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Discussion Forum > Ultimate TMS - how to get "closed list" sense of completion and overwhelm sensor

The two things I like most about DIT are

1. The sense of completion at the end of the day, because each day's list is a closed list
2. The way it clearly warns you when you are getting overwhelmed / overcommitted

Mark's latest inventions (such as the Ultimate Time Management System) don't seem to have these features. I suppose if you go for days and days without finishing your Old List and your New List just keeps getting longer and longer, this would be similar to DIT's "overcommitment" flag. But how many days is too long? When would the system be considered "bogged down"? In the latest comments on the blog entry, it doesn't seem that Mark has been using the system long enough himself to really know the answer.

So, I am hesitant to give the Ultimate TMS a test run.

But, this got me thinking. Would it be possible to make some simple adjustments to the rules, to get the effect that I want to see? Normally, I don't like tweaking Mark's systems, I just like to use them as written, for a good long while, before trying any adjustments (and I would usually drop those adjustments after a short time). But in this case, I am indulging in a thought experiment - please forgive me. :-)

What if you treated your Old List like a "weekly commitment" list -- like Learning's "MIT" list that she creates every week, or Melanie's latest experiment with the Daily/Weekly/Monthly To Do List ( ).

And then, at the end of the week, you do the following:

1. Throw your Old List into a someday/maybe tickler file or something - review it again in a month or whatever.

2. Your New List becomes your Old List - basically it's your new list of stuff to complete this week. Read through it and delete stuff that doesn't really matter, that you really don't care whether it gets done or not.

3. Think carefully and write down any Really Important Things you want to get done this week at the end of your new Old List. Perhaps the hottest items from your previous Old List -- the ones you were actually getting some traction with.

Ideally, you'd want to aim for COMPLETION of your Old List every week. If you can't complete it, this would be the signal that you have over-committed yourself, or you've been too aggressive and took on too much work that week, or you underestimated the time it would take to complete the tasks; etc.

This would also force you to think through your larger projects, and break them down into chunks that you could realistically complete in under a week. As Mark wrote in his "suggestions": << It’s important to define what you mean by “finishing a task”. Ideally the way the task is phrased should make it clear. >> The weekly time limit could help serve as a guide for how to define "finished": how much do I actually need to get done THIS WEEK.

Any thoughts / feedback / suggested improvements?

Please note I haven't tried this at all but have been struggling with this question for a while, every time Mark posts a new system lately. :-)
June 16, 2013 at 2:31 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
At rule 2 Mark suggests putting things on the list that you want to complete within the next two weeks. This could be reduced to say a week and then reviewed Perhaps dismissing the old list after a week. Just a suggestion if you want to bring time pressure into the system.
June 16, 2013 at 8:23 | Registered CommenterCaibre65

This is a good article on the why and how of setting weekly and daily items. I guess one could have a closed list with weekly items and then run an AF style or DIT style open or closed list for each day i.e. daily items? I guess a daily closed list would remain faithful to DIT and one would have visual feedback of progress / if getting 'behind'?
June 16, 2013 at 10:49 | Unregistered CommenterLeon

Thanks for a thoughtful post on the subject of "The Ultimate Time Management System ?" (Don't forget the query at the end of the title!)

When I wrote the rules I expected that the system would prove very different in dynamics to AF4 in spite of the almost identical structure. And that has certainly been confirmed by my experience so far (all two days of it).

The emphasis in AF4 was on getting the Old List finished as fast as you could so that the lists could change over. What tended to happen was that the New List got longer and longer so that the speed at which the lists changed over got slower and slower. This gave the impression (largely correctly) of getting bogged down.

In TUTMS? the emphasis is no longer on getting through the Old List quickly. In fact it really doesn't matter how long it takes just so long as you keep progressing with it. What you end up with in fact is almost the opposite of AF4:

a. A "deep clean" list in which you are sorting out everything that you have to do in depth.

b. A "keep clean" list in which you are keeping tasks up-to-date, keeping administrative tasks actioned and preventing backlogs building up. It's also a place in which urgent matters can be dealt with.

The result is that it has a completely different feel from AF4 or for that matter any of my other systems.

The sense of completion comes not from crossing off tasks from a list, but from getting major tasks and projects done.
June 16, 2013 at 12:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Seraphim, because I save all my written assessments for the end of the week, I won't give you my take on your thoughts now, but I wanted you to know I've read it and am thinking! :-)

Mark, thanks for your further explanation of the approach.
June 16, 2013 at 19:03 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
Mark and the rest of you dads, just wanted to wish you a Happy Father's Day!
June 16, 2013 at 19:24 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
Mark - thanks for your comments. The new system sounds more and more intriguing.

DIT has taught me a lot, but I find I still tend to overcommit. I need some systematic and objective way to check myself and correct the overcommitment before it gets out of hand.

Do you have any suggestions on how to incorporate that kind of thing into TUTMS? ?

"Weed list" isn't enough for me... I need something more specific and objective that tells me "how much" to weed the list to give me assurance that I am not overcommitting. DIT does this in a very clear and objective way.

Many of the AF-like systems (and I'd include TUTMS? in that category) give you an indication of overcommitment when you find that the list keeps growing longer and longer. But it's difficult to objectively quantify exactly what that means. It's like trying to objectively quantify whether a stock is going "up" or "down". There are too many subjective measurements -- over what timeframe? by what percentage? do you look at moving averages? etc.? Point-and-figure is the only stock-tracking methodology that gives you a clear and objective method for measuring stock direction - but it seems like overkill to do a point-and-figure chart of the number of items on my task list every day! LOL
June 16, 2013 at 23:53 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Try a chart if the number of pages. Once you have a rhythm of how many you have when the closed list clears, set that as a benchmark. Also audit how long that takes. I guess that list should be finished every 7 days max, or you're not effective. If either of those gauges approaches overflow, take preventative action to get back on course.
June 17, 2013 at 0:35 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
My review of the system with a link to this post.
June 21, 2013 at 21:13 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
Melanie, I'm not really clear from briefly looking at your website whether you are actually interested in finding something that works for you or whether you are playing system hopscotch for the sake of increasing your blog readership.

Even David Allen (of Getting Things Done fame) says it takes the average person about 2 years to internalize his system - and a few more to master it - so I'm not sure what actual value you are getting from switching to a new time management system every week.

Not intended as a criticism, just a friendly observation :)
June 21, 2013 at 23:08 | Registered CommenterFrank
Melanie and Frank:

I must admit that I too have had my concerns regarding the idea of testing one system per week.

There are three main reasons for this as far as my own systems are concerned (I'm not qualified to comment on behalf of anyone else's)::

1) Most systems take longer than a week to work. In a week it's basically all the easy stuff that gets done, while the more difficult higher-resistance tasks are barely touched. A month might be a better length of time to test a system out properly.

2) Knowing that one is only going to spend a week on a system is bound to have a distorting effect on how one tackles it.

3) If one constantly changes systems it means that just as the system is beginning to bite on the hard, high-resistance tasks one is on to the next system and back to the initial easy stuff. This can have a very disruptive effect on the tester's life.

In conclusion, I'm concerned that not only is a week too short a period to be fair to the system, but it's also too short to be fair to the tester.
June 22, 2013 at 9:40 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Agreed: 1 week is too short.

But Melanie admits, in the title of her blog site, that she is psychotic! I would become psycho too, if I switched systems that often.
June 22, 2013 at 12:55 | Registered Commenterubi
I agree it takes longer than a week to test a system, but I think Melanie is providing an important service anyway. It's like she is skimming the surface of a wide range of current approaches to productivity -- sort of a first pass -- to learn more about what kinds of features work for her. In some cases, she says that she will carry forward this or that specific feature in the longer term.

I actually think this is a really interesting way to begin developing your own system -- compare and contrast. I have learned a lot from her project, because it makes me think about my own desire to find that single, "magical" system. It helps me to think more explicitly about the features that *I* tend to keep building into my own time management systems, regardless of the specific flavour that I am currently following. Reading below the lines, I think this is what Melanie is doing.
She has made me reflect in a new way about my own system.

Having said that, I also am curious about Melanie's response to the shortness of the 1-week period -- is she planning to take a second pass on some of the systems to drill down more into them and have a more intensive testing?
June 22, 2013 at 13:38 | Registered Commentersilviastraka
Hi Ubi
Mel has a Ph.D. in psychology. She's humorously stating that having 6 children is a challenge. That's my take on it. She's far from psychotic. She's an accomplished person in several spheres of living.

I've joked with her that I could never test so many systems so quickly. Her responses have always been gracious and intelligent.

Bottom Line: When you're simply drawing your own conclusions, please don't make inflammatory statements like that online. True, I winced when I saw the name she chose. She probably assumed everybody would know the reference because she uses the name Dr. Mel. In the USA, that means that you've earned a doctorate. (True, a doctorate degree is no assurance against insanity, but.....most true psychotics wouldn't label themselves as such. They would more likely think that everybody else is the psychotic. LOL!)
June 22, 2013 at 15:00 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Hi Mark
When I test a system, it's usually just a diversion to break up the monotony of churning out work and a secret hope that I can circumvent some of the mental effort needed to approach high resistance work.

I don't understand the rationale behind somebody testing a system's effectiveness by choosing the easier tasks. I always test the system's effectiveness with my MITs. (Some MITS are not very difficult but are important enough to be chosen as an MIT.)

I've learned some very effective tips on how to deal with approaching highly resistant tasks by you and the participants of this forum. I'm quite grateful for that.

Approaching the highly resistant tasks is the lynchpin of being able to face the boring, scary or tedious work. If I'm going to screw up the gargantuan effort to approach such work, I want it to be an MIT, not some busyness nonsense.

I have learned to choose my MITs and my "relief" tasks by learning what work doesn't really support me or my lifestyle. Sometimes it's simply learning that I've gone overboard with the frequency of doing mundane maintenance tasks. Other times, it's learning how to appropriately add new projects to prevent overwhelm.

Although I can't effectively use systems based on arbitrary selection rules to process arbitrarily placed tasks on a list, your principles are pure gold. Your principles are so sound that they can be applied to any system. They guide a person's thinking. That's the most important element to my mind anyway.

Chris is my productivity inspiration because he has achieved what I'm still striving for. He has learned the principles that guide him to effectively choose, initiate and complete his work. He has stated that learning the principles have helped him tremendously along with testing certain rules (he mentioned the 2 minute rule and others).

The many, many systems that you have created help the people who aren't as clever as Chris. All of us don't know how to create a custom-made system. You take it upon yourself to help people by presenting alternatives to test. Just AF alone has produced many variations by you and your forum members.

I owe you for whatever effectiveness I have using my system because my system is simply a variation of DIT. Without learning DIT, I would still be getting my work done but at a HUGE effectiveness loss. Thank you, Mark!
June 22, 2013 at 15:42 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go

<< I don't understand the rationale behind somebody testing a system's effectiveness by choosing the easier tasks. >>

The whole point of many systems is to get people to stop procrastinating by doing all the easy tasks. So if you test them by leaping into the difficult tasks, you're rather missing the point of the system!
June 22, 2013 at 17:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I appreciate all the discussion about testing a different productivity approach each week. I honestly didn't spend tons of time thinking about the series before I started it (I'm like that). I was always reading about different TM approaches here and on Lifehacker that I thought I should try sometime. This gave me an organized way to do that. Even before starting this series, I tried a lot of different tactics. Reading old blog posts of mine while make that clear. :-) I admit that it's been very rewarding for me, especially because I've had conversations like this one with people I like.

Can I give a fair review of approaches to productivity in just a week? In many cases, no. In some cases, yes. There are multiple reasons why I may dismiss a TM hack besides feeling pressed to do the difficult tasks. I tested Eat That Frog which requires doing exactly that, and while I found it uncomfortable, I thought it was very worthwhile.

I passionately believe that productivity approaches are completely personal. I know people who feel that GTD is a lifesaver for them. There are people on the forum who have found one of Mark's systems to be the best fit. In no way would I try to change their minds. In fact, someone new to productivity wrote me last night about really enjoying GTD. She wondered if she shouldn't get too attached to it because she could find something better. I told her to stay with it as long as it was working for her.

The fact is that while I am not psychotic :-), I do best with lots of variety and change. Testing a new method every week has probably done more for my personal productivity than any one method I have tried. I have been motivated even in the midst of crippling fatigue that would normally have had me doing next to nothing. The accountability of posting on my blog each week has also been huge for me. Monthly tests would not be as beneficial for me in this regard, even if the review were more fair.

One other thing I wanted to clarify. I am definitely not starting completely from scratch each week with productivity. I still use routines. I still manage all of my emails (where most of my tasks originate from) using IQTell and get to Inbox zero most days. I still use timers to work. I have kept some aspects of DIT as well. My goal is to find the Ultimate Time Management approach for me. It's still early days, but I am beginning to think that I will have an every day, ecclectic approach with a few tools I can pull out for special situations. Already I find myself longing to return to previous strategies and that is a good clue that it's a keeper.

I've heard from some of you about strategies you want me to test. I'm game for that! The only stipulation is that I have to wait until I'm wanting to test it. If it doesn't work for me in a week, it doesn't mean it won't work for you. I'm glad to be getting the word out about different tactics. There are people reading who aren't TM veterans who are very thankful for the info.

I'm really grateful to Mark for being so gracious in allowing me to share what I'm doing here. In the end I may try to convince him that DIT WAS the ultimate time management system. :-)
June 22, 2013 at 17:18 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
Hi Mark
Even though I still can't understand how that helps, I appreciate you taking the time to explain the reasoning behind those systems. Thanks to you, now I understand why setting up arbitrary selection is helpful for people to slowly tiptoe into the work. That makes sense. For me, it creates even more anxiety. LOL!
June 22, 2013 at 18:10 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Aged 54 I am at this very moment reading DIT and identifying with how you describe people as thinking they are hopelessly flawed because they are not organised. That is how I have been feeling in senior roles for some time. I think that DIT is a great approach but from reading this blog there are other systems that you have developed since that involve having other types of lists!! Help ! please refer me to them. Also Mel you mention a system for email management. Can you tell me more. I am right at the beginning of my journey here in increasing my effectiveness from I think 40 % I hope that these posts will also help. Exciting times!
June 22, 2013 at 18:15 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
Hi Sarah
Welcome to Mark's forum! Mark's reputation is sterling in this field. Many of the other experts recommend using his systems. If you want to directly tap into his wisdom, click "archives" at the top of the page. The breadth of topics is staggering! I like revisiting the archives because he'll often revisit a topic and add another layer of wisdom.

It's my opinion that Mark runs the best productivity site on the internet. As such, it has attracted an exemplary group of guests and regulars. Their own wisdom and patience brilliantly augments Mark's wisdom. I hope that you're successful in your productivity journey of learning. If you have any questions, feel free to start a post. The posters are always willing to offer a helping hand. There is such a flurry of intelligent thought going on all the time, you can simply lurk and learn much.
June 22, 2013 at 19:04 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
If you want a more direct method of learning, Mark has written some books. My favorite is "Do It Tomorrow". The other books "Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play" and "How to Make Your Dreams Come True" are also touted by many to be definitive knowledge in the realm of time management and productivity. He goes beyond the rules and how to's. He offers principles and expounds on them so that you can truly understand them and implement them. In fact, Mark offers his dreams book for free on this website. Not too many authors are as generous.
June 22, 2013 at 19:11 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go

You forgot to mention my film-star good looks, my IQ200 intelligence, my nomination for the Nobel peace, physics and literature prizes all in the same year, and my ability to heal diseases with a simple touch. Oh, and my ability to forecast the weather with 100% accuracy. Tomorrow it's going to rain, so take your ☂.

And to cap it all I have the genuine humility of the truly great.

June 22, 2013 at 21:38 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark
:-0 :-0 :-0 :-0

No wonder you're so popular and admired!
Of all those accolades I forgot to mention, I think one worth mentioning is your wit and charm...but I'm particularly partial to your wonderfully wicked sense of humor!
June 22, 2013 at 21:46 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Hi Sarah,

A couple of years ago Mark ran a series of blog posts reviewing his "classics":

It predates the "Final Version" and all of the recent inovations, but for those you can easily find information either in the homepage (for FV) or in the most recent blog posts (for all the other TLAs and ETLAs that I forget :D)

Regarding the "system for email management" you ask about, I suspect you mean the mention to "inbox zero" that Melanie did in her post. If so, this is a good place to start:

Hope it helps ;)
June 25, 2013 at 1:41 | Registered CommenterHugo Ferreira
Hugo, thanks so much for helping Sara out.

I tried using GTD folders in Gmail years ago to track my tasks. While I loved having a way of quickly moving stuff out of my inbox, I found that having no dates to remind me to deal with various emails had me forgetting about them. Out of sight, out of mind. I used Goodtodo for quite a while to deal with this and really liked it. The one thing I didn't like was having no access to Gmail itself while processing tasks. For example, I couldn't forward an email without looking up the address in Gmail separately.

I then switched to Active Inbox. It works within Gmail so the above problem was solved. The new annoyance was that I couldn't change the task name from the subject of the email. When I found out about IQTell and that it integrated with Evernote, I was really excited. It's not perfect, but I am not looking to change programs. It works well with practically any approach, though it was designed around GTD. I don't get anything for saying so and it's free anyway. That may change, but I paid for the other services.
June 25, 2013 at 4:24 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
My recipe for handling email (which I developed long before "Inbox Zero" had ever been heard of):

1) Move all your existing email backlog into a folder called "Backlog". Forget about it until Step 5.

2) Schedule a set number of times a day when you will deal with your Email Inbox. Every time you deal with email you must clear the lot. Do not leave any undealt-with email in your inbox.

3) Don't look at email at any other times. If you are waiting for an urgent email you may check only whether that email has arrived.

4) If Steps 2 and 3 aren't enough to keep you up-to-date with your email, then you must take serious steps to cut down the amount of email you are receiving. Some suggestions below.

5) Deal with the backlog a bit at a time as a completely separate task from the In-Box.

Some suggestions (not exhaustive) for reducing the amount of email you receive:

1) Don't write so many emails. The more you write you more you will receive.

2) Cut down your subscriptions to the bare minimum.

3) Delete, delete, delete.

4) Ask to be taken off block distribution and copy lists. If that's impossible, see 3.

5) Review all your commitments (not just the email part of them). Commitments generate work (including email). Remember that if you have more commitments than you can handle, two things will happen: some of them will get done badly, and some of them won't get done at all.

Finally, use Nelson Email Organizer. I've been using it for at least ten years and can't imagine life without it!
June 25, 2013 at 9:35 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark
The website seems to say that it works as an add-on to different versions of Outlook (not Outlook Express). IOW, if you don't have the Outlook program, you're SOL.
June 25, 2013 at 16:25 | Unregistered CommenterLearning as I go

Yes, that's correct. But it makes a good reason for getting Outlook.
June 26, 2013 at 0:34 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mailhub plugin for mac mail covers nearly the same functions..
has some neat features for working through a backlog I found.

just had a look at iqtell - thanks mel. very interesting.
July 17, 2013 at 9:52 | Unregistered CommenterWade
Wade, you're welcome. I will be testing another similar program soon:
July 17, 2013 at 20:46 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson