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« Some Ways I Use Evernote's Features - Part 1 | Main | How to Set Up Routines »

The Next Hour of Your Life

When we think about managing our time we tend to think in terms of what we are going to do in a day or a week or a month.

But in fact one of the most useful units of time for time management purposes is the hour. If you focus on what you are going to achieve during the next hour you will have a much closer focus.

Hence one of the simplest of all task management systems is to write down what you intend to do over the next hour, and then to do it. There’s no need to time this exactly to the minute. We’re talking about a period of time in the region of an hour.

Over the last few days I’ve been experimenting with some ways of doing this and it’s been working really well for me. The rules I’ve standardised on have been:

  1. Start the day by writing a list of what you intend to do over the next hour
  2. Do the tasks in order
  3. Top up the list at intervals as you go along so it always contains about one hour’s work (there’s no need to be too exact about this).
  4. There’s no specific provision for re-entering unfinished or recurring tasks. You can just add them as and when you want to, remembering to keep within the limit of an hour’s work.
  5. Non-discretionary work such as appointments and meetings do not count towards the hour, e.g. if you’re going to a two-hour meeting you can put tasks on your list for when it finishes.
  6. Finish the day by completing every task remaining.
  7. Basically aim to do the tasks in the order you’ve written them down, but if you have a good reason to adjust the order or add or remove tasks out of sequence feel free to do so.

Contrary to my normal preference, this is best done electronically. I’m currently using putting each day’s list on a note in Evernote with tick boxes. Evernote has the advantage that I can access the list on the web, on my desktop and on my SmartPhone, whichever is most convenient at the time.

You can really get a lot of work done with this. Here is my actual list for today (Friday) - not a copy, it’s the actual list I am using. (I’ve disguised some items for reasons of privacy). As I write this the list is still incomplete, but it will update automatically as I work on it so you will be seeing the complete version. “Prepare Box Hill” includes a three hours absence in the afternoon doing hill running and walking. By the way “Box Hill” is the name of some local hilly country, not some new-fangled form of exercise! This is the country I grew up in.

If I’d been presented with a list 49 items long at the beginning of the day I wouldn’t have had a hope of finishing it. But writing a few tasks at a time and doing a few tasks at a time gradually adds up to what you see.

Reader Comments (16)

Go to Bed>>

The man slays Nosferatu, and then goes to bed.

Now that's what I call a productive day!
July 2, 2016 at 16:10 | Registered Commenteravrum

I've never been quite the same since visiting Transylvania in May.
July 2, 2016 at 18:16 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Oh wow. This morning I was wondering what would happen if you change nuntym's question of "what am I sure to do today" to "what am I sure to do this hour". This sounds like a fluid version of that. Sounds pretty useful.
July 2, 2016 at 21:11 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Don R:

It's worked pretty well for me today as well.
July 2, 2016 at 23:33 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark Forster, thank you, this feels promising, I have difficulty in make, stick to longer range schedules. Yet no issues in focus in on the moment, get something done. Am testing this today. One question.

question about step 3

"Top up the list at intervals as you go along so it always contains about one hour’s work (there’s no need to be too exact about this)."

If I had 4 tasks ABCD each 15 minutes, I would start with: A B C D on list. Correct?

Then, would I top up with 4 more 15 tasks E F G H (or any 1 hour total) after A B C D was done?
Or, would I top up with E, after A was done, so that my new list was B C D E?

Top up at hour done chunks or always keep a rolling ~1 hour of tasks on my list?
July 3, 2016 at 20:34 | Registered CommentermatthewS
I think Mark had to slay Nosferatu before going to bed - how could anyone sleep soundly knowing that Nosferatu is lurking around?
July 4, 2016 at 0:08 | Unregistered CommenterEric
Though after Mark's visit to Transilvania...

Mark, I'd just like you to know that I am heavily self medicating on garlic tablets.

Just in case I ever happen to be in the region of Box Hill...
July 4, 2016 at 10:34 | Registered CommenterWill

<< Just in case I ever happen to be in the region of Box Hill... >>

Don't worry. Nosferatu is the title of F.W. Murnau's famous silent movie in which the vampire is loosed on Germany, not England.

I did however visit Bran Castle ( ) which belonged to the 15th Century Prince of Wallachia, Vlad Drăculea, known as Țepeș (the Impaler) after whom Bram Stoker named his character Count Dracula. I also had dinner in the house in which he was born ( ).

So you see, no need to worry.

I must stop writing now. The sun's just come out and the light is hurting my eyes...
July 4, 2016 at 11:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, having grown up in Johnstown PA, home of the most famous flood, a town who had the audacity to call itself the Flood Free City until we got 14 inches of rain in a 24 hour period in 1977 - I sympathize with your watery plight. May you be dry soon.

I think Matthews's question about when to replenish your list may have gotten lost in the Nosferatu comments - I am keen to know that answer also when you have the time to respond.
July 5, 2016 at 17:07 | Unregistered CommenterEric

Thanks to Eric for pointing out that I'd missed this comment.

<< Top up at hour done chunks or always keep a rolling ~1 hour of tasks on my list? >>

The way I've been doing it is to keep more or less one hour's worth of tasks on the list at all times, but I deliberately haven't been too exact about this.

I haven't tested topping up a whole hour at one time so you might like to give it a try and see how it works.
July 6, 2016 at 11:18 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Do you use this rolling one hour with no-list FVP
July 7, 2016 at 15:15 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Jane
Sarah Jane:

<< Do you use this rolling one hour with no-list FVP >>

No, it would not be possible because the "chain" in no-list FVP is not fixed in length.
July 7, 2016 at 15:51 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I really like this method. I've used it in the past when I am under time pressure and only have an hour free, but using it for every (well, most) hours of the day really helps to concentrate the mind!

I've been experimenting with different methods of how to choose which tasks to write down for the hour and come up with the following:

* Free flow - just write whatever I can think of at the start of the hour and get on with them in any order
* 6 Tasks Random - write down 6 tasks and use a dice to choose the order they are done in
* 4 Tasks Equal - do a strict 15 minutes on each task (I find 15 minutes a good unit of time to work for)
* 3 Task 'Menu' - choose a 'starter' (quick and easy task), 'main course' (more in-depth tasks and project work) and a dessert (something I enjoy doing) and do them in that order
* Double Time - Spend 5 mins on every task, cross out the ones that are completed then spend 10 minutes on all the tasks that are left, then 20 minutes on any that are still left etc

At the end of every hour I always start afresh with a new list, but I often recycle unfinished tasks into the next hour.

Thank you for such a simple, but brilliant idea!
July 16, 2016 at 16:28 | Unregistered CommenterDAZ

Some good creative ideas there. I'm currently experimenting with using a Randomizer with it.
July 17, 2016 at 7:47 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Just a feet back about the method
1) I find it more effective on my spiral paper note book than with evernote (I use for projetct grouped by area of responsability). There is a real sense of control despite of the activities.
2) I is very adictive with me. It reminds me the AF1 feeling.
3) There is a great control of information and it is perfect for visionning. I felt overwhelmed with FVP or AF because I could not see the end of it
4) I found a tip. Create a write column and put on the flow what you dont need to do in the next hour of your life. It can be today or tomorow. Then review when yo can...
5) If something is unfinished and you want to do it in one hour put it at the end of the list.
October 13, 2016 at 13:40 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter

Glad you are enjoying the method. I don't myself like having another list feeding the Hour List because of the importance of questioning yourself about what is necessary. Reminders of stuff you want to do on a specific day/time are fine.
October 13, 2016 at 18:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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