With great regret I’ve been forced to withdraw from the Tough Mudder Half which I was due to take part in this coming Saturday.
The reason is that the cancer which I suffered from in 2014 has now returned, and I’m in the middle of scans and consultations to determine what to do next. To say that this is a trying time would be an understatement.
Nevertheless I did all the training for the Mudder up until about a week ago, so I hope that those of you who have been generous enough to sponsor me and my team won’t feel that you have been swindled!
The amount raised so far by my team on the Eventbrite site is £1,222.23, to which another £60 given directly can be added, making a total of £1,282.23 (approx $1,649).
It’s not too late to donate if you would still like to support my team in this event even though sadly they will be without me.
Latest total £982.23 (approx. $1,310) with nine days still to go.
With many thanks to everyone who’s given so far.
Unfortunately I can’t thank you personally because the giving site doesn’t send me your email addresses, but I would if I could!
So far our team has raised £615 from 27 donors. Many thanks to all those who have given.
And to those who haven’t please do spare something - however small!
Update at 10 p.m. Now £690!
Update at 12 Noon Wednesday: £820 - please keep going!
On September 17th I’m taking part in a Tough Mudder Half - a five mile obstacle course run - in aid of Help for Heroes with three fantastic (and much younger) team mates, Fiona Campbell, Abigail Sanderson, and Kate Tonizzo.
At 72 years of age I think I’m going to be one of the oldest participants!
Please would you consider sponsoring me? Anything you can give, however little (or large), would be greatly appreciated. It’s for a very good cause.
Last year my team raised over £3,000 for the UCLH Cancer Centre - can we beat that this year?
And thank you in advance for your generosity.
It’s unlikely that I’ll be able to do much blogging for the rest of this month as we’re having to move out of our house into temporary accommodation so that the damage done by the flood can be completely repaired. As everything will be thrown out of joint, I’m shedding commitments - and unfortunately this blog is one of them!
I’m hoping I may be able to continue to reply to comments and forum posts and perhaps even make the occasional blog post, but I can’t guarantee anything.
The Random Hour yesterday did not live up to its early promise and by this morning I had had enough of trying to get things to happen in the order I wanted and went back to The Next Hour of Your Life - where I can control the order without any difficulty. Another problem I found with The Random Hour was that I tended to overload it just because it had the random element. I’m not quite sure why that is, but it’s not a problem I’ve had with The Next Hour.
So, what I intend to concentrate on now is working out the best ways of using The Next Hour.
I’ve discovered one important fact about The Next Hour already, and that is that it doesn’t work well when used with paper and pen. It needs an electronic platform.
I’ve found a great strength of the method is that you can arrange the tasks in exactly the order you want them to be done. But even within a short space of time like an hour circumstances can change, so you need to be able to change the order. This gives the method a good deal of flexibility.
There are some basic principles that you should keep to:
- You should do tasks in the order they are written
- You should enter tasks at the end of the list
- You should not exceed approximately one hour’s worth of tasks
- The order can be changed if it needs to be, but only if it needs to be
As for the mechanics of it, I use a simple checklist in Evernote. I’m sure there are plenty of other programs and apps which would do the job even better, but for the moment I’m sticking with the one I know. I have to admit that part of the reason is that the Evernote checklist is just a checklist and one is not tempted by all the bells and whistles that some dedicated to-do list apps have. Simplicity is the key here.
The details of what I’m doing are:
- I’m using a 22 line notebook, specifically a Moleskine Cahier.
- I’ve set the Randomizer on 11 (i.e. half the page)
- No sliding - I just count the active tasks
- The list is a rolling list of approximately one hour’s work.
Although today’s been very fragmented, the system has been pretty successful so far. Tomorrow should be a bit more stable, which will give a better opportunity for it to show its paces.
I had great hopes yesterday that speeding up Autofocus would result in being able to do everything - or at the least more of everything. Unfortunately it had exactly the opposite effect. It speeded up the rate at which the list grew and increased the sense of oppression that comes from having a list that is growing faster than you can deal with it. Not good!
Which leaves me with The Next Hour of Your Life as the method which so far gets nearest to enabling one to do everything. I’m going to concentrate on that for a bit to see exactly where it leads. It’s going to be particularly interesting as I’m about to go through quite a rough period of moving out of my house on a so far unknown date to a so far unknown location for a so far unknown period to allow the repairs to be done to the damage caused by flooding. That’s quite a test for a time management system.
The answer to the question I asked in my last post is The Next Hour of Your Life as nuntym correctly guessed in the comments. This is a really good no-list system and I can recommend it to anyone who would like to try one. It has stood me in good stead over some quite trying times recently.
However for those who prefer a “catch-all” system, I am currently working on a system I call FastFocus. This is a speeded-up version of the original Autofocus system (AF1). The big limitation with any catch-all system comes as the list grows faster than you are capable of actioning it.
But since my aim at the moment is to find a system which really will allow you to do everything as well as anything, I’ve got to hit that limitation fair and square. To do that, it’s necessary to focus on removing the sources of friction within the system.
What are the sources of friction in a system like Autofocus?
I’ve identified a few and done what I can to remove them:
- Procrastination. The original Autofocus (and many of its successors) relied on the threat of dismissal to deal with tasks that were being procrastinated over. This was never really satisfactory and sometimes had the effect of increasing procrastination rather than reducing it.
- Time spent scanning. In Autofocus you have to read through a page and then circulate round it waiting for the next task to stand out. This is actually quite a slow process.
- Time spent choosing. Even during one visit to a page, a task can be passed over several times before being chosen. This is also quite a slow process.
- Excessive fragmentation. Circulating round and round a page encourages very small “bites” at tasks. This results in its taking a long time to complete a task and a danger of leaving tasks half finished. Although “little and often” is good in principle, Autofocus encourages taking it to excess.
- Loss of momentum. This results from the excessive fragmentation. When a task makes little progress each time it is visited, there is a lack of finished work, leading to a loss of forward movement.
FastFocus improves all of these factors, but I haven’t been using it long enough to know if it improves it enough to achieve my aim of doing everything. I’ll keep you posted!
Can I do everything yet? (That is everything I actually want to do)
Not quite but I’m getting there!
I enjoyed the Random Method, and it certainly produced a high volume of work from me. But in the end I found it is too much of a scatter-gun approach. I need something more targeted - though ideally producing no greater an amount of procrastination.
So, a method that’s closely focused but with minimum procrastination… where would I find that?
Well, I found one that fitted the bill among the many systems we’ve discussed recently. If you’re a regular reader, see if you can identify it.
A few clues:
- It’s one of the no-list systems
- It is much more targeted than the Random System
- It is very time sensitive
- It was the only way I succeeded in overcoming a particularly bad bout of resistance (to everything) this week.
- So it actually produces less procrastination than the random method.
- It provides a sense of direction.
- It’s very flexible
- You can quickly react to changes of circumstance or location
After experimenting with various methods of working the Random Method I’ve come to the following conclusions:
- The random method is best taken neat without any attempts to prioritize. The reason is that whatever method you use for prioritizing will slow down the rest of the system.
- For the best results the list needs to be kept well-weeded. I am finding it works best with 35-40 items on the list - much above that and its effectiveness starts to fall off.
- You can use the list for time-sensitive stuff, subject to my final point, which is:
- When something needs doing now, do it now.
In yesterday’s post I suggested that the “dot and do” approach could be done anytime
However I think a more structured approach would be helpful and so I suggest something on these lines.
When moving to a new task, use the Randomizer to select the task as usual
Review any tasks marked as time-sensitive which lie between the task you have just finished and the task which the Randomizer has just landed on.
For example your Randomizer throws an 18. You have two time-sensitive tasks marked, one at 5 and one at 13. What do you do?
- Dot the task at 18.
- Examine the task at 5 and decide whether it should be done now.
- If yes, do it. If no, leave it where it is.
- Examine the task at 13 and decide whether it should be done now
- If yes, do it. If no, leave it where it is.
- Do the task at 18.
- Throw the Randomizer for the next task.
One word of caution. Mark tasks in this way very sparingly. Remember that whenever you increase the priority of a task, you are at the same time reducing the priority of everything else. So keep it for when it’s really needed. Don’t do it as a matter of routine. The basic rule is that the Randomizer should select the next task to be done whenever possible.
The major problem with the Random Method is that as the list gets longer so the maximum time it takes to get to a particular task gets longer too. The result is that some tasks don’t get dealt with as quickly as we need them to be.
However this can be dealt with simply and easily by making one amendment to the rules. I call it “dot and do”.
The amendment allows any task on the list to be done at any time by dotting it and doing it. The dotted task is treated just as if it had been selected by the Randomizer, i.e. the next scan starts from it.
Since tasks treated in this way are normally ones which are coming under time pressure and therefore are forcing themselves on your attention, selecting them does not involve rejecting any other tasks. As a result procrastination is not increased.
I find it useful to mark up in advance the tasks which may come under time pressure. Then at any time I can easily see at a glance if any tasks need to be “dotted and done”. However as far as possible selection should be done by the Randomizer.
The way I mark up these tasks is to mark them with an empty dot, i.e. a small circle. But you of course can use whatever way of marking you prefer.
I’ve been trying this out for the last couple of days and it’s been amazingly successful. I’ve only needed to use “dot and do” a few times, but the ability to do it within the rules removes all the anxiety felt when a task gets overdue.
I found that the idea of a day list didn’t work with the Random Method. The reason was quite simply that I found myself feeling pressurized to get all the tasks done by the end of the day. Since one of the great advantages of the Random Method is how little pressure one feels, I thought that was throwing away one of the best features.
However I think I have discovered a simple amendment to the rules that solves all the Random Method problems and allows you to have as long a list as you like!
I’ll describe it tomorrow if it’s still working for me.
Over the last two days I’ve been testing to see how well the Random Method would perform before I tried any of the possible modifications described in yesterday’s post.
Using a notebook with 21 lines to the page
6 pages used
Page 1 - 21 tasks done, 0 not done
Page 2 - 21 tasks done, 0 not done
page 3 - 18 tasks done, 3 not done
page 4 - 10 tasks done, 11 not done
page 5 - 2 tasks done, 19 not done
page 6 - 0 tasks done, 5 not done
Total tasks: 110
Total done: 72
Total not done: 38
Page 3 - 3 tasks done, 0 not done
Page 4 - 11 tasks done, 0 not done
Page 5 - 12 tasks done, 7 not done
Page 6 - 9 tasks done, 12 not done
Page 7 - 7 tasks done, 14 not done
Page 8 - 0 tasks done, 13 not done
Total Tasks over 2 days: 160
Total Done in 2 Days: 114
Total Not Done: 46
Not so bad!
Tomorrow (Wednesday) I’m going to try it as a day list, with the aim of ending the day with zero tasks undone.
Here are some possible ways in which the Random Method could be improved.
The main problem with it is that the longer the list gets the longer the average time before individual tasks gets actioned.
To counteract this there needs to be either a restriction on the number of tasks entered, or some sort of prioritizing system to ensure that the tasks that need dealing with frequently get despatched quickly.
The easiest way to restrict the number of tasks on the list is to start a new list at the beginning of each day. The aim should be to finish all the tasks each day.
The alternative approach, as I’ve just said, is to allow the list to grow but to develop some sort of prioritizing system.
Here’s a possible one, which is automatic and adjusts to the nature of the random process itself:
- When you finish working on a task and there is still work left to do, re-enter the task in the normal way at the end of the list, but add another copy of the task.
- When you finish working on a task and no work is left to do, cross it out - and if it is a recurrent task re-enter it. Do not delete any extra copies added under rule 1.
- When you are directed to a task by the Randomizer and the task is “empty”, i.e. there is no work to do, delete it. If it is a recurrent task and there are no other copies of the task in the list, re-enter it. If there are other copies then don’t re-enter it.
Using these rules the speed at which the Random Method picks tasks will automatically adjust to the amount of work that is needed to keep the tasks up-to-date.
At least that’s what I hope will happen. I haven’t tested it out yet!
Anyone want to give it a try?
Since we have been discussing the Random Method of time management in yesterday’s post and its comments, I thought I’d say a little bit about it in today’s blog post.
First of all here’s the link to the original post about the method.
Re-reading it as I am now after an interval of two and a half years, here’s a few remarks about it:
- Setting the range of the Randomizer for the number of lines on the page is more important than I thought at the time.
- If you set the Randomizer for a lower number you may not be able to jump the crossed out tasks on a page, which means you will be stuck on the page until every task has been done on it.
- Setting the Randomizer for a higher number on the other hand means you may miss out a page altogether, which may upset the weighting towards earlier tasks.
- Don’t let your list get too long. I recommend a maximum of the number of tasks you can work on during an average day. (Notice I say “work on”, not “do”). If you have more than that number the gap between writing a task on the list and working on it gets too long.
- Remember that a random system is just that - random. It is not in any way taking your needs and priorities into account. There is no guarantee that any particular task will be worked on during a day, while some may be worked on several times.
- For these reasons don’t use the system for very time-sensitive tasks. It is brilliant for despatching a lot of work in a very short time, but you can’t guarantee exactly how long that “short time” will be. Use a schedule instead for this type of task.
- Remember the longer your list the longer the average time to reach any given task.
- The list is weighted so that the longer a task has been on the list the more likely it is to get picked during a pass. Conversely the shorter the time a task has been on the list the less likely it is to get picked.
- Don’t put tasks on the list that you aren’t fully committed to doing. If the system picks a task and you don’t do it, you are undermining the effectiveness of the system and you will start to experience procrastination with a vengeance.
Tomorrow I’m going to discuss some possible amendments to the system to make it even more effective.
Over the last months I’ve been doing a whole load of experimentation with no-list methods. More recently I’ve been re-visiting the idea of randomness in time management. And I’ve realised that the two methods have something in common.
The common factor is that they both have a reputation for reducing procrastination.
I started wondering about why this was and I realised that both methods do not involve rejecting tasks.
What do I mean by that?
In most list-based time management systems, whether mine or other people’s, the process of selecting the next task for action involves scanning the list and selecting the task from it. But you’re not just selecting a task; you are also rejecting every task that you scanned before selecting that task. If you have a long to-do list some tasks may end up being rejected scores or even hundreds of times.
My theory is that every time you reject doing a task you increase the amount you are resisting doing that task.
By contrast the selection process in both no-list systems and random systems does not involve rejecting any tasks.
In most no-list systems you make a short list (usually 1-5 items) of what you are going to do and then do them in order. You don’t at any stage scan over any of the tasks and reject them.
In a random system you are simply told what to do by the randomizer. You don’t have to reject anything. The randomizer selects the next task from the list for you.
So the converse of my theory is that the less often you reject a task the less you build up resistance to doing it.
So what sort of system can we design round this? We need a system in which we know what to do next without having to reject any tasks during a selection process.
Here are four ways of achieving this:
- By having a boss who tells you what to do all the time
- By doing everything on your list in the order you wrote it down
- By not having a list but instead just writing down a few tasks at a time and doing them
- By having a randomizer select tasks from a list for you
Can you think of other ways of achieving this?
My monthly newsletter was due to be published at 11 a.m. UK time today. Unfortunately last night we had a major flood at home when a pipe burst and we were unable to turn off the mains water supply. Dealing with the aftermath of this means that it may be a few days before I can publish the newsletter.