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« Ready for the Start? | Main | This One! »

What to give up for Lent?

Lent starts next Wednesday (March 1st).

Each year for Lent I give up something different. One year I gave up alcohol (never again!), another caffeine (even worse!) and one year I gave up swearing even under my breath (every time I swore I gave £1 to charity - it cost me a fortune!).

This year I have decided to give up changing time management systems.

So whichever system I am using when I go to bed on February 28th will be the only one I will use until I go to bed on April 14th. I don’t know which it will be, but the one I am currently using is The Bounce - see here.

Anyone want to join me in this? You can use whatever system you like - or none. The only rule is that whatever you choose, you can’t change it until the end.

Reader Comments (25)

Mark, I wish you the best of luck with this - but I think it is an odd choice to give up for Lent. Your systems are all tools. Tools are good and helpful.

Giving up things like swearing, caffeine, and alcohol is a (theoretically) beneficial challenge. But I don't see any benefit to limiting yourself to just one system!

Unless it's just to test whether you can do it, in which case I again say, good luck!
February 23, 2017 at 18:27 | Unregistered CommenterJulie
Good idea! Any system works well the first few days until the first euphoria wears off. So forcing oneself to stick to a system for six weeks should prove its with. I'm currently using DIT (again)
February 23, 2017 at 18:32 | Unregistered CommenterDino
I'm on year 3 of using the same system.

Once I nailed down the principles/purpose, the rest (tools, rules, etc) started to fall into place.
February 23, 2017 at 21:25 | Registered Commenteravrum

<< I think it is an odd choice to give up for Lent. Your systems are all tools. Tools are good and helpful. >>

Agreed, but it's not good and helpful to keep buying new tools just because you like something new and shiny!
February 23, 2017 at 22:35 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I will not join in this particular Lenten challenge, but you have inspired me to look at my behaviors and see what I would like to try giving up for ~45 days. I've never actually given up anything for Lent before (Southern Baptists, which I used to be, don't do that kind of thing).

Thanks for posting this and giving me something to ponder!
February 24, 2017 at 2:57 | Unregistered CommenterMike Brown
I am up for joining you Mark!

I have a bad habit of starting a system and then slowly getting away from it only to end up falling behind in my work and getting overwhelmed. My answer to the problem is to switch to another system when in reality if I would just stick with a method I wouldn't keep repeating my mistake. Disciplining myself to stick with it instead of continually looking to a new system to solve all my problems will be a challenge!
February 24, 2017 at 3:04 | Unregistered CommenterDiana
Five days to go and I haven't yet decided which system to use. The answer must be to invent a new one... or two... or three. Plenty of time to test them out thoroughly before Wednesday!
February 24, 2017 at 13:40 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark - great challenge - count me in! I think you'll get quite a few of us joining in, as constant switching among systems has been discussed quite a bit on this forum over the years. It will be good to compare experiences as we all go through the process.

I've never given up anything for Lent, so this will be fun. Don't know which system I'll choose, but it'll probably between DIT and the Bounce. I think the fact that Lent starts on the 1st of the month this year is motivating too.

Best of luck everybody.
February 24, 2017 at 13:47 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret1
The only way this would work for me is if the system had a built-in feedback mechanism that allowed for continuous improvement of the system itself.

And by the way, such a mechanism would also help the system be more antifragile.

Thanks Mark! That has given me some ideas to think about. Both for time management, and for Lent.
February 25, 2017 at 5:08 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

<< The only way this would work for me is if the system had a built-in feedback mechanism that allowed for continuous improvement of the system itself. >>

That already exists in the shape of the Forums on this website and more generally the website itself. Think of everything on this website as one big system which is continually evolving and feeding off earlier versions. I've thought of it that way for a long time.

This Lenten challenge is part of that process in order to provide more information about what happens when that evolution is temporarily halted.

Btw are you observing Lent this year at the same time as the rest of us?
February 25, 2017 at 7:26 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Yes, that makes sense, but I had in mind a feedback mechanism in the system itself.

Many of your systems do have feedback mechanisms, e.g. DIT's auditing of commitments or AF1's dismissal. But they are directed at the WORK, not the system itself. I mean, the rules themselves don't change depending on how you use the system.

And others' systems don't have any feedback mechanisms at all (GTD, F/C, etc.), at least I can't think of any.


I am thinking of the way the human body recovers from a stressor -- or really, any biological system, or any antifragile system in general. When they are put under stress, their response not only deals with the stress but also strengthens the system so it's more ready for future stressors. The system strengthens itself, it changes its own rules based on how it is used, and to what kind of stressors it is exposed.

For example, Agile Scrum starts out as a simple framework with only a few rules. Prioritize your work, commit to the top few items, get them done in a defined time period, and deliver the results. Then (importantly) review how the whole process worked, and choose one or two things to change in the process. Then repeat.

Over time a Scrum team will develop its own additional rules as a result of following this process, and it becomes more and more adapted to the stressors it has to deal with. This is one thing that makes Scrum antifragile.

I'm wondering how/whether a personal time management system could work like that. I'm guessing it would be (like Scrum) more of a framework for iteratively developing your own personal rules, rather than a fixed set of rules.

And yes! Forgiveness Sunday is tomorrow, and Lent starts on Monday. I am looking forward to the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete!
February 25, 2017 at 8:35 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

<< Yes, that makes sense, but I had in mind a feedback mechanism in the system itself. >>

Yes, I understood exactly what you meant.

But I think that sticking with one system for a significant period of time will facilitate the feedback you are seeking, rather than inhibit it. After all you wouldn't get much development in Scrum if the leader said "Well, I think there were a few problems with that. Let's put Scrum on hold and try a different system next week." Process review will only work if the system has a basic stability. Antifragility is always within limits.

So for the sake of argument, let us suppose that I choose The Bounce as my Lenten system. During the 40+ days of sticking to the same system I might nevertheless make some changes like these:

- It's neater and more comprehensible to use arrows after the task to indicate direction, rather than the carets

- This system works best with projects broken down into small tasks, rather than lumping everything together under one project heading

- The list should be weeded of 10 per cent of its tasks at the end of each day

- etc, etc.

And so on. Please note these are fictional examples and I am not making any recommendation either way about any of them.

The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete looks like good physical as well as spiritual exercise!
February 25, 2017 at 11:19 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hey Mark,

I'll be joining you for this challenge over lint. It looks like I'll be using AF4 (my desire to use AF4 was probably the cause of me fiddling with it and a 'no dismiss' system).

I'm a big fan of Taleb and his concept of antifragility, so I can't wait to see your blog on it in relation to time management systems!

God bless,
February 25, 2017 at 17:53 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Freckleton

One way to make a self-adjusting system is to enter various "out of the box" options into the regular system. For instance, in a system that doesn't normally allow you to skim the whole list ad-hoc, you could enter "skim whole list ad hoc" as an item, having in mind specifically what you mean by that, e.g. one scan from bottom to top doing anything you feel is important. Then just follow the rules until that item stands out, and do the item, cross it out and reenter when done, and then continue processing the list from that item as if it were any other regular item you had just finished. This creates an exception to the rule without breaking any rule. You could experiment with various exceptional items like this, keep the more effective ones and discard the others.
February 25, 2017 at 20:58 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
I guess I'd better hurry up and get my gift to you all done!
February 26, 2017 at 1:16 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
Michael B:

Mine's a pint, thanks!
February 26, 2017 at 9:21 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, I will join in but will lose the anticipation of new systems being developed by you and tested by us. My preferred systems are AF1, Randomizer and 5/2 from your latest book. However the system I will be using and to be honest my very favourite when it works will be from your very first book and involves selecting 10 or so areas and rotating 15 or 20 minutes on each one. If something urgent crops up may need to just go and do that but my hope is that by religiously following the system (pun intended) over a significant period of time, all items will get regular, sufficient and focussed attention which to you will sound familiar.
February 26, 2017 at 18:39 | Unregistered Commenterskeg

You will be testing out something new. Frequently the query is raised whether it's starting a new system that gives impetus, rather than the system itself. We're about to discover whether that is true or not.
February 26, 2017 at 19:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I'm in. Coincidentally I start a new job on Ash Wednesday, so it seems a good point to try a new system - not so much for my working hours, which are structured, but for all the things I need to get done when I'm not office bound!

Can I check that I have the "Bouncy AF2" method correct? I'm using a Bullet Journal where "Tasks" tend to crop up over several pages and I think the two may work well together.

The system consists of one long list of everything that you have to do, written in a ruled notebook (25-35 lines to a page ideal). As you think of new items, add them to the end of the list. You work through the list one page at a time in the following manner:
1. Read quickly through all the items on the list without taking action on any of them.
2. Start from the beginning of the list and scan forward until a task stands out for selection.
3. Work on that item for as long as you feel like doing so.
4. Cross the item off the list, and re-enter it at the end of the list if you haven’t finished it.
5. Reverse direction and scan backwards until you select another task.
6. When you've done it, reverse direction again. Continue scanning and reversing direction ad infinitum.
7. If you get to either end of the list without having selected a task, bounce off it by changing direction. Continue as above.
8. At the beginning of each day, go to your oldest active page, and draw a line after the first block of unactioned tasks which are now “on notice” for dismissal.
9. At the beginning of the following day, all items before the line which have not been actioned are dismissed. Use a highlighter to mark dismissed items.

PS Enjoy your pancakes Mark!
February 27, 2017 at 8:46 | Unregistered CommenterSarahspangles

Good to have you with us!

Your summary of the method is spot on, except that I don't any longer bother with 8. and 9. I leave things on the list indefinitely until I decide they are no longer relevant and weed them out. It's good with any "catch-all" system to have a task "Weed List".

There's nothing to stop you using the rules as you've written them if you prefer.
February 27, 2017 at 9:24 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

"Mine's a pint, thanks!"

Haha, I may just find a way to get you that pint. I've decided though to delay a post I've been preparing so as to not distract people with choices right at the start of this challenge.
February 28, 2017 at 13:16 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
Just curious, why would one want to stick with one system for a long period of time ? I have been following Mark's development for years now, and have experienced that all systems having strength and weaknesses, each of them could be the system of choice under certain circumtances.
I see them as a set of tools, that should be used depending on the situation I am in. Some of them favor the crunching of urgent items. Others favor intuition, or draw me towards important tasks, or force me to bring back to my mind all of my potential tasks.
Each day and week is different, and depending if I am under major urgencies, or less busy, or if I have a lot or very few discretionary time, or must deal with many trivial issues, or on the contrary have to move forward big projects, I pick up one or the other system, that I know will help me deal with the main circumstance I am in. The good thing is that a lot of Mark's systems work on the same basic Tasks list, so switching from one system to the other does not require any other effort but just mental switching.
February 28, 2017 at 15:41 | Unregistered CommenterAlexB

<< why would one want to stick with one system for a long period of time ? >>

Well, that's what we're trying to find out during this challenge/experiment. Does it help or does it hinder? I don't have any preconceptions as to the answer.
February 28, 2017 at 16:01 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, is this really the first time you have used the same system for at least 40 days?
February 28, 2017 at 17:31 | Unregistered CommenterAustin

<< Mark, is this really the first time you have used the same system for at least 40 days? >>

No, I used all the systems in my books, plus the original Autofocus for periods well in excess of 40 days. But with the plethora of systems that have been developed recently, both no-list and catch-all, I've been changing backwards and forwards every few day (at least it seems like that).
February 28, 2017 at 20:52 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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