs, requesting exams, changing drug therapies, etc); type-B tasks) less urgent and less time-sensitive things, such as checking email, write discharge summaries, various administrative work etc.

Type-A tasks are not rigidly scheduled (for instance, they should be done within the morning, but not a specific time, otherwise they would go in my calendar), although they are usually done before type-B tasks. This because type-B tasks could be not actioned at all in busy day, unlike clinical work (type-A tasks) that need to be done in any case.

As a result, type-B tasks are the ones I usually procrastinate on the most...

Today I have experimented with this new rule.

I have put type-A and type-B tasks together in my 22 rows ruled notebook. Then, I preselected all type-A tasks with an empty dot. Then I used the randomizer just to randomly select one out of the type-A tasks.

After finishing with the type-A, I moved to the type-B working in the usual way, with no resistance at all.

In summary, it worked well, although I had some initial issues with some type-A tasks which require to be performed in order. For instance, in order to change some drug therapies, I first needed to check the day's labs. I sorted out the problem by simply considered the non-actionable task (e.g. changing drug therapy) as a crossed out task, thus performing a slide. As the list was small, this did not cause any particular problem.

I also managed to act quickly on really urgent and unexpected tasks by using the "dot and do" rule, although I used a different symbol (black dot instead of empty dot, used for the type-A tasks).

I will need to work out over the next few days if the effectiveness of the system will fade away with the initial enthusiasm or, as I hope, it will persist.

Mark, thanks a lot for your shared continuous efforts in this
Fabio
July 15, 2016 at 14:57 | Unregistered CommenterFabio
Mark Forster wrote:
<< I wasn't thinking of things like projects due by a certain date. >>

Neither was I. I was thinking of things like you wrote, that need to get done soon—for example, by end of day: "pack for tomorrow's trip", "phone Darren this evening". Other examples: "prepare documents for meeting this afternoon", "work on slides for Tuesday's meeting", "feed the dog".

If some of these items are selected by the random process before they are ready to be done—well, that could happen WITHOUT these new rules, too.

I'm not sure why "check email" would be marked as under time pressure, unless you really need to stay on top of your email several times per day, or maybe are waiting for an important email to arrive. But if that's the case, I don't see why my idea wouldn't work just fine.


<< I don't think it's necessary to take measures to keep the list short as long as you adhere to the rule that you must be fully committed to taking action on everything on the list >>

Maybe this needs to be highlighted as another similarity to no-list: Randomizer does NOT work as a catch-all list.

But then, what do you do with all the incoming stuff that needs to be assessed or processed before you can commit to it? With no-list, I just write stuff like that down on a sheet of paper, and throw it in my inbox with everything else. Or send an email to myself. In other words: I use an inbox as a catch-all. And I use my no-list for engaging with my work and getting things done. I suppose the same thing could be said for Randomizer. But I seem to do a lot more THINKING and ENGAGING with no-list.
July 16, 2016 at 1:28 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim:

<< But then, what do you do with all the incoming stuff that needs to be assessed or processed before you can commit to it? >>

Assessing or processing something IS a task, and therefore can be committed to. I frequently put "thinking" tasks on my list. The action coming out of the thinking though is a separate task (or series of tasks).

What you don't want on the list are things which you shy at when you get to them, like a horse refusing a fence. So the old Autofocus idea of filling the list with everything you can think of and then relying on the dismissal process to sort it all out doesn't work with random methods. Or at least not as I envisage them at the moment. Maybe I'm wrong in that and there should be scope for "refusals".

<< I'm not sure why "check email" would be marked as under time pressure, unless you really need to stay on top of your email several times per day, or maybe are waiting for an important email to arrive. >>

The effect of a randomizer on email is that one day you'd be checking your email three or four times and then maybe not again for a couple of days. If you're happy to do your email like that, then who am I to say that you're wrong?
July 16, 2016 at 8:22 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Fabio:

<< I will need to work out over the next few days if the effectiveness of the system will fade away with the initial enthusiasm or, as I hope, it will persist. >>

Let's hope it does. Adapting systems to your own circumstances as you have done is all part of good process.
July 16, 2016 at 8:27 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<< I don't think it's necessary to take measures to keep the list short as long as you adhere to the rule that you must be fully committed to taking action on everything on the list.That's my experience so far anyway. >>

This comment was a revelation to me. I have always overloaded open lists immediately, even the ones like nuntym's variations of no-list which were supposed to be for one day only lists. I used the dot-and-do random method yesterday with an open list and it remained under control.
July 16, 2016 at 14:24 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Don R:

Remember I'm still experimenting with this, so my advice is see what works for you best.
July 17, 2016 at 7:51 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Did you find that the tasks between the task just finished and the dotted ones suffered, since they didn't get a chance at being selected? Or since it was only one pass, it all worked out just fine?

Artificial example:

Start the day at the top of page 1. Roll 6. Do #6. Realize #57 is urgent. Dot and do #57. Roll 3, so do #60 (57+3=60). End of list, back to page 1. Do a few, maybe up to #28. Realize #59 is urgent, so dot and do.

That's two full passes with no work done on #28 through 57. They didn't even get a chance.

If a problem is lurking in 28-57, you aren't even looking at it for the time it takes to count. (I read the lines quickly while counting, just in case.)
August 10, 2016 at 20:55 | Registered CommenterCricket
Wow! I just read through all of this and the original randomization post, and I'm very excited to try it this weekend.

I've found that, while I typically respond better to "standing out" choices than "question" choices, even "standing out" has its pitfalls. There are some kinds of tasks that always stand out, and others that never stand out. Randomization eliminates this.

I've also had some trouble with "chains," because (it turns out) my perception of an individual task changes when it's grouped with other tasks in a chain. Randomization eliminates context because we are looking at only one task at a time, without any thought or expectation of the next task. Problem solved.

Of course, the proof will be in actually trying it, but I'm hopeful. Thanks!
September 21, 2016 at 17:09 | Unregistered CommenterJulie
This randomized system is exactly what I need right now, which I know I shouldn't be saying when I'm only a mere half-day into using it, but dagnabbit I'm having FUN with it. FUN! Doing tasks! Imagine that!! I think it's partly because I have a beautiful blue sparkly d20 that until yesterday has been sitting on my shelf with nothing to do. I have been so happy to be finally using it, and using it for something awesomely helpful!

My life suits this randomization scheme perfectly, right now: I have plenty of time to do things, and not a lot of urgency. Most of the things I intend to do are important: especially decluttering in many different places, but also some projects I want to work on. But choosing which thing to work on has been hard, even though I know (intellectually, at least) that it would be okay to just do a little bit at a time. And I'm still recovering from working on a dissertation-- well, actually, I've been starting to nearly feel "recovered", which is why I have so many things I feel almost ready to do.

The problem seemed to be that my to-do list was serving only to remind me to feel bad about the things I hadn't done yet, which made me feel like avoiding looking at it. I contemplated trying some new system, some new app, something to freshen things up. I considered the Bullet Journal, but thought it seemed too complicated for what my life is like right now... it did, however, remind me of Autofocus, which I had tried many years ago and eventually found it didn't quite fit what I needed at the time. Since my life is quite different now, I decided to go looking for it... and ended up finding this, nestled in among a myriad other intriguing but too-complicated-for-me ideas.

I also found a lovely pale blue sparkly notebook to use, with 26 lines per page. I decided I'm going to write the date each day to act as a separator, and also jot down some stats for tracking purposes, with blank lines to space this stuff from the actual tasks -- so having 20 as the maximum number on my die seems sufficiently close to the number of tasks on the page, and I think it's all going to work great! (Plus everything's sparkly. That gives it extra magic, right? :P)

So here I am, and although I'm not far into using it, I already want to thank you, Mark, for coming up with so many different ideas that can apply to so many different people's lives. Much kudos for all this! And best wishes in all that you are accomplishing.
September 28, 2016 at 19:52 | Unregistered CommenterQrystal

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