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No such thing as tough. There’s trained and then there’s untrained. Now which are you? John Creasy
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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.


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!


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?


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.


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.