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« Thoughts on the Long List - High Speed High Volume | Main | Thoughts on the Long List - A Better Way? (cont.) »
Thursday
Nov022017

Thoughts on the Long List - The Better Way

In fact there is a better way than Simple Scanning - a way which meets all the criteria which I mentioned in the preliminary post in the Thoughts on the Long List series with particular emphasis on high speed and high volume:

  • Fast
  • Flexible
  • Comprehensive
  • No resistance
  • Any length of list
  • No pressure to do any particular tasks
  • Relies entirely on intuition, i.e. “standing out” 

I’ve been working on this system for months now trying to get it exactly right. As always when I finally arrive, the answer is very simple.

Getting high speed and high volume is largely a matter of reducing resistance to as close to zero as it’s possible to get, plus having a scanning system which doesn’t get in the way. Once that’s been achieved everything else becomes much easier - because if you’re going to do everything and do it fast the concerns about urgent items, backlogs, unstarted projects, length of the list, etc, just fall away.

You also of course get enormous energy just by the fact that you are on top of things.

More about this soon.

Reader Comments (18)

Great, can't wait. Can I request one thing.

I notice the contents of this blog more or less concentrates on developing a system for the order in which tasks are done.
However, can you cover what should actually go on the task list and why.
e.g. I expect everyone gets tasks in via email. Should some of those tasks generated from email be written in to the task list, or should the task list just contain "do email"?

That processing time of moving the task from email into a list, would no doubt generate some admin time and slow down the system. I imagine the amount of emails and re-writing into a list would take up quite a bit of time over a long period.

The reason I ask is that I have today been trying to action any task directly from the source it arrived to help speed things up. It seems to work well as long as I am ready at that time to do whatever task comes in.

Previously, I might think about it, decide it is a bit difficult and put it down or add it into a list for action later. If instead, I only pick up a task with having the full commitment to actually doing it at that precise time is eliminates resistance for me.

i.e. don't even look at email unless you are absolutely in the right state of mind and ready to do it. This is quite a change to my normal working and quite refreshing.
November 2, 2017 at 12:20 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
@MrBacklog
I recommend two lists: one that is the catch-all list, and the active list that gets slowly but steadily populated from the catch-all list. I currently have areas of focus (some personal, some work-related) and try to have at least one active item from each area. I then circulate along the long list using either a randomized or simple scanning approach, in the spirit of what Mark and others have been discussing recently.

I use an active task "Process email" to rapidly get all tasks out of email into the catch-all list, because this is the lowest-resistance approach that works best for me. I use an active task "Reset" to quickly (~5min) review the tasks in my areas of focus to make sure there is the 1+ active tasks per area.

Using OmniFocus as my catch-all list, this email-to-catch-all list approach works pretty quickly with the MailDrop feature, but I can imagine with a written catch-all list that this might be more tedious...

Would love to hear how others do it!
November 2, 2017 at 12:57 | Unregistered CommenterBernard
Bernard:
That is interesting about -
"I use an active task "Process email" to rapidly get all tasks out of email into the catch-all list"

Can you expand on what you do to actually get the tasks from email into the catch-all list and how long does that take?

I read Michael Linenberger method sometime ago and that advocated moving email into Toodledo task list or Outlook tasks, but I could not see the point of that and it just added processing time of having information in 2 places.
November 2, 2017 at 13:22 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
Mark, you certainly know how to set up a cliffhanger!!
November 2, 2017 at 14:02 | Unregistered Commenterskeg
You're such a tease!
November 2, 2017 at 14:34 | Unregistered Commentereurobubba
MrBacklog:

<< However, can you cover what should actually go on the task list and why. >>

Basically whatever you want to put on it. People's circumstances are so different it's impossible to lay down general rules.

<< I expect everyone gets tasks in via email. Should some of those tasks generated from email be written in to the task list, or should the task list just contain "do email"? >>

Personally I would put every task arising from email on the list. The email itself I would flag so I could find it again quickly.

<< That processing time of moving the task from email into a list, would no doubt generate some admin time and slow down the system. >>

I wouldn't put the task on _a_ list; I would put it on _the_ list.

<< I imagine the amount of emails and re-writing into a list would take up quite a bit of time over a long period. >>

Nothing like as much time as having disorganized emails and tasks would take up.

<< The reason I ask is that I have today been trying to action any task directly from the source it arrived to help speed things up. It seems to work well as long as I am ready at that time to do whatever task comes in. >>

Well, that's the problem right there, isn't it? "as long as I'm ready". If you were always ready to do whatever task comes in you wouldn't need a TM system in the first place.

<< Previously, I might think about it, decide it is a bit difficult and put it down or add it into a list for action later. >>

My aim is to process the emails themselves as quickly as possible. Processing them is as simple as flagging the ones which need action and putting the action itself on the main list. It's not a question of difficulty or resistance. It's a question of efficiency and organisation.

<< don't even look at email unless you are absolutely in the right state of mind and ready to do it. >>

This sounds like a good recipe for never looking at your email!
November 2, 2017 at 16:13 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Bernard:

<< I recommend two lists: one that is the catch-all list, and the active list that gets slowly but steadily populated from the catch-all list.

There's nothing wrong with this, but it's not what I'm talking about in this article. It is about putting everything on one list and getting it all done quickly and without resistance.
November 2, 2017 at 16:20 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark thanks for detailed response.

I still don't get it. I have received about 100 emails this week with various things to do on them. Ranging from a quick 2 minute response to requesting further information from somewhere else, spending 1/2 hour giving some advice, updating some data etc.
If I were to write those action tasks down into the catch all list, it would take quite a bit of admin time to do that. Instead I can work straight through those emails as I'm "ready" to do them.
I just can't see the point of transferring all those action points into a list when there are already there sitting in the email inbox all nicely typed out by the persons who sent them.

I do need a TM system for all the other projects and recurring things that need to be done.
November 2, 2017 at 16:42 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
Mark:
<<Well, that's the problem right there, isn't it? "as long as I'm ready". If you were always ready to do whatever task comes in you wouldn't need a TM system in the first place.>>

I like that comment - would being "ready" to do any task actually then be one of the key features of the perfect TM system?
November 2, 2017 at 17:14 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
MrBacklog:

The way I solved the email issue is bound to my context, where I have to know how much time I spent for which of my n projects (for billing purposes) ...
* depending on the amount of emails, I either have one "process emails" task on my list or one task for each project I'm working on
* generally, when I process emails, tiny stuff gets done immediately, while bigger stuff is put on the list (because I want to know what else is there, otherwise standing out doesn't work for me)
* the threshold for whether something is tiny or not is smaller when I'm working on the general "process emails" task and bigger when I'm working on a project specific version - and really tiny when the mailbox filled up too much for some reason (e.g., vacation or full-day workshops)

I'm very good at forgetting stuff I don't see ... which means that working with multiple lists is difficult for me (I never know what's on the lists I'm currently not looking at). That's why I try to have everything on my one single list (which actually is two lists, one for private stuff and one for work stuff, but that's a context switch I seem to need).

That's how I handle email, you'll have to find out what works for you - your mind might work differently and your context is most likely different (I receive far less emails than you do).
November 2, 2017 at 18:44 | Unregistered CommenterRuth
MrB,

I too get a lot of (sometimes implied) tasks via email. Not processing my Inbox to zero means that I'm building up a backlog, regardless of whether I've copied these tasks onto my list. Lately it's getting bad. I sometimes Flag a message that I can't deal with sufficiently in the moment, but I regard this as bad practice. So how to process to zero without getting overwhelmed? Here are a few tricks:

1. Reply quickly with a short answer when possible. This keeps the ball moving, so to speak, and follow-up emails are sure to arrive if you haven't actually completed the task. It also makes you look good to those expecting a response.

2. Print out the email and put it in a project folder or tickler folder, to remind yourself to take action later, then archive it. Printouts are great for jotting down ideas and taking related notes during meetings or phone calls.

3. Write the next action onto your list with a reference to the email date and sender, then just archive it. When you do start this task, the reference points you back to the message for context for further work, or just to make it easy to find and reply back to the sender.

I'm going to follow my own advice now and deFlag and Zero my Inbox!

http://youtu.be/z9UjeTMb3Yk
November 2, 2017 at 18:47 | Registered Commenterubi
MrBacklog:

<< If I were to write those action tasks down into the catch all list, it would take quite a bit of admin time to do that. Instead I can work straight through those emails as I'm "ready" to do them.
I just can't see the point of transferring all those action points into a list when there are already there sitting in the email inbox all nicely typed out by the persons who sent them. >>

Sorry, I thought that you were asking for help over a problem you had with the actions arising from email. My mistake.

If you don't have a problem, then carry on doing what you are doing at the moment.
November 2, 2017 at 19:10 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
MrBacklog:

<< would being "ready" to do any task actually then be one of the key features of the perfect TM system? >>

No, you only need to be ready to do the task to be done now.
November 2, 2017 at 19:15 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
MrBacklog:

I very rarely copy tasks from email to my written list. The exception when I need to remember it when I'm not doing email.

I very quickly sort my incoming mail each day -- only a few seconds per email
- delete immediately
- starred, project folder
- starred, miscellaneous folder
- unstarred, read whenever (mostly newsletters)

Star means I need to spend more time with it, and there's a deadline. (Sometimes a self-imposed deadline, but it's more urgent than "whenever".) When I'm done with an email, I remove the star but leave it in the folder as a record.

(I learned the hard way that it's better to spend a few more seconds rather than play it safe and give everything a star.)

I often don't move them to folders for a while. I move them when I've dealt with it, I want to collect everything for a project, or when the inbox is too cluttered.

Anything in a project folder is dealt with when I do the project. The project is already on my main list.

My main list includes "do miscellaneous email" a few times a week, no more than once a day. I start with the starred email, with more pressure on the older ones. Exact method of choosing varies. Then, if I still have energy, I do the unstarred, again with pressure on the older ones.
November 2, 2017 at 23:04 | Registered CommenterCricket
Re-reading my post. Another category is, in theory, "unstarred, project folder". I rarely use that one when sorting. If I want to read it but there's no deadline, it stays in my inbox, or it gets a star and goes in the project folder.

Anything that is not in inbox and doesn't have a star is done, never to be looked at again (until I need double-check something, or it's time to purge the archives).
November 2, 2017 at 23:11 | Registered CommenterCricket
The reason I sometimes use Outlook Tasks for my task list is that dragging a mail to the task list is friction free, and typing in the action take almost no time.

At the moment I am back to Moleskine and fountain pen, though.
November 3, 2017 at 9:06 | Registered CommenterWill
Thanks for all replies on moving emails into the task list. Interesting to see what others are doing.

I have concluded that it is not suitable for quick emails as they can be done there and then.
If there is a gain to be had by moving into the main task list to help with efficiency and organising, then it is worth doing.
November 3, 2017 at 10:05 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
@MrBacklog

Sorry for the late response, i’ve been traveling and off the grid for the last week.

You asked:
“Can you expand on what you do to actually get the tasks from email into the catch-all list and how long does that take?”

I transfer emails with tasks that I do not want to do yet directly to OmniFocus using the MailDrop feature, so I keep everything digital. This is fast and, if done right, also keeps a link to the original email message. Quick, low-resistance way to add to a digital list.

Hope his helps,
Bernard
November 7, 2017 at 13:24 | Unregistered CommenterBernard

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