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Problem 3 - Resistance

Resistance is a huge problem in Time Management. Not only is it the main reason why we need time management systems and methods in the first place, but it is also the main reason why these systems and methods fail. At the extreme, resistance leads to a state of complete paralysis in which one is incapable of doing anything constructive at all. 

It’s important to understand how resistance works. 

  1. Anything which we don’t want to do will tend to build up more and more resistance if we don’t get started on doing it.
  2. The stage of a task which we resist the most is getting started. Once we are working on something resistance will diminish as long as we maintain momentum.
  3. Once resistance to a task or project has been allowed to build it will only get done when not doing it produces more pain than doing it. As you can imagine this is not a happy state to be living in.
  4. The more we give in to resistance, i.e. the more we procrastinate, the more difficult it becomes to do anything constructive at all.
  5. Resistance is stressful. Extreme resistance is stressful in the extreme.

There are really only two ways to work without experiencing resistance: 

Firstly, “Do It Now”. In other words, get started on a project or task before resistance to it has a chance to build up. Since getting started is the point at which resistance is usually highest, from then on the “little and often” principle can keep you going with minimal resistance until the work has either been accomplished or has become a routine.

The problem with this method is that at any one time there are usually a number of new things clamouring for our attention. How do we chose which new project to start now? If we leave one task unfinished so that we can start the next, will we ever get back to finishing the one we’ve left?

The second way is more effective, but does take some practice and requires a rethink about the nature of resistance:

The feelings we identify as resistance are in fact nothing of the sort. Resistance doesn’t exist. Or - to be more exact - it won’t exist in the context of a properly run Long List time management system.

In a Long List system we have a list of everything we want or have to do. Scanning through the list results in certain tasks “standing out” as ready to be done. This implies that the majority of tasks won’t stand out on that scan. The reason certain tasks stand out is that your intuition is identifying them as the tasks best suited to be done at that precise time. The reason the majority of tasks don’t stand out is that your intuition has not identified them as the tasks best suited to be done at that time. It is not a question of easy tasks v. difficult tasks. It is purely a question of suitability to be done at that time. 

The point of a Long List system is to build up consistency of action. It’s consistency that brings about results. But consistency works both ways. If we are consistently slapdash and unreliable, we will produce slapdash and unreliable results.

All this becomes automatic if you use a Long List system and follow the simple rule:

Do what stands out for as long as you feel like doing it and no longer


Top 10 Reasons Simple Scanning is the Best of All Possible Systems

 Here are ten reasons why Simple Scanning is not just the best system so far discovered, but also the best of all possible systems. 

  1. No need to categorize, prioritize or standardize
  2. Weekly reviews not needed
  3. Resistance is non-existant
  4. Everything is enjoyable
  5. You can see clearly what you have done and what you haven’t
  6. Intuition rules
  7. No need to weed the list
  8. Maximizes the time available
  9. Nothing gets missed out
  10. You can put everything on the list

High Volume, High Speed, Low Resistance - Second Test

It’s been a long time since I last mentioned this system - about a year I think - and I never did get to tell you what it actually consisted of. I can’t remember what it was that distracted me.

However it’s still going strong and is still in my opinion the fastest and best of the long list systems. I’ve restarted it today and so far the page results are as follows (page number followed by number of tasks undone, 31 tasks to the page):

1 - 3 (including writing this post)

2-  14

3 - 18

4 - 19

5 - 29

6 - 14 (out of 14)

Still a couple of hours left today!

Please note that the system does not use pages. I am quoting them purely for convenience of tracking how I’m doing.


Testing an HITM System - 1

I’m starting to test a new HITM (High Intensity Time Management) system today. This is designed to improve some of the problems I’ve been having with “Simple Scanning”. Those of you who follow my blog will know that I made Simple Scanning the standard for HITM after the failure of another system for which I had high hopes. So Simple Scanning was always in default of a better system.

The main problem with all “catch all” lists is that as the list gets longer so it becomes more and more difficult to control the timing of tasks. The whole point of a “catch all” list is that it is long. That is because the idea is that the list will filter all the ideas that you have been having and make coherent sense of them in your life. If this sounds like a tall order, it is!

Another problem is that the longer the list the longer it takes to scan it. For instance FVP will scan a long list very thoroughly and effectively but takes a lot of scanning time to do so.

And yet another problem is that if you lose either speed or direction, or both, you lose momentum and eventually will get bored with the list.

What I have been working on for months now is the question of how to improve both speed and direction. I think I have now found an answer to this problem, but of course I won’t really know until I’ve tested it thoroughly. The testing started first thing this morning.


Simple Scanning - The Rules

As I said in an earlier blog post, I was using Simple Scanning as far back as twenty years ago. But at the time I did not realise its potential. I may say more about that in future posts.

Up to now I’ve never written any formal rules for Simple Scanning preferring to describe it as “going round and round the list, doing tasks which stand out”.

There are several concepts there which need explanation, particularly if you haven’t used any of my systems before.

Simple Scanning is what I call a “long list” system. In long list systems the aim is to write everything down that you have to do, want to do or think you might do in one long list in no particular order. There should be no attempt to categorise, prioritise, or emphasise particular tasks in any way. There are no rules about what size individual tasks have to be or how they should be worded. 

Since this is an intuitive system it is recommended (but not essential) that you use paper and pen rather than electronic means. A lined notebook is ideal.

If you use electronic means, be wary of time management apps which try to make you categorise and/or prioritise. These will work against the effective use of the system.

The second concept which needs explanation is what I call “standing out”. This basically consists of scanning through the list, doing tasks which you feel you want to do now. Don’t ask yourself “Do I want to do this task now?”. Just let the tasks stand out of their own accord.

For some people this comes easily and naturally, for others it takes longer to grasp.

Don’t get too worried about it. There’s no right number of tasks to select per pass. Assume you are doing it right unless you either find yourself selecting every single task or alternatively none at all. Allow it to find its own level naturally.

Another concept is that you should work on a task only for as long as you feel you want to. It is better to work “little and often” on tasks, than to work in huge bursts of activity - specially if the thought of a huge burst of activity puts you off from ever starting.

So however long your list is, you should be doing only tasks which you feel you want to do now and only for as long as you want to do them. 

Now for the actual rules for simple scanning:


  1. Write a list of things you have to do, would like to do or think you might do. One task per line.
  2. If you are not sure about a task write it with a query (?) after it. 
  3. There is no need to make the list comprehensive because you can keep adding to it as you go along.
  4. Don’t make any additional markings to indicate category or priority. 
  5. There are no rules about how you write the task - just as long as you can understand what you meant when you come back to it.
  6. Tasks can be as large or as small as you like.
  7. When you have finished writing your initial list, read it through quickly once to remind yourself of what is on it and where.
  8. Scan down the list until a task stands out as being ready to do.
  9. Work on it for as long as you like. 
  10. When you have finished working on it for the time being, re-enter it at the end of the list if there is still work to be done on it or if it’s a recurring task. 
  11. Cross out the task you have been working on.
  12. Continue scanning down the list and repeat Rules 8. to 12. until it is time to stop working. 
  13. When you reach the end of the list, circle round to the beginning of the list.
  14. At the beginning of the next work period, start again from where you got to.

A couple of suggestions: 

  • Draw a line across the page at the beginning of each day. This helps to remind you whether you’ve done a daily task that day, and enables you to see how long any task has been on the list.
  • When re-entering a task, do it in the following order: 1) Re-write the task at the end of the list 2) Cross out the old one. This will prevent you from failing to remember to re-enter a task, and also from losing your place.




High Intensity Use of Time - Ebook

I’m so pleased with this new system that I’ve decided that a blog post won’t do it justice. So I’m aiming to write an ebook which I will make available on this website.

I haven’t yet even begun to sketch out the contents, neither do I have any idea what the word-count of the book will be. So it will be a measure of the system’s effectiveness how long it takes me to write the book without a publisher breathing down my neck.

All the rest of the details will begin to take shape once I start working on it.


Thoughts on the Long List - High Intensity Use of Time

Using my latest method, which is designed to be a High Intensity Use of Time, I have done 94 tasks out of 149 in the last 24 hours with 55 tasks remaining on the list, mostly re-entries.

During the day I was absent at a pub lunch with friends for four hours.

I experienced no resistance, got everything of importance done (and everything of lesser importance too). And instead of feeling exhausted, I have been getting steadily more energetic throughout the day.


Thoughts on the Long List - High Speed High Volume

As I mentioned yesterday, a system which reduces resistance to zero is a real game-changer. So many of the concerns about time management vanish when you can simply do stuff. You don’t need to worry about the number of things you have to do, you don’t get backlogs building up, and you are not doing anything just as a way of avoiding something else.

It’s not just that you do the work faster. The work itself gets faster. Routines build up faster. Weeding gets faster. Follow up gets faster. Records are better kept. Problems get sorted quicker. Everything is up to date. You can find things faster. And above all knowing you are completely on top of your work gives you tremendous energy.

Sounds good?

More soon!


Thoughts on the Long List - The Better Way

In fact there is a better way than Simple Scanning - a way which meets all the criteria which I mentioned in the preliminary post in the Thoughts on the Long List series with particular emphasis on high speed and high volume:

  • Fast
  • Flexible
  • Comprehensive
  • No resistance
  • Any length of list
  • No pressure to do any particular tasks
  • Relies entirely on intuition, i.e. “standing out” 

I’ve been working on this system for months now trying to get it exactly right. As always when I finally arrive, the answer is very simple.

Getting high speed and high volume is largely a matter of reducing resistance to as close to zero as it’s possible to get, plus having a scanning system which doesn’t get in the way. Once that’s been achieved everything else becomes much easier - because if you’re going to do everything and do it fast the concerns about urgent items, backlogs, unstarted projects, length of the list, etc, just fall away.

You also of course get enormous energy just by the fact that you are on top of things.

More about this soon.


Thoughts on the Long List - A Better Way? (cont.)

Since I left off writing my previous post three days ago, I have been ceaselessly experimenting with the issues raised there.

I’ve come to two major conclusions: 

  1. “Standing out for No” tends to become less effective with time, while “Standing out for Yes” becomes more effective with time. I’m referring to one’s mental receptivity to the results here.
  2. A system based on “Standing out for No” has a major disadvantage compared with “Standing out for Yes”. This is that it is far less sensitive to timing, mood, readiness, alertness, etc. 

And arising out of those two conclusions, there is one further conclusion. Simple Scanning is best done the way I’ve done it up to now.

I’ll be exploring the implications of this in future posts in the Thoughts on the Long List series.


Thoughts on the Long List - A Better Way?

There is an interesting discussion ongoing on the forum. The question has been raised whether “standing out” is the best way to process a list. The essence of “standing out” is that tasks you want to do will stand out from the list. You therefore proceed from one task you want to do to the next one you want to do.

The trouble with this is that many people find that they never want to do certain tasks - which may be the very ones that they most need to do. They are therefore in danger of endlessly processing trivial easy tasks without ever getting to what really matters.

What is therefore being suggested is the opposite of this. Instead of looking for the tasks that we do want to do and ignoring the rest, we should do every task except the ones that stand out as ones we don’t want to do.

This is similar to the well-known technique for choosing between two alternatives - toss a coin and stick to the result unless you get a strong adverse feeling. That way you’ve cut through all the stuff going backwards and forwards through your mind and discovered which of the two alternatives you really want.

(To be continued)


Top 10 Advantages of The Long List

  1. You can throw everything at the list as it occurs to you and leave the sorting, prioritizing (and whether you want to do it at all) to work itself out as you go along.
  2. It will show you clearly whether a projected project or action is a goer. If it ends up on an isolated page surrounded by tasks which have been crossed out, you can be pretty sure it’s not.
  3. Tasks and projects will find their own level - a sort of “survival of the fittest”.
  4. The focus is on what you have done, not on what you haven’t
  5. Because you can put anything you like on the list, it opens the world up to you. Thinking you might want to do something quite extraordinary? Just put it on your list and see what happens.
  6. Every task you are thinking of doing has to be written down, put on the list and subjected to the selection procedure. This is a very effective way of avoiding impulsive activity.
  7. Having multiple alternative actions on your list prevents your getting blocked.
  8. Because selecting from the list is intuitive, the work you do is in the flow. Once it’s on the list it’s not work because you’re either not doing it or you’re enjoying doing it.
  9. If you’re in the flow, you do work to a higher standard.
  10. The repetitive effect of re-entering tasks contributes to the building of good routines, and also assists you in extended study, reading, practice, drafting, etc.

Thoughts on the Long List - Making Everything Easy

It would be a quite understandable reaction to what I’ve been writing recently about trusting intuition to ask “Won’t that just result in my doing the easy stuff and leaving the difficult stuff?”

This is a very deep rooted attitude and with good reason. Just about everyone has had the experience of the pressure lifting at work and, instead of using the quiet period to get completely up to date, they have just idled the time away until the pressure returns. So the net result is that they still have the existing overwhelm, but with a good extra dose of added guilt.

The prevailing attitude to work is that you can only get it done by will power and that you have to force yourself to do the difficult stuff. In fact many people need the pressure of an impending deadline to get moving at all.

As for to-do lists, they are a continual reminder of how much you still have to do, and what you still have to do seems only to get bigger and bigger. Eventually you develop resistance to the whole list and are in danger of suffering from complete paralysis.

What if I told you that this attitude to work is completely back to front?

It’s a myth based on two misconceptions: 

  • Everything on the list has to be done
  • You need to force yourself to overcome resistance 

The truth is that everything on your list is easy, provided that: 

  • You feel ready to do it
  • You have the habit of doing it
  • You work little and often
  • You split difficult tasks so they are as small as possible
  • You allow your intuition to weed out the tasks and projects that are going nowhere

And just to clarify, when I say everything is easy I am not referring to the level of skill required.


Thoughts on the Long List - Accepting that it won't all get done

Well, I am back where I began twenty years ago with Simple Scanning. The difference is that I have an entirely different philosophy about it - a philosophy which I will attempt to describe in this and subsequent posts.

As I said in an earlier article, there are two ways of looking at a long “catch-all” list.

The first is that you capture everything on your list which you have to do and then use a system to get all of it done. This is what I was trying to do with it all those years ago. And of course I failed.

The second is that you capture everything that you might do on your list and then use a system to sift the list so that the viable things on it get done, and the rest are sifted out. If there is a lot which you don’t do then you have succeeded.

The basic difference between the two is that with the first what you haven’t done is seen as more important than what you have done. In the second what you have done is seen as more important than what you haven’t done.

With the first, if you didn’t succeed in doing something then you would see the possible causes as: 

  • You experienced strong resistance
  • You couldn’t get yourself in the right mood to do it
  • You didn’t want to do it
  • You kept putting it off
  • You found it really hard
  • You thought it would be a lot of work
  • You weren’t sure how to handle it
  • You just couldn’t get started
  • You did a load of trivial make-work in order to avoid it 

With the second, the reasons would be entirely different 

  • I chose not to do it
  • It didn’t feel right for me at this time
  • I decided it would interfere with my existing work
  • I tried it but it didn’t work for me
  • I found a better way of doing the same thing 

In other words the reasons for the second put you in a positive, not a negative, light. It’s the task which didn’t pass your selection, rather than you who failed to get the task done.

What are the advantages of seeing the list in this way?

I’ll answer that question in a later post in the series. 

Thoughts on the Long List - The Panic List

Simple Scanning and other systems are extremely thorough and effective methods of processing a long list, but they do tend to fall down when there is an emergency or other unforeseen (or even foreseen) time pressure. 

In this sort of situation it’s all too easy to get into a state of panic. Personally the time this is most likely to happen to me is when packing for a trip. I hate packing and will put it off until the last possible moment, which unfortunately often turns out to be the last impossible moment. A state of panic usually manifests itself in one of three ways: 

  1. Complete paralysis
  2. Rushing about like a headless chicken
  3. Doing anything other than what you are supposed to be doing

What is required is to re-establish a sense of purpose and at the same time to get yourself moving in the right direction. The tool to use here is the Panic List.

Here’s how it works:

1) Abandon your main list for the time being

2) Take a separate sheet of paper and start to list all the things you have to do before the deadline. Make each action as small as possible.

3) After you’ve written three or four items, scan up from the bottom of the list and select one thing to get working on now

4) Keep adding to the list as things occur to you

5) Each time you finish an item scan again from the bottom of the list to select the next item

6) Keep at it until there are no more things you have to do

This is an extremely effective way of actioning a lot of stuff in a limited period of time. It will work in any situation in which you have a finite amount of things to do and a limited amount of time in which to do them.

Typical situations where this could be used: 

  • Packing for a trip
  • Preparing for a meeting
  • When something urgent comes up unexpectedly
  • Meeting a deadline when you are behind with your work 

Don’t be tempted though to try to use it outside this type of situation. Without the limiting factors you will quickly end up with a very long list which is not being processed efficiently.


Thoughts on the Long List - Preliminary - What system to use?

Much of the work I have been doing on the subject of the long list has been testing out various long-list systems to see which would be the best for my purposes.

What I required was a system which fulfils the following criteria: 

  • Fast
  • Flexible
  • Comprehensive
  • No resistance
  • Any length of list
  • No pressure to do any particular tasks
  • Relies entirely on intuition, i.e. “standing out” 

Not a lot to ask.

I came to two conclusions:

  1. Only one system ticks all the above boxes and that is Simple Scanning (scanning round and round the list doing whatever stands out without any formal method of clearing undone tasks). This is a very annoying conclusion for me because I first started using Simple Scanning in 1997 and have spent the past twenty years trying to invent a better system. The reason I did this is because at the time I didn’t understand what it was the best system for.
  2. More important than which system you use is that once you’ve chosen one you stick to it. None of my theories about the long list will work if one keeps changing systems. Again this is a very annoying conclusion for me because I could have spent the last twenty years becoming a multi-billionaire and secret ruler of the world. Not too late now perhaps… mwahahaha!

Finally, a bit more background reading:

Natural Selection Changes the Emphasis


Thoughts on the Long List - Update

I wrote a couple of short articles earlier this year about long lists (aka catch-all lists):

Thoughts on the Long List

My theory is that a properly handled and practised list removes the need for prioritization, goal-setting, planning and deadline-chasing.

The Natural Selection of Tasks

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

Since then I’ve been doing an enormous amount of work on this subject, and I’m going to be writing a series of articles on the results. These might  become the basis for a book. The first one should be up soon.

In the meantime I recommend reading or re-reading the two short articles above to set the scene.


"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


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” - that’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.


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. 


  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.




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





  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.




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.