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An interesting link

Daniel Brownlees has forwarded me a link to his new system Pivotlist.  It’s very much on the same wavelength as some of the methods discussed on this website, but not identical to any!


Change to Fast FVP

As the system I was testing didn’t work out the way I was hoping, I’ve changed to Fast FVP which is proving to be everything I’ve been looking for. A bit of loosening up of the rules has made it much more flexible and seems to have overcome most of the problems I have found with it before and with such systems as Simple Scanning and FVP.

Basically what I’ve done is to stick to what I said in the first paragraph of the Fast FVP article without adding the further complications in that article.

“Whenever a task is dotted which I am ready to do right now I stop scanning and do it. That’s all there is to it - it’s as simple as that, but the effect on the speed of the system is enormous.”

However that’s not going to make much sense to anyone who reads this without being already acquainted with FVP and FV. So here’s a complete set of rules. As always, I’ve written the rules for paper and pen, but it’s easy to implement them electronically if you so wish: 

  1. Fast FVP is intended to be used with a “catch-all” list, i.e. a full list of everything you have to do.
  2. It is better to start off with a few tasks and build the list up gradually rather than attempt to write everything out to begin with. That way the list will build up naturally and you will be more aware of what is on it.
  3. Dot the first task on the list. You can do it straight away if you want to, but if you don’t want to you carry on scanning through the list dotting tasks that you intend to do.
  4. At any stage you can either work on the task you have just dotted or carry on down the list dotting further tasks.
  5. When you have worked on a task you cross it out and re-enter it at the end of the list if further work is needed on it.
  6. You then can either work on the previous dotted task or carrying on dotting further tasks.
  7. That’s basically it, but there are two rules dealing with the beginning and end of the list:
    1. Whenever you delete the first task on the list the new first task must be dotted
    2. Whenever you reach the end of the list you must work on the last dotted task on the list.

To sum up, except where rules 7.1 and 7.2 apply you always have a choice of:

  • Working on the last dotted task on the list OR
  • Adding further dots after the task you have just done.

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.


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.


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”.


Testing an HITM System 3: Bedding In

As I’ve said before, a list needs to become mature before it’s really effective but even on Day 2 there has been some movement.

Basically all the goals I reported on yesterday have remained the same with progress on all of them (except the funny cat videos). But there have been a few additions: 

  • The most important is fitness. I did my 10,000 steps today and intend to keep that going. But I’ve yet to incorporate strength training.
  • French and German have added themselves to Welsh. I know French well and German not so well, but they are both far advanced from where I’ve got to with Welsh. I’ve also got moving again on learning the Armenian alphabet (39 letters compared with 26 for English). 

Remember, these are not goals I’ve committed myself to or New Year resolutions. They are arising directly from what I am actually doing. I expect them to change and develop.


Testing an HITM System 2: Goals I Seem to Have

Looking back this morning on my first day of testing yesterday, it occurred to me to ask the question:

“If I were a stranger looking at the list of what I actually did yesterday, what would I say my goals were?”

Now bearing in mind that yesterday was not only a Sunday but New Year’s Eve as well, here’s the list I came up with (in no particular order): 

  • Learn Welsh
  • Develop the ideal HITM system
  • Keep up my One Line A Day diary
  • Keep Popular Content on my website up-to-date
  • Read Books and Magazines
  • Watch Funny Cat Videos on Youtube
  • Maintain zero inbox in:
    • Paper
    • Email
    • Messenger
    • Facebook
    • Voicemail
    • Doing the Dishes
    • Finance
    • Blog Comments 

There are two huge omissions from that list: Exercise and Writing Blog Posts. But, hey, it was supposed to be a day off!

Now if I take this HITM thing seriously I should see my goals change and develop in ways which would be inaccessible otherwise.

Blwydden newydd dda!


Testing an HITM System - 1

I’m starting to test a new HITM (High Intensity Time Management) system today. This is designed to improve some of the problems I’ve been having with “Simple Scanning”. Those of you who follow my blog will know that I made Simple Scanning the standard for HITM after the failure of another system for which I had high hopes. So Simple Scanning was always in default of a better system.

The main problem with all “catch all” lists is that as the list gets longer so it becomes more and more difficult to control the timing of tasks. The whole point of a “catch all” list is that it is long. That is because the idea is that the list will filter all the ideas that you have been having and make coherent sense of them in your life. If this sounds like a tall order, it is!

Another problem is that the longer the list the longer it takes to scan it. For instance FVP will scan a long list very thoroughly and effectively but takes a lot of scanning time to do so.

And yet another problem is that if you lose either speed or direction, or both, you lose momentum and eventually will get bored with the list.

What I have been working on for months now is the question of how to improve both speed and direction. I think I have now found an answer to this problem, but of course I won’t really know until I’ve tested it thoroughly. The testing started first thing this morning.


Physician, heal thyself

Rule 5 of the Simple Scanning Rules states:

There are no rules about how you write the task - just as long as you can understand what you meant when you come back to it.

I’ve just come across this task on my list which I wrote earlier today:

Weed “British”

I have not got the faintest idea what I meant by it.



Addition to Simple Scanning Rules

I’ve added a couple of suggestions to the rules for Simple Scanning:
  • Draw a line across the page at the beginning of each day. This helps to remind you whether you’ve done a daily task that day and enables you to see how long any task has been on the list.
  • When re-entering a task, do it in the following order: 1) Re-write the task at the end of the list 2) Cross out the old one. This will prevent you from failing to remember to re-enter a task, and also from losing your place.

Simple Scanning - Clumping, Attenuation and Maturity

If you haven’t already read the previous article on Simple Scanning then you need to do so before reading this.

My original intention was to write a separate blog post about each of these characteristics of Simple Scanning. However it seems easier to write one post and cover all three in one go. They are by no means confined to Simple Scanning, but that seems to be the system which best combines them  - the best I’ve been able to discover so far anyway.


In Simple Scanning tasks are written on the list when you think of them, without any attempt to classify or order them. But as one works the list, so the tasks which get done together will be re-entered on the list together. So the very action of using the system tends to mean that, as you progress, the amount of scanning time becomes progressively shorter and the speed at which you select tasks off the list gets faster. This particularly applies to routine tasks which need to be done at a particular time of day, such as a morning routine or an evening routine.


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.


When you start a new list, you can’t expect to leap into full-ahead productivity immediately. It takes time for the list to mature.  You usually find that you start off by working on easy, routine tasks. This is entirely how it should be because you need to get these routines well established before you can start on more challenging work. Gradually you will find that more and more of the “real work” gets incorporated in your routines. Routines are the basis of all good work. You will find it very difficult to keep up to date with your work if you only work on it by fits and starts.

When you add a new project it too takes time to get established. Unless it’s urgent, your intuition will probably allow it to lie fallow for a bit, but once you start working on it it will become easier and easier to keep working on it.


The effect of these three working together provides a high-speed high-volume method of tackling your work which requires no more than writing down what you have to do on a list, scanning it and working on the tasks which stand out. The method itself require an absolute minimum of overhead.


Simple Scanning - The Rules

As I said in an earlier blog post, I was using Simple Scanning as far back as twenty years ago. But at the time I did not realise its potential. I may say more about that in future posts.

Up to now I’ve never written any formal rules for Simple Scanning preferring to describe it as “going round and round the list, doing tasks which stand out”.

There are several concepts there which need explanation, particularly if you haven’t used any of my systems before.

Simple Scanning is what I call a “long list” system. In long list systems the aim is to write everything down that you have to do, want to do or think you might do in one long list in no particular order. There should be no attempt to categorise, prioritise, or emphasise particular tasks in any way. There are no rules about what size individual tasks have to be or how they should be worded. 

Since this is an intuitive system it is recommended (but not essential) that you use paper and pen rather than electronic means. A lined notebook is ideal.

If you use electronic means, be wary of time management apps which try to make you categorise and/or prioritise. These will work against the effective use of the system.

The second concept which needs explanation is what I call “standing out”. This basically consists of scanning through the list, doing tasks which you feel you want to do now. Don’t ask yourself “Do I want to do this task now?”. Just let the tasks stand out of their own accord.

For some people this comes easily and naturally, for others it takes longer to grasp.

Don’t get too worried about it. There’s no right number of tasks to select per pass. Assume you are doing it right unless you either find yourself selecting every single task or alternatively none at all. Allow it to find its own level naturally.

Another concept is that you should work on a task only for as long as you feel you want to. It is better to work “little and often” on tasks, than to work in huge bursts of activity - specially if the thought of a huge burst of activity puts you off from ever starting.

So however long your list is, you should be doing only tasks which you feel you want to do now and only for as long as you want to do them. 

Now for the actual rules for simple scanning:


  1. Write a list of things you have to do, would like to do or think you might do. One task per line.
  2. If you are not sure about a task write it with a query (?) after it. 
  3. There is no need to make the list comprehensive because you can keep adding to it as you go along.
  4. Don’t make any additional markings to indicate category or priority. 
  5. There are no rules about how you write the task - just as long as you can understand what you meant when you come back to it.
  6. Tasks can be as large or as small as you like.
  7. When you have finished writing your initial list, read it through quickly once to remind yourself of what is on it and where.
  8. Scan down the list until a task stands out as being ready to do.
  9. Work on it for as long as you like. 
  10. When you have finished working on it for the time being, re-enter it at the end of the list if there is still work to be done on it or if it’s a recurring task. 
  11. Cross out the task you have been working on.
  12. Continue scanning down the list and repeat Rules 8. to 12. until it is time to stop working. 
  13. When you reach the end of the list, circle round to the beginning of the list.
  14. At the beginning of the next work period, start again from where you got to.

A couple of suggestions: 

  • Draw a line across the page at the beginning of each day. This helps to remind you whether you’ve done a daily task that day, and enables you to see how long any task has been on the list.
  • When re-entering a task, do it in the following order: 1) Re-write the task at the end of the list 2) Cross out the old one. This will prevent you from failing to remember to re-enter a task, and also from losing your place.




High Intensity Use of Time - A Decision

After a lot more experimenting, I haven’t been able to find a system which works consistently better than Simple Scanning. So I taken the decision that I’m going to be concentrating on that from now on.

At the same time I’ve found out lots more about how Simple Scanning works and about what makes it suitable as the vehicle for High Intensity Use of Time.

Here are three characteristics which make it faster and more effective than any other long-list system: 

  • Clumping
  • Attenuation
  • Maturity 

Over the next few days I shall be writing about each of these (not necessarily in that order) to show how they work together to produce the high intensity.


High Intensity Use of Time - Progress

I seem to have succeeded in sorting out the bugs in my proposed new method. So I hope to reveal it soon. I think I’ll post the method before, rather than after, writing my short ebook on the subject so I can incorporate reactions to the method in the text.

This ebook will definitely be free of charge once it sees the light of day.


High Intensity Use of Time - Progress (or lack of it!)

Unfortunately I’ve been having some problems with my new High Intensity system which means that for the time being I’ve been forced to put the projected ebook on hold.

In the meantime I’m currently taking a break from long lists by going back temporarily to my favourite No List system - The Next Hour, which as always I’m finding very powerful.


What is a Task?

An email from dvd1955 raises an important point:

Could you please explain a little, maybe in a blog post for all to see, what you consider a “task” to be?  My confusion comes from the fact that the average time you must spend on a task is very low to get the number of tasks completed that you mention in some of your posts. For example, The High-Intensity Use of Time update mentions getting 30 tasks done in less than four hours. That means the average time spent on a task is under 8 minutes. When I look at the first twenty items on my current list, there are only three or four that could be done in under 8 minutes. And many of them would take well over 30 minutes, eating up that four hours very quickly. Some of them could be split into shorter sessions but many cannot.

 Looking at my current list I have some tasks that will take a long time, e.g. 

  • Learn Welsh
  • Write Ebook
  • Tax Return 

Some which are “portmanteau tasks”, which will take as long as I choose to give them, e.g. 

  • Read Kindle
  • Read [physical] Books
  • Watch DVDs 

Some which will take a medium amount of time, e.g. 

  • Walking
  • Visit Friend in Hospital
  • Write blog post 

Some which are variable in time taken but usually relatively short, e.g. 

  • Comments
  • Email
  • Voicemail
  • Arrange Boiler Service 

There’s also a special class of very short tasks. I have a lot of them on my list. Some examples: 

  • Tidy Desk
  • Tidy Office Table
  • Tidy Office Floor
  • Check Overcoat Pockets
  • Put Papers Away
  • Check Lowest Point Bank Balance
  • Shred Papers 
  • Check Diary

These last ones are essential for the smooth running of my work. I do many of them several times a day and they may take only seconds to do. But they are what keep my office efficient and tidy, my papers where I can find them, and so on. 

They are the sort of things which you might find on a checklist. So why not use a checklist? There are some very good reasons. The first is that a checklist is another document that I would have to find. The second is that “Office Checklist” is a large task and therefore tends to get done only once a day. “Tidy Desk” is a small task, especially if it’s done three or four times a day. Having this type of task on the main list gives much more flexibility.

So what is a task?

My answer is “Whatever you want it to be”. The way I write my tasks is the result of long experience in the best to write a particular task for me. I have no standard rules about length or format. My only rule is to write all tasks in such a way that I can remember what they mean. I don’t want to find myself trying to work out what the task “John re Email” refers to. Who on earth is John? His email or mine or someone else’s? What about? Did I mean Joan not John?


High Intensity Use of Time - Ebook

I’m so pleased with this new system that I’ve decided that a blog post won’t do it justice. So I’m aiming to write an ebook which I will make available on this website.

I haven’t yet even begun to sketch out the contents, neither do I have any idea what the word-count of the book will be. So it will be a measure of the system’s effectiveness how long it takes me to write the book without a publisher breathing down my neck.

All the rest of the details will begin to take shape once I start working on it.


Thoughts on the Long List - High Intensity Use of Time

Using my latest method, which is designed to be a High Intensity Use of Time, I have done 94 tasks out of 149 in the last 24 hours with 55 tasks remaining on the list, mostly re-entries.

During the day I was absent at a pub lunch with friends for four hours.

I experienced no resistance, got everything of importance done (and everything of lesser importance too). And instead of feeling exhausted, I have been getting steadily more energetic throughout the day.


Thoughts on the Long List - High Speed High Volume

As I mentioned yesterday, a system which reduces resistance to zero is a real game-changer. So many of the concerns about time management vanish when you can simply do stuff. You don’t need to worry about the number of things you have to do, you don’t get backlogs building up, and you are not doing anything just as a way of avoiding something else.

It’s not just that you do the work faster. The work itself gets faster. Routines build up faster. Weeding gets faster. Follow up gets faster. Records are better kept. Problems get sorted quicker. Everything is up to date. You can find things faster. And above all knowing you are completely on top of your work gives you tremendous energy.

Sounds good?

More soon!


Thoughts on the Long List - The Better Way

In fact there is a better way than Simple Scanning - a way which meets all the criteria which I mentioned in the preliminary post in the Thoughts on the Long List series with particular emphasis on high speed and high volume:

  • Fast
  • Flexible
  • Comprehensive
  • No resistance
  • Any length of list
  • No pressure to do any particular tasks
  • Relies entirely on intuition, i.e. “standing out” 

I’ve been working on this system for months now trying to get it exactly right. As always when I finally arrive, the answer is very simple.

Getting high speed and high volume is largely a matter of reducing resistance to as close to zero as it’s possible to get, plus having a scanning system which doesn’t get in the way. Once that’s been achieved everything else becomes much easier - because if you’re going to do everything and do it fast the concerns about urgent items, backlogs, unstarted projects, length of the list, etc, just fall away.

You also of course get enormous energy just by the fact that you are on top of things.

More about this soon.


Thoughts on the Long List - A Better Way? (cont.)

Since I left off writing my previous post three days ago, I have been ceaselessly experimenting with the issues raised there.

I’ve come to two major conclusions: 

  1. “Standing out for No” tends to become less effective with time, while “Standing out for Yes” becomes more effective with time. I’m referring to one’s mental receptivity to the results here.
  2. A system based on “Standing out for No” has a major disadvantage compared with “Standing out for Yes”. This is that it is far less sensitive to timing, mood, readiness, alertness, etc. 

And arising out of those two conclusions, there is one further conclusion. Simple Scanning is best done the way I’ve done it up to now.

I’ll be exploring the implications of this in future posts in the Thoughts on the Long List series.


Thoughts on the Long List - A Better Way?

There is an interesting discussion ongoing on the forum. The question has been raised whether “standing out” is the best way to process a list. The essence of “standing out” is that tasks you want to do will stand out from the list. You therefore proceed from one task you want to do to the next one you want to do.

The trouble with this is that many people find that they never want to do certain tasks - which may be the very ones that they most need to do. They are therefore in danger of endlessly processing trivial easy tasks without ever getting to what really matters.

What is therefore being suggested is the opposite of this. Instead of looking for the tasks that we do want to do and ignoring the rest, we should do every task except the ones that stand out as ones we don’t want to do.

This is similar to the well-known technique for choosing between two alternatives - toss a coin and stick to the result unless you get a strong adverse feeling. That way you’ve cut through all the stuff going backwards and forwards through your mind and discovered which of the two alternatives you really want.

(To be continued)