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Entries by Mark Forster (914)

Wednesday
Oct112017

How to Get a Book Read (Revised)

In March this year I wrote a piece on how to get a book read. Although the technique mentioned there proved reasonably successful, I’ve since been using one which seems to work better for me.

It’s very simple. Imagine you have a pile of books. Starting from the top of the pile, look at the books in turn until you come to one which you feel like reading now. Read it for as long as you want to, then put the book in top place on the pile.

The next time you feel like doing some reading, repeat the procedure. If you feel like reading the book at the top of the pile again, read it. If you don’t, look at books in turn until you come to one you feel like reading now. As before, replace the book at the top of the pile.

What I find usually happens is that I latch on to one book that I select most times. That is of course until I finish it. Then another book will take over pole position.

This can be applied to many situations other than a pile of books. Books on a shelf rather than in a pile work just as well of course. And so do books on Kindle, which automatically shows the last book you read at the head of the list. You can use it for movies, whether a pile of DVDs or streaming videos on Amazon or Netflix. Try it for magazines, particularly if you have to read them for professional purposes.

The above suggestions are not comprehensive. Use your imagination to think of other uses of the technique. Restaurants, walks, types of exercise? What else?

Tuesday
Oct102017

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.
Monday
Oct092017

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.

Friday
Oct062017

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. 
Thursday
Oct052017

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.

Wednesday
Oct042017

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

Tuesday
Oct032017

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.

Sunday
Aug132017

She's only just got started

Here’s an update from my daughter in Australia, posted with her permission, (not the same daughter who did the Bridgathon in London with me two years ago). It’s very relevant to my recently reposted article “Feeling Good”

In just over two months’ time we will be moving again, the third time in nine months. This will be the last time hopefully for at least thirty or more years, as we have found our forever home. Only a couple of kilometres away from where we are currently living.
Twenty one acres, house set up on a hill looking over a valley, log cabin style with verandas (but well built and well-insulated!). Creek running through it with trout fishing, powered entertainment area down on the creek, comes with a separate fully self-contained guest house. Orchard, space for animals, and some bush/forest perfect for motorbike tracks. All for a price we can easily afford.
I totally believe all this amazing stuff that keeps on happening in our lives comes from that one decision back in January 2016 to just be happy. Because I wasn’t, I was very very far from it back then. I decided not to wait for circumstances to change before I could find happiness, but to find happiness despite everything being far from perfect, and then I found that all my circumstances changed for the better as a result. And despite things not always being easy, always always returning to that decision to be happy no matter what. Even in the darkest times when I was terrified that my own dad was going to die, to choose to find it in the smallest of things and to express my gratitude every single day.
In the eighteen or so months since then, I’ve lost weight but become totally comfortable in my body regardless of how much weight I’m carrying, I’ve more than tripled my income, my family’s health has improved out of sight, my dad has been diagnosed with cancer again, struggled through gruelling treatment, been paralysed in his legs and arms, given up treatment long before the end, but come out the other side and made a recovery nothing short of miraculous (achieving 10,000 steps the other day!), sold our house in three weeks in a town where nothing else had sold for years, moved states, made amazing new connections and friendships, built two successful businesses that I love, somehow managed to persuade a bank to give us a mortgage despite being self-employed without an income from my husband, and no qualifying income from the previous two years! Moved into the most amazing new shop, and found our forever home.
You might look at my life and feel jealousy or resentment or think that I’m just a lucky bitch who got great opportunities, but I’m telling you, it all came with a change of attitude, and a refusal to go back to the previous negative, pessimistic attitude, no matter what. My life might not appeal to you at all, but you have the capacity to built exactly the life that’s right for you, no matter what your current circumstances.
Now to just wait for settlement and moving in day, then we’re off to the Sunshine Coast for a big family holiday. Shit might go wrong, circumstances very well might change, but I’m relaxed in the knowledge that I can handle it no matter what, and in the long run, those apparently negative things will lead to even better things. And you better believe there’s better things coming because really, I’ve only just got started. 
Friday
Jul282017

First Fruit of the "Feeling Good" Experiment !

My first walk for three months !

Thursday
Jul272017

The "Feeling Good" Experiment

I’m going to try a reckless experiment. I say it’s reckless because I’ve never tried anything like it before, and it could easily turn out to be a complete disaster.

What I’m going to do is to stop using all aids to time management and rely only on the “Feeling Good” method to regulate what I do.

Will it work? I’ve no idea!

But if it does, it could be really sensational.

I don’t advise anyone else to try it until I’ve discovered whether it’s feasible or not.

Tuesday
Jul252017

The Most Important Thing I've Ever Written?

I published this in this blog in 2006, though I’d written it years before. Of all the things I’ve written this is the one that has had, and continues to have, the biggest influence on my own life.

Feeling Good

One way to improve your general ability to work and keep going is to monitor how good you are feeling. Procrastination, stress, overwhelm, burn out are all very closely linked and it is difficult to be feeling good when one is suffering from any or all of these! However the reverse applies too. It is difficult to be suffering from stress, overwhelm, burn out and procrastination when you are feeling good. So monitoring your overall state of mind can have a very beneficial result.

It’s very easy to do this. Let’s try it now. Stop reading for a second and ask yourself “How good am I feeling now?” Answer by giving a mark out of 10. If you are feeling tense and upset you might answer “3”. If you are feeling on top of the world you might answer “8” or even higher. Try it now. What was your answer? Write it down on a piece of paper.

If you did this in the way I just suggested, a couple of questions may have occurred to you. One might be what I mean by “good”. I quite deliberately didn’t give you any definition of what “good” meant. The reason is that you will discover what “good” means for you by the act of asking “How good do I feel?” The more you ask the question the more you will begin to realise what your mind is looking for when it provides your answer. You will also notice which things in your life tend to affect the score. So don’t worry about the definition of “good”. You will find the right definition for you by practising the exercise.

Another question you may have asked yourself is how much you should think about the answer. Should you spend some time deliberating it? No, the best answer is the one you give straight off the top of your head. You may find it easier to give the answer as “4 or 5” rather than as a single figure.

Now, this is important: once you have given your answer do not try to make yourself feel better. Just carry on observing your feelings by regularly asking yourself “How good do I feel?” This will make you more aware of your state of mind and that in itself will tend to have the effect of increasing the score.

Ask yourself the question again now. Write the answer down again. Is it the same as the first time or has it changed? You may find that your score has increased already. If it has, that is simply because you have become more aware. Don’t worry if it hasn’t!

This technique is a very subtle one, but also very powerful. It takes time but you will find if you keep using it your score will slowly rise. If you started out feeling 3 or 4 most of the time, you may find that it rises within a few weeks until you are feeling 6 or 7 most of the time. Bear in mind that when this happens you have altered your entire mental sense of well-being. This will inevitably affect many areas of your life. I cured myself of a fear of flying (caused by being in a helicopter crash) by using this technique. During my first flight for over eight years I was able to maintain a score of 10 throughout the entire flight, including take-off and landing. Since then I’ve flown all over the place. 

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!

Wednesday
Jul052017

Testing - Update

Today I’m switching to my benchmark system, simple scanning, to see how they compare. So no further report today.

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.