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Impatience in dealing with frustration is the primary reason that most people fail to achieve their goals. Unreasonable expectations time-wise, resulting in unnecessary frustration, due to a perceived feeling of failure. Achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process. The secret is to show up, do the work, and go home. Christopher Sommer
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The Scatter Map

I know some people swear by them - though I have hardly ever seen anyone using them to take notes - but I have never been able to get on with Mind Maps, especially for thinking. I find the need to join everything together in a rigid structure branching out from a central point doesn’t fit the way I think, which is far more discursive and with conclusions emerging rather than being arrived at by a logical procedure.

At the time I wrote Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play, I developed something which I called a Scatter Map. The basic idea was to scatter thoughts at random across the page and then do any linking, commenting or emphasizing that seemed necessary. There were basically no rules - which is what I like when I’m thinking.

At the top left is the sample scatter map from Get Everything Done (click on the thumbnail to enlarge). For reasons of legibility it is quite a simple one, orginally written on a sheet of A4 paper and then reduced to the size of the book page.

Looking at it now, more than 16 years after I wrote it, I can still understand it exactly. The thoughts, the situation, the feelings, the questions, the answers are all totally fresh in my mind.

I doubt whether that would be the case if I’d written a mind map on the same subject. Come to that, what is the subject? There is no subject. It’s just a collection of more or less random thoughts. Some are independent, some follow on from others, some arose separately but have been linked together.

No doubt if I tried hard enough I could succeed in organizing this as a Mind Map. But it would be much less intelligible to me today, and would probably have meant much less to me at the time.


Sleep and the No-List

There’s an interesting article on the Fast Company site about how the brain sorts what is important and what is not. Sleep is a particularly essential part of this process.

Here’s how I suggest that you make this work for you if you are using a no-list method. Read the list of what you have done today to yourself immediately before you go to sleep.

You can use this during the day too if you have suitable facilities at your place of work. Read the list of what you have done so far and then take a 10 minute nap.


How to Do Everything - II

In yesterday’s post I left you with a cliff-hanger:

The process of getting to the stage of being able to do everything consists of one thing and one thing only.

That one thing is… (to be continued)

… to get rid of all backlogs.

You don’t stand a chance of doing everything that you want to do if you have backlogs.

Any backlogs at all.

Remember I’m only talking about getting to the stage of being able to do everything. If you want to do everything then you must go through the stage of getting rid of all your backlogs.

Another way of looking at this is that you must stop pushing present work forward into the future. I don’t mean work which belongs in the future - that isn’t the problem. I’m talking about current work which you are not dealing with currently. It’s very similar to getting into debt.

This is not just a question of catching up with a backlog, it also means keeping it at “inbox zero” once you’ve caught up.

To put it in financial terms, once you’ve paid off debt and balanced the budget, then you have a sound financial basis on which to expand.

As I’ve said frequently recently the best way to get rid of backlogs and keep at “inbox zero” is to use a no-list system.


How to Do Everything - I

Following up from  my previous blog posts Doing Everything? and Doing Everything - Yes? these posts will be a tentative stab at answering the question of how to do everything. As I’ve said before, what I mean by doing everything is doing everything that you want to do

I think the first step is to abandon the idea that you can’t do everything. This is quite difficult to do because it has been so drummed into us by time management gurus and the like - including myself - that we can’t.

The second step is to be clear by what you mean by everything in your life. If you’re not clear about what you mean by everything, then you will spend your time starting things but never finishing them. Doing everything until it’s finished or producing requires a great deal of discipline and persistence. That doesn’t mean that you can never make any changes to your definition of everything, but that you should take a great deal of thought about it.

Getting to the stage that you can do everything you want to do takes time to build up. I don’t pretend to have reached that point yet, so I am expecting further insights as I progress.

The one thing I am sure of though is that the real challenge lies not in doing everything, but in the process of getting to the stage where you are able to do everything. The process is what it’s all about.

The process of getting to the stage of being able to do everything consists of one thing and one thing only.

That one thing is… (to be continued)


A Second Variation on My No-List System

The sharp-eyed may have noticed that in the two-page spread in my note book yesterday I was working on a variation of the no-list method.

So how did that variation turn out in the end?

It appears to be surprisingly successful and has at least two potential advantages over the previous two variations:

  1. It makes the repetition of re-entered tasks significantly less tedious.
  2. It provides a better (and much-needed) structure for the system

Here’s how it works.

Four rules:

  1. Tasks can only be put on the list by writing them down and taking action on them immediately.
  2. You can only take action on the last active task on the list.
  3. A task can only be re-entered if it has not been finished.
  4. You add a new task in the following circumstances only:
    •  There are no active tasks on the list OR
    • The last active task on the list is the one that has just been re-entered.


You decide that you want to do some work on writing a report; so you write down:

Write Report

Once you have worked on it for a period you decide to take a break from it and work on something else for a bit. So you cross it out and re-enter it. You also enter the task you intend to do in its place.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post

You work on the Blog Post for a bit and then cross that out and re-enter it:

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post

In accordance with the rules you need to add another task to the list.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post
Watch Movie

You watch about half the movie and decide you need to take a break from it. So you cross the task out and re-enter it.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post
Watch Movie
Watch Movie

In accordance with the rules above, you now need to add another task. This time you select a simple task you can do in one go. You enter it, work on it and cross it out without re-entry.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post
Watch Movie
Watch Movie
Check Calendar

What do you do now? In accordance with the rules the last active task is “Watch Movie”. So you watch the rest of it and cross it out.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post
Watch Movie
Watch Movie
Check Calendar

The last active task is now Blog Post. You work on it but don’t finish it, so re-enter it.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post
Watch Movie
Check Calendar

Blog Post

And you need to enter another task since Blog Post has just been re-entered.

Write Report
Write Report
Blog Post
Blog Post
Watch Movie
Check Calendar

Blog Post
Tidy Office

That’s as far as I’ll take the example. Note a couple of things about how the method works:

Re-entered tasks are only worked on one at a time. You don’t get a string of re-entered tasks all having to be worked on one after the other - which can be an annoyance with other variations. Nevertheless re-entered tasks get dealt with very effectively and new tasks are frequently added.

Since I’ve only just invented this variation, I obviously don’t have more than a tiny bit of experience with it, but I’m hoping it will get the tricky balance between new tasks and re-entered tasks just about right.



Following the example of some book publishers, I’ve decided to start writing in my large Moleskine unlined notebook sideways on. The result is that I get a writing surface which is as wide as an A4 sheet and slightly shorter. As a writing surface it’s beautiful - which is more than can be said for my handwriting!

(I always have trouble with the size descriptions of Moleskine notebooks. They come in three sizes, Pocket, Large and Extra Large - which any normal person would call Small, Standard and Large respectively.)


Doing Everything - Yes?

Here are a couple of quotes from the Forum today (Thursday):
First, one from Wooba:
Since using no-list methods, I have often had days when I feel like I have done everything, and that there is nothing else I need to do. That is a great feeling in some ways, but scary too. Sometimes the idea appears that I will never have anything else to do. Which is odd, because before no-list I was always scared of having so much to do. So when everything is done in a day, I can truly relax and kick back, guilt-free. It is a totally different way of being.
and one from myself (slightly edited):

I think it’s a matter of gradual accretion. I find no-list results in a fairly standard list of things I’ve worked on each day - the well-trodden pathways of the mind. And as I get more and more on top of these subjects I find that I’ve got more capacity. That leads me to work on a few more things and some of those will “stick”.
Most of the time this method of working copes quite happily with emergencies and the like because they usually fall within the existing things I’m working on. Sometimes of course that pattern will get disrupted and sometimes that disruption will result in new stuff being added to the regular work I’m doing.

Both of us are finding that with no-list we come to a point where we seem to have done everything. That is the point where we need to push forward and extend our activity into further worthwhile projects - which can of course include having more leisure.

Speaking personally I’m finding that the best no-list method for achieving this state is the one I described last Tuesday under the heading  A Variation on My Current No-List System. But as I’ve said before, there’s not that much to chose between no-list systems and you can swap systems with little or no adverse effect.


Blog Posting Time

I want to get back to having the daily blog post appearing at 7 a.m. (UK Time) each morning. That means either writing two blog posts today or publishing the post I’m writing today tomorrow morning. Naturally since I’m too lazy to write two posts in one day I’ve chosen the second option. So this is all you’re getting today. Sorry!


Doing Everything?

There’s a well-known saying, which I’ve quoted myself on many occasions, which runs “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything”.

Recently I’ve been wondering whether it’s true. Not the bit about being able to do anything but the bit about not being able to do everything.

Obviously no one person can literally do everything, but no one wants to do everything in that sense. What people want to be able to do is everything that they want to do.

Looking at the popularity of books with titles like “1000 [Things to Do] Before You Die”, it seems that a lot of people would very much like to be able to do a whole lot more than they are doing at the moment. And they want to do things which would be meaningful to them.

Perhaps we don’t need “Someday/Maybe” lists but “Now/Definitely” lists.

The reason I’ve been wondering about it is my experience with no-list methods. Rather than feeling overwhelmed with work as one tends to be with a “catch-all” list, I’ve recently caught myself thinking “I could do everything!” I’ve also noticed that my reaction speed to things that I want to do but which involve quite a challenge is much faster than it used to be.

More on this tomorrow.


A Variation on My Current No-List System

This is a variation on the system I wrote about yesterday. It’s what I use when I’m not using the other. I’ve never been able to decide which is better, so I tend to switch between them when I feel like it. As I’ve said before there is no real penalty in switching from one no-list system to another.

This system works in very much the same way as yesterday’s but has a rather more rigid structure.

Like the other it’s also fast, effective, flexible and thorough but in a slightly different way. You really have to try both to appreciate the differences - so I’m not even going to try to describe them!

Just as in the other system entry for new tasks is without a buffer, ie. a task is done immediately after it is entered on the list.

The differences in the rules are as follows:

  1. There is an entry phase and a follow-up phase.
  2. In the entry phase you can enter as many new tasks as you like in succession, re-entering them  as necessary at the end of the list. During the entry phase this will always be on the following line.
  3. Tasks are re-entered if they are likely to be required again the same day, regardless of whether there is any work to be done on them at the moment.
  4. In the follow-up phase all open tasks above the last crossed out task are worked on again in the order they are written and re-entered at the end of the list if necessary. When all the tasks have been worked on you go back to the entry phase.
  5. If there is no work to be done in a task (e.g. no more email has arrived) it is crossed out and re-entered.

The list should be started afresh each day.


My Current No-list System

Following on from yesterday’s post, where I described the fact that I had gone back to using a no-list method, I though it might be useful to describe in more detail exactly what I am using at the moment. This is one of the no-list methods which I have most often used in the past and it is a good example of the genre.

Unlike some no-list methods this only allows new tasks onto the list by doing them. You write the task down and immediately start work on it. There is no buffer.

The easiest way to explain it is by giving an example:

You decide to do email as your first task so write it down thus:


You work on your email, but before you finish it decide to take a break from it and tidy your office. You cross out and re-enter Email and write Tidy as the next task:




You decide to take a break from tidying, so cross it out and re-enter it.





Now here is a very important rule - Before you can enter a new task, you must take action on any active tasks before the last crossing out. In this case there is only one: Email. So you go back and work on Email. Again you don’t finish the task so you re-enter it.






Now there are no active tasks before the last crossing out, so you enter a new task.






Write Report

Remember that new tasks are always actioned immediately after they are entered. So you work on it for a bit and then re-enter it.






Write Report

Write Report

OK, bearing in mind the rules I have given you (have another look at them if you’re not sure), what are you going to do next?

A. Work on Tidy, re-enter it if necessary, then enter and work on a new task?

B. Work on Tidy and Email, re-enter them as necessary, then enter and work on a new task?

C. Work on Tidy, Email and Write Report, re-enter them as necessary, then enter and work on a new task?

D. Keep working on Tidy, Email and Write Report and re-entering them until you have finished them, and then enter and work on a new task?

(Answer at the end of the article)


This method is far easier to action than to explain. In fact if you find it complicated to work, then you’re doing it wrong!

A couple of observations:

  1. Be clear how you define when a task is finished so it doesn’t hang around on the list unnecessarily.
  2. The number of active tasks on the list is flexible and depends on how many tasks you have re-entered. If you don’t re-enter any then the length will be one task at a time.

I’ve found the characteristics of the method to be:

  • Fast
  • Effective
  • Flexible
  • Thorough

Who could ask for anything more than that?





The correct answer is B. Tidy and Email are active tasks before the last crossing out and so must be actioned before entering a new task. Write Report is after the last crossing-out so is not actioned at this stage.


Motivation (continued)

Several people managed to get the right answer to my question yesterday about the factor that caused me to lose my motivation for two of my major daily tasks. The answer was that I had stopped using a “no-list” method while I experimented with a couple of ways of finding an improved “catch-all” system. As soon as I went back to a “no-list” method my motivation came back.

This raises some interesting questions for me. First of all, the no-list method I have come back to isn’t the same as the one that I was using before. So it seems to be the concept of “no-list” that provides motivation rather than any one specific method. I’ve already remarked several times that “no-list” methods seem to be interchangeable. If you use one method one day and a different one the next it doesn’t seem to really matter. Just pick the one that suits you best that day.

But the really important question is “Why does a no-list method provide motivation”? I think there are two reasons:

First, a no-list method forces you to keep asking “What should I be doing next?” and then makes you commit to doing it immediately. You have no list to guide you so you have to rely on the resources of your own mind. Using questioning as a method of accessing your inner resources is very powerful.

Second, this questioning also results in the building up of routines that work. Neural pathways are being laid down in your mind which make it easy for you to find your way in most situations.

If you look at these two reasons you can see that motivation is largely a matter of habit. Once you have laid down a habit then it becomes easier to carry out that habit than not to.

I was exercising every day because I’d got into the habit of doing that. But it’s important to realise that the habit includes a lot more than just running or going to the gym. It’s a whole sequence of actions, which starts from the time I go to bed the night before, what I do when I get up, what activities I do before exercising and what I do when I’ve finished. If any one part of that sequence is disrupted then it’s easy to go off in the wrong direction.

The same applies to writing a daily blog post. It’s not just a matter of writing. There’s collecting ideas for future subjects, researching, writing successive drafts, adding links and tags, and starting the sequence for the next day’s blog post.

No-list suits this because your mind is free to run in the well-established pattern.

But throw in a “catch-all” list and suddenly one is back to a more or less random sequence. That’s what happened to me. The habits I’d built up collapsed and my motivation disappeared.




What exactly is motivation and how do you motivate yourself? There’s a lot of disagreement about the answer to these two questions, and I certainly don’t claim to have found the perfect answer.

But I have been having an interesting experience over the last couple of weeks. I thought I had a great deal of motivation for two projects in particular. And yet my motivation for both of them collapsed at virtually the same time.

The first of these was writing a daily blog post. Some of you may have noticed that the last proper blog post I wrote was on Monday April 25th.

The second one was regular exercise. That lasted for a few days longer, but the last time I took any proper exercise (either gym or running) was on Friday April 29th. Since then my motivation for both blogging and exercising has been just about zero.

“What’s so special about that?” you may be saying, “People lose motivation all the time.”

Yes, but in this case I can put my finger on exactly what it was that caused me to lose motivation. I only realized it today when I started both writing and exercising again - and became aware that what had caused me to lose motivation was no longer there. Or to put it the other way, the factor that gave me motivation had been put back in place - today. The effect was immediate.

What do you think that motivating factor might be? Think about it. I’ll reveal the answer tomorrow!

Clue: There are no outside circumstances involved. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you already know everything you need in order to have a good guess at the answer.



Since tomorrow (Monday) is a public holiday in the United Kingdom, my newsletter, which is issued on the first working day of each month, will not appear until Tuesday.


Email Inbox as To-Do List - Update

It didn’t take me long to decide that this isn’t for me - at least not in the way I was trying to do it. I will have a think about a better way to organize it, and maybe have another go in a few days.


Email Inbox as To-Do List

Inspired by my post today about Nudgemail and always up for an experiment in time management, I’ve decided to have a go tomorrow at using my email inbox as my to-do list. So I’ve written out a list of everything I can think of, 35 items in total, and emailed each one to Nudgemail to send back to me tomorrow first thing. I did a few for this evening as well. I’ve also put reminders in for all the things in my calendar for the next month which require some form of preparation.

I’m not quite sure what to expect but I’ll publish occasional updates during the day. (Note to self: get Nudgemail to remind me about the updates)

Must go. Nudgemail is telling me to read Proust, tidy the bedroom and check my finances!



Over the last week or so I’ve been using Nudgemail to great effect. I think there are others like it, though I haven’t tried any of them yet. It works particularly well at providing the reminders for a “no-list” system, though you could use it with any system.

Here are a few of the things you can do with it:

  • Getting emails out of your in-box which you can’t action at present
  • Follow-up action of any type (e.g. has John replied to this email yet?)
  • Sending yourself a reminder on any date in the future (e.g. Buy B’s birthday present)
  • Sending yourself regular reminders (e.g. put the recycling out today)
  • Snoozing emails you don’t want to deal with now
  • Integrating your to-do list into your email in-box
  • Chasing yourself to take action (e.g. have you replied to Darren yet?)
  • Bringing forward earlier posts (e.g. Here’s last week’s stats - update them for this week)
  • Acting as a reminder system for Evernote, rather more efficiently than Evernote itself.
  • Letters to your future self

The one thing it doesn’t do at the moment is forward attachments to emails, though this is promised for the future.

Definitely worth trying out, especially as it’s entirely free. If you are impressed by it you can show your gratitude by signing on as a sponsor for a monthly amount set by you.


Building Good Routines

One of the things I harp on endlessly about is that good routines are at the heart of good time management. This applies whatever time management system you use (or none).

Having good routines doesn’t mean that you can’t be spontaneous or creative. In fact having good routines means you are freed up so you can be spontaneous and creative.

The key word when it comes to building routines is persistence. This is to be taken two ways:

  • Persistence at building the routines
  • Persistence in the achievement of your goals as a result of building routines.

So it’s a case of persistence building on persistence.

Among other things, it’s particulary important that routines should establish:

  • The habit of creativity
  • The habit of extending your boundaries
  • The habit of inbox zero
  • The habit of exercise

How do you build routines? Actually the answer is that you are already an expert routine builder. You have been building them every day of your life. Every habit you have is the result. This applies to bad habits as well as good habits unfortunately.

You build up the good habits I mentioned above in exactly the same way that you may already have build up their opposite bad habits:

  • The habit of not using your creativity
  • The habit of sticking to your comfort zone
  • The habit of building up backlogs
  • The habit of not exercising

If you suffer from any of these, remember that these are habits - not character flaws which are impossible to overcome. They may be difficult to break because after all you’ve spent a long time building them up!

An output (no-list) approach will help to give you a short cut to this. Using this approach, your mind will naturally fall into the same channels each day. All you have to do is check that the channels are right. Fortunately it’s quite easy to check what you have done and to correct it if it’s wrong. For example if you are having trouble exercising put exercising at or near the beginning of the day.

Habits of going to bed and getting up are also very important. The best way of establishing good practice here is to get up at the same time every day, preferably as early as possible, regardless of whether it’s a work day or a day off. If you do this your going to bed time will naturally adjust.

I find that the best output approach for this sort of good routine and habit building is the rotating list.


My Book Challenge - Update

It’s been a long time since I last reported on my book challenge - and that’s because it’s been a disaster. I haven’t made any progress on any book since.

I’ve just changed tack again, starting yesterday. My new method is this:

  1. Read for a timed half hour twice a day.
  2. I may only read from one book during the half-hour.
  3. The exception is if I finish the book, in which case I can read another for the balance of the time.
  4. The half hours do not have to be the same book each time.
  5. There is no limit on the number of books I can be reading using this method.
  6. They must however be books, i.e. not blog posts, magazine articles, newspapers, etc.

To borrow a metaphor from the world of running, I am now seeing how far I can run in half an hour rather than seeing how long it takes to cover a certain distance. I’ve adopted that for my running practice as well - with one session of an hour. (4.63 miles today since you ask!)


Input vs. Output 

In my February 12th article What is a “no-list” system? I gave an example of what a typical “catch-all” list looks like:

Tidy bedroom
Change bedding
List PR actions
Read “C——-” magazine
Read “K———” magazine
Obtain specimen legacy leaflet
Draft own legacy leaflet
Thank fundraising team
Blog result of fundraising
Thank newsletter subscribers
Cancel newsletter contract
Thank supporters
Blog latest social event news
Call David K
Read —— Newletter
Update giving page
Read “The 100 Years War”
List possible blog posts
Read “B———” magazine
Clean sink
Empty WPB
Cut hedge back
Set up L’s new laptop
Read V’s letters
Print more blank schedule sheets
Listen to French news
Sort office
Process social event photos
Walk footpaths for Ramblers Association
Weed desktop
Weed flagged emails
Contact fast walking organization
To think about…
Prune rose bush
Get prescription signed
Sort L’s mail
List action need on C Blog
New house number
Kingsley Vale walk
Destroy old notebook
Re-read L’s instructions
Expenditure audit
Tax return
Weed pamphlet rack
Withdraw money from ——
Book holiday
Check heating settings
Action needed on Legacy campaign?
Write recommendation for N’s book
Push ups
The plank
Check bank balance
Weed this list
Read Pocket articles
Synchronise diaries
Put books away
Thanks to N for party
Check diary
Rake leaves
Do dishes
Adjust carriage clock
Charge batteries
Check heating settings
Ideas for new projects?
etc etc

I also gave an example of what a typical “no-list” looks like. Many “no-lists” are actually or shorter than this:

List ideas for new book
Publicity Project
Walk 3 miles

And I asked the question “Which do you think is likely to produce the most focused action?”

I was re-reading this article yesterday evening, and it struck me that the real difference between the lists was not their length, but the fact that the “catch-all” list concentrates on input while the “no-list” concentrates on output.

The “catch-all” is basically a list of everthing that might, should or could be done sometime in the near future. It gathers together all the ideas, requests, thoughts, obligations, necessities, commitments that continue to enter one’s life in an almost incessant stream. It is in other words a list of all the input into one’s life. When, how and whether it will all actually get done is another question.

The “no-list” on the other hand is a list of the things you are actually about to do in the immediate future, usually in the order in which you are going to do them. Barring unforeseen events, they will get done more or less immediately. The “no-list” in other words is not concerned with listing input, it is purely a list of what is about to be output.

As such it will fill the entire day with output. The list of tasks on your “no-list” which have been crossed out as completed may be almost as long as a “catch-all” list. The difference is the rather major one that the “catch-all” list at the end of the day is a list of what hasn’t been done, while the “no-list” is a list of what has been done.

Of course the real question is not the mechanics of how things get done, but whether the things which get done are what should have been done. The common objection to a “no-list” approach is that one may forget to do things because one is simply relying on one’s memory. This is not really a valid objection for two reasons:

  1. The “catch-all” list provides a huge list of things to use as avoidance activities, so you are just as likely to fail to “get round” to doing something with a “catch-all” list as you are to forget something with a “no-list”.
  2. The “no-list” does not rely on memory.

Let’s look more closely at the second point. When your mind has no long list to rely on, what sort of tasks is it going to choose next to put on the “no-list”? It will probably come up with some of the following;

  • The next task in an established routine
  • Something that is on your mind because you are currently working on it
  • A project you have previously decided will be your main focus for the day
  • An urgent project or task
  • Something which is causing you concern because it is overdue or in danger of becoming so
  • Something you make a conscious decision to do because you want to do it
  • A scheduled reminder

This results in much more focused action than a long diffuse list of “everything”.

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