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« Thoughts on the Long List - The Better Way | Main | Thoughts on the Long List - A Better Way? »
Tuesday
Oct312017

Thoughts on the Long List - A Better Way? (cont.)

Since I left off writing my previous post three days ago, I have been ceaselessly experimenting with the issues raised there.

I’ve come to two major conclusions: 

  1. “Standing out for No” tends to become less effective with time, while “Standing out for Yes” becomes more effective with time. I’m referring to one’s mental receptivity to the results here.
  2. A system based on “Standing out for No” has a major disadvantage compared with “Standing out for Yes”. This is that it is far less sensitive to timing, mood, readiness, alertness, etc. 

And arising out of those two conclusions, there is one further conclusion. Simple Scanning is best done the way I’ve done it up to now.

I’ll be exploring the implications of this in future posts in the Thoughts on the Long List series.

Reader Comments (15)

Mark, years ago, you did some experiments with selecting whatever you are resisting the most. I seem to remember those experiments having similar results. That approach could be useful for getting me to move on the difficult tasks. But it was difficult to sustain over time, since it would always push me to do the exact opposite of what I really wanted to do. I remember feeling like I was always second-guessing myself. At the very least, it was always more mentally challenging than just going with whatever stands out.

Hm, I don't seem to have that reaction with the Random RAF method. I find it easy and fast. Sometimes too fast -- it's not as meditative as "standing out".

I am wondering what the real difference is. The Random methods are not really random, for two reasons. (1) The stuff on the list isn't random. (2) The random selection elicits a particular psychological response -- usually "yes, this is it, let's get going" but sometimes "not now" or "no/delete". It's that psychological response that seems to be key. I wonder what the real difference is between that psychological response and the "standing out" response.

That's what I love about these experiments and this site -- it's a psychological laboratory. :-)
October 31, 2017 at 17:25 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
You are correct about "random" not being truly random for the reasons you list Seraphim. I will add two more reasons.

1) Because of the slide, older actions have more weight
2) Because I sometimes forget if I added what is now a high priority item, I add it again, increasing that item's odds of being selected.
October 31, 2017 at 19:29 | Unregistered Commentervegheadjones
Good additions. The slide also makes it more likely for related tasks to be selected in sequence,
perhaps interspersed with other unrelated items. (Since related items tend to get entered together.)
October 31, 2017 at 19:53 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim & vegheadjones:

And another reason why it's not entirely random is that to achieve that every task on the list would need to have an equal chance of winning on every throw. For that one would need to set the upper limit of the randomizer to the number of tasks on the list (or set it higher and abandon any count which took one beyond the end of the list).
October 31, 2017 at 20:32 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Absolutely Mark, except I don't want each task to have an equal chance, hence I follow your randomizer rules of the upper limit being the number of lines and to allow for slides
October 31, 2017 at 20:34 | Unregistered Commentervegheadjones
Mark -

<< to achieve that every task on the list would need to have an equal chance of winning on every throw >>

Even if each task has an equal chance of being selected, the overall effect would still not be completely random:
(1) The contents of the list are created through the course of doing one's work, capturing tasks and ideas, etc. Presumably this process is not completely random. :-)
(2) There is still a psychological response to the selection. Even with the original randomizer, the response could be to delete the task, or to do it.

And I agree with vegheadjones, the structure of the random selection does have an impact on the results, as well as on the psychological response. For example, the "sliding" effect helps accelerate the sense of completion and progress. It's subtle but real.
November 1, 2017 at 0:01 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Minor quibble: I was confused by the phrases "standing out for no" and "standing out for yes" as neither had any definition. I think I figured it out from rereading the previous article, but just letting you know.

Next, a non-quibble: Could you explain what about the NO version was less effective over time?
November 1, 2017 at 0:12 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
I beg to differ on your points, Mark, and I base this on my own experiences with the modified AF4 detailed here:

http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2690952#item2692348

And Seraphim I have to say that the effect of "Standing out for No" is completely different from our previous experiences with "doing whatever we are resisting the most," but exactly for the same reasons.

Mark, the two points you gave are intimately intertwined: you said that "“Standing out for No” tends to become less effective with time, while “Standing out for Yes” becomes more effective with time." Now it might seem like this because, as I observed while using the modified AF4, one will pick less and less tasks using “Standing out for No” as the day goes by.

But the actual reason for this observation is the complete opposite of your second point: you said "A system based on “Standing out for No” has a major disadvantage compared with “Standing out for Yes”. This is that it is far less sensitive to timing, mood, readiness, alertness, etc." This is absolutely not true, and the proof is your first point: a "Standing out for No" system picks less and less tasks as time goes by because you are resisting more and more tasks as the day progresses. Your intuition is generating more and more resistance as the day goes by because you are running out of resources the further you are into the day: there is less daylight and less time, you are more tired, you have to be more quiet to not disturb those resting, businesses that you need to contact are closing, most of the tasks you have is better done earlier in the day, etc.

In other words, a system based on “Standing out for No” is FAR MORE sensitive to timing, mood, readiness, alertness, etc. compared with “Standing out for Yes”(by the way, another proof for this statement: an item you pick using "Standing out for Yes" will always be one of the things you will pick in a "Standing out for No" system, but this is not true vice-versa). And because of this the first statement is also false: “Standing out for No” in actuality tends to REMAIN EFFECTIVE with time, since you are more inclined to do harder things in the morning where you have more energy, and easier things later in the day.

With these observations, Seraphim, we can safely say that the reasons for the difficulty to sustain "doing whatever we are resisting the most" are exactly the same reasons just discussed: we are running out of resources as we progress throughout the day. But, as you can see, the results are much different from those of a “Standing out for No” system.

Now, how did I come to these conclusions? They come from a perplexity I found while using the modified AF4 I explained above. And it was this: I was dismissing the Closed Lists up to four times in a day, which is very unusual for those who have used vanilla AF4 before. Not only that, but the interval between dismissals was getting shorter as the day progresses. Review of the dismissed items kept on being returned into the list, but I noticed that these reentered tasks usually get acted upon the next day.

Of course the obvious conclusions to these are (1) the modified AF4 is a failure: the dismissal process was working too well for its own good, and AF4 cannot function without a formal dismissal process; and (2) a formal dismissal process based on activity instead of on time cannot work with a “Standing out for No” system. But further analysis of the patterns of dismissal and reentering of dismissed items gave me the further conclusions I discussed about.

So yes the modified AF4 was a successful failure in that it is ultimately ineffective, but it gave me new insights into this new class of systems. I am now on the hunt for a new “Standing out for No” system!
November 1, 2017 at 0:50 | Registered Commenternuntym
Alan Baljeu:

<< I was confused by the phrases "standing out for no" and "standing out for yes" as neither had any definition. I think I figured it out from rereading the previous article, but just letting you know. >>

Yes, it is a continuation of the previous article so the two need to be taken together.

<< Next, a non-quibble: Could you explain what about the NO version was less effective over time? >>

As I said in the article I was referring to one’s mental receptivity to the results.

I have found that the more one practises "standing out" (for YES), the easier it is to get it to work and the more satisfied one is with the results. My problem has always been finding a system which allows standing out to work fully without being restricted by such things as a task's position on the list.

I find the opposite is true with "standing out for no". Because you are supposed to do every task in order UNLESS it stands out you start to increase the number of tasks that you reject as you get more tired. This results eventually in the NOs coming less from intuition than from your conscious mind. This is actually what nuntym experienced (see his comment above) though he puts a different interpretation on it. He may be right for all I know - no doubt both of us will continue experimenting.
November 1, 2017 at 11:27 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
nuntym:

You quoted me as saying "A system based on “Standing out for No” has a major disadvantage compared with “Standing out for Yes”. This is that it is far less sensitive to timing, mood, readiness, alertness, etc."

What I was actually referring to here was that in a long list the rule that you have to do every task in order UNLESS it stands out means that you can't move rapidly to tasks that are more pressing in the way that you can with a "stand out for Yes" system. At one stage I thought I'd found a way round this, but it didn't work out in the end.

You'll find some further comments on your post in my reply to Alan Baljeu above.
November 1, 2017 at 11:33 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark:

"At one stage I thought I'd found a way round this, but it didn't work out in the end."

Curious to know what that way was. I think the randomizer does get you to newer tasks that often do stand out for yes pretty quickly. 

One thing I know for my way of working is I am not an "eat the frog" guy. I like to build up to the more important tasks, randoming through older pages will often give me that effect.
November 1, 2017 at 13:33 | Unregistered Commentervegheadjones
vegheadjones:

<< One thing I know for my way of working is I am not an "eat the frog" guy. I like to build up to the more important tasks, randoming through older pages will often give me that effect. >>

Same goes for me. But simple scanning older pages gives me that effect too.
November 1, 2017 at 14:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark: "What I was actually referring to here was that in a long list the rule that you have to do every task in order UNLESS it stands out means that you can't move rapidly to tasks that are more pressing in the way that you can with a "stand out for Yes" system. At one stage I thought I'd found a way round this, but it didn't work out in the end."

Ah yes in that case I agree with you. A "Standing out for No" system simply cannot work without a way for it to be flexible, that's why I was thinking of combining it with a "Standing out for Yes" process.

Caibre65 gave me an idea in another thread, let me check it out.
November 1, 2017 at 15:09 | Registered Commenternuntym
One way to balance the Standing out for Yes versus No, and ensure that the important things that you don't want to do, have a better chance of getting done, is to work to a ratio (possibly depending on the number of items on your list that you don't want to do).
Tell yourself that for every (say) 2 Yes items, you have to do 1 No item. You can then decide how and when to do these. For example if you start the day doing 2 No items, you know that you can then do 4 Yes items. And if you have already done 4 Yes items, you cannot finish for the day until you have completed 2 No items.
November 2, 2017 at 12:20 | Unregistered CommenterCJ Burley
OK I think I found a good (maybe the best?) way to use "Standing out for no": to kickstart a series of "Standing out for yes" processes, which is the opposite of what I have been doing.
November 4, 2017 at 1:50 | Registered Commenternuntym

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