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Entries by Mark Forster (928)

Friday
Dec152017

Physician, heal thyself

Rule 5 of the Simple Scanning Rules states:

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.

I’ve just come across this task on my list which I wrote earlier today:

Weed “British”

I have not got the faintest idea what I meant by it.

Suggestions?

Friday
Dec152017

Addition to Simple Scanning Rules

I’ve added a couple of suggestions to the rules for Simple Scanning:
  • 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.
Wednesday
Dec132017

Simple Scanning - Clumping, Attenuation and Maturity

If you haven’t already read the previous article on Simple Scanning then you need to do so before reading this.

My original intention was to write a separate blog post about each of these characteristics of Simple Scanning. However it seems easier to write one post and cover all three in one go. They are by no means confined to Simple Scanning, but that seems to be the system which best combines them  - the best I’ve been able to discover so far anyway.

Clumping

In Simple Scanning tasks are written on the list when you think of them, without any attempt to classify or order them. But as one works the list, so the tasks which get done together will be re-entered on the list together. So the very action of using the system tends to mean that, as you progress, the amount of scanning time becomes progressively shorter and the speed at which you select tasks off the list gets faster. This particularly applies to routine tasks which need to be done at a particular time of day, such as a morning routine or an evening routine.

Attenuation

Attenuation is almost the opposite effect to clumping. It is what happens to tasks on the list that don’t get done quickly. As other tasks around them get done so they get surrounded by deleted tasks. This has the effect of drawing attention to those undone tasks. The more the list gets attenuated the more the undone tasks stand out physically. This gives important information to your intuition. You can increase the contrast between tasks by joining contiguous deleted tasks by joining them together with a vertical line in the left margin. This gives you a very good picture at a glance of how many tasks remain on any given page.

Maturity

When you start a new list, you can’t expect to leap into full-ahead productivity immediately. It takes time for the list to mature.  You usually find that you start off by working on easy, routine tasks. This is entirely how it should be because you need to get these routines well established before you can start on more challenging work. Gradually you will find that more and more of the “real work” gets incorporated in your routines. Routines are the basis of all good work. You will find it very difficult to keep up to date with your work if you only work on it by fits and starts.

When you add a new project it too takes time to get established. Unless it’s urgent, your intuition will probably allow it to lie fallow for a bit, but once you start working on it it will become easier and easier to keep working on it.

—————————

The effect of these three working together provides a high-speed high-volume method of tackling your work which requires no more than writing down what you have to do on a list, scanning it and working on the tasks which stand out. The method itself require an absolute minimum of overhead.

Saturday
Dec022017

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. 
  11. Cross out the task you have been working on.
  12. Continue scanning down the list and repeat 8-12 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.

 

 

Friday
Dec012017

High Intensity Use of Time - A Decision

After a lot more experimenting, I haven’t been able to find a system which works consistently better than Simple Scanning. So I taken the decision that I’m going to be concentrating on that from now on.

At the same time I’ve found out lots more about how Simple Scanning works and about what makes it suitable as the vehicle for High Intensity Use of Time.

Here are three characteristics which make it faster and more effective than any other long-list system: 

  • Clumping
  • Attenuation
  • Maturity 

Over the next few days I shall be writing about each of these (not necessarily in that order) to show how they work together to produce the high intensity.

Thursday
Nov232017

High Intensity Use of Time - Progress

I seem to have succeeded in sorting out the bugs in my proposed new method. So I hope to reveal it soon. I think I’ll post the method before, rather than after, writing my short ebook on the subject so I can incorporate reactions to the method in the text.

This ebook will definitely be free of charge once it sees the light of day.

Friday
Nov172017

High Intensity Use of Time - Progress (or lack of it!)

Unfortunately I’ve been having some problems with my new High Intensity system which means that for the time being I’ve been forced to put the projected ebook on hold.

In the meantime I’m currently taking a break from long lists by going back temporarily to my favourite No List system - The Next Hour, which as always I’m finding very powerful.

Thursday
Nov092017

What is a Task?

An email from dvd1955 raises an important point:

Could you please explain a little, maybe in a blog post for all to see, what you consider a “task” to be?  My confusion comes from the fact that the average time you must spend on a task is very low to get the number of tasks completed that you mention in some of your posts. For example, The High-Intensity Use of Time update mentions getting 30 tasks done in less than four hours. That means the average time spent on a task is under 8 minutes. When I look at the first twenty items on my current list, there are only three or four that could be done in under 8 minutes. And many of them would take well over 30 minutes, eating up that four hours very quickly. Some of them could be split into shorter sessions but many cannot.

 Looking at my current list I have some tasks that will take a long time, e.g. 

  • Learn Welsh
  • Write Ebook
  • Tax Return 

Some which are “portmanteau tasks”, which will take as long as I choose to give them, e.g. 

  • Read Kindle
  • Read [physical] Books
  • Watch DVDs 

Some which will take a medium amount of time, e.g. 

  • Walking
  • Visit Friend in Hospital
  • Write blog post 

Some which are variable in time taken but usually relatively short, e.g. 

  • Comments
  • Email
  • Voicemail
  • Arrange Boiler Service 

There’s also a special class of very short tasks. I have a lot of them on my list. Some examples: 

  • Tidy Desk
  • Tidy Office Table
  • Tidy Office Floor
  • Check Overcoat Pockets
  • Put Papers Away
  • Check Lowest Point Bank Balance
  • Shred Papers 
  • Check Diary

These last ones are essential for the smooth running of my work. I do many of them several times a day and they may take only seconds to do. But they are what keep my office efficient and tidy, my papers where I can find them, and so on. 

They are the sort of things which you might find on a checklist. So why not use a checklist? There are some very good reasons. The first is that a checklist is another document that I would have to find. The second is that “Office Checklist” is a large task and therefore tends to get done only once a day. “Tidy Desk” is a small task, especially if it’s done three or four times a day. Having this type of task on the main list gives much more flexibility.

So what is a task?

My answer is “Whatever you want it to be”. The way I write my tasks is the result of long experience in the best to write a particular task for me. I have no standard rules about length or format. My only rule is to write all tasks in such a way that I can remember what they mean. I don’t want to find myself trying to work out what the task “John re Email” refers to. Who on earth is John? His email or mine or someone else’s? What about? Did I mean Joan not John?

Sunday
Nov052017

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.

Saturday
Nov042017

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.

Friday
Nov032017

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!

Thursday
Nov022017

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.

Tuesday
Oct312017

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.

Saturday
Oct282017

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)

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