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« Change to Fast FVP | Main | Testing an HITM System 3: Bedding In »
Tuesday
Jan022018

Speed and Direction

Some recent comments have queried exactly what I mean by Speed and Direction in the context of High Intensity Time Management. So I think it would be a good idea to use a blog post to repeat and amplify my replies to those comments. 

Remember that the main qualifications for an HITM system are: 

  • It uses a catch-all to-do list (“long list”)
  • You only work on what feels ready to be done
  • You only work on that for as long as you feel like it.
  • There is no compulsion to do one task rather than another
  • Every task is available to be the next task you work on 

Subject to these any suitable scanning method may be used. The one I currently recommend is Simple Scanning, but I’m convinced that I can find a better way. I’m currently testing another system which may prove more suitable - or not. However what I’m about to say applies to any qualifying system.

Speed

There are two aspects to speed. First, there is the amount of time it takes to scan for the next task. On the one hand there would be a FIFO system in which you just do the tasks in the order they are written on the list. There would be effectively no time spent scanning at all. On the other hand would be a system in which you have to scan the entire list each time before selecting the next task. With a large list scanning would take a long time.

The second aspect is that speed is not just going through the whole list fast, but also doing the work fast. If you are bored and unmotivated your work slows to a crawl. But if you are fired up, you work much faster - and better too.

Unfortunately the two aspects contradict themselves to some extent. If you tried to do your work in a strictly FIFO order, you would probably end up bored to tears and very unmotivated. Any time saved in scanning would be easily outweighed by the slow speed of the actual work.

The ideal system has to be one in which the scanning time is kept as low as possible, but in which the emphasis is on keeping interest and motivation going.

Direction

It refers to giving direction to your life - as opposed, at the other extreme, to drifting aimlessly.

The idea behind HITM is that you have a big list which contains everything you might want to do. It’s then by working the list that you discover what you really do want to do. Anything that you decide that you are not going to do gets weeded out. As I think I’ve said before, I think the precise mechanism is less important than the approach. Unlike other approaches where not getting everything on the list done is seen as a failure, with HITM not getting everything done is seen as a success, i.e. it’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s the way you discover what you really want and ride the wave. In short it is what is called “being in the flow”.

Reader Comments (20)

I like the concept of everything on one list, but I have not been able to do that as mine would be way too long. It might be 500+ tasks.

I can function perfectly well even with that many tasks floating around, but they are all in different places. e.g.in emails, post items, post it notes, tele call notes and various projects.

I was wondering if a catch all list is good for a certain limited number of tasks - maybe less than 200, but then becomes unmanageable when over that number?
January 4, 2018 at 10:29 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
MrB,

This is one of the recurring and key philosophical questions. At what point does a general possibility become an item on your list of things to consider doing? Many of us have long lists of possible actions on email and social media accounts. And our homes are full of reminders of things we could be doing. And the internet is bursting with possibilities. as is the rest of the universe.

Generally, I tend to have "scan email" as a task and if anything comes up which isn't on my task list, I'd add it then. Most of my mail is working issues which are already on task lists and the supporting project trackers.

For example, I have a task to close out the data migration to a new system for a specific country. Whenever I work on this, I refer to meeting notes, detailed action trackers, system defect logs and email. If, scanning email, I see a couple of dozen mails related to aspects of this task, I won't add them to the list.

If I get a mail telling me that my annual professional subscription to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has been paid, I'll add a task to reclaim the cost from my generous employer.

There is no rule that every task has to be an individual atom of effort that can be completed in one sitting. This is the main difference with the Getting Things Done system.

As ever, this is only my interpretation. The Supreme Leader often corrects me.
January 4, 2018 at 12:26 | Registered CommenterWill
Mr Backlog:

<< I like the concept of everything on one list, but I have not been able to do that as mine would be way too long. It might be 500+ tasks. >>

Why not put them all on the list and let the list filter them out for you?

<< I can function perfectly well even with that many tasks floating around, but they are all in different places. e.g.in emails, post items, post it notes, tele call notes and various projects. >>

Whenever I get a task which I can't clear immediately it goes on the list.

<< I was wondering if a catch all list is good for a certain limited number of tasks - maybe less than 200, but then becomes unmanageable when over that number? >>

Is it the list which would become unmanageable or the work which is unmanageable? Or to put it another way, if it's not on the list then what's happening to it? If you're getting it done anyway, then there's no reason not to put it on the list. If it's just sitting there with nothing happening to it, then weed it out.

There is a limit to how much work one person can do. If you have more work than that, you are faced with the choice of 1) skimping all your work so as to maintain the illusion of progress, 2) letting huge backlogs build up with an inevitable day of reckoning, or 3) weeding your work down to what you can actually manage.

To my way of thinking, the most sensible course is 3). Having everything on your list where you can see it and vigorously weeding everything that's going nowhere is the way to tackle it. You'd probably want to feed stuff onto the list in stages rather than plonk the entire 500 down in one go of course.
January 4, 2018 at 19:19 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Will:

<< This is one of the recurring and key philosophical questions. At what point does a general possibility become an item on your list of things to consider doing? >>

This is not a philosophical question. It is a practical question.

<< Many of us have long lists of possible actions on email and social media accounts. And our homes are full of reminders of things we could be doing. And the internet is bursting with possibilities. as is the rest of the universe. >>

This is precisely why I discourage people from keeping lists of stuff other than the "catch all" list. As I have frequently said, a commitment is as much about what you are not going to do as it is about what you are going to do. If you are open to everything in the universe, you are not committed to anything.

If there is any possibility of your committing yourself to something it should be on the list. If something is not going to have an effect on your life now, then it should either be brought forward for further consideration at a specified time in the future, or weeded out.
January 4, 2018 at 19:33 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
What's the most efficient way to weed it out?
January 4, 2018 at 19:48 | Unregistered CommenterPaul MacNeil
Paul MacNeil:

Personally I just have a task called "Weed List". I do a sort of reverse "standing out" to delete tasks which aren't going anywhere or which I've decided can lapse. I usually do it once every one or two days.
January 4, 2018 at 20:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks Mark & Will for comments.

That brings up some more thoughts on what is the point of a list and do we actually need one?
Take will's example on ICAEW subscription. Why not skip the process of adding the task to the list? Instead, forward the email straightaway to your employer asking for reimbursement of the cost. Bcc yourself in and drop the email into a reminder folder so you can check in a few weeks if you have been paid. If not paid you can simply forward the email to them again chasing. Surely that course of action would be more efficient than an unnecessary step involving a list?

Regarding other comments, I would say level of work manageable, but copying it all onto lists is unmanageable. I have a lot of tasks that all need to be done at some point, but I feel in control and they do get done. I'm too busy to have pie in the sky tasks so they don't even enter any of my systems.

Interestingly my task list is actually less than 15 items, more like Marks recent "goal" list.
Consists of do post, do email, do posts its, do tele notes, do project x, etc.
I just cycle round that doing each category of task for a few hours. Very much like plate spinning.
Each category of task might contain a large number of sub tasks, but by actioning them all fairly regularly they are under control and there are no leaks at all.
Combine that with a zero procrastination attitude and it all seems to work, with negligible admin time.
January 4, 2018 at 20:12 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
MrBacklog:

<< That brings up some more thoughts on what is the point of a list and do we actually need one? >>

No, obviously one doesn't need a list Billions of people around the world lead perfectly good lives without one. What's the point of one? To help you to lead a better life and/or do better work (however you define better) than you would without one.

As for the other points in your post, you seem to be answering a different question from the one your originally asked.
January 4, 2018 at 22:38 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Another way to reduce a list is to put things into categories. If you decided to remove everything from that list which was like Clean _____, and just have Clean, your list would become smaller. If you then had another list which had all those things to clean you could refer to it when you wanted to clean something. This second list may be useful or not, depending on what that list is. If it's not useful, just don't make it and stick to "Clean" as your task. It's up to you when and whether to reduce things like this.
January 4, 2018 at 23:35 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

<< Another way to reduce a list is to put things into categories.>>

You may reduce the list that way, but you don't reduce the work.

In fact having "Clean" as a task is only effective if you have a standard cleaning sequence and know where you've got to on it. Otherwise you have to ask the question "Clean What?" and refer to the second list before you can make a decision. Since most people don't just get seized with the desire to clean in the abstract this can be problematic.
January 5, 2018 at 8:32 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
In terms of creating an incentive to reduce the amount of scanning, I'm finding that I treat my list like a game of Tetris. I'm doing it digitally but a highlighter could do the same thing on paper.

Basically I get to grey out all consecutive items that don't have anything uncompleted before them.

For example, if I have an item that is not done near the top of my list, and then 10 done tasks below it, I can't grey out those 10 done tasks (they just have a line through them) until I complete the 'blocking' task. Once I do that blocking task I can grey it out as well as well the consecrative completed tasks below it.

This a really nice way to keep the focus near the top of the list without being too restrictive. The nice thing about it is that the more completed tasks that come after an incomplete task (i.e the long the blocking task has been put off), the greater the reward will be when you complete the blocking task (because you get to grey out a huge block).
January 5, 2018 at 10:56 | Unregistered CommenterBen Vallack
Yes, back to my first question: -
<<I was wondering if a catch all list is good for a certain limited number of tasks - maybe less than 200, but then becomes unmanageable when over that number?>>

I know for me a really long catch all list would not work particularly well as the tasks are too fast moving. It seems more efficient to action them directly from the source/format they first arrived in.

Hence I'm using a smaller list just to point me in the right direction at categories of tasks so they all get some time spent on them and none forgotten.

Maybe we are all different and long list work for some but not others. Perhaps something to consider? Maybe if the tasks are longer in the time to action them, then a list works. If there are 100's of quick tasks then tracking them on a list is not the right thing to do?
January 5, 2018 at 14:33 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
@ Brent & Ben Vallack:

What you are doing with the highlighting is you introduce a mechanism to put pressure on some tasks. That is against the concept of HITM as stated by Mark in recent blog posts.


@ MrBacklog:

Why don't you just treat all those extra-lists, like email etc, as inboxes? Whenever you jump there, you clear it to zero. The idea is that if you do this several times per day, than the amount of work waiting there for you is minimal and gets done fast.

It would have the added DIT-like benefit of you getting to know wether you actually can do all that work or not.
January 5, 2018 at 16:22 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher
Christopher:

Yes that is a good way of thinking about it. I suppose that is what happens.
For example all my telenotes are just a list one after the other, so it works exactly the same way as an email inbox. Or the post, it just piles up in date received order.
I just plough through it.
Sadly, I have never managed to actually get to zero on email. Just a bit under 100 is the best IU have ever done! But I have manged it on post and telecall notes.

I like DIT a lot!
Actually I think the recent real auto focus is the perfect system, as it makes you deal with the oldest items which is something I have let slip in the past. I'm a bit surprised that did not progress a bit more, as personally the principles to me seem spot on and as close to a perfect system that there could be?
January 5, 2018 at 16:29 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
Why don't you declare an email-backlog, which would mean you are at inbox-zero and then stay that way?

Another thing, if you just plow through your inboxes, then you are doing a FIFO approach there. I can see how RA is a very good system for that.
January 5, 2018 at 17:13 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher
I suppose I'm in permanent backlog, but that is ok as it all gets done in a reasonable timescale.

I was just thinking that I more or less do real auto focus, except it has modified slightly to this: -

Every day I just work through a few of the oldest emails first and then move on to the newest after that.
Items that need to be deferred for later just get dropped into a folder headed say Feb 18 and then on 1 Feb 18 I have a reminder in calendar to drop them all back into the inbox.
That all works perfectly in jogging things along. It makes everyone think I'm 100% up to date as they get instant replies and the older stuff gets worked on constantly.
Simple really?

I suppose you could apply that way of working to any list.
January 5, 2018 at 17:38 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
<<This is not a philosophical question. It is a practical question.>>

Can't it be both?

<<If there is any possibility of your committing yourself to something it should be on the list. If something is not going to have an effect on your life now, then it should either be brought forward for further consideration at a specified time in the future, or weeded out. >>

Noodling at this helps me understand your first response. The process does not require a firm definition of what should go on the list. You feed it with what you feel you might commit to and in reviewing the list you determine what should be there.
January 5, 2018 at 18:28 | Registered CommenterWill
MrB

To claim the expense I need to get an invoice, put it through the Byzantine xpense reimbursement system and track approval and payment. This definitely requires sustained effort over a number of passes.
January 5, 2018 at 18:32 | Registered CommenterWill
@Christopher

<<What you are doing with the highlighting is you introduce a mechanism to put pressure on some tasks. That is against the concept of HITM as stated by Mark in recent blog posts.>>

Fine by me. I was using Mark's thoughts about attenuation.

<<Attenuation is almost the opposite effect to clumping. It is what happens to tasks on the list that don’t get done quickly. As other tasks around them get done so they get surrounded by deleted tasks. This has the effect of drawing attention to those undone tasks. The more the list gets attenuated the more the undone tasks stand out physically. This gives important information to your intuition. You can increase the contrast between tasks by joining contiguous deleted tasks by joining them together with a vertical line in the left margin. This gives you a very good picture at a glance of how many tasks remain on any given page>>

@Ben

I love the Tetris analogy. I highlight things horizontally when done but when I get a big enough block, I highlight with a line vertically. Double points when I get to do a whole page :)

Simple pleasures!

Brent
January 5, 2018 at 22:55 | Unregistered CommenterBrent
Wow! Complicated topic!

Catch All vs Context List

Lists have two jobs: Catching things and reminding you of them.

The perfect catching list lets you catch the idea and get back to what you were doing. The perfect reminding list will remind you of all the things things you should do, when you can do them, and only those things.

Most lists are a combination.

A grocery list is a context list. It's job is to remind you what to buy while you are in the store. Mine is in the kitchen, so it's easy to add to when I am thinking about food. Actually, we have a hybrid system. We have an online shared list that we can easily add to from our phones. We found, though, that the paper list in the kitchen was still necessary. Washing hands and finding the phone was an obstacle. It's easier to copy from paper to phone once a week than to add single items several times a week.

My notebook is a catch-all list. It's easy to get to, at least when I'm home, and scribbling is faster than typing on the phone, and safer than sitting at the computer. Within the notebook, I have pages by context, project, and time, but it's ok if I record things on today's page. It's easier, and they will get to the right page soon enough.

Most things that arrive through email are done at my desk, so it's a context list. However, it's also a catch-all, and it's not complete. It's a catch-all because it's easy to email myself from my phone and notebook. Also, other people might email me about anything. If a non-desk task arrives through email, I either do it immediately, or move it to a better list.

A calendar is a context list. It shows you what you should do on each date.

+++

Mr. Backlog, Yes we are all different! In my ADHD group, we often find what works for most people won't work for us. Even within the group, some things work better for some people, or in different situations.

+++

List Size

Lists should grow and contract. Here are a few reasons.

Good reasons to grow: Beginning of a big project. Accumulation while temporarily busy. Reviewing life goals. Research. Exploring options.

Bad reason to grow: Long-term overcommitment. Stress. Procrastination. Apathy.

Good reasons to shrink: Nearing end of a project. Weeding. Selecting what you will and won't do. Research gave answers. Accomplishing things. Fewer incoming commitments. Reality check.

Bad reason to shrink: Depression.

Neutral reasons to change size: Consolidation. (The work is still there.)

+++

Inbox to Zero

GTD's version does not mean doing everything in the inbox.

From https://gettingthingsdone.com/2011/10/gtd-best-practices-process-part-2-of-5/ : "Processing is not doing, it's deciding." The same article recommends 30 seconds per item to process it. 60 email in 30 minutes. To process, it says ask, "1. What is it? 2. Is it actionable? 3. What is the desired outcome? If multi-step, write it on your Projects/Outcomes list. 4. What's the next (physical/visible) action? Write it on the appropriate Next Actions list."

+++

Clean _____

I've tried both extremes, and a middle ground. A long list of things did not work. It didn't match what actually needed doing in the moment. A single "housework" line didn't work, either. The entire house was overwhelming. What works best for me is listing the rooms. To "do the room" I did whatever stood out for five minutes or until I'd made it better than yesterday, and done 1/5 of the weekly work for that room, whichever took longer. Only 12 things on the list, and every one was immediately actionable. As long as I was in the house, I was "on list," which felt good.

+++

Ben, I can see the Tetris method working well.
January 8, 2018 at 16:25 | Registered CommenterCricket

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