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« No Question FVP | Main | End of the Challenge »
Monday
Apr242017

Systematic Next Hour

It has just struck me that the answer to my quest for the Systematic Next Hour has been staring me in the face all along. In fact we already have it - it’s called The Final Version (FV).
Since the rules have never been published on this website, here they are.
(Sorry about the rather erratic formatting. It seems to be impossible to format a passage properly which has been cut and pasted into Squarespace).
——————————————————
Introduction
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Here are the long-awaited instructions for the Final Version (FV) time management system. I don’t know if it’s the best time management system ever devised. What I do know is that it is the best time management system that I have ever used myself. It’s shown itself to be resilient, responsive and very quick. FV is based on my earlier time management systems, particularly the extensive range of AutoFocus and SuperFocus systems developed over the last three years. These were unique in that they were constantly developing with the assistance of a large band of commenters on my web-site. Anyone who has tried one or more of these systems will recognize the strong family resemblance that they have with FV. The most striking resemblance is that they are all based on one long list (either paper or electronic) which can be used to capture just about every possible action that springs into one’s mind. There is a minimum of special markings or annotations.Such a list depends on an effective algorithm to process it. There are three main requirements which have to be kept in balance. These are urgency, importance and psychological readiness. Traditional time management systems have tended to concentrate on the first two of these. The neglect of psychological readiness is probably the reason that most people don’t find time management systems particularly effective or congenial.The most distinctive feature of FV is the way that its algorithm is primarily based on psychological readiness - this then opens the way to keeping urgency and importance in the best achievable balance.
 
The FV  Algorithm
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Anyone who has followed the discussions on my website will recognize that the FV algorithm is loosely based on two powerful methods of making a decision, “structured procrastination” and Colley’s rule. I don’t intend to go into either of these now as an understanding of them is not relevant to the finished algorithm, but anyone who wants to know more about them can google them.The FV algorithm uses the question “What do I want to do before I do x?” to preselect a chain of tasks from the list. What exactly is meant by “want” in this context is deliberately left undefined. There may be a whole variety of reasons why you might want to do one thing before another thing and all of them are valid.The chain always starts with the first unactioned task on the list. Mark this task with a dot to show that it’s now been preselected. Don’t take any action on the task at this stage.This task then becomes the benchmark from which the next task is selected. For example, if the first task on the list is “Write Report”, the question becomes “What do I want to do before I write the report?” You move through the list in order until you come to a task which you want to do before writing the report. This task is now selected by marking it with a dot and it becomes the benchmark for the next task. If the first task you come to which you want to do before writing the report is “Check Email”, then that becomes the benchmark. The question therefore changes to “What do I want to do before I check email?”As you continue through the list you might come to Tidy Desk and decide you want to do that before checking email. Select this in the same way by marking it with a dot, and change the question to “What do I want to do before tidying my desk?”. The answer to this is probably “nothing”, so you have now finished your preselection.The preselected tasks in the example are:
Write report
Check email
Tidy desk
 Do these in reverse order, i.e. Tidy desk, Check email, Write report. Note that as in all my systems, you don’t have to finish the task - only do some work on it. Of course if you do finish the task that’s great, but if you don’t then all you have to do is re-enter the task at the end of the list.Once you have taken action on all the preselected tasks, preselect another chain of tasks starting again from the first unactioned task on the list.That’s it! You’re now ready to go. Everything else is further examples and explanation.
A Longer Example
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In this example for ease of understanding no new tasks are added while working on the list. This of course is unlikely in real life. Your initial list of tasks:
Email 
In-Tray
Voicemail
Project X Report
Tidy Desk
Call Dissatisfied Customer
Make Dental Appointment
File Invoices
Discuss Project Y with Bob
Back Up  
 
Put a dot in front of the first task:  
 
· Email 
  In-Tray
  Voicemail
  Project X Report
  Tidy Desk
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
  Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
  Back Up
 
Now ask yourself ” What do I want to do before I do Email?”
 
You work down the list and come to Voicemail. You decide you want to do Voicemail before doing Email. Put a dot in front of it.  
 
· Email 
  In-Tray
· Voicemail
  Project X Report
  Tidy Desk
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
  Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
  Back Up  
 
Now ask yourself ” What do I want to do before I do Voicemail?” You decide you want to tidy your desk.  
 
· Email 
  In-Tray
· Voicemail
  Project X Report
· Tidy Desk
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
  Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
  Back Up  
 
There are no tasks you want to do before tidying your desk, so now take action on the dotted tasks in reverse order:  
 
Tidy Desk
Voicemail
Email  
 
Your list will now look like this (I’ve removed the tasks that have been actioned but if you are using paper they will still be on the page but crossed out):  
 
  In-Tray
  Project X Report
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
  Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
  Back Up  
 
Now start again with the first unactioned task on the list, In-Tray, and repeat the same procedure. The only task you want to do before In-Tray is Back Up. As this is the last task on the list there are only two dotted tasks: 
 
· In-Tray
  Project X Report
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
  Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
· Back Up
 
Do the two dotted tasks in reverse order:
 
Back Up
In-Tray
 
So the list now looks like this:
 
  Project X Report
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
  Make Dental Appointment
  File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
 
So far the tasks have been relatively trivial, but the Project X Report is something that you have been putting off doing for a long time. So repeat the procedure:
 
· Project X Report
  Call Dissatisfied Customer
· Make Dental Appointment
· File Invoices
  Discuss Project Y with Bob
 
You now file your invoices, make a dental appointment and make a start on the Project X Report.
 
In your final pass through the list you Discuss Project Y with Bob and Call Dissatisfied Customer.
 
So the tasks on the original list have been done in the following order. The tasks in italics are the ones at the beginning of each scanning process.
 
Tidy Desk
Voicemail
Email
 
Back Up
In-Tray
 
File Invoices,
Make Dental Appointment
Project X Report
 
Discuss Project Y with Bob
Call Dissatisfied Customer
 
Notice what has happened here. The root tasks (the ones in italics) have been done in strict list order, regardless of importance, urgency or any other factor. Some of them are relatively easy (e.g. Email) and some are relatively difficult (e.g. Project X Report) or you are reluctant to do them (e.g. Call Dissatisfied Customer).
 
Each of the root tasks is preceded by a short ladder of tasks which are in the order in which you want to do them. The number and difficulty of the tasks in the ladder tend to reflect the difficulty of the root tasks.
Additional Tips  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The best way to sink any time management system is to overload it right at the beginning. FV is pretty resilient, but at this stage you aren’t. So build up the list gradually. My advice is to start off with the tasks and projects that are of immediate concern to you right now, and then add more as they come up in the natural course of things.Tasks can be added at any level, e.g. Project X, Plan Restructuring, Call Pete, Tidy Desk.
If the first task on the list can’t be done now for some valid reason (e.g. wrong time of day, precondition not met, bad weather), then cross it out and re-enter it at the end of the list. Use the next task as your starting benchmark.If at any stage you find that a task on the list is no longer relevant, then delete it. If you find that your preselected list is no longer relevant (e.g. if you have had a long break away from the list), then scrap the preselection and reselect from the beginning. A shorter way to do this is to reselect only from the last preselected task which you haven’t done yet.If one or more very urgent things come up, write them at the end of the list and mark them with a dot so that they are done next. If something already on the list becomes very urgent, then move it to the end of the list and mark it with a dot in the same way.Remember that the aim of any time management system is to help you to get your work done, not get in the way of doing your work. So don’t be afraid to adjust priorities if you need to. However try to keep this to a minimum - stick to the rules whenever possible as they will ensure you deal with your work in a systematic way.
Why It Works
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
At the beginning of this newsletter I said there were three factors which every time management system needs to address: urgency, importance and psychological readiness. Let’s see how FV deals with each of these.Urgency. Because of the nature of the preselection process, urgent tasks tend to get selected - generally speaking the human brain wants to do things that it knows are urgent. If things come up that are particularly urgent they can be added to the preselected list at any time.Importance. Generally speaking the human brain is a bit less keen on doing important stuff than it is on doing urgent stuff. This is particularly the case when the important stuff is difficult. However the FV preselection process ensures that tasks towards the beginning of the list are given as much attention as tasks towards the end of the list.Psychological Readiness. This is where FV really enters new dimensions. By using a pre-selection process, the brain is softened up towards the selected tasks. But this isn’t all. The selection process is based on what you want to do. This colours the whole preselected list so that even the first task, which you may not have wanted to do at all, gets affected. In addition, doing the list in reverse order, with the least wanted task last, uses structured procrastination to get the tasks done.

Reader Comments (30)

Hi Mark,
I would never have considered FV as the solution for making 'the next hour' more systematic, but actually I think this might work out just right - going to try it for the Eastertide challenge.

I assume you are changing the questioning of the algorithm to
"What do I want to do in the next hour?" for the first item and "And before?" for all subsequent ones?

One caveat though - with FV there is a system that is systematic, yet it should be less fast and flexible than e.g. Fast FVP. Also, especially for FV I think it will be important to keep the list fresh and relevant as the algorithm forces one more to completion of list items. Looking forward to reading your tips on this one.
April 25, 2017 at 8:07 | Unregistered CommenterDino
Dino:

The first task on the list is fixed as the root task so the question wouldn't apply to it. The secret is then to keep the number of dotted tasks down to approximately an hour's worth of work.
April 25, 2017 at 8:52 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Of course you're right with the first task being fixed - I'm through the first two hours of working this way.
April 25, 2017 at 10:34 | Unregistered CommenterDino
@Dino: "I assume you are changing the questioning of the algorithm to
"What do I want to do in the next hour?" for the first item and "And before?" for all subsequent ones?"

Actually, to satisfy both FV and the idea of the Next Hour, you can set up the questions as "Can I do this within the next hour?" for the first item; if the answer is "No" then you'll have to keep deleting the first item and rewriting at the end until the answer becomes "Yes", then you can dot the first item and then ask the FV question "What do I want to do before this?" This is because we can read in the "Additional Tips":

<If the first task on the list can’t be done now for some valid reason (e.g. wrong time of day, precondition not met, bad weather), then cross it out and re-enter it at the end of the list. Use the next task as your starting benchmark.>

@Mark Forster: Like Dino I am surprised that you came to the conclusion that FV can be seen as the systemic Next Hour, but considering everything it makes sense. I hope you're feeling better.
April 25, 2017 at 12:58 | Registered Commenternuntym
Mark,
I'm getting a chuckle out of this (in a good way) because when you released FVP, I thought it removed a core advantage of FV without significantly improving it. I've never thought FVP was any real improvement on FV. So I am pleased to see you've decided FV has a better balance between fast, flexible, and...whatever the other thing was.

FV and DIT are your best systems.
April 25, 2017 at 15:49 | Unregistered CommenterAustin
I have tried many of your systems but this is the one I always come back to, and I quite enjoy it.
April 26, 2017 at 0:47 | Unregistered CommenterRyan
As for me one of the biggest advantages of the "Next Hour" is that I can top up the list with new tasks directly from my head. I am not supposed to always preselect a chain of tasks, leafing through the pages of the notebook. And this advantage is lost in "FV".
April 26, 2017 at 10:02 | Unregistered CommenterShamil
I'm not getting the link to the next hour, Mark.

Do I create the FVP dotted list and just estimate how many will get done in the next hour, and remove the rest??
April 26, 2017 at 10:25 | Registered CommenterWill
Austin, you've lost me. I don't know of any substantive difference between FV and FVP -
just the gain in speed that comes from the instruction:

> you check only the tasks which come after the task you have just done

In fact, I'm not clear why Mark reproduced the instructions for FV above, rather than for FVP.

(However, I'm not asking Mark to waste any energy on satisfying me on this detail.)

Chris
April 26, 2017 at 10:29 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
I'm liking this system! This is the first time I have tried it, and it fits very well as an upgrade to my system that evolved during Lent. During Day One I appreciated the fact that the first unactioned task on the list always gets included, mitigating against any tendency to sidestep something ongoingly.
April 26, 2017 at 11:22 | Unregistered CommenterColin
Will:

<< Do I create the FVP dotted list and just estimate how many will get done in the next hour, and remove the rest?? >>

This is FV, not FVP. The dotted list created in FV usually takes approximately an hour to work through.
April 26, 2017 at 12:24 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Chris:

<< In fact, I'm not clear why Mark reproduced the instructions for FV above, rather than for FVP. >>

Because the list generated by FVP is infinite in length, while the list generated by FV is about an hour's worth of work.
April 26, 2017 at 12:29 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark,

AHA!

That's where I went wrong with FV!!

And then rather than keep the list topped up, you do a sequence of one hour lists. I'll need to recalibrate how I am working the list.
April 26, 2017 at 13:44 | Registered CommenterWill
Mark,

FV requires a scan of the whole list for the pre-selection with the first undone task as the root. In the case of pre-selection of an hour's worth, do you stop scanning once an hour's worth is pre-selected?

Or would you continue scanning to the end, amending your pre-selection if needed if there is something further down the list that should be selected more than the one picked earlier because it is more urgent?

If it's the former, I see that there may be tasks left unselected even though they are more worthy to be chosen for that hour because the quota is all taken up from tasks early in the list.

If it's the latter, I can see some necessity to amend your pre selection which is not ideal because of the time taken to mess around with the selection.

I hope I'm not missing something in the method.
April 26, 2017 at 15:56 | Unregistered CommenterJD
Too many flavours of FV to keep straight!

Is this right? (References are at the end.)

***Questions:

FV: What do I want to do before this?

Alternate: What am I resisting more than this?

(The community played with many other questions.)

Fast: Ask two questions before dotting: Am I ready to do this now? If so, do it now. If no, What do I want to do more than this?

SNH: What do I want to do before this, **assuming that I have only an hour**?

***When and how to make new chain:
(All systems say erase all dots and start from the top if circumstances change.)

FV: Do entire chain before making new one.
Perfected: When you finish each task, do not do the previous dot. Instead, use it to start another chain of dots.

SNH: Do the entire chain. At the end of the hour, erase all the dots and make a new chain

+++++

FV May 2012
http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs004/1100358239599/archive/1109511856508.html

FV Alternate May 2012
http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs004/1100358239599/archive/1109665733134.html

FVP, May 2015
http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2015/5/21/the-final-version-perfected-fvp.html

Fast FVP Dec 2016
http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2016/12/21/fast-fvp.html

So, this would be FV-SNH Apr 2017
http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2017/4/24/systematic-next-hour.html
April 26, 2017 at 16:16 | Registered CommenterCricket
FV-SNH would work better for me than FV.

By focusing on the next hour, instead of the entire week, I won't get too optimistic. If I only have an hour, there's no time for anything of low value.

With FV, making the chain too long became a vicious cycle. I need to do taxes in the next few days. I won't make a new chain for a while, so I need to dot it now. Then look at the next line. Why yes, I want to do that before / more than taxes. (Even using "resisted more", taxes would trigger the common sense clause it wasn't a good day for numbers.)

With FV-SNH, even if I dot too many tasks, I won't get to them before the hour's up and I erase all the dots.

I can also adapt to my current energy and mood. This isn't a good time to work with numbers, so I won't dot income tax. That's ok. There will be many more opportunities before they're due.
April 26, 2017 at 16:37 | Registered CommenterCricket
1. FV has always been intended to be a fast-moving "little and often" method, not a slow plod through the list.

2. As far as the number of tasks to select on any one pass is concerned, the motto is "less is more".

3. If you consistently aim to select about five tasks, comprising about an hour's work, you will quickly learn to estimate correctly. This is just a guide, not a cast-iron rule.
April 26, 2017 at 17:34 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Cricket, thanks for your epic labours of clarification!

> FV: Do entire chain before making new one.
> Perfected: When you finish each task, do not do the previous dot. Instead, use it to start another chain of dots.

That's it; I'd completely forgotten this fact about FV.
April 26, 2017 at 18:25 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
Mark, I'm slow to learn sometimes systems as written work better than the tweaks that I think will work for me. Something I needed to learn through trial and error. Fingers crossed that I can put the lesson into practice!
April 26, 2017 at 22:00 | Registered CommenterCricket
Hi Mark

I'm about to post an article on our site (The Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management) recommending your book and methods to healthcare leaders.

I saw your note at the beginning complaining of how you can't format text which is pasted in. This is quite common with CMSs, but can usually be solved by pasting your text in Notepad first before recopying and pasting it into Squarespace. All background formatting should have been washed away!
April 27, 2017 at 15:23 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Bebb
Doug:

Thanks for the mention on your site - much appreciated.

Thanks too for the tip, but unfortunately the text I'm having trouble formatting is already Notepad washed!
April 27, 2017 at 20:16 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Chris Cooper:

<< > Perfected: When you finish each task, do not do the previous dot. Instead, use it to start another chain of dots. >>

That's not correct. The new chain starts from the task you have just done and crossed out.
April 27, 2017 at 20:21 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, I was quoting Cricket's phrasing, and I took it to mean exactly what you're saying. It could be better phrased as:

- don't immediately do the previously dotted task; instead, begin scanning down from the task just completed, and add newly selected tasks (if any) to the selection chain
April 28, 2017 at 2:36 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
Doug Bebb - please post the link to the article!
April 30, 2017 at 4:40 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Mark: If you want to correct my summary in situ, go ahead. It might make it easier for future readers. (Maybe a note explaining the correction, somewhere, so as not to confuse those who read the rest of the conversation.)
May 1, 2017 at 23:29 | Registered CommenterCricket
Do you have to limit them to 3 tasks?
May 9, 2017 at 23:51 | Unregistered CommenterYoyo
Yoyo

No, you can select as many as you like.
May 10, 2017 at 14:54 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
As requested Seraphim!

https://www.fmlm.ac.uk/resources/managing-workload
May 25, 2017 at 16:33 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Bebb
Thanks Doug! Unfortunately it requires paid membership to read the article. But thanks for writing and posting it to your community! I am happy that Mark's ideas are being promoted, it would be a better world if more people were aware of them!
May 27, 2017 at 16:19 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Hi Mark, haha that's a nice one! I always strived towards completing the tasks, but the ideas you present seem interesting, will give it a try.
June 19, 2017 at 21:05 | Unregistered CommenterMatic

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