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« Problem 2 - Too Little Time | Main | Problem 1 - Too Much Work »

Top 10 Reasons Simple Scanning is the Best of All Possible Systems

 Here are ten reasons why Simple Scanning is not just the best system so far discovered, but also the best of all possible systems. 

  1. No need to categorize, prioritize or standardize
  2. Weekly reviews not needed
  3. Resistance is non-existant
  4. Everything is enjoyable
  5. You can see clearly what you have done and what you haven’t
  6. Intuition rules
  7. No need to weed the list
  8. Maximizes the time available
  9. Nothing gets missed out
  10. You can put everything on the list

Reader Comments (23)


Do you use separate project work sheets/dynamic lists for some tasks or do you add the smaller tasks directly into your Simple Scanning list?
October 12, 2018 at 11:01 | Registered CommenterCaibre65

The great thing about Simple Scanning is that it is flexible enough to do either. But my own personal preference is to put as much as possible into the Simple Scanning list.
October 12, 2018 at 11:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Interesting ideas here, Mark. I'm knee-deep in the iPad/Apple Pencil world, and think these rules can work wonderfully with those tools. I'm going to try this for a few days and report back.
October 12, 2018 at 16:13 | Registered Commenteravrum
Hi Mark. Glad to read you and to see that I came to the same conclusion. The past months I ran through the "Mark Forster project": read your books and articles and try your different systems. I finally came to the same end: the long list and simple scanning came to be the best method. It combines simplicity in rules with a very profound "complexity" in it's results.
Another thing I discover is that the only other method that I kept was the dialogs from "How to make your dreams come true". Not the vision and reality; maybe the whats better list on occassions, but the dialogs... It's strange, but they provide some sense of distance, calm and perspective.
October 12, 2018 at 19:10 | Unregistered CommenterPablo
Thanks for the update. Do you have any new insights on how SS beats FFVP?
October 13, 2018 at 4:35 | Unregistered CommenterBernie

<< Do you have any new insights on how SS beats FFVP? >>

1. Because FFVP uses pre-selection, I find I experience more resistance than with SS.

2. SS ensures the whole list is scanned equally, which doesn't happen with SS.

3. I find I have more sense of control over the list as a whole with SS than I do with FFVP

4. FFVP is heavily weighted towards the end of the list rather than the beginning. SS is evenly weighted over the entire list.

5. There's a greater tendency to spend too much time chasing the end of the list with FFVP.

I realise some of these are quite subjective and reflect my own personal preferences, and I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from using FFVP if it suits their personal style better than SS.
October 13, 2018 at 10:52 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I don't know Mark, I like the feeling of "closed lists" of AF1 more than the large list of SS, especially if paired with a more relaxed dismissal system than the original, which makes it as fast as FAF and yet also self-controls its size. Although if so would you be able to say the advantages of SS over a such tweaked AF1?
October 13, 2018 at 14:49 | Registered Commenternuntym
I think Mark hits on some important insights about Simple Scanning here:

“Routines are the basis of all good work.” <— something Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) recommends in his talks/books ie Systems over goals
October 13, 2018 at 15:01 | Registered Commenteravrum

<< Although if so would you be able to say the advantages of SS over a such tweaked AF1? >>

Since you haven't said what the more relaxed dismissal system would be, I can't answer specifically. However as a general comment my experience is that the shorter a list is the greater the proportion of tasks will be that get actioned.

So for instance the 10 Task system in which you count off blocks of ten tasks and treat them as a virtual page usually results in a high proportion of the tasks being actioned. With AF1 the page in my notebook is 31 tasks. Fewer tasks proportionately will get actioned than with the 10 Task method, but the proportion will be greater than with Simple Scanning in which the "page" is the whole list.

The difference therefore is between progressing through the list slowly or fast. I think fast is better because 1) it means urgent tasks can be actioned quickly and 2) the whole list is kept in mind better - stuff doesn't get lost.
October 13, 2018 at 17:36 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I son't experience 5 or 7. 5, because operating on my iphone, deleted tasks disappear and there is no record of what I have done. 7 possibly because I am not always in the list, but there is a definite need to weed things.
October 14, 2018 at 4:32 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

How many tasks are on your SS list these days? Approximately how much time would it take you to scan the whole list?

I would like to experiment and copy your speed and see what happens.
October 14, 2018 at 10:42 | Unregistered CommenterLaby

<< How many tasks are on your SS list these days? >>

As of this minute, 86.

<< Approximately how much time would it take you to scan the whole list? >>

On a full working day, I would probably get round the whole list three or four times. On a day-off like today (Sunday) it would be more than that because I would be skipping over the weekday work tasks. (I use one list for everything).
October 14, 2018 at 11:32 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Alan Baljeu:

<< operating on my iphone, deleted tasks disappear and there is no record of what I have done. >>

This is a matter of which app you are using and how you have set it up. If you want to be able to see what you have done, then I'm sure it's possible - even on an iPhone. If you prefer deleted tasks to disappear, then leave it as it is.

<< there is a definite need to weed things. >>

I didn't put it very clearly, but what I meant was is that there is no need for a formal weeding rule. You can of course delete anything that's no longer relevant at any time.
October 14, 2018 at 11:40 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
No rule, but I will irregularly come to see the list as stale and then I do go through the whole and chuck things.

Regarding apps, in fact my issue is copying. I can certainly mark something Done in its place, but if it's not done and merely set aside, it's more tedious to reenter at the end as I would have to copy the text and make a new entry at the end. I'm sure a different tool wouldn't have this issue but I like the current one very much.
October 14, 2018 at 15:56 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Mark -

I've started using Simple Scanning and - almost immediately - began to appreciate the thinking behind the rules. Question:

A lot of my day has fits and starts. Small children that need to be supervised... a private practice whereby I'll have 10/15 minutes before/after a client's session.

Would you coach someone to use their list during these small breaks of 5, 10, 15 minutes? Do you suggest using the list for only larger chunks of time? Curious to hear your thoughts.
October 14, 2018 at 22:22 | Registered Commenteravrum

<< Would you coach someone to use their list during these small breaks of 5, 10, 15 minutes? >>

Definitely, yes. During the course of a day these small breaks add up to a significant amount of time. That fits neatly into the little but often scenario.
October 15, 2018 at 18:49 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I do think that my 5/30 rule will enhance this system as discussed before Mark.
October 16, 2018 at 8:17 | Unregistered CommenterNico the efficient task master
What rule is that?
October 16, 2018 at 15:18 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Thanks Mark. One other question:

Have you had to employ any tricks/tips to not wander from your list? I find it challenging to not drift from one thing to next... only realizing it's been many minutes (hours?) since I've strayed from the rules and list. One thing I've considered is timing myself, and then gauging the effectiveness of my day. In other words, I'd use a timer to measure my Simple Scanning activity, and then stop the scanner when I'm not. I'd then add up the sessions and compare/contrast throughout the week. Any thoughts on this?
October 16, 2018 at 18:29 | Registered Commenteravrum

<< Have you had to employ any tricks/tips to not wander from your list? >>

Put plenty of enjoyable things on the list as well as work.

When you want to have a break from the list decide how long it's going to be and set a countdown timer..
October 17, 2018 at 18:55 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks Mark!
October 18, 2018 at 19:09 | Registered Commenteravrum
Mark, do you often (or even always) time yourself on tasks? I have 15 and 30 minute hourglass timers at my desk that I have used on and off. I have found pros and cons to using them. Pros: I stay focused knowing that have a break coming up when they are done. Cons: If I work strictly with timed sessions, I often resist starting, or waste time when its over thinking I've deserved a "break". This seems somewhat at odds with the instruction to work on a task "for as long as you'd like". I do enjoy the flexibility of that statement, but also find that I often get distracted as well.

Also, of my 100+ items on my list, there are 2 or so that are extremely important for me to spend 90% of my day on at work. When reviewing the list for only 3-4 times each day, how is it that I can get to the these items little and often (often as in I probably need to get them 15-20 times through the day with "tiny and often" other items in between). The past few days I have found myself wasting quite a bit more time at work because my long list is a distraction at times. "Oooo...that is so small, I can just do that now. Oh, and that too. Oh, and I why not that?" Then I've spent a lot of work time doing personal items that I feel guilty for. What is the solution to this? I did find some success lately with GTD's admonition to "just trust your intuition". That is similar to SS, but the SS algorithm of scanning the entire list means that you spend time reading through the entire list and often getting distracted by other less important things that really shouldn't be worked on. I know the answer may be: just don't mark them as something to do. But then I always end up scanning a list of 100 plus items knowing I'll just be wanting to really scan the top 4 work things that are really weighing on my soul. Perhaps in this case it makes sense to have a personal list and a work list?

In my heart I believe these systems to be much user friendly than GTD. I have noticed however that I am slightly more distracted while using them the past couple of days because of the "full list scanning" that is part of the algorithm.
October 19, 2018 at 19:06 | Unregistered CommenterCameron
I'd love to see Mark's response, Cameron.

Questions: Do you have that many things because you have been ignoring them? Does finally getting to these "won't take very long" things mean your list might get shorter and soon things will be better sized? If you should spend 90% of your time on the Big One, how long can you stick with it when you get there? Suppose you put in your mind the question, what should I work on next and start scanning. Would such a headset help you skip past the chaff and get through the list to the Big One more quickly? Quickly enough?

If pondering these questions don't resolve your issue, I'll await Mark's insight to see if there's help before suggesting system changes.
October 19, 2018 at 19:41 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

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