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« Thoughts on the Long List - Accepting that it won't all get done | Main | Thoughts on the Long List - Preliminary - What system to use? »

Thoughts on the Long List - The Panic List

Simple Scanning and other systems are extremely thorough and effective methods of processing a long list, but they do tend to fall down when there is an emergency or other unforeseen (or even foreseen) time pressure. 

In this sort of situation it’s all too easy to get into a state of panic. Personally the time this is most likely to happen to me is when packing for a trip. I hate packing and will put it off until the last possible moment, which unfortunately often turns out to be the last impossible moment. A state of panic usually manifests itself in one of three ways: 

  1. Complete paralysis
  2. Rushing about like a headless chicken
  3. Doing anything other than what you are supposed to be doing

What is required is to re-establish a sense of purpose and at the same time to get yourself moving in the right direction. The tool to use here is the Panic List.

Here’s how it works:

1) Abandon your main list for the time being

2) Take a separate sheet of paper and start to list all the things you have to do before the deadline. Make each action as small as possible.

3) After you’ve written three or four items, scan up from the bottom of the list and select one thing to get working on now

4) Keep adding to the list as things occur to you

5) Each time you finish an item scan again from the bottom of the list to select the next item

6) Keep at it until there are no more things you have to do

This is an extremely effective way of actioning a lot of stuff in a limited period of time. It will work in any situation in which you have a finite amount of things to do and a limited amount of time in which to do them.

Typical situations where this could be used: 

  • Packing for a trip
  • Preparing for a meeting
  • When something urgent comes up unexpectedly
  • Meeting a deadline when you are behind with your work 

Don’t be tempted though to try to use it outside this type of situation. Without the limiting factors you will quickly end up with a very long list which is not being processed efficiently.

Reader Comments (4)

Packing, oh yes. The morning of the trip is a good time to check the expiry dates of all the medicine in the box. Honest. Then I panic over what to bring for the drive -- which book(s), simple or complicated knitting, which snacks I'd like.

My master packing list has saved our sanity many times, except for the medicine box and my in-car bag. It has both bathing suit and winter boots, since it's easier to maintain a single list. When small, the kids had to show us each thing, and explain any changes they made.

I also have a bag for each group I'm in. During the week, I throw things in as I think of them. Sometimes more throwing than thinking. Grab that, thermos, cell phone, purse, keys, and go. No panic.

For deadlines, I ask myself about the minimum acceptable, and what would happen if I do nothing. It's usually very reassuring. Then I can think about most value for least effort. Sometimes, there is value in the joy of doing something really well. Other times, not so much.
October 6, 2017 at 16:27 | Registered CommenterCricket
This seems to have some similarities to FVP because of the way that lower items can be used in a way that says "I want to do X but first I want/need to do Y." It leaves room for breaking down tasks into subcomponents. I really like this idea of using it only on a new list focused on an emergency.
October 10, 2017 at 13:10 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Hi there,

"3) After you’ve written three or four items, scan up from the bottom of the list and select one thing to get working on now


5) Each time you finish an item scan again from the bottom of the list to select the next item"

Why scan from the bottom of the list?

December 11, 2017 at 11:53 | Unregistered CommenterTony

<< Why scan from the bottom of the list? >>

A lot of the problem with panic lists comes from just exactly because they are produced in a state of panic - time is short, there's lots to do, you can't think of half of it, and your mind refuses to work properly.

If you work from the top of the list you will be starting with the tasks which most easily come to your mind - which therefore you are probably least panicked about. If you start working on one of these all the most panicky tasks will be accumulating at the other end of the list. Not only won't you be taking action on them but your feelings of panic will get in the way of what you are working on.

If on the other hand you start from the bottom of the list you will be be starting with the tasks which have only just occurred to you. They are likely to be the ones about which you are most panicky. Working on them will start to calm your mind.

What's more if you go "Oh my God, I've forgotten all about x", x will get written at the end of the list and will be next in line to be considered for action.

If you are still in doubt about this, try both and see which works best for you.
December 11, 2017 at 15:52 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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