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Wednesday
Mar012017

The Lenten Challenge Starts

We’re off! Or least those on the same or earlier time zones as me are. The rest of the world will have to wait for a few hours.

I made a last minute decision to use FVP rather than anything else. I may live to regret that, but I can’t change it until the end of the challenge. So if it doesn’t work out, I’m stuck with it.

This is the original FVP, not the fast version.

Good luck to everyone who is taking part, whether they’ve announced the fact or not.

Tuesday
Feb282017

Ready for the Start?

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the start of my challenge to myself, and anyone who wants to join me, of sticking to the same time management system for the whole of Lent. 

I’ve decided not to use The Bounce because I don’t want this to be a test of a specific system, but of what happens when one consistently uses the same “catch-all” system over a period of time. 

So instead I am going to use the most basic “catch-all” system, which consists of nothing more than repeatedly scanning the list from beginning to end, taking action on any task which stands out as being ready to be done.

Those who want to join me in the challenge can use whatever system they like - or none at all.

I started using the system yesterday so that I’d be up and running for the start tomorrow.  I copied over the list I was using with The Bounce into a new notebook. There were 113 tasks on the list. 

Note that there is a certain amount of disagreement about when exactly Lent ends. For the purposes of this challenge only I am including Good Friday (April 14), but not Holy Saturday (April 15).

Thursday
Feb232017

What to give up for Lent?

Lent starts next Wednesday (March 1st).

Each year for Lent I give up something different. One year I gave up alcohol (never again!), another caffeine (even worse!) and one year I gave up swearing even under my breath (every time I swore I gave £1 to charity - it cost me a fortune!).

This year I have decided to give up changing time management systems.

So whichever system I am using when I go to bed on February 28th will be the only one I will use until I go to bed on April 14th. I don’t know which it will be, but the one I am currently using is The Bounce - see here.

Anyone want to join me in this? You can use whatever system you like - or none. The only rule is that whatever you choose, you can’t change it until the end.

Wednesday
Feb152017

This One!

Here’s the answer to the question I posed in my previous post.

It’s the method described at http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2006818#post2070863

I hope I didn’t mislead people too much by saying it wasn’t one of the Autofocus systems. I don’t think of it as an Autofocus system and it doesn’t bear an official AF series number, but I see it was originally part of a discussion on possible AF variations. The name I usually give this to myself is The Bounce for reasons which are obvious if you read the instructions. I keep track of the direction I am going in by using a caret or upside down caret in place of a dot when selecting a task.

I had it in mind that I had written more about this somewhere, but for the life of me I can’t find it. Kudos to anyone who can find some other references.

And it’s still working really well with 68 active tasks on my current list.

Pages are not relevant to the actual mechanics of the method, but they are useful to see what sort of spread the system gives. I’m using a standard Moleskine notebook with 31 lines to the page. I started with a fresh list so only this method has been used on it.

Active tasks per page:

Page 1 0

Page 2 0

Page 3 0

Page 4 5

Page 5 13

Page 6 2

Page 7 9

Page 8 11 (including this one)

Page 9 20

Page 10 8 (out of 8)

Tuesday
Feb142017

Guess which?

For the last few days I’ve been resurrecting an old method and getting really good results from it. I know some of you like playing the detective, so here are some clues. Can you identify the method?

 

  • It uses a full “catch-all” list
  • It’s not one of the Autofocus, Superfocus, FV, or FVP based methods
  • Any task can be accessed immediately
  • It does not use any form of random selection
  • There is no pre-selection - only one task is selected at a time.
  • New tasks can be added at any time
  • There is no “dismissal” of tasks
  • Unfinished and recurrent tasks are re-entered immediately
  • Selection is fast and easy
  • It is very responsive to circumstances, time of day, etc
  • No need to have separate lists for work, office, home, etc.
  • The list is treated as one whole - no pages involved.

 

I’ve never really given this method a fair trial in the past. I think this is because I’ve made the mistake of starting it on an already long list. This time I started with a list of only ten tasks and let the list grow of its own accord. At the moment my list is 69 tasks long and the method is still working well.

Tuesday
Feb072017

Natural Selection Changes the Emphasis

One of the things that is coming out in the comments to yesterday’s post on The Natural Selection of Tasks is that the commenters are still thinking in terms of getting everything on the list done. But the whole point of Natural Selection is that you don’t get everything done or even aim to get everything done. You allow tasks and projects to find their own level.

The difference could be summarised as: 

  1. A comprehensive list of everything that needs to be done, OR
  2. A wide-ranging list of everything that you might do

 In the case of 1, the aim is to do everything on the list as quickly as possible whether you want to or not.

In the case of 2, the aim is to whittle the list down to what you are actually ready and motivated to do.

It should be obvious that there will be one major difference between how these two lists get actioned. In the case of 1, you will be continually struggling against procrastination. In the case of 2, procrastination will be virtually non-existent. 

In the absence of procrastination, the speed of work will be much greater. Therefore in theory you will get much more work done in the case of 2 than you would in the case of 1.

In practice, I have found this to be so. I have powered through mountains of work in the last few days, including stuff which I have been stuck over for weeks (even months in a few cases).

I know that my experience of a system doesn’t necessarily correspond to somone else’s experience, so this may not be for everyone. But I do encourage you to have a go  However make sure that you have first taken on board what I said at the end of yesterday’s article:

…the difference is not so much in the method as in the mental attitude that goes with it. It’s a matter of learning to trust that your subconscious mind is quite capable of sorting through your tangled priorities without any interference from your conscious mind. In fact it does a much better job on its own.

Monday
Feb062017

The Natural Selection of Tasks

When I first started developing Autofocus one of the ideas that was at the foundation of what I was trying to achieve was the natural selection of tasks. By this I meant that I wanted to find a method that would free our minds to naturally focus on what was important to us and leave the rest.

This never quite worked out with Autofocus or its successors. Recently I been spending quite a bit of time trying to work out what I was doing wrong.

Here are some of the conclusions I’ve come to: 

  • We should consciously interfere with this natural selection process as little as possible.
  • We need to rid ourselves of all ideas that we “should” be doing this, that or the other task.
  • If we don’t get round to doing a task, that’s a sign that we should let it die.
  • A prerequisite for natural selection is a large seed-bed of possibilities. This would imply that we should use a “catch-all” list and add every fleeting idea to it. 
  • We should rid ourselves of the idea that putting a task on the list implies any commitment to doing it. It does however imply a commitment to keeping it under consideration for as long as it remains on the list.
  • There is no such thing as procrastination. What we call “procrastination” is just our minds working through the selection process.
  • A method of weeding out tasks which are showing no sign of getting done is required. This implies no condemnation - it is purely housekeeping to keep the list manageable.
  • Our method of working the list should put no pressure on us to do any particular task or tasks. 

If you compare the above list with Autofocus you can see exactly why Autofocus ultimately failed to provide a long-term satisfactory answer.

The solution is not to make Autofocus more complicated or effective. It is to radically simplify it and remove even the faintest suspicion of compulsion from every part of it.

Current Method

What I have been working with over the last few days is a “Catch-all” list to which I add everything that I think of. I scan it continuously as one list from one end to the other, taking action on tasks that stand out and re-entering recurring and unfinished tasks.

At the end of the day (or beginning of the next) I remove pages on which there has been no movement during the day. This purely a housekeeping matter to keep the list manageable. It’s not a penalty or “dismissal”.

This is proving extremely effective. I’m getting a vast amount of work done without any of the usual heartache (or brainache) about what I should be doing.

Conclusion

As you will realise if you’ve been around my website for a bit, there’s nothing new about any part of this. In fact the difference is not so much in the method as in the mental attitude that goes with it. It’s a matter of learning to trust that your subconscious mind is quite capable of sorting through your tangled priorities without any interference from your conscious mind. In fact it does a much better job on its own.

Monday
Jan092017

Flexible Autofocus

In my post Systematic, Fast and Flexible I said that FVP was systematic and flexible but not fast. Accordingly I spent a bit of time developing a variation on FVP called Fast FVP. Those readers who have tried it out have generally speaking found it works well.

However in the post I also said that Autofocus (AF1) was systematic and fast but not flexible. So I’ve now been looking at how I can produce Flexible Autofocus. I’ve been trying this out over the last few days and actually prefer it to Fast FVP.

Here’s how it works:

1. It uses exactly the same rules as AF1 except for the following.

2. When you finish scanning a page, you no longer proceed automatically to the next page and repeat the page scanning procedure. Instead, you scan forward ignoring the page structure until you come to a task that stands out as ready to be done. You may skip over several pages before this happens.

3. Once you have done the task that stood out, you are “trapped” on its page. You have to carry out the full page scanning procedure on that page in order to be released from it. Once you have been released, you repeat rule 2.

4. AF1’s dismissal rules obviously wouldn’t work with this. I don’t see much point in trying to work out a different form of dismissal, so there is no dismissal in this method.

I’m so far very satisfied with how this works. We’ll see how well it stands up in the long term. But there is one challenge yet to come:

The Systematic Next Hour

Friday
Jan062017

Fast FVP - An Example

My description of Fast FVP seems not to have been as clear as it should have been. This is a pity as it is actually an extremely good system - and the one which I am currently using myself.

I think an example of how it works would be helpful.

So here is an imaginary list and I’ll go through step-by-step how one would action it using Fast FVP. The list is not in any sort of order, and it’s a mixture of work and leisure items with a range of tasks from large projects to trivial routine actions. To keep it simple I’ve not added any new tasks while the example is being worked.

● Email
  Read Magazine
  Read “War and Peace”
  Call Joe re Relocation Project
  Write Staff Reports
  Tidy Desk
  Buy Birthday Present for C
  Blog Post
  Charge Phone
  Convene New Branch Guidance Committee
  Approve Advertising Drafts
  Expenses Claim
  Journal
  Facebook
  Twitter

You began by dotting the first task. You now ask yourself whether you are ready to do it now. The answer is “Yes”. You work on it, delete it and re-enter at the end as it is a recurring task. You dot the new first task.

● Email
● Read Magazine
  Read “War and Peace”
  Call Joe re Relocation Project
  Write Staff Reports
  Tidy Desk
  Buy Birthday Present for C
  Blog Post
  Charge Phone
  Convene New Branch Guidance Committee
  Approve Advertising Drafts
  Expenses Claim
  Journal
  Facebook
  Twitter
  Email

You ask yourself whether you are ready to do it now. The answer is “No”, so you ask yourself the second question which is “What do I want to do more than Read Magazine”? You scan down and dot “Call Joe re Relocation Project”. You’re not ready to do it now, so continue scanning. You want to do “Charge Phone” more than call Joe so you dot that. You are ready to do that now, so action that.

● Email
● Read Magazine
  Read “War and Peace”
● Call Joe re Relocation Project
  Write Staff Reports
  Tidy Desk
  Buy Birthday Present for C
  Blog Post
● Charge Phone
  Convene New Branch Guidance Committee
  Approve Advertising Drafts
  Expenses Claim
  Journal
  Facebook
  Twitter
  Email
  Charge Phone

Now you go back to “Call Joe re Relocation Project” and ask yourself whether you are ready to do it now. The answer is still “No”, so exactly as in FVP you continue scanning from the last task you have done, i.e. “Charge Phone”. You scan down the list and decide you want to do “Facebook” more than call Joe. You are ready to do that now so action that.

● Email
● Read Magazine
  Read “War and Peace”
● Call Joe re Relocation Project
  Write Staff Reports
  Tidy Desk
  Buy Birthday Present for C
  Blog Post
● Charge Phone
  Convene New Branch Guidance Committee
  Approve Advertising Drafts
  Expenses Claim
  Journal
● Facebook
  Twitter
  Email
  Charge Phone
  Facebook

Now you go back to “Call Joe re Relocation Project” again and ask yourself whether you are ready to do it now. The answer now is  “Yes”. So do it. It’s not a recurring task so don’t re-enter it.

● Email
● Read Magazine
  Read “War and Peace”
● Call Joe re Relocation Project
  Write Staff Reports
  Tidy Desk
  Buy Birthday Present for C
  Blog Post
● Charge Phone
  Convene New Branch Guidance Committee
  Approve Advertising Drafts
  Expenses Claim
  Journal
● Facebook
  Twitter
  Email
  Charge Phone
  Facebook

You now go back to “Read Magazine” and ask yourself whether you are ready to do it now. The answer is still “No”.

What is the next step?

When you’ve answered this question, scroll down the page and you will come to the correct answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answer:

Ask “What do I want to do more than Read Magazine?” and scan down the page from the task you have just done, i.e. “Call Joe re Relocation Project”.

Did you get it right? If not, read the instructions again, write out the example and go through the process step-by-step.

 

Tuesday
Dec272016

How to Do The Same Old Thing

I’ve been working on a simple system to keep myself doing the same old thing(s), and new ones, as mentioned in my previous artice. What I’ve some up with is very simple indeed - almost as simple as you can get - but so far very effective. It’s worked well over the Christmas period when normal routines always get disrupted, with the additional factor that the radio- and chemotherapy has depressed my energy levels.

Basically it’s just a catch-all list which you circulate around from beginning to end over and over again, doing tasks as you feel they are ready to be done. Tasks are entered and re-entered as necessary at the end of the list.

The trouble with a simple scan of the entire list is that it’s only too possible just to skip over the difficult tasks and do only the easy trivial stuff.

To prevent this there is one additional rule:

You can’t pass over more than nine active tasks.

Or to put it another way, if you’ve passed over nine active task you have to do the tenth.  However you do get a chance to re-assess the tasks you’ve passed over.

You achieve this as follows:

  1. When you start scanning, count “one, two, three… ” as you come to each active task.
  2. If you reach “ten” without having selected a task for action, then reverse direction and count back again “one, two, three…” (Make sure Task 10 counts as “one”, or you’ll go back one task too far).
  3. If you reach “ten” on the reverse scan without having selected a task for action, reverse direction again and as before count each active task as you come to it. But this time if you don’t select a task for action you have to delete it. You continue to delete tasks until you have either taken action on a task or reached “ten” again.
  4. Then start scanning again as in 1.

When you reach the end of the list go directly to the beginning of the list without interrupting your count. Don’t add any new tasks while you’re doing this or you’ll confuse the count if you have to do a reverse count.

Friday
Dec232016

The Same Old Thing

Who was it who said that the secret to success in any field is to keep on doing the same thing over and over again? I think I might have said it myself on occasions.

Of course if you keep doing the wrong thing over and over again you are merely carving the wrong thing in stone. The aim is to do the right thing over and over again.

One of the reasons we don’t succeed is because doing the right thing over and over again is boring. Yet it’s essential to any form of success.

Let’s just have a look at some of the ways this works out:

If you exercise at least three times a week, you will get fitter.
If you don’t exercise, you won’t get fitter.

If you practise a foreign language every day, you will get better at it.
If you don’t practise the language, you won’t get better at it.

If you tidy your office every day, you will have a tidy office.
If you don’t tidy your office, you won’t have a tidy office.

If you write 1,000 words of your book every day, you will get it finished.
If you don’t write your book, you won’t get it finished.

And so on. You could no doubt think of thousands of examples.

As I’ve said many times before, the secret to success in any endeavour is consistent, regular, focused attention.

I say in my book Secrets of Productive People:

Are you someone who’s tried to learn a foreign language and failed? If you are, you belong to the vast majority of people in this country. As a result, do you tell yourself “I’m no good at languages”? If you do, you are fooling yourself. The real reason you failed is not because you are no good at languages, but because you are no good at being consistent.

Wednesday
Dec212016

Fast FVP

In Sunday’s post I said that The Final Version Perfected (FVP) was systematic and flexible but not fast. The lack of speed was due to the fact that the scanning algorithm involves often having to repeatedly scan most of the list.

So I set out to find a way of making FVP fast. This would obviously require making some changes to the scanning algorithm. As usual when I’m dealing with problems of this nature, I found that the answer was staring me in the face.

All I had to do was to change the algorithm so that 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.

In order to achieve this, the question asked during the scanning becomes a double question:

1) Am I ready to do this now?

If the answer is “yes”, do it.

If the answer is “no”, ask the second question.

2) What do I want to do more than this?

In practice these get abbreviated to:

1) Ready?

2) More?

Apart from this alteration the scanning proceeds exactly as it does in standard FVP. This simple change saves an enormous amount of scanning time.

A word of caution

It seems a bit strange to say this but this system is almost too fast. It’s like trying to ride a thoroughbred racehorse when you’re only used to a pony. I have found that I have a tendency to do so much work with it that I actually end up exhausting myself. So be sure to take plenty of breaks. Good luck!

Tuesday
Dec202016

Choosing Between Multiple Alternatives

As a bit of light relief, here’s a simple method for choosing between multiple possible alternatives. I’ve found this very effective.

Say you have to chose which book to read next, and you have five candidates:

Oliver Twist

The Grapes of Wrath

The Life of Pi

War and Peace

Pride and Prejudice

You do it by repeatedly comparing the first and the last on the list and rejecting one of them.

So you start on the above list by comparing Oliver Twist to Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice wins, so you delete Oliver Twist and compare again, this time with The Grapes of Wrath

Oliver Twist

The Grapes of Wrath

The Life of Pi

War and Peace

Pride and Prejudice

This time The Grapes of Wrath wins, so the next round is to compare it with War and Peace.

Oliver Twist

The Grapes of Wrath

The Life of Pi

War and Peace

Pride and Prejudice

You decide War and Peace is a bit heavy. So now it’s between Grapes and The Life of Pi.

The Grapes of Wrath wins!

Oliver Twist

The Grapes of Wrath

The Life of Pi

War and Peace

Pride and Prejudice

I’ve used this on a many different types of choice, including which soup to have for lunch, what movie to watch next and - yes - what book to read. Try it out when you’re in a restaurant and can’t choose between the items on the menu. You’ll find it works really well.

But one thing I haven’t been able to work out is how I can apply it to a time management system. Any ideas?

Sunday
Dec182016

Systematic, Fast and Flexible

I’m still working on the task which I set myself some months ago (sorry, can’t find the reference) of designing a time management system which would enable me not just to get things done quickly, but to get everything done quickly.

Consequently I’ve been looking at my favourite systems to try and identify how far they measure up to this challenge. While doing this I identified three qualities that would be needed to achieve it in a really effective way.

These three qualities are:

Systematic - The system must work systematically through everything that one has to do.

Fast - There should be a minimum of system overhead, meaning that time spend prioritizing, scanning or procrastinating should be negligible.

Flexible - The system must be able to react quickly to changing priorities and circumstances, without having to spend time re-prioritizing or making exceptions to the rules.

Unfortunately when I started to judge my favourite systems in the light of these criteria, I discovered that the best systems all shared the same characteristic - they were good at two of these qualities, but not all three. Which of the three they were good at varied from system to system.

Let’s look at three examples of this:

  1. Autofocus (AF1) is systematic and fast, but not flexible. It focuses systematically on each page on its own - which is fast but takes little account of what is most relevant at the time.
  2. Final Version Perfected (FVP) is systematic and flexible, but not fast. The scanning algorithm responds well to what is going on, but often involves repeatedly scanning most of the list.
  3. The Next Hour is flexible and fast, but not systematic. It allows you to do a lot of work, but not systematically deal with all your commitments.

Each of these has two of the three qualities I’m looking for, but none have all three.

The question I am asking myself is whether it is possible to design a system which has all three qualities. The obvious place to start is to look at one of the existing systems which has two of the qualities and see if there is any way in which it can be redesigned to have all three.

I think I may have found the answer. More on this soon.

Tuesday
Oct112016

The Next Hour

Since the diagnosis that my cancer had returned, the last month has been quite stressful - as you can probably imagine.

From the point of view of time management and personal organization it’s been very difficult because planning ahead has been virtually impossible. I usually haven’t known what I’m going to be doing the next day, let alone the next week. Indeed as I write this at 9 a.m. I’m waiting for a phone call to tell me whether I’m going to have an appointment with an oncologist later today. That will involve an hour and a half’s travel, plus a good deal of waiting around time in addition to the consultation itself.

And we’re still sorting out some of the effects of having had to move out of our house for a month and a half due to its being flooded by a burst water pipe.

It’s at these sort of times that good time management becomes a) even more difficult and b) even more necessary. I’ve found that in these circumstances one method has stood out above all the others. I described it a few months ago under the title of The Next Hour of Your Life.

The Next Hour is a development of the 5-2 method described in my book The Secrets of Productive People

In the 5-2 method you write down a set number of tasks. But in The Next Hour you write down an hour’s worth of tasks and keep it topped up so you always have an hour’s worth on your list. The “hour” doesn’t have to be taken too literally - it’s intended to be a guide only.

It’s highly effective. I’m on my 16th task of the day and have five more on my list. By the end of the day I will probably have done something like 40 or 50 tasks, even if I have to spend three or more hours on the hospital appointment. The really important thing is that the system can cope quite happily with the uncertainty. It can make maximum use of your time whether it’s just odd scraps in between appointments, or a whole day with nothing scheduled.

Well, no sign of that phone call I’ve been waiting for. I think I’ll phone them and see what’s happening. And yes, that call is on my Next Hour list!

Friday
Sep302016

In Memoriam

In memory of my two great-uncles killed in the Battle of the Somme one hundred years ago:

Lieutenant John Robert Horton, Royal Canadian Regiment, d. 7 October 1916 aged 36

Second Lieutenant Ashley Gordon Scott Leggatt, Royal Field Artillery, d. 16 September 1916 aged 30

Thursday
Sep222016

Blogging to Start Again

Now that we’ve got back into our own house and life is gradually returning to something like normal - at least for a bit - I intend to start blogging again. It will probably be more sporadic than it was over the past year.

I intend to start with another post on the subject of randomness v. procrastination. Coming soon!

Sunday
Sep182016

They Did It!

My team successfully completed the Tough Mudder Half on Saturday, though sadly without me. Very well done!

If you would like to support our selected charity Help for Heroes, then please:

DONATE HERE

Thursday
Sep152016

Tough Mudder

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.

Thursday
Sep082016

Going Up Fast!

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!