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Random Thoughts on the Random Method

Since we have been discussing the Random Method of time management in yesterday’s post and its comments, I thought I’d say a little bit about it in today’s blog post.

First of all here’s the link to the original post about the method.

Re-reading it as I am now after an interval of two and a half years, here’s a few remarks about it:

  • Setting the range of the Randomizer for the number of lines on the page is more important than I thought at the time.
    • If you set the Randomizer for a lower number you may not be able to jump the crossed out tasks on a page, which means you will be stuck on the page until every task has been done on it.
    • Setting the Randomizer for a higher number on the other hand means you may miss out a page altogether, which may upset the weighting towards earlier tasks.
  • Don’t let your list get too long. I recommend a maximum of the number of tasks you can work on during an average day. (Notice I say “work on”, not “do”). If you have more than that number the gap between writing a task on the list and working on it gets too long.
  • Remember that a random system is just that - random. It is not in any way taking your needs and priorities into account. There is no guarantee that any particular task will be worked on during a day, while some may be worked on several times.
  • For these reasons don’t use the system for very time-sensitive tasks. It is brilliant for despatching a lot of work in a very short time, but you can’t guarantee exactly how long that “short time” will be. Use a schedule instead for this type of task.
  • Remember the longer your list the longer the average time to reach any given task.
  • The list is weighted so that the longer a task has been on the list the more likely it is to get picked during a pass. Conversely the shorter the time a task has been on the list the less likely it is to get picked.
  • Don’t put tasks on the list that you aren’t fully committed to doing. If the system picks a task and you don’t do it, you are undermining the effectiveness of the system and you will start to experience procrastination with a vengeance.

Tomorrow I’m going to discuss some possible amendments to the system to make it even more effective.


A Thought About Procrastination

Over the last months I’ve been doing a whole load of experimentation with no-list methods. More recently I’ve been re-visiting the idea of randomness in time management. And I’ve realised that the two methods have something in common.

The common factor is that they both have a reputation for reducing procrastination.

I started wondering about why this was and I realised that both methods do not involve rejecting tasks.

What do I mean by that?

In most list-based time management systems, whether mine or other people’s, the process of selecting the next task for action involves scanning the list and selecting the task from it. But you’re not just selecting a task; you are also rejecting every task that you scanned before selecting that task. If you have a long to-do list some tasks may end up being rejected scores or even hundreds of times.

My theory is that every time you reject doing a task you increase the amount you are resisting doing that task.

By contrast the selection process in both no-list systems and random systems does not involve rejecting any tasks.

In most no-list systems you make a short list (usually 1-5 items) of what you are going to do and then do them in order. You don’t at any stage scan over any of the tasks and reject them.

In a random system you are simply told what to do by the randomizer. You don’t have to reject anything. The randomizer selects the next task from the list for you.

So the converse of my theory is that the less often you reject a task the less you build up resistance to doing it.

So what sort of system can we design round this? We need a system in which we know what to do next without having to reject any tasks during a selection process.

Here are four ways of achieving this:

  1. By having a boss who tells you what to do all the time
  2. By doing everything on your list in the order you wrote it down
  3. By not having a list but instead just writing down a few tasks at a time and doing them
  4. By having a randomizer select tasks from a list for you

Can you think of other ways of achieving this?


Monthly Newsletter Delayed

My monthly newsletter was due to be published at 11 a.m. UK time today. Unfortunately last night we had a major flood at home when a pipe burst and we were unable to turn off the mains water supply. Dealing with the aftermath of this means that it may be a few days before I can publish the newsletter.


Some Ways I Use Evernote's Features - Part 2

Yesterday I started off with the intention of describing some of the ways I use Evernote’s features, but ended up writing a list of the ways that Evernote frustrates or annoys me. So today I promise to do better!

This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to Evernote, nor a description of everything I do with it. It’s just a short selection of methods which you may not have thought of already. Several of them will work with other apps too. I’m sure you have methods I haven’t thought of too.

First of all my layout. I keep Shortcuts in the Toolbar across the top of the page, with the left panel minimized. The Note List is set to card view and I keep it wide enough to show two cards per line, which is a total of eight cards visible at full screeen. The Note Panel takes up the rest of the page.

The Star Tag

I have a tag entitled *. This tag is permanently in my Shortcuts so that it appears at the top of the screen. The number of notes that can be tagged with the * is strictly limited to eight. That means that at full screen all their Note Cards are visible at once. That is the whole point of the tag, because the idea of the star tag is to have eight notes which I want accessible immediately. They can be anything I like. At the moment they are my training schedule, my spark file, my reading list, a long letter from a correspondent, a list of possible blog subjects, the next quote for my “To Think About…” feature, an estimate for a new fence for which I’m waiting for a date, and a family picture.

I find this extremely useful, both for immediate access to important notes and as a reminder of what the important notes are.

The Spark File

I got this idea from the article linked in the title to this paragraph. I have already found it very useful, even though I’ve only got a month’s worth of sparks so far. I keep it all in one Note with each day’s entries dated (latest at the top). As I mentioned earlier it is one of the Notes marked with the * tag.


As I mentioned above I keep Shortcuts displayed across the top of the screen. Apart from anything else that stops me having too many. You can shortcut to anything in Evernote, whether it’s a individual Note, a Tag, or a Notebook. This is one of the best features of Evernote because you can make a subject instantly findable across all your devices.

My own Shortcuts include Inbox, * tag, Phone Numbers, and a list of Nudgemail commands.

Full Screen of Notes

As of this moment I have 6,737 notes in Evernote. My oldest note goes back to May 2008. There’s no way in which I can leaf through the individual notes in the way I would leaf through a book.

Or is there?

If from my normal layout (see above) I close the Note Panel, I am left with a full screen of Note Cards. On my screen that’s 32 notes. I can page through the screens very rapidly using the Page Down key, or go back to a specific date or period. I can then just click on any note that looks interesting and it will come up in a separate window - you can have as many of these open as you like. Looking back through old notes is similar to the Spark File - it helps you to make connections that you otherwise wouldn’t have made.

Table of Contents

This is an amazing feature. Basically you can take any number of notes in Evernote and produce a Table of Contents from them. If you haven’t come across this before, here’s how you do it. Make sure the Note Panel is open. Then highlight the notes you want indexed in the Note List and press the button that appears in the Note Panel called “Create Table of Contents Note”.

Using this you can index a tag, a search, a notebook, or just a collection of random notes and the Table of Contents goes into a separate Note with links to all the notes you highlighted. You can even index all your Table of Contents Notes.

Table Feature

This should not be confused with the Table of Contents Note.

Tables can be inserted into Notes in much the same way they can be inserted into Word files. It’s a fairly basic feature, but is none the less very useful. Some of the things you can put into the boxes in a Table are:

  • Text
  • Weblinks
  • Pictures
  • Links to other Notes
  • Other Notes
  • Full text of a Table of Contents Note
  • Documents

So for instance if you were planning to go on holiday, you could put all the information relating to that holiday into one Note arranged so you have an instant overview of all the contents.


Well, the above are some of the ways in which I use Evernote. What are your favourite ways of doing things in that immensely versatile program?


Some Ways I Use Evernote's Features - Part 1

Evernote has been a staple of my on-line life (and often my real life too) very nearly from the time it first started up. Everyone has their own favourite ways of using it and I expect that among its millions of users there’s scarcely two identical set-ups.

I thought that today I’d just share a few of the ways I use it, in the hope that some of you might find one or more of them useful. I’ve thrown in a few general remarks about the app as well.

1. I use Evernote in three versions - the Android app, the online website and the Windows desktop. They each have their good points and bad points, but the most annoying thing about them is that there is no uniform interface so you basically have to learn how to do everything three different ways. I think they are working on this.

2. The one which works best is the Android app, and if wasn’t for the fact that I can’t type anything like as fast on a SmartPhone as I can on a desktop, I’d probably use it most of the time.

3. The Windows desktop version has the fullest feature set and makes the best use of the display qualities of Evernote, but suffers from being very slow. To keep any sort of speed up at all, you need to re-index at regular intervals, which is a long and tricky process. If you get it wrong you will delete all your notes over all your devices!

4. The Web version used to be unusably slow, but is now fast - much faster than the desktop. However inexplicably it doesn’t have a full feature set and has a completely different user interface. Or maybe it does have a full feature set and I just haven’t found where they keep the missing bits!

5. Another beef with Evernote is that they have a habit of removing some of the existing functionality whenever they do a major update. If they ever get round to putting back the function by which items which you’ve ticked on a to-do list can be hidden, then I would go out of my way to recommend Evernote as a time management app. As it is I don’t feel I can do that.

Well, this was going to be about how I use Evernote, but it seems to have changed more into a review of its bad points. I’ll keep my selection of the ways I use it for tomorrow.

But one thing you can do with Evernote is share a live list. Click here to see my live to-do list today (Sunday) as I use the Next Hour of My Life method.


The Next Hour of Your Life

When we think about managing our time we tend to think in terms of what we are going to do in a day or a week or a month.

But in fact one of the most useful units of time for time management purposes is the hour. If you focus on what you are going to achieve during the next hour you will have a much closer focus.

Hence one of the simplest of all task management systems is to write down what you intend to do over the next hour, and then to do it. There’s no need to time this exactly to the minute. We’re talking about a period of time in the region of an hour.

Over the last few days I’ve been experimenting with some ways of doing this and it’s been working really well for me. The rules I’ve standardised on have been:

  1. Start the day by writing a list of what you intend to do over the next hour
  2. Do the tasks in order
  3. Top up the list at intervals as you go along so it always contains about one hour’s work (there’s no need to be too exact about this).
  4. There’s no specific provision for re-entering unfinished or recurring tasks. You can just add them as and when you want to, remembering to keep within the limit of an hour’s work.
  5. Non-discretionary work such as appointments and meetings do not count towards the hour, e.g. if you’re going to a two-hour meeting you can put tasks on your list for when it finishes.
  6. Finish the day by completing every task remaining.
  7. Basically aim to do the tasks in the order you’ve written them down, but if you have a good reason to adjust the order or add or remove tasks out of sequence feel free to do so.

Contrary to my normal preference, this is best done electronically. I’m currently using putting each day’s list on a note in Evernote with tick boxes. Evernote has the advantage that I can access the list on the web, on my desktop and on my SmartPhone, whichever is most convenient at the time.

You can really get a lot of work done with this. Here is my actual list for today (Friday) - not a copy, it’s the actual list I am using. (I’ve disguised some items for reasons of privacy). As I write this the list is still incomplete, but it will update automatically as I work on it so you will be seeing the complete version. “Prepare Box Hill” includes a three hours absence in the afternoon doing hill running and walking. By the way “Box Hill” is the name of some local hilly country, not some new-fangled form of exercise! This is the country I grew up in.

If I’d been presented with a list 49 items long at the beginning of the day I wouldn’t have had a hope of finishing it. But writing a few tasks at a time and doing a few tasks at a time gradually adds up to what you see.


How to Set Up Routines

Alan Baljeu asks in the comments to Wednesday’s post:

Before a new routine becomes habit, how do you manage it? Do you write out a separate list that you consult? Do you write these steps into no-list FVP in reverse order them so [you can do] them 1 by 1?

Basically there are three ways of setting up a routine:

  1. Examine what you are doing at the moment, write the steps down and then work out how to improve them. This is how I worked out the Blogging routine in The Same Old Routine. It is particularly important to do this when you find that your existing routine is not producing the intended result.
  2. Get into a routine by using a consistent time management system. As you work day by day so you will tend to follow the same path. If you examine what you have done each day, you can take steps to consciously improve the sequence. Although any time management system will work as far as this is concerned, No-List systems are particularly good at it because you have to recreate the sequence out of your own mind each time.
  3. Design a new routine from scratch. If you are about to start a new activity it is worthwhile to design a sequence of action.

Remember that by the very nature of routines, they are activities which are going to be repeated over and over again. The more often you repeat one the more it is going to get carved in stone in your head. Therefore it’s important to examine your routines regularly to ensure that they are in fact producing the desired result efficiently and effectively.


The Importance of Correct Form

I made a remark in Tuesday’s post about the importance of correct form when using No-List FVP:

I want to stress how important it is to maintain correct form. On the few occasions when I found myself drifting aimlessly, it was because I had not followed the very simple rules exactly.

It thought I’d expand on that thought today.

In my experience the bits of correct form which it’s particularly important to pay attention to are these:

1) Aim to finish every task on the list by the time you stop for the day. It helps to put “Stop work” or “Go to bed” as the first item on the list. This will help to focus your attention on the time still available.

2) Select between two or three major tasks to go after the “Stop work” marker. Make sure these tasks are in the opposite order to the order you want to do them. If you miss this out you are liable to have trouble keeping your focus throughout the day. Working up to these major tasks provides a framework for the day.

3) When selecting the next task to work on, rigidly adhere to the procedure of repeatedly asking “Is there anything I want to do before this?” until you get the answer “No”.  You can use a differently phrased question if you like, but make sure you use it in the same way. Especially avoid doing any task without going through this procedure or you will find yourself drifting aimlessly from one trivial action to another. The tighter you keep to the procedure the more focused your work will be.

Whenever you find your focus slipping ask yourself “Am I following correct form?”


The Same Old Routine

Now I’ve got back to daily blogging again I find myself back in the same old routine for producing posts:

  1. Put “Blog Ideas” on my NL-FVP list
  2. Go to my Blog Ideas note in Evernote
  3. Add any new ideas for Blog subjects to the list
  4. Select a subject from the list.
  5. Put “Blog” on my NL-FVP list
  6. Open a new blog post in SquareSpace
  7. Enter the title in the Subject line (today: The Same Old Routine)
  8. Enter a tag in the Tags box (today: routines)
  9. Enter a category in the Categories box (today: Articles)
  10. Set the publication time to tomorrow morning at 7 a.m.
  11. Write a very brief first draft of the article.
  12. Two or three times more during the day, flesh out the article.
  13. Add links if necessary.
  14. Forget about it.

The result of following this routine will inevitably be a new blog post like the one which you are reading now. Why did I not publish any blog posts over the last few weeks? Because I didn’t follow this routine, that’s why. If I had, there would have been a blog post every day.

I have made a few alterations to the routine along the way. I used to put the Time, the Tags and the Category in after I’d finished drafting the post, but I found that I kept forgetting to do them. It works much better to put them in before I start writing.

Probably not many of you are writing daily blog posts, but consider the value of routines in all areas of life:

Why do some people have tidy offices? Because they have a routine for tidying their office.

Why do some people keep their friends over the years? Because they have a routine for maintaining friendships.

Why do some people have loyal clients? Because they have a routine for client follow-up.

Why do some people get full value out of every day’s work? Because they have routines to deal with as much work as possible.

Why do some people produce a mass of creative work? Because they have routines to keep them producing.

And so on.

When I first learnt to drive I was taught a simple routine by my driving instructor, which I was to go through every time I got in the car to drive it. It included “check fuel”, “check gearstick in neutral”, “check rear-view mirrors correctly postioned”. When seat-belts came in, I had to add “fasten seat-belt” (which took a bit of time to get used to). Now that I drive an automatic car the routine has needed further amending. I have a different routine when I drive my wife’s car because I have to cope with an automatic brake and the fact that the engine won’t start unless I have my foot on the clutch (instead of on the brake as in my car).

These routines have become second nature - I don’t have to think about them at all. Instead I can concentrate on moving safely into traffic whichever car I’m driving from where it is parked.

A few years back I also had a temporary routine for driving because I was finding it quite difficult to change gear smoothly on my wife’s previous car. I solved that problem by introducing a two-step routine. Every time I changed gear I gave myself a mark out of 10 for the smoothness of the gear change. After a very short time I no longer needed the routine and let it go. But not before I taught it to my wife who was having the same trouble.

These are just very simple examples of how routines can make a big difference. What areas of your life would be improved by introducing well thought out routines?


More About No-List FVP

I thought I’d write a bit more about the effects of No-List FVP after my post yesterday.

What are the annoyances and difficulties that this system solves?

Like any no-list system it keeps fresh and up-to-date, dealing with what you are actually working on rather than things that you thought in the past that you might work on.

Unlike systems which tie you to a rigid order of doing things, you have considerable flexibility about the order of tasks.

It responds quickly to emergencies because the next task you do is always the last one on the list.

It does not tie you down to rigid re-entry of unfinished tasks. But at the same time you can see clearly what you have been working on, so you can judge the best time to re-enter.

It provides you with a light structure for the day which gives you focus and direction

My fairly short experience so far with it is that I completed each day feeling totally satisfied with what I had achieved. I felt that I had used all the available time to its maximum value.That’s quite a rare occurrence with other systems - whether mine or other people’s!

I have been using the system for everything, including recreation, family, work - every aspect of my life.

Finally I just want to stress how important it is to maintain correct form. On the few occasions when I found myself drifting aimlessly, it was because I had not followed the very simple rules exactly. Of course you may not wish to use the system all day and every day, but it’s important to define for yourself in advance when you are going to be “on system” and “off system”. That way you’ll get maximum value from both states.


And the Winner Is...

Since I last wrote I’ve been testing out various types of No-List systems because none of the ones I tried proved entirely satisfactory. You can see a full list of them in the Discussion Forum.

The one which I feel has worked best so far is No-List FVP. That’s rather an ungainly title derived from its descent from other TM systems.

Ungainly title or not, the method is simplicity itself

  1. Write down a task you want to do.
  2. Ask yourself “Is there anything I want to do first?”
  3. Write that down on the next line.
  4. Repeat the process until you get “No” as the answer to the question.
  5. Do the end task on the list.
  6. Before you do the next task (i.e. the last active task remaining on the list), ask the question again and repeat as above until you get no answer to the question.
  7. Continue this process until there are no active tasks left on the list. Write down another task you want to do and start the whole process again.
  8. Repeat ad infinitum.


1) It’s perfectly ok for there to be a “No” answer to the question when you’ve written down the first task. In this case just do the first task and then write down another one. If this results in writing down tasks one by one and doing them immediately, that’s fine.

2) You can build up to a difficult task by entering it as the first task and then gradually working back to it. This is quite an effective technique for getting moving on something. When deciding what to write as your new first task, it’s a good thing (though not compulsory) to select relatively difficult and/or important tasks. The more trivial tasks will get done as “fillers”.

3) It’s good to end the working day with no tasks remaining on your list. So try and select the tasks you write down towards the end of the day with this in mind.

4) A good method is to start the list initially with the three or four major tasks/projects that you want to take action on during the day. You need to make sure that they are in the reverse order to that in which you want to do them.


The advantages which I’ve found with this system are:

  • You can sketch out the main achievements of the day in advance.
  • You can do tasks in the most efficient and effective order
  • You have a sense of where you are going with the day
  • You make the best use of the time available
  • Procrastination drops to virtually nil.

Which is your favourite no-list system?


How to Handle Re-entered Tasks in No-List Systems

Perhaps the thing I’ve found most difficult to get right in designing the best possible no list system is the question of how long to hang on to re-entered tasks.

My answers have at various times included the following:

  1. Have no re-entered tasks at all.
  2. Re-enter a task only if there is current work still outstanding on it.
  3. Re-enter a task if you expect it to be needed again the same day.
  4. Re-enter all tasks regardless of whether they are going to be used again.

I’ve chopped and changed systems to fit one or other of these, but none have proved entirely satisfactory. At one extreme, a lot of tasks are started but don’t get worked on to completion. At the other, there’s a long tail of re-entered tasks to plough through.

And what does one do about open-ended tasks like reading books? Reading a stated number of chapters or reading for a set time are too rigid for my liking.

How to handle these re-entered tasks is a really important question because, you will recall, my intention is not to do anything but to do everything!

I had a flash of light recently about this. If, I asked myself, a task can only get onto the list by being done, then perhaps it should only be able to get off the list by not being done.

So I’ve added the following rules to the May 9 System:

  1. Whenever a task on the list has been worked on it must be re-entered, whether or not it is going to be needed again.
  2. There is no compulsion to work on any re-entered task.
  3. When you come to a re-entered task and for any reason do not work on it, that task is deleted.

These rules involve a little bit more re-writing than before, but they seem to have solved the problem. The question of how long to keep a task on the list now boils down to the simple principle: “Work on a task and it’s on the list; don’t work on a task and it’s off the list”.  


Ridiculous Goals

We are often told that our goals should be realistic, and this is no doubt true in a tightly controlled business environment. But is it always the case?

I’ve often found that setting a goal way beyond my ability to do it has great results. Why is that? It’s all a matter of context. Walking a quarter of a mile to post a letter may seem like a drag. But a quarter of a mile in the context of of training to walk from the south of England to the north of Scotland is hardly noticeable.The ultimate goal affects the way you go about even the smallest part of your process.

How does this work in practice?

When I was a life coach I started off by dabbling at life-coaching with the intention of finding something I could do as a self-employed person in place of my salaried occupation. And dabble at it was just about all I did for a couple of years. Then one day I decided to re-frame my goal so that it was to become the best life coach in the world.

I don’t think I ever got anywhere near reaching my goal, nor did I seriously think that it was possible even to identify the “best” coach in the world, let alone become him or her. But re-framing it in that way involved a radical change in attitude. No longer was I dabbling in it and no longer was I just accepting what other people said about how to do it. After all, whatever the “best” coach in the world was like, you could be quite sure that one of their qualities would be that they were a trailblazer.

The real point is that having this ridiculously large goal make me do quite different things from what I’d have done if I’d a goal like “Make a living as a life coach” or  “Be a competent life coach”.
And the result was I had a successful and innovative business, in a field where many fail or stick to well-tried paths.

If I look back on my life I can see that there are many other things I would like to have done, but which I have consistently failed to accomplish. One of these is to be a singer. I don’t want to a brilliant singer, just be able to sing so that other people don’t have to cover their ears or smile though gritted teeth at my efforts. Unfortunately over the years I have more or less given up any hope that I might reach even this very limited goal.

But what if I hadn’t given myself a limited goal? What if I’d given myself the goal of becoming a soloist in an opera company? It wouldn’t really matter if I succeeded in the big goal or not (though you can’t rule anything out) - but I would almost certainly have left the original limited goal far behind. At the very least I would sing a lot better than I do now!

You don’t necessarily have to believe that your ridiculously big goal will ever come about. You just have to set the processes in motion to reach it. And by doing that you will encompass all your lesser goals along the way.

If you want to learn a language, make your goal extravagant like “Speak French so a French person can’t tell you’re not French”. Then set the processes in motion. You may never succeed in speaking like a native, but you will speak a lot better than if your goal were just to “learn a bit of French for my next holiday” or “pass such-and-such French exam”. Of course speaking French during your holiday and passing the French exam may staging posts on the way to your ridiculous goal.
My latest ridiculous goal is to be the oldest person ever to complete the Marathon des Sables.
That’s about as ridiculous as you can get as I’ve never been a runner, am not particularly fit, hate the heat and dislike being uncomfortable!

But there are plenty of staging posts along that way which will get me to my real aim which is simply to get as fit as possible. In September I will be taking part in a Tough Mudder Half - and that I am convinced I can do it if I train hard enough. To keep myself going on the training I need to be looking beyond the Tough Mudder to half-marathons, then marathons and then the ultimate goal.

So here’s my challenge to you:

What ridiculous goal could you set yourself? What would you accomplish along the way if you did?

The Blank Canvas - Day 3


Up at 7.30 a.m. and cleared my email and blog comments, read the blogs I follow and had breakfast. The email included a lengthy correspondence about a glitch in the computerised system for Gift Aid claims. I tested my end to see if the glitch was still there - it was - and reported accordingly. I didn’t have time to do anything more about it before going to the Gym for 9 a.m. to be introduced to the Phase 3 Circuit - very hard work.

On return at around 10.30 I tested again and the glitch had disappeared, so reported accordingly and uploaded the May standing orders. Downloaded the photos of yesterday’s golf function from my camera and started to process them. They should be finished by the time I’ve written this.

So let’s take a look at what I’ve got to get done now. A huge amount of washing up as my wife has been cooking for the arrival of our grandchildren this evening. Processing, selecting and publishing the golf pictures. Processing, selecting and publishing the 2,000 plus photos I took in Romania, restoring my office to pristine tidiness, and clearing my paper in-tray. Cutting the hedge. Finishing the BBC’s Richard III. Plus having lunch of course. (I wouldn’t normally write out a list like this - it’s just for demonstration purposes). Let’s see how long it takes to get that all done using the May 15th method. Starting stop-watch now.

3 hours 36 minutes later

What have I achieved so far?

Golf pictures - finished and published

Huge amount of washing up - finished

Paper In-Tray - finished

Richard III - finished

Lunch - finished

Romania pictures - in progress

Tidying - in progress

Cutting Hedge - not started

2 hours 30 minutes later

Tidying - finished

Romania pictures - first 1,000 selected and processed

Cutting Hedge - half done

That’s as far as I’m going for the day. The rest of it will be devoted to family.


The Blank Canvas - Day 2


10.30 a.m. It’s the same time of day that I started feeling that I’d done everything yesterday, and it’s just the same feeling now except that today I got up an hour later. So the improvements I noted yesterday have had quite an effect.

10.30 p.m. I felt I was losing focus during the afternoon, so switched to a “tighter” no-list method, the one I described in my post on May 9th. It was my original intention to stick to the same system throughout, but in fact it’s one of the advantages of no-list that one can change systems mid-stream without causing a problem.

I’ve got a few points about the order in which I’ve been doing things in the morning which I want to change tomorrow.


The Blank Canvas


Tomorrow is a blank canvas. I have no set plans for it. I have deliberately not made any lists of things I would like to achieve that day, this week, this month, indeed at all. I want to see what emerges from the consistent use of a no-list system. Will it be just the same old things? Or, as I hope, will it encourage me to live life to the fullest whatever that means in my case.


10.30 a.m. I got up at 7 a.m. and am already feeling that I’ve done just about everything that needs doing today. I’ve cleared all the backlogs left over from my holiday, done most of the tasks that are outstanding and am wondering what I’m going to do for the rest of the day. This is not the first time I’ve felt this way using a no list system, but I’ve never got this feeling with any other system. With other systems (or none) it always feels as if I’ve got a ton of work to get through and can never get to the end. So now I have got to the end - and am faced with getting through nearly a whole day of nothing. Actually that’s quite scary!

10.30 p.m. Of course in the event I did find plenty to do today - and a lot of it highly significant. At the end of the day I felt I had learned some useful lessons. The first was that today by 10.30 a.m. I had got through all of my usual routines. That part of the day was virtually on autopilot. I did actually note that some of the routines needed improvement. So perhaps tomorrow I shall get through them even quicker.

But for the rest of the day, I didn’t have the well-worn channels that routines provide.  Here there was another lesson - I had to think carefully about what to do. In no-list it becomes painfully obvious if I am wasting my time. The system encourages me to go for the significant things. The problem though was to identify what the significant things were that I should have been going for. I think I will be better at doing that tomorrow, especially as I have less time available and therefore will need to concentrate my efforts more.


The System I'm Going to be Using for This Experiment

I don’t think it actually matters which no-list system I will use for this experiment since they are all very effective. But I’ve had to settle on one because I want consistency - and naturally I’ve settled on one I know I can trust.

I haven’t, as far as I can remember, described exactly this system before. But it’s very similar to several I have described so there’s nothing super-specially new about it.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The list is valid for one day only. The next day a new list is started from scratch.
  2. Tasks can only be entered on the list by being done.
  3. Tasks are re-entered at the end of the list if they are going to be needed again the same day (i.e. if there is still work to be done on them or they will recur again that day).
  4. When you have entered as many new tasks as you want to, you scan the list from the beginning and work on any tasks that you want to.
  5. When you reach the end of the list you can add new tasks again as in 2 above. When you have added as many as you want you start scanning again from the beginning of the list.
  6. You should not feed the list from a larger list. Reminders of things that you intend to do at a specific time or date are fine.


You decide to work on email. Write it as the first item on your list and start working on it. When you’ve finished cross it out and, since it’s recurrent, re-enter it.


Next you decide to work on tidying your office. Again it’s recurrent, so when you’ve finished working on it cross it out and re-enter it as before.

Tidy Office
Tidy Office

You add some more tasks in the same way.

Tidy Office
Tidy Office
Phone Julie
Draft Project X Report
Draft Project X Report

Note that “Phone Julie” is not a recurrent task and so is not re-entered.

At this stage you decide to revisit some of the tasks on the list, so you scan through the list from the beginning and work on any tasks you want to. In this case you check your email again and also do some more drafting of the report.

Tidy Office
Tidy Office
Phone Julie
Draft Project X Report
Draft Project X Report
Draft Project X Report

As you’ve now reached the end of the list you can now enter any new tasks that you want to work on.


An End to Small Experiments - Let's Have a Huge One

I’ve grown tired of experiments - or at least of experiments on the small scale. I’m tired of developing time management systems in isolation.  I want to to experiment on a grander scale. I want to see what happens if I live with one method for an extended period. The method I want to live with is the no-list method because it has impressed me with the way it works as an extension of my brain. I’ve spent a lot of time lately experimenting with all sorts of different types of no-list systems, and at last I’ve found one that I’m satisfied that I can live with for the foreseeable future. So this is going to be a gigantic experiment about living life with that method.

What I’m going to be exploring are two of the three things which I mentioned in Bank Holiday Thoughts:

  • Getting Everything Done
  • Emergent Strategy

My theory is that a no-list method, properly used, can cope with both of these. Rather than using a time management system to execute a pre-planned strategy, this will be a case of letting the strategy emerge from using the system.

We’ll see how it develops.


Blog Subjects (proposed by Facebook followers)

Here’s the list of replies to my post on Facebook asking for suggestions for blog subjects. I think they are all good suggestions, so I’ll start working my way through them at intervals over the next few weeks.

  • I think you should write an autobiography - a blog article would be a great place to start.  
  • Checklists ?
  • Multiple sequenced action projects with fvp?
  • Nolist?
  • How to identify the less obvious backlogs and work them all. I suspect that simply setting up current initiatives to (1) fix the systems and (2) hack away at or explode the backlogs in sequence might not be the best approach. But this is only conjecture.
  • Outliner. Mind mapping. Scatter map.Tools to capture thoughts.Organize thoughts.
  • Joe Cool and how he works.
  • You could use the Poll feature and seed it with a couple ideas, allowing everyone to vote and/or add their own.
  • No list methods for a work environment that contains a lot of urgent tasks.
  • I’d also like to see more love for FV (there’s good reason that method got so much attention). Maybe articles about keeping the FV list from expanding to an unmanageable length (I prefer FV to FVP because I tended to procrastinate more with FVP since I would never get to the top of the list (where all the tasks I was resisting resided).
  •  I’d be interested in a blog post about the psychological forces that make no list so addictive. On the surface it almost seems like just doing whatever grabs my fancy. But somehow writing down what I am going to work on makes it more focused.
  • Though I much favour paper myself, I’d be interested in a consideration of very basic to-do apps. I’m thinking particularly of Gina Trapani’s (Lifehacker) todo.txt protocol that applies a simple format to plain text editors.

Bank Holiday Thoughts

It’s a public holiday in the United Kingdom today and I have no intention of doing any blogging except to say that there are three subjects going round and round in my mind at the moment - and I’m interested to see what will come of them as they bounce off each other.

They are:

  • Getting Everything Done. I’ve dealt with this a bit in two previous posts earlier this month, and I want to take it further.
  • Emergent strategy. Is strategy something that emerges naturally from the no-list way of working - or does it need a bit of help here and there?
  • WOOP. I’ve had some successes and some failures with this, but trying to implement it while touring Romania (which is where I’ve been for the last two weeks) is probably not the best way to give something like this a fair trial.

Thoughts anyone?

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