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Discussion Forum > Time Management In An Urgency-Driven Environment

So, I've learned all of my time management tricks in a closed-off, no interruption environment. I could attend to life and important projects with no real fear of distraction. I had trouble doing what needed to really be done as opposed to what ultimately became busywork, but I sure could process and complete tasks.

Fast-forward to now. I'm much better at analyzing what truly needs to be done to achieve a certain result, but in my job, my ability to complete work is totally shot. I work at a small business where everyone is used to sharing hats. Moving furniture, maintaining the front counter, doing store paperwork, things like that. Here, it seems I can barely grab any time to grind away on the major projects I know need to be done to achieve certain results before some new asshole wanders in with some problem he's gotta fix now.

Some of this is absolutely abysmal upper management run by assclowns. But I'd like to remain at the job at least for some while longer to build skills I can use to run my own business or find a better job within the distance of the house. How can I get work done on important projects in an environment driven by urgency?

I was using DIT at first, then switched to FV to try and handle those urgent tasks better. That worked, but I keep getting interrupted so much that when I get back to a chain, resistance has majorly piled on.
November 10, 2012 at 0:26 | Unregistered CommenterMHW
Have you considered any other of Mark's systems that might be more appropriate for your current circumstances? AF2 might help because you're not pre-committed to a chain and it really keeps new and urgent tasks front and center.

Or Superfocus - easily park the work you've been interrupted on in column 2 to return to later. And of course urgent stuff goes into c2 so it's not missed.

I'm suggesting these because you've posted in the general forum not the FV forum. FV should be able to handle the problems you face (and I think it probably does for many people) but if it's just not working for you at present then I suggest taking a break from it (as I have).
November 10, 2012 at 8:29 | Registered CommenterCaibre65
MHW:

I learned my time management in Army operations rooms/dug-outs where the situation is the very opposite of an interruption-free environment and decisions are often literally life or death.

When urgency is the main driver, then the best way to prioritize is by urgency. Do the most urgent thing first.

If you get interrupted while doing a task, then write that task down so you can return to it as soon as the interruption is finished. You may end up with several layers of interruptions, but doing this ensures that you can keep on track.
November 10, 2012 at 9:53 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
@Caibre: I guess it's less about FV being up to par and more about the trouble I'm having keeping a chain going after multiple interruptions. Also, since the projects are being fragmented due to how the system processes things, it can be incredibly tough to keep returning to them, creating the feeling of slogging through.

@Mark: I just hope my bosses get that if I'm always tackling the urgent like this, I'm gonna have a harder time getting the results they want. Some of them do, but I'm concerned some of them don't.
November 10, 2012 at 13:11 | Unregistered CommenterMHW
MWH:

<< @Mark: I just hope my bosses get that if I'm always tackling the urgent like this, I'm gonna have a harder time getting the results they want. Some of them do, but I'm concerned some of them don't. >>

If you are doing it properly it should make it less hard for you to do the important but no so urgent things, not more. This is because taking care of the most urgent things first reduces the pressure and stress.

Why are you concerned about your bosses "getting" what you are doing? Explain it to them.

By the way, if you regard your bosses as "assclowns" and your customers/clients/colleagues as "assholes", you are never going to succeed in working successfully with them.
November 10, 2012 at 14:37 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Yeah, I guess I was still a bit cross when I posted that. I'm sorry for acting up. Today I tried out the No Dismissal variant of AF2 and it worked fairly nicely. I'll do it for longer to see how it handles all the urgent stuff popping up. Having to rewrite the tasks near the end forced me to break it down further and make it easier to do, which is a nice bonus.
November 10, 2012 at 23:32 | Unregistered CommenterMHW
MHW

Nothing against AF2ND but I would really recommend AF2 as per Mark's rules. If you've got a big lump of unactioned tasks at the beginning of the list my suggested tweak would be to only put 2 or 3 items on notice of dismissal. If they still need doing when you've dismissed them just re-enter after a day or two.
November 12, 2012 at 10:55 | Registered CommenterCaibre65
Are the urgent tasks that come up also important, or are they unimportant? Many people treat anything urgent as also important, but that isn't always the case.

If you are getting tasks that are unimportant (i.e. it doesn't really matter much if they are done or not), then it's time to learn the gentle art of saying "no". "Sorry, no I can't <task> because I'm working on something else important."

Part of this is making sure you still say "yes" to urgent requests that ARE important so you don't become "that guy that never helps" including taking initiative on them (e.g. if customer comes in to be served, being prepared to jump up and help). You need to pick the right battles (i.e. when what you're doing REALLY IS important, and the urgent task is only urgent, not important as well). Offering an alternative (I can't help you right now, but I'll be able to help you with it at <time> (or after <event>) can also help, to show willingness to negotiate to a suitable outcome.

Any decent time management system should try to help you prioritise the important over the urgent. It's up to you, not the system, to make sure you don't conflate urgency with importance - if you can't do that with one system, you're unlikely to be able to do it with another system.
November 13, 2012 at 2:34 | Unregistered CommenterTim
@Caibre: What if you keep a small daily list instead of one big one like I'm experimenting with right now?

@Tim: Well, a lot of requests I get tend to revolve around store stuff - watch the front desk for someone (which sometimes involves ringing up things for customers), help move a thing or two, etc. Customer help and stuff. Recently I had a bout of paperwork to ensure all the people who cosigned items to our store were getting paid properly, which I consider definitely important. And sometimes, there's computer issues that I need to fix to ensure we can ring things up or print receipts. My main job is to list items on Ebay, and while I don't consider doing it ALL the time important, that's what I'm there for and it needs to be done to a degree.

Really, I'm not against that to a point. But since I get interrupted often, having the FV chains created some resistance. It was already drawn up and maybe broken down, but trying to resume a chain after an interrupt was tough for me. That's why I decided to try AF2 upon suggestion, to give me some more flexibility.
November 13, 2012 at 2:47 | Unregistered CommenterMHW
Caibre65, have you actually tried AF2ND? Instead of automatic dismissal rules which are rather arbitrary, it makes you pay frequent attention to the oldest items in the list. If they still need doing, you rewrite them right away. If they don't, then you "dismiss" them by making a conscious decision to delete that item and consider the next one.

Old tasks which deserve to be abandoned are pruned efficiently and effectively without any need to review dismissed tasks or worry about something important being accidentally dismissed.

AF2ND is a great system and addresses AF2's known weakness. What's not to like?
November 15, 2012 at 20:58 | Registered CommenterDeven
I've tried both methods and personally didn't enjoy the constant rewriting. I've found that AF2 and variants works best when using a relatively small and fast moving list. I also like to use AF2 when I'm alternating on 2 or 3 tasks.

I've no problem with the automatic dismissal. These items have been on the list for several weeks. A day or two in the limbo of dismissal and then re-entering them if I want to won't hurt.

Having said that I must admit that I've been trying AF4R for the last week!

Are you using AF2ND at the moment Deven?
November 16, 2012 at 8:09 | Registered CommenterCaibre65
Sorry, Calibre65, didn't see your reply until now!

I first discovered Mark Forster a couple years ago and started experimenting with the then-current system, which I think was SuperFocus v2. I found the compulsory nature of column 2 generated substantial resistance for me, so I quickly abandoned it for AF1, which is well-loved for a good reason. It has a great feel to it and flows well -- "like water" as David Allen might say! Unlike most people, I always wanted to implement my list on 3x5 index cards, which just appeals to me for both practical and esthetic reasons.

Unfortunately, I encountered the same problem with AF1 as everyone else does -- it really doesn't handle urgent and important tasks very well. So like Mark and countless others, I embarked on a quest to find or devise the best system with all the benefits of AF1, but more effective at handling urgent and important tasks. After studying the rules of ALL of Mark's systems (including abandoned ones like AF3), I decided to try my hand at modifying AF1 to suit my needs.

Inspired by nuntym's Context Autofocus (CAF), I developed my own hybrid of AF1, AF2, CAF and a little GTD, incorporating original ideas as well. I decided that I wanted to have manual prioritization, so I used stars to mark higher-priority tasks. (I concluded it was a bit much to expect the system to magically know what I consider important or urgent.) I originally developed this system (and wrote up the rules for it) on November 18, 2011, and revised the processing rules again on December 6, 2011 after a couple weeks of experience using it. After a few more months, I decided to add an optional "Top 3" rule on April 5, 2012. My system worked well, but it was more complex than I wanted. I longed for the simplicity of AF1.

I decided to give FV when I discovered it was out. (I was away from the forums for a couple months and missed the announcement, discovered it at least a month later.) I was excited to give try FV, but I quickly found that standard FV didn't meet my needs. I then tried adding prioritization to FV (making Prioritized FV), which was much more effective for me, though much debate ensued in the FV forum over it. I still believe that Prioritized FV is an improvement over standard FV, but many people disagree.

Ultimately, I gave up on FV because I realized that the core processing mechanism (creating a chain and then executing it) was generating substantial resistance for me. I realized that no system based on FV would work for me, so I decided to return to Autofocus-style systems.

After spending some time trying to devise a simpler Autofocus system with less complexity than my old one, I encountered AF2ND and was intrigued. After a few days of consideration, I decided that the approach taken by AF2ND was more promising, so I abandoned my unfinished system and decided to try AF2ND instead. Again, I found the need to prioritize, so I tried one tweak (AF2ND+) that worked okay, and recently tried a different one (AF2NDP) that worked much better, and just settled on yet another approach (AF2NDP2) that may just be the winner -- but it's only been a couple days, so the jury's out on this one.

My experiences with AF2ND and my tweaks to it are chronicled in the AF2ND thread:

http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/1908142
February 12, 2013 at 17:48 | Registered CommenterDeven
Editing fail. I was trying to say that I was excited to hear more about FV in the months leading up to its release, and when I discovered it was out (a month or more after the fact), I decided to give it a try.
February 12, 2013 at 18:55 | Registered CommenterDeven
I'm currently trying to combine AF2 with FV. These two systems, for me, are very appealing. However, I found FV too rigid and AF2 too directionless. But FV does share the characteristic with AF2 that you work back through the list (once the preselect is done). Thus being able to cope with new or re-entered tasks that are urgent.

So, today I've created a chain of tasks as in FV. They are dotted in pencil so they can be easily de-selected if required. The chain comprises what I estimate is half a day's work. I then work the chain using AF2. I;m free to add tasks to the chain as in FV but if a preselected task does not stand out for me I'm free to skip it for now.

The idea is that I cover the whole of the list in my initial preselection. I know then that I've considered all the work that needs doing (either because of deadline or promise to client). But I also know that I can add or change the order of tasks based on changing priorities. And the question I ask initially is "What do I definitely want to work on today?" As in FV the oldest task is mandatory, even if it's just to consider why it's not been done yet.
February 13, 2013 at 14:01 | Registered CommenterCaibre65
Caibre65, sorry I misspelled your handle last time.

The problem I had with FV was the core mechanism -- working a preselected chain felt like a straitjacket to me and caused me to subconsciously avoid using the system. I discussed this issue at length last year in a thread on the FV forum that you participated in:

http://markforster.squarespace.com/fv-forum/post/1900291

Your AF2/FV hybrid is interesting, and I could see how that could work well. I'll be interested to hear back from you in a month or three to see if it holds up over time.

As I said, my current system is AF2NDP2, which I've just devised this week. I'll be equally interested to see if my system holds up in a month or three, but for comparison, I'll offer an overview of how you could use AF2NDP2, so you can contemplate how it might feel compared to your AF2/FV hybrid:

* Any time you feel like it, scan through the list and star the tasks that you want to prioritize. You could do it in the morning as a "what do I definitely want to work on today?" question, or on any other schedule that's convenient for you. AF2NDP2 allows you to add or remove stars at any time for any reason. (They're your priorities, after all; the system doesn't know or care why you want to prioritize something.)

* When selecting a new task to work on, delete the oldest task(s) if they are now unwanted, then rewrite the oldest remaining task at the end of the list (as in AF2ND). Then scan the list for the oldest top-priority task (if any) and rewrite that as well (the AF2NDP2 tweak). (If there are both single-starred and double-starred tasks in the list, rewrite only the oldest double-starred task.) After that, scan back from the end of the list for a task that "stands out" to work on (as in AF2).

That's it, nice and simple. Comparing with your AF2/FV hybrid, you could scan the list and star tasks that you definitely want to do today, in exactly the same way that you're currently dotting them to make your FV chain/mini-AF2 list. (Of course, if you like dots better, feel free to use them instead; I prefer stars.) As you work through the day, new and urgent tasks naturally land at the end of your list anyhow (as with AF2), but the AF2NDP2 tweak continually pulls the top-priority tasks to the end of the list where they'll be considered for action instead of letting them remain buried in the list where they would be forgotten under AF2. Unlike your hybrid, the entire list is available to work on at any time; whether this is a benefit or a drawback is debatable and perhaps a matter of preference.

One of the things I really love about AF2NDP2 is the flexibility of being able to add extra stars if necessary when I have multiple priorities and a lot to juggle at once. As I described in the AF2ND thread, on Saturday night, I had a list that already had 12 single-starred items and 3 double-starred priority items, and I added 7 more single-starred items, 2 more double-starred items and 9 triple-starred items for Sunday's "must-do" tasks. At the end of the day on Sunday, every single one of those "must-do" tasks was finished.

You could start out using AF2NDP2 with the intention of finishing all starred tasks every day (which is close to how your AF2/FV hybrid works), but if that doesn't work out and yesterday's "must-do" tasks didn't get finished, but today you have new "must-do" tasks that are more urgent than yesterday's unfinished tasks, you could just double-star today's "must-do" tasks instead, and AF2NDP2 will focus on today's tasks until they're done, then automatically refocus on yesterday's leftover tasks. That seems rather simple and elegant to me.
February 13, 2013 at 15:33 | Registered CommenterDeven
Or you could have multiple priority levels at all times -- single star for tasks to focus on for the week or month and double stars for tasks to focus on for the day, perhaps. Then every time you're done with your goals for the day, you'd be refocused toward the weekly/monthly goals.
February 13, 2013 at 15:38 | Registered CommenterDeven
Deven:

Your system sounds intriguing, though am I right in thinking that every time you select a task you first have to rewrite two old tasks? Unless you've done all your priority tasks of course - in which case you would only have to rewrite one.

That sounds like a lot of work to me. How does it feel in practice?

Afternote:

I've remembered that you use index cards so presumably you are not rewriting the tasks. So you won't be able to answer my question!
February 13, 2013 at 17:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
No, you're quite right -- I'm rewriting two old items each time I select a new one. It doesn't feel like a lot of work to me, but maybe I would be in the minority on that? At any rate, it does a great job of keeping the right tasks on deck, which matters. This AF2NDP2 system would be effortless in an electronic implementation.

It's true that I'm using index cards, but they could just as easily be notebook pages -- I'm using one line per item, not one index card per item. (I've tried that, too unwieldy.) I date each card (which helps me put them back in order if I drop them), but this system doesn't rely on index cards at all. I just happen to like them, and it's fun to tear up a card and throw it away when everything on that card is crossed out. :)
February 13, 2013 at 18:43 | Registered CommenterDeven
It occurs to me that in an electronic implementation, I would probably want the option to reverse the display order of the entire list so the newest items are always written/rewritten at the start of the list and the end of the list is the oldest, so one could scan forward for the one that "stands out". Scanning forward feels more natural, but writing the list in reverse on paper seems more awkward than scanning backward AF2-style.
February 13, 2013 at 19:06 | Registered CommenterDeven
Deven

I've been trying it out this afternoon and evening and I must say I'm getting on better with it than I did the first time I tried AF2ND.

One thing that hadn't occurred to me when I read the rules was that if you have just one top-priority task, it will continue to be the last item on the list until you get it done!
February 14, 2013 at 0:25 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Deven

Continuing with my try-out. I'm not yet sure whether it's actually a problem, but one thing I'm finding is that much of the time when I finish working on a task I'm writing in three new entries (the re-entry, the earliest normal task and the earliest priority task). Since these are added to any new tasks I may have written in, it means that previously promoted priority tasks are disappearing back down the list at something approaching the speed of light.

This is just an observation at this stage, but I'm wondering whether you've noticed it too and if so what effect it has on getting priority tasks done. Have you tried only promoting one task at a time - which would be a priority tasks for as long as there were any remaining?
February 14, 2013 at 10:34 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
That's true, if you have just one top-priority task, it will constantly stay at the end of the list, as the first thing to consider doing when scanning the list backwards AF2-style. And doesn't that fit the idea of "top priority" nicely?

Another possibility is to always keep a "Top 3" of top-priority tasks, and it will keep cycling between those three. I like that idea, but the only problem I see is that medium priorities will be entirely neglected if you *always* keep a Top 3 by design. One possible solution to this would be to have the rules be to rewrite the oldest task for EACH priority level instead of just the top priority level, which would basically cause each priority level to cycle independently and simultaneously, but at the cost of even MORE rewriting. Thoughts?

As for tasks disappearing into the list at light speed, they will, but they'll cycle back around again sooner or later, more frequently if they're high proirity (especially if rewriting each priority level) -- so does it really matter if non-priority tasks float away?

No, I haven't tried just one priority task yet. Have you tried double stars yet?
February 14, 2013 at 22:02 | Registered CommenterDeven
I find that mid-priority tasks irritate me more and more as they age. Eventually, getting rid of that thorn becomes a higher priority. Or they don't get done, and don't get done, and eventually I have to admit that the only reason I haven't demoted it is guilt, at which time I need to take a good look at why I think I should do it, what other actions that fill the same need might be easier, and whether I should promote or demote it.
February 15, 2013 at 0:38 | Registered CommenterCricket
Here's my version of "improved AF2". I've used it myself quite a bit in the past, and it's always been one of my favourite methods. It's also very good as a method for clearing large backlogs of email, paper, etc. For some reason I don't think I've ever mentioned it before.

Rules as per AF2 except:

1. You start from the beginning of the list and scan forward until a task stands out for selection. Do it.

2. When you've done the selected task, you reverse direction and scan backwards until you select another task. When you've done it, reverse direction again. Continue scanning and reversing direction ad infinitum.

3. If you get to either end of the list without having selected a task, bounce off it by changing direction. Continue as above.

4. That's it!

This method has some very interesting characteristics:

- It produces no resistance at all to the system itself (even less than AF1)
- it keeps the whole list under review (unlike AF2)
- there's no need for preselection or prioritising (unlike FV)
- it deals with urgent tasks well as any task can potentially be the next to be selected (unlike AF1)
- it quite quickly wears away your resistance to the more difficult tasks
- it's very sensitive to time of day and other factors which affect which tasks are currently appropriate
February 15, 2013 at 11:44 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hmm, shall we call that "AF2R" for "AF2, Reversing"?

I'm a little confused about bouncing off either end of the list by changing direction -- doesn't this mean you'd be confined to the start of the list, if you don't wrap around back to the end?
February 15, 2013 at 14:12 | Registered CommenterDeven
Cricket, what do you think of AF2NDP2? Also, I hear what you're saying about medium-priority tasks aging. That's why I'm wondering if AF2NDP3 should be rewriting each priority in turn (instead of just the lowest and highest priorities), but I'm worried that it's overkill and just too much rewriting. Of course, it only differs if you use double/triple stars or more, so maybe it would tend to be a self-regulating problem?
February 15, 2013 at 14:14 | Registered CommenterDeven
Giving some more thought to the "Top 3" idea, if you were using AF2NDP2 and keeping maybe 20 priority tasks (with a single star) and always keeping a double star on exactly 3 tasks, that would keep those 3 tasks at the end of the list while the rest of the priority tasks would float away just like the non-priority tasks. On the one hand, each time you finish one of those Top 3 tasks, you'd presumably be most likely to promote on of the other 20 priority tasks to take its place, which will help work through them all. On the other hand, if the Top 3 are large projects that won't be done quickly, the medium priorities could languish indefinitely.

I'm thinking more and more that AF2NDP3 should be to rewrite the oldest of every priority level, to keep them all cycling at an appropriate pace. The downside is even more rewriting, but it would allow a "Top 3" of big projects without derailing medium priorities, and anyone who doesn't want to do so much rewriting can always avoid using multiple stars. I could use some feedback here if anyone has thoughts on this...

Mark, what's been your experience with trying AF2NDP2? Did you find the extra rewriting to be as burdensome as suspected, or did it turn out to be a minor thing?
February 15, 2013 at 14:38 | Registered CommenterDeven
Deven:

<< I'm a little confused about bouncing off either end of the list by changing direction -- doesn't this mean you'd be confined to the start of the list, if you don't wrap around back to the end? >>

Imagine you have a list of 5 tasks (for example purposes only!),

Task A
Task B
Task C
Task D
Task E

You scan forward from the beginning of the list and go past Tasks A and B, then select Task C. You do Task C and your list is now:

Task A
Task B
Task D
Task E

You scan backwards from where Task C used to be, going past Task B and Task A (you could of course have chosen one of them). This means you have reached the beginning of the list. You bounce off it, i.e. change direction, and go past Tasks A, B and D (any of which you could have chosen) to select Task E.
February 15, 2013 at 15:18 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Deven:

After a good start, I found exactly the same problem after a day or so as I did with my own earlier attempt at a prioritised version of AF2ND. I started to resist the priorities. I also find the whole rewriting business to be too much of a burden. So although I could see some benefits in the system, I gave it up myself.

My little system above, AF2R or whatever you like to call it, seems to achieve everything without the disadvantages. For instance, if you look at the example I give above, you can see that I have done Tasks C and E the first time I came to them, but have passed Tasks A and B three times and Task D once. You can't really appreciate how it works just from reading about it though. It has to be tried out with a real list.

The greatest advantage it has is that it feels like playing a game. Not a competitive game but one of those freewheeling games which very young children play.
February 15, 2013 at 15:29 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Deven, I've totally lost track of the variations of AF2ND...., so can't comment on the specifics.

Mark's reversing idea wouldn't work for me. It's possible to do task 50, 1, 49, 2, 48 -- totally ignoring the second half. I need to review the entire list, or at least the high-priority subset, as a regular part of the system, not as random curiosity. Otherwise I spend too much time doing low-priority work, blissfully unaware of what's on the next page.

For me, a priority task isn't one I have to do first, or even today. It's one I need to work on in the next few days and don't want to forget about. If a big vacation is coming up, it might even be "in the two weeks before vacation".

Some of those tasks have to be done today, but most don't. I might have an entire week to mail a birthday present. I make it a priority so it gets done on errand day.

I'll describe my current method in another thread. It worked great for several months, including before and after from Christmas vacation, but didn't survive reading 14 novels in 15 days and a 4-night insomnia bout (hopefully stopping tonight -- hot cocoa at bedtime with Dtr has to go, sigh. It helps me sleep, but then I wake at 2am and am too tired to realize planning my next big novel right then is a bad idea).
February 15, 2013 at 18:16 | Registered CommenterCricket
Change of plan. I've described it all before, and it hasn't changed much. I do a lot of rewriting. Every week I review my source documents and make a weekly page. The page is intentionally optimistic. If the week looks busy or there are time-critical tasks I organize it. The goal is to keep the important tasks visible and learn how flexible I can be in the upcoming week.

"Intentionally optimistic" works better than "reasonably expect to complete". When I expected to complete it all, I was less careful about which I did first. Then when I didn't complete it all, I would get discouraged. Intentionally optimistic lets me look forward to a productive week, without the risks.

Source documents include any old weekly pages with unfinished tasks. I only cross out a task when I take action. At the moment, "finish November paperwork" is written on eight weekly pages. (eek) When I finally take action (more than opening the file, less than finishing the task), I get to cross it off all the pages. At that time I either add it again (if the paperwork wasn't finished), or add the next step in the sequence, or add a repeat of the task on the tickler.

Source documents do not include project files. Each project is either in the tickler list or the weekly milestone chart. (Hmmm, maybe I can merge those. Make a column for the ticklers.)

Last month I tried putting the weekly recurring tasks in the tickler file rather than the rotating task list. It's been a bad month for testing, but I think I prefer rotating list, even though it's yet another source document. It warns me if I'm behind, but says "everything on this list is ideally done every week" rather than "this task wasn't done on time."

How does this fit with an urgency-driven environment? My weekly page has all the information I need to make intelligent time-management decisions throughout the week.
February 15, 2013 at 19:42 | Registered CommenterCricket
Cricket:

<< Mark's reversing idea wouldn't work for me. It's possible to do task 50, 1, 49, 2, 48 -- totally ignoring the second half.>>

It's possible certainly, but no more likely than doing task 1, 2, 3, 4 when using AF1. It just doesn't work out like that. Looking at what I've done today using the "reversing idea", it's spread pretty evenly over the entire list. And the result of that is that I am very aware of what is on the list and when it needs doing.

Btw it is a bit more than an idea. I've used it very successfully in the past, and am using it very successfully now. But unfortunately I have kept getting distracted from it to try out other ideas - most of which are far from successful. It's time I gave it the attention it deserves.
February 15, 2013 at 23:57 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark - I like the sound of your AF2R. I'm a system butterfly at the moment - flitting from system to system: FV to AF1 to DIT and a couple of tweaked systems (including a method I used for working at least 5 minutes on the oldest page's tasks). I think I saw a note from you somewhere recently that advised against this chopping and changing of systems and I think you're right. I recently saw a similar comment made about diets - they almost all work if they're followed consistently, but chopping and changing between them is counter-productive. Time to go on a time-management diet and stick to one (any!) system. I must stop procrastinating - I'll start tomorrow (the old ones are the best!).

Very interesting discussions in this thread about the AF2ND and variants.

Best wishes.
February 16, 2013 at 21:05 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret1
Hi, Margaret1

Best of luck with sticking with whichever system you go for. I'm going to stick with AF2R for a bit and if it works out I'll probably do a blog post on it.
February 16, 2013 at 21:27 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark

Do you use the original AF2 dismissal method when you use "AF2R"?
February 18, 2013 at 15:43 | Registered CommenterCaibre65
Caibre65:

At the moment no, but I'm still experimenting.
February 18, 2013 at 15:49 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I played around with AF2R this past weekend and it was quite fun to use. The first page of my pad had a few open tasks. When I went up and then down the list of open tasks and did not select any for action, I took that to be my cue to dismiss them, and put a circled X at the top of the page.

On reflection, they really were more "someday/maybe" projects. I then added a task to review dismissed tasks.
February 18, 2013 at 19:22 | Registered CommenterMike Brown
AF2R

Strangely enjoyable. Feels a bit like one of those pinball machines. You can zoom from one end of the list to the other and then be zig zagging over a short range of tasks for a while.

I also found that when I was moving away from the tasks that I most wanted to do I was actively looking for something that I could do nearby in order to bounce me back quickly to where I wanted to be. The net effect this evening was that I did a number of tasks that I would normally have avoided. Very,very interesting.
February 18, 2013 at 20:47 | Registered CommenterCaibre65
Cricket:

<< Deven, I've totally lost track of the variations of AF2ND...., so can't comment on the specifics. >>

The details are in the AF2ND thread:

http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/1908142

Here's a quick summary:

* AF2ND - nuntym's original tweak to AF2, replacing dismissal with rewriting the oldest task each time a new task is selected.

* AF2ND+ - My first attempt at adding prioritization to AF2ND, involved keeping a separate AF2ND list for priority tasks. This didn't work as well as I hoped (generated resistance for me), and it was complicated. I have abandoned this one.

* AF2NDP - My second attempt, involved rewriting all priority tasks once daily. Effective but cumbersome with more than a couple priority tasks. I have abandoned this one as well.

* AF2NDP2 - My third attempt, involves rewriting the oldest normal-priority task AND the oldest top-priority task each time a task is selected. Very effective, but may tend to neglect medium priorities. I haven't abandoned this one yet; I am comparing with the next one.

* AF2NDP3 - My fourth attempt, involves rewriting the oldest task of EACH priority level (oldest unstarred task, oldest single-starred task, oldest double-starred task, etc.) each time a task is selected. I expect this will handle medium priorities better, but at the cost of even more rewriting. I am trying this one out starting today, but I may decide to return to AF2NDP2.

Note that AF2ND+ and all variations of AF2NDP are effectively identical to AF2ND if no tasks are actually prioritized, and AF2NDP3 is effectively identical to AF2NDP2 if only a single priority level is used.
February 19, 2013 at 20:18 | Registered CommenterDeven
Ahhh! I hit Submit, then walked away, but hadn't logged in first.

Maybe the rewrite will be shorter and make more sense?

After reading the summary, I realize the ND systems probably won't work for me for several reasons:

0. My current system ain't broke. I might tweak it using what I learn here, or use another method occasionally to break a log-jam, but this one has served me well through several planning crises.

1. Formula for deciding which task to look at. They invariably focus on things I shouldn't look at, and skip the things I should.

2. Tasks have fixed priorities. My priorities change depending on the time frame. Preparing for Friday's meeting is low priority early in the week, and high on Friday morning.

3. Frequent review of the entire list. I prefer weekly. I look at all my source documents and make a week page. For the rest of the week, I can happily ignore all those tempting (or discouraging) tasks that didn't make it to the week page. Unlike GTD's hour-long weekly review, mine takes 10 minutes. That's not to say I never look at the other pages. If I'm bored or nothing on the week list appeals to me, something on the other pages is at least something.

4. Crossing-out and rewriting before a task is done. I prefer to copy. "Rewrite the oldest" is a formula, and I don't actually think about the task (although I was pretty good at fooling myself).

Instead, I end up with several copies of the same task. The oldest entry, and one on every week when I had hoped to do it but didn't. When I finally do it (or decide not to do it), crossing out all those copies is a reward. The only time I cross out and rewrite is if I have several pages with nothing but hibernating projects. I label the next page "hibernating" and copy them, with a note of the date. Hibernating projects stay in hibernation when they're with other hibernating projects. When I intersperse them with active projects, I'm more tempted to re-activate them.

Having said all that, when I'm staring at a list and nothing feels right to do, I'll happily grab any method to break the deadlock. My favourites are "three fastest" and "random number". Sometimes I'll use FV on a random page, or look for the page I can tear out with the least amount of work. Usually accomplishing something -- anything -- will break the logjam enough that I can make a good decision about the next few hours.
February 20, 2013 at 0:15 | Registered CommenterCricket
Just realized I used "priority" to mean something else in a different post. "Priority, to me, means 'don't forget', not 'do before anything else'. If I'm happy with the state of everything on my priority list (which includes not happy but thoroughly sick of everything on it), I can safely work on other things."

So, priorities are things I don't want to forget in the current time frame. They go on the list for that time frame, but things don't have to be a priority to go on the list -- so long as the list doesn't grow too long.

And earlier that I scan my big list daily, not weekly.

Memory fault. I think it depends on how stressed I am. When stressed, I don't want to keep going back to the big list. Pick a bunch for the week, trust I have everything, and stay focused. I don't want the hassle of going through the list every day. When things are better, I don't mind, and sometimes even enjoy going through it.

You can guess how stressed I am this week. 14 novels in 14 days (stupid), with a few days of scheduled things interspersed, a new job (only 2 days so far, but add resume and new clothes and paperwork), and minor surgery (very minor, but it took most of a week for me to think straight after the anesthetic). Net result: Procrastinated a few days more before finally, today, picking up the list and doing more than the bare minimum. Actually did half the week list in one day, but still have things from the pre-Christmas backlog.

Agile Results lasted about three weeks, but I still use some of the parts from it. Focus on rebooting, pick just a few things to focus on for each time frame, outcomes not tasks, and map out each project for the year all inform my week page (or day page).

Brain fried. Off to work on something pretty and prepare for a good night's sleep.
February 20, 2013 at 2:09 | Registered CommenterCricket
Cricket:

If your current system is working for you, great! Everyone seems to be different, and no system seems to fit everyone. That being said, if you ever do experiment with AF2NDP2 or AF2NDP3 (my current favorites), I'll certainly be interested to hear about your experience. Given your previous feedback on Prioritized FV, I suspect you might like it. (Unlike other systems, I would suggest throwing everything at the system at once instead of growing a new list from scratch, but to make a pass to assign priorities in the process.)

As for what to focus on, I personally like the balance of having both priority and non-priority tasks flowing through the system, and I think I may prefer the multi-level priorities flowing through in AF2NDP3 better than just top-level in AF2NDP2, despite the extra rewriting. When I was using AF2ND+ originally, I felt "trapped" in the priority list and never saw the non-priority tasks. The nice thing about AF2ND and all AF2NDP variants is that everything in the list is guaranteed to cycle through and get at least nominal attention, sooner (if prioritized) or later (if not).

As for tasks having "fixed priorities", all of my prioritizing tweaks have always allowed reprioritizing (adding or removing stars) at any time, for any reason. My current work list has 11 single-starred tasks and 7 double-starred task. If I had a must-do task for Friday, I would add it to my list now as a double-starred task to keep it on the radar, and change it to a triple-starred task at the end of the day on Thursday or the start of the day on Friday, making it a top priority at that time. (Or with AF2NDP3, I could make it a triple-starred task now and just let it remain at the end of my list until Friday.)

As for frequent review of the entire list, all of these AF2ND variants force incremental review of the entire list, but if that's not frequent enough, you can certainly choose to review the list at any time (daily, weekly, whenever) and reprioritize tasks as you go. Probably a good idea to do that once in a while, but the systems don't require it.

As far as rewriting goes, even if you rewrite a task without thinking about it, it will still be there in your line of sight as you scan backwards from the end of the list for a task that "stands out", so hopefully you're giving it a little thought during that scan, at least subconsciously...
February 20, 2013 at 17:54 | Registered CommenterDeven
To give an idea of the cycle time, my current list had 59 tasks at the start of the day, and when I counted earlier today, there were 11 single-starred tasks and 7 double-starred tasks. As I rewrite tasks for AF2NDP3, I am rewriting an unstarred task last rewritten on January 25 (almost a month ago), a single-starred task last rewritten on February 13 (a week ago today) and a double-starred task last rewritten on February 19 (yesterday). So I'm cycling through the full list in less than a month, the single-starred tasks in a week, and the double-starred tasks in a day. I'm happy with that workflow, personally.
February 20, 2013 at 19:36 | Registered CommenterDeven
Deven,

This conversation is helping me examine my own system, and what might have worked with other systems if I had looked at it a bit differently. When the pace of my life changes, I'll have a better tool-box.

My week page isn't restricted to priority items, unless I think it will be a busy week. Even then, I aim for at least some balance. All work and no play... Or maybe it's definitions. Making progress on my just-for-fun projects is a priority for me.

I look at the rest of the list if nothing on the week page stands out, but in that case usually nothing on the other pages stands out, either. Sometimes, looking at the page reminds me something should be done _now_. Other times, it reassures me that everything is on track, or shows that I have too much on, or makes me close the book and take a break.

Incremental reviews let me down so badly that I'm afraid to use them again. I don't trust myself to do get through the entire book often enough. I was too optimistic before. Some things that needed to be done before the next pass didn't get flagged. A fixed time works better for me. "If it needs to be looked at before Monday, I need to flag it now. And I need to do another full pass on Sunday."

You add and remove stars. Okay, that's not "fixed". Probably less fixed than being on my week page. My old version of prioritized FV needed to resort the list every time I changed priorities, and I had to update the computer every day or two.

Sounds that your stars, and therefore your priority levels, are time-based. If it needs attention within a week, it gets one, and if it needs attention today, it gets two stars. Is that intentional, or just the pattern that's evolved? It sounds reasonable.
February 21, 2013 at 2:22 | Registered CommenterCricket
Mark,

Glad you're experimenting again! Looking forward to the blog post. One simple question: How do you keep track of all the direction changes? (I assume you're using paper.) I might try "AF2R" without dismissal, if I can figure out how to do it using my electronic list (Clear app for Mac & iPhone).
February 21, 2013 at 20:38 | Registered Commenterubi
Cricket,

Glad to hear you're finding the discussion useful. Sometimes I post and get no response and wonder if I wasted my time writing the post! (Still, it often helps document the history of my experiments, which I find useful even if nobody else is interested...)

In a way, your week page reminds me of my AF2ND+ tweak, where I had a separate AF2ND list for the priority tasks and only processed the non-priority AF2ND list when nothing stood out on the priority AF2ND list. The problem I had with this was that it felt like the non-priority AF2ND list was stagnating and I felt "trapped" on the priority AF2ND list. Ultimately, I decided I would rather do more rewriting and see at least the illusion of progress on the non-priority tasks on my list, so I abandoned AF2ND+ and started on the AF2NDP series of experiments. So far, I'm happiest with AF2NDP3, despite how much rewriting is involved.

I'm curious about your thoughts on incremental review. For myself, I tried using GTD years ago and it fell apart for me because the weekly review process was too heavyweight -- the system worked okay for a while until motivation waned and I started resisting the weekly review process because it felt too burdensome. I've concluded that I need a system that incorporates incremental review rather than relying on a heavyweight review process that I have to set aside time for. When life gets busy, taking an hour to plan might be wise, but it's still hard to do.

Deadlines are a bit of a dilemma to me, because I hesitate to complicate the system to incorporate deadlines into the workflow of the system, yet I don't want to miss deadlines either. For now, I've been adding parenthetical notes after the task such as "(by Wed.)" or "(by 3/1/13)", then prioritizing the tasks appropriately to ensure the deadlines stay on the radar. (As the deadline gets closer, I will increase the priority.) I also use calendar reminders in my email program (Thunderbird) at work for timed reminders, such as weekly or monthly tasks that I can add to my list when the alarm goes off.

My priority levels are normally set based on relative importance/urgency, which does have a time component, but I wouldn't say they're primarily time-based -- except for "must-do" tasks for the day, which I elevate to a top-level priority above everything else that's on the list. Since I'm generally finding that I have a number of medium priorities with single stars and high priorities with double stars, these top-priority "must-do" tasks tend to end up with triple stars, but they are always cleared ASAP, leaving me with single and double stars again.

To give you an example, I have a weekly timesheet due Monday mornings, but I want to start getting them submitted at the end of the week so it's not hanging over my head at the start of the week. Therefore, I put in a weekly reminder in Thunderbird, which popped up as soon as I logged in this morning. At that time, I put "timesheet" on my list as a triple-starred task. Since it curently happens to be the only task at that priority level, it will remain at the end of the list every time I rewrite the tasks for AF2NDP3 (until it's done or I add other triple-starred tasks), and therefore it will be the first task I see each time I scan backwards for a task to work on. That keeps it very much on the radar!
February 22, 2013 at 16:41 | Registered CommenterDeven
Deven,

We differ on how the priority list makes us feel. For me, it's safe. I know that I can safety stay on the page and miss nothing, and I'm also free to explore. Yes, some of the things not on that list are stagnating, but re-activating them would be at the expense of something more important. For you, it's trapped.

How often do you pause while going through the big list to re-prioritize something?

My thoughts on incremental review are complex and self-contradictory.

A huge "review every single project now!" won't happen. At the other extreme, one line at a time doesn't work because I need to see the bigger picture. I blindly recopied several stagnant projects one-at-a-time for ages, but needed to see them all at once before realizing I needed to pick two and put the rest into hibernation.

My incremental reviews happen when I work on a project. That's fast because I'm already thinking about the project. The weekly review catches the rest. That's usually fast. Didn't work on it because didn't need to: ignore. Didn't work on it but should have: reschedule or let it slide.

Any changes get scribbled on the milestone chart as I think of them.

It took me a few hours to make the chart in the first place, because so many projects didn't have milestones and schedule, and I'd never seen all the schedules in one place. Now, though, it takes maybe thirty minutes to type in the changes unless there are a lot of scribbles or there are conflicts.

Tasks that need to be done every week go on the top of my week page. I used to have a form listing all of them, but realized most of them slipped most of the time, and I was okay with that, so the pre-printed list was more work than necessary. Now I put the very few things that have to be done every week on the top of my week page. The office I sometimes work at has a list for each day. That usually takes an hour and the rest of the day is for projects. It wouldn't work if the only thing on the list was the timesheet.
February 22, 2013 at 20:04 | Registered CommenterCricket
Cricket,

I felt trapped because everything I was considering was a priority task and even if I might have wanted to work on a non-priority task for a change of pace, it was never being considered because it was off on the other list. I don't mind so much if the old tasks are stagnating, as long as it's because I'm choosing not to work on them. Having them disappear from sight entirely was a different matter.

How often do I pause to reprioritize? Occasionally, not frequently. Basically, if something jumps out at me as needing to be reprioritized, I'll do so. But I'm more likely to do that incrementally as the tasks flow through the rewriting process, rather than scanning the list to update priorities. That being said, perhaps I should do a bit more scanning, at least for approaching deadlines, perhaps daily or weekly?

Massive review processes don't work well for me. GTD fell apart for me because the weekly review was too much for me, not to mention the massive initial review the system called for. (I spent many hours on an initial review and was nowhere close to done.) I need a system that incorporates incremental review naturally so it doesn't fall apart when I don't have time or energy for periodic larger reviews. That doesn't mean I'm opposed to periodic reviews, just that systems that require such reviews (like GTD) just aren't a good fit for me.

Compared with your weekly reviews, my process is more like this: Didn't work on it because I didn't need to? Leave unstarred, it'll come around again eventually. Didn't work on it but should have? Keep prioritized so it remains on the radar.

My priority levels are fairly simple. Unstarred tasks are "whenever" or "someday/maybe" low-priority tasks, not urgent and probably less important. Single-starred tasks are "nice to do" medium-priority tasks, probably somewhat important but still not urgent. Double-starred tasks are "should" high-priority tasks, usually very important, possibly somewhat urgent. Triple-starred tasks are "drop everything" or "must do today" top-priority tasks, usually very urgent and very important. Generally, I only have a few triple-starred tasks (often none), a handful of double-starred tasks, a fair number of single-starred tasks, and lots of unstarred tasks.

Thinking about this further, and having wanted to experiment with the "Top 3" idea, I've decided to incorporate that to make AF2NDP4:

http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/1908142?currentPage=2#post2078625

I'm going to experiment with using AF2NDP4 starting today. The only difference from AF2NDP3 is the addition of an optional "Top 3" priority level to focus on task completion more. For my own choice of priority levels, I'll use triple stars for the "Top 3" tasks and (when necessary) use quadruple stars for "drop everything" or "must do today" tasks. Of course, this entails even MORE rewriting, but I'm okay with that. (Someone who dislikes rewriting could use AF2NDP4 with single or double stars for the "Top 3" level if they prefer.)

Note that I've been very happy with AF2NDP3. I'm just curious if the "Top 3" idea would improve it further or not.

As for your milestone chart, it's an interesting idea, and it seems like a nice thing to have, but that falls in the category of extensive planning work that probably wouldn't be a good fit for me. Glad to hear it works for you though!

As for required weekly tasks, I don't have a great solution for periodic tasks and deadlines; I've been relying on calendar entries to trigger adding high-priority tasks to my list.
February 27, 2013 at 15:40 | Registered CommenterDeven