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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!


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


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!


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:



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.


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!


Please Support Me in This! Follow-up

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!


Please Support Me in This!

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?

Click here to donate.

And thank you in advance for your generosity.


Reduced Blogging for the Rest of August

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 v. The Next Hour of Your Life

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 Random Hour

I said in yesterday’s post that I was left with The Next Hour of Your Life as the best method for getting everything done. Today I’ve been trying to improve it by using it with a randomizer.

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.


Answer to the Puzzle

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!


So Can I Do Everything Yet?

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

More Thoughts on the Random Method

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.

A Refinement on "Dot and Do"

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?

  1. Dot the task at 18.
  2. Examine the task at 5 and decide whether it should be done now.
  3. If yes, do it. If no, leave it where it is.
  4. Examine the task at 13 and decide whether it should be done now
  5. If yes, do it. If no, leave it where it is.
  6. Do the task at 18.
  7. 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.


A Simple Amendment to the Random Method

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.


The Random Method with Day List

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.


Statistics for the Unmodified Random Method

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.

Day 1

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

Day 2

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.


Random Amendments for the Random Method

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:

  1. 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.
  2.  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.
  3. 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?

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