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Routine is not the enemy, but is the foundation of creativity. Paint daily. Dance weekly. Write monthly. Explore yearly. Rick Carter
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Entries in long list (13)

Tuesday
Jul252017

"Standing Out"

In the instructions for Real Autofocus - and many of my other systems - I make reference to doing tasks when they “stand out”. Some people find this quite a difficult concept, and others can’t understand it at all.

“Standing out” is what happens when your conscious mind instructs your unconscious mind to identify tasks/items that fit certain criteria.

So for instance if you were given a list of well-known places and asked to tick which ones you would really like to visit, there are two ways you could do it:

1. You could draw up a list of factors, assign a weight to each, grade them with the weighted score, and then tick the places with a score above a pre-determined minimum

OR

2. You could scan through the list ticking the places that stand out as places you’d really like to visit.

My contention is that as well as being much quicker, you are more likely to end up somewhere you really enjoy visiting if you use Method 2.

Of course, method 2 won’t work if you don’t already know at least something about the places in question.

But when we’re talking about tasks on your to-do list, you do know something about the tasks. In fact you are the world’s greatest expert about your life and how it all fits together. You can trust your unconscious mind to come up with better answers than your conscious mind, just as it it did in the places to visit example.

But only if you give it the right instructions.

What are the right instructions?

Tell your unconscious mind to make tasks stand out that you want to do now. Very important - don’t attempt to tell it what you mean by “want” - tha’s something the unconscious mind can identify much better than your conscious mind can.

For the DDD list the instructions are a bit diifferent - want to do now  changes to:

DELETE: don’t want to do at all

DEFER: don’t want to do now

DO of course doesn’t need an instruction because it’s everything left over from DELETE AND DEFER.

Wednesday
Jul192017

Real Autofocus?

French translation by Fred Mikusek

This method of dealing with a task list is the most effective I have yet found. It is based on simple scanning, that is to say going round and round the list doing tasks as and when they stand out.

This is in itself quite an effective method, but as I said here it suffers from two major related problems:

  1. The list tends to grow uncontrollably
  2. It gets spread over a large number of pages if you are using a notebook and pencil/pen. 

So what one ends up with is a huge backlog of tasks, which one doesn’t have a hope of ever clearing.

What is needed is a way of getting the list to self-limit in such a way that it focuses on what one can actually do within a couple of days or so.

Here’s how it works step-by-step. I’ve assumed you are using paper and pen/pencil, but it is easily adapted to work electronically. 


FIRST DAY 

  1. Start a new list. Don’t use an existing list.This is very important, otherwise you will overwhelm it before you’ve even started.
  2. Add other tasks to the end of the list as needed or as they occur to you throughout the day. Allow the list to build up gradually.
  3. Work the list by scanning it, taking action on those tasks that feel ready to be worked on.
  4. When you’ve worked enough on a task. cross it out. If it’s unfinished, re-write it at the end of the list. Do the same with tasks that will recur the same day or the next day.
  5. When you finish for the day draw a short horizontal line in the margin immediately after the last task on the list.

 

SECOND DAY

 

  1. Starting from the beginning of the list work as in rules 2-5 for the First Day.

 

 

SUBSEQUENT DAYS

 

  1. Extend the first of the two short line end-of-day markers (see rule 5) so that it goes right across the page.
  2. Start working from that line (i.e. ignore any tasks before it for the time being)
  3. When you reach the end of the list, go back to the beginning of the list.
  4. You now work only on the tasks between the beginning of the active list and the long horizontal line you drew at the beginning of the day:
    1. Scan them and DELETE any you no longer want to do at all
    2. Scan again and DEFER any you don’t want to do now to your schedule/calendar (do not just re-write them at the end of the list without taking any action on them)
    3. DO all the remaining tasks in order
  5. Continue working the rest of the list as in rules 2-5 for the first day.

 

IN SUMMARY, at the beginning of each day you work on yesterday’s tasks in the normal way, followed by today’s tasks. Then you clear ALL tasks remaining from the day before yesterday (DELETE, DEFER or DO). Once you’ve done that you carry on working yesterday and today’s tasks as normal.

Using this myself I was surprised how few tasks I needed to delete or defer. The list seemed to conform almost automatically to the amount of time I had available. I’ll be interested to know if it works that way for you too.

 

 

Monday
Jul172017

High Volume, High Speed, Low Resistance - Final Test Result

I think I’ve proved to myself that this method really does work.

Bear in mind that I was trying to find a way of processing a “catch-all” list without ending up with a huge number of tasks spread over many pages of notebook.

Well, have look at these results after nine days of using my new method.

The first column is the page number, and the second is the number of tasks remaining on that page. There are 31 tasks to the page. 

1 - 0

2 - 0

3 - 0

4 - 0

5 - 0

6 - 0

7 - 0

8 - 0

9 - 0

10 - 0

11 - 0

12 - 0

13 - 0

14 - 0

15 - 0

16 - 0

17 - 0

18 - 0

19 - 7

20 - 8

21 - 25 (out of 25)

Total tasks actioned: 630

Total tasks unactioned: 40

I’ve been working on about 70 tasks a day, and the number of tasks on the list has remained pretty well constant at 40-45. Futhermore the list, far from spreading over more and more pages, has compacted itself down to only three pages. I should mention too that the seven tasks on p. 19 are all once-a-day-only tasks waiting for tomorrow.

Friday
Jul142017

High Volume, High Speed, Low Resistance - 6

Update a day and a half later:

1-11 - 0

12 - 3

13 - 16

14 - 13

15 - 13 (out of 29)

 So in 6 days I have actioned 418 tasks wth 45 remaining. Of the 42 tasks remaining at noon yesterday only 2 now remain unactioned.

This seems to be working well.

Thursday
Jul132017

High Volume, High Speed, Low Resistance - 5

Very much to my surprise I found that simple scanning (i.e. going round and round the list doing whatever stands out) actually produced just as good results as the new idea I was supposed to be testing. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised as one of my contentions has been that it’s the psychological attitude that counts as much as the system itself.

Simple scanning does have two major disadvantages though: 

  1. The list tends to grow uncontrollably
  2. It gets spread over a large number of pages if one’s using a notebook and pencil/pen. 

So over the last week I’ve been working on how I could improve these aspects of simple scanning. I think I’ve succeeded - though it needs some further testing.

Here are the stats for the short period (4.5 days) I’ve been using it. I started a new list for the test wth 31 tasks to the page.

The first column shows the page, the second the number of tasks remaining as of this moment:

1 - 0

2 - 0

3 - 0

4 - 0

5 - 0

6 - 0

7 - 0

8 - 0

9 - 4

10 - 15

11 - 21

12 - 2 (of 2)

So in 4.5 days I have actioned 343 tasks, with 42 remaining.

More details soon!

Tuesday
Jul042017

High Volume, High Speed, Low Resistance - 4

Interestingly the list took on a different distribution today with no further pages finished and the total active pages rising to six. Neverthless the total number of tasks worked on during the day was 96, a similar number to the two previous days, and the number of tasks left on the list actually fell by seven.

1-15 - 0

16 - 5

17 - 5

18 - 15

19 - 11

20 - 8

21 - 23 (out of 24)

Total: 67

Monday
Jul032017

High Volume, High Speed, Low Resistance - 3

Page count at the end of day 2:

1-15 - 0

16 - 22

17 - 28

18 - 24 (out of 28)

Total: 74

That’s 95 tasks worked on today, including every one of the 61 tasks remaining from yesterday.

The list has now been further consolidated down to three pages by the system, which is the smallest number of pages that this number of tasks can fit on.

 

Sunday
Jul022017

High Volume, High Speed, Low Resistance - 2

One more characteristic of the system, which I forgot to mention yesterday: 

  • It does not use any form of pre-selection 

At the end of the second day of the trial the page count is as follows:

1-11 - 0

12 - 7

13- 17

14 - 24

15 - 13 (out of 13)

Total: 61

That means that 100 tasks were worked on today, including every one of the 56 tasks that were on the list at the beginning of the trial yesterday.

Notice too how the new system has consolidated the list left over from the previous system - which was spread out over 11 pages - down to only 4 pages.

Saturday
Jul012017

High Volume, High Speed, Low Resistance

Just to wet your appetites I’m about to start the final testing of the high volume, high speed, low resistance system which I’ve been working on for the last few months. The aim of this method is to enable you to do anything and everything, with minimum resistance. I’m very hopeful that I have succeeded.

Some of the characteristics of the system are: 

  • Urgent tasks can be accessed at any time without bending or breaking the rules
  • Whatever the size of the list, scanning for the next task takes minimal time
  • It is very suited to “little and often” working
  • Any size of list can be handled
  • Equal attention is paid to all parts of the list
  • The system itself provides momentum
  • There is no provision for dismissal as this is unnecessary 

I’m starting testing tomorrow with my existing list which is spread across pages of 31 lines each. The number of active tasks currently on each page is as follows:

1 - 1

2 - 0

3 - 2

4 - 3

5 - 6

6 - 5

7 - 6

8 - 1

9 - 1

10 - 13

11- 18

Total: 56

Please note: 

  1. This page distribution was produced by a different system
  2. The pages are only being recorded for test puposes. The system does not use pages - it is just one long list and therefore ideally suited for electronic implementation.

 

Sunday
Jun252017

Thoughts on the Long List (2)

I wrote about about the natural selection of tasks back in February this year, and it would be well worth your while reminding yourself what I said then. One of the most important things was:

There is no such thing as procrastination. What we call “procrastination” is just our minds working through the selection process.

What I want to look at in future posts is what happens when we take this principle seriously.

Sunday
Jun252017

Anchored Autofocus2

Until a few days ago I was using simple scanning for my experiments with the long list, but in the last few days I’ve been using a modified version of Autofocus 2 (AF2) to give me a bit more flexibility. So far this has been working very well - but it’s early days yet. I’m describing it now for anyone who wants to try it out - but please bear in mind that it has not been properly tested.

There are two ways in which this is different from AF2: 

  • There is no dismissal procedure
  • After you have done a task, you may do the next active task on the list in either direction from the task you have just done. You continue to do this until you don’t want to do either of the adjacent tasks. Then you return to the end of the list, perform another scan and repeat the process. 

Example:

Email
Sharpen Pencils
Prepare Planning Meeting
Arrange Group Photo
Call John re Project X
Voicemail
Check Proofs
Submit Expenses
Order New Front Tyres
Buy 300 copies of Secrets of Productive People

From the end of the list scan back to the first task that feels ready to be worked on, and work on it. Re-enter if necessary.

Email
Sharpen Pencils
Prepare Planning Meeting
Arrange Group Photo
Call John re Project X
Voicemail
Check Proofs
Submit Expenses
Order New Front Tyres
Buy 300 copies of Secrets of Productive People
Flowers for J
Voicemail

 

You now have a choice of Call John, Check Proofs, or rescanning:

Email
Sharpen Pencils
Prepare Planning Meeting
Arrange Group Photo
Call John re Project X
Voicemail
Check Proofs
Submit Expenses
Order New Front Tyres
Buy 300 copies of Secrets of Productive People
Flowers for J
Check Bank Balance
Voicemail

You now have a choice of Arrange Group Photo, Check Proofs, or rescanning:

Email
Sharpen Pencils
Prepare Planning Meeting
Arrange Group Photo
Call John re Project X
Voicemail
Check Proofs
Submit Expenses
Order New Front Tyres
Buy 300 copies of Secrets of Productive People

Flowers for J
Check Bank Balance
Voicemail

You now have a choice of Prepare Planning Meeting, Check Proofs, or rescanning. You decide to re-scan:

Email
Sharpen Pencils
Prepare Planning Meeting
Arrange Group Photo
Call John re Project X
Voicemail

Check Proofs
Submit Expenses
Order New Front Tyres
Buy 300 copies of Secrets of Productive People

Flowers for J
Check Bank Balance
Voicemail
Email

Note that as you now are at the beginning of the list you only have one task to choose from - Sharpen Pencils - or rescan..

Saturday
Jun172017

Thoughts on the Long List

While I’ve been semi-incapacitated recently (suspected Guillain-Barré Syndrome on top of the expected side-effects of chemotherapy), I’ve been working on an outline for a book on the subject of the “catch-all” list.

My theory is that a properly handled and practised list removes the need for prioritization, goal-setting, planning and deadline-chasing - real “autofocus” in other words.

It’s not dependent on any particular way of handling the list, though I’ve found simple scanning to be the easiest and most reliable for my own use. It’s more a change of attitude than a new system.

Typing is still very difficult for me so my intention at the moment is to write about this in dribs and drabs over the next few weeks (or possibly months). We’ll see whether the “long list theory” supports me in doing this in practice.

Monday
Feb062017

The Natural Selection of Tasks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current Method

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

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

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

Conclusion

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