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Discussion Forum > How to test a time management sytem?

Appologies if this has been covered before now (I'm happy to be re-directed).

I would like to test the latest and future systems I'm using in a more objective way than simply based on my usual knee jerk / emotional reaction.

How can we test a system using reasoning and logic?

What do others think, or do, to establish whether a system stucture works for them?

Any thoughts appreciated.
November 1, 2013 at 11:47 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
Leon:

Unfortunately "your usual knee jerk/emotional reaction" is probably the major factor in whether a system works for you or not.

So one way to evaluate a system is how long it takes before you get fed up with it and junk it for something new. That's easy to measure, and may well give you very useful information.

Alternatively you might draw up a list of everything you hope to do over a chosen length of time and give points to each project/task according to its difficulty, desirability and other relevant factors. After the period was over you could then evaluate the system according to how many points it had scored.

The trouble with this approach is that the evaluation system itself is going to impact on the system you are testing.

The best method is probably to keep an "Achievement Diary" while you are working a system, in which you record anything you do which you regard as noteworthy. It would be important to record negative things as well. This would give you a basis on which to make a more informed judgement.
November 1, 2013 at 12:18 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark - some very interesting comments/suggestions.

I really like where this conversation is going. Hope more people chime in.
November 1, 2013 at 16:10 | Registered Commenteravrum
Mark:

Thanks so much for your thoughts - I'll think about these over the next few days. Hope you have a good weekend.
November 1, 2013 at 20:13 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
I have numbers to look at when I'm trying new approaches, but just as Mark is saying, it doesn't really matter if I'm super productive if I absolutely hate the system. I'll quit using it. Alternately, if I'm getting a lot done, I'm more likely to like the system. Every week I ask myself if I'm getting more done? If not, I quit and move on. Just to encourage you, my testing has resulted in a system that I absolutely love. It includes a combination of two of Mark's approaches. I'll write about it soon on http://psychowith6.com/category/productivity
November 1, 2013 at 22:37 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
Melanie -

Sneaky, sneaky. So THAT'S you're going to spread the Forster gospel to the GTD masses.
November 3, 2013 at 0:54 | Registered Commenteravrum
Avrum, wasn't really thinking of the GTDers. I have to keep testing though, because any method can work in the short-term, right? I also haven't decided how to write it up on the blog yet.
November 3, 2013 at 4:49 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
Melanie -

Do you find that a lot of this shtick is geared towards folks with either:

a. no kids
b. grown kids
November 3, 2013 at 13:45 | Registered Commenteravrum
RE "Achievement Diary" -- Some folks advocate the "Achievement Diary" as essentially a whole system in itself:

https://idonethis.com/

It does have its merits!
November 4, 2013 at 5:13 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Avrum, it seems like a lot of TM stuff is geared toward IT people or entrepreneurs. I would say that most of my offline friends use a datebook and some occasional lists and that's the end of it.

Seraphim, there's a lot to be said for idonethis. I really liked that it focused due attention to what was accomplished rather than always looking at what wasn't.

I have put up an explanation of the DIT / AF hybrid I have been using for several weeks that feels like it could actually be a keeper. Mark's recent statement about trying a 7-day "destroy backlog" task when the DIT list became 3 days overdue got me thinking. I decided to give myself just 3 days past due to complete everything before destroying overdue tasks-- with the caveat that I could use little and often for the tasks. Any little thing could permit me to redate the unfinished task for tomorrow.

I wanted to test it for several weeks because I was sure that using little and often would result in a gigantic list that I couldn't possibly take on. It hasn't. I'm not sure why, but this approach is the most motivating one I've found. It has enough of the gaming approach of AF that I am bound and determined not to let things become overdue, but allows me to work on current tasks without any extra rules. FYI, I have had to delete a couple of tasks, so I've used it beyond the immediate honeymoon phase.

Here's the post where I give more details. http://www.psychowith6.com/can-project-management-help-get-done/ (scroll down to the second half) Please let me know if you have any questions. If you try it, please, please let me know! I'd love to find out if it's something that works just for me or for others, too.
November 9, 2013 at 1:21 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
Here is a checklist of what a productivity system could do for you. How about choosing the criteria you will evaluate it against?

getting more done, productive for the sake of productivity

as a means to living a successful and passionate life

accomplishing what I set out to do

keep doing and going when I feel like stopping

feeling busy because of all of the activity

to feel (and be) more at peace, happy

feeling balanced, in control, and at peace

to avoid feeling I've wasted my days

Please feel free to add more.
November 11, 2013 at 9:51 | Unregistered Commentermichael
michael:

Good list, but none of them quite do it for me.

One thing I've realized is that one shouldn't underestimate the power of trivia. Thinking up great projects is all very well but they often don't go anywhere because they haven't grown organically. Trivia provides the seedbed from which real creativity grows.

So I think my definition of productivity would have to be about growing wonderful things out of unpromising material.
November 12, 2013 at 22:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<<So I think my definition of productivity would have to be about growing wonderful things out of unpromising material.>>

There's a reason why people quote you Mark. I'd like to hear more about this - both in process and real-life case ex.
November 12, 2013 at 23:52 | Registered Commenteravrum
avrum:

Well, it's really only a half-though at the moment brought on by michael's list.

It occurred to me that one of the reasons I like Autofocus, specifically AF1, is precisely because it results in a long list in which almost every thought of my mind is reflected. So what is often seen as a disadvantage is actually an advantage.

I think I mistook what AF achieves when I named it. It is not a whittling down of a lot of things into a few, which is what I thought it would do. It is more a case of growing a few splendid plants from a lot of seeds. The seedbed is necessary to this process.

So perhaps I ought to change the name from AutoFocus to Seedbed.
November 13, 2013 at 9:50 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark:

<<one of the reasons I like Autofocus, specifically AF1>>

In my mind, I flirt with returning to AF1, mostly driven by nostalgia but also because it was one of the only systems that encouraged me, via the rules, to USE my lists. Everything from GTD to DWM to the system I'm using now, allows me to do whatever I want, with little regard to the list I've created. In time, the lists feels somewhat irrelevant.

Hm, a return to AF 1....
November 13, 2013 at 17:34 | Registered Commenteravrum
After watching this: http://alturl.com/8htic
I wonder if I could sustain the attention and discipline of sticking to a list. There is no question that's my problem. The other problem I have is a misperception that I'm more creative and free-thinking without rules and lists. Reality would suggest that, barring set calendar appointment i.e. client work, I cave into mindless activity.
November 13, 2013 at 17:52 | Registered Commenteravrum
avrum:

As I said a week or so ago I am experimenting with a form of AF1 in which unfinished tasks are marked and must be done each time the page is scanned. I'm getting good results so far.
November 13, 2013 at 18:32 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
avrum:

<< http://alturl.com/8htic >>

I can't believe that was over four years ago!
November 13, 2013 at 18:34 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark:

<<am experimenting with a form of AF1 in which unfinished tasks are marked and must be done each time the page is scanned>>

If you're able, can you give me an idea where this. Thanks.
November 13, 2013 at 19:55 | Registered Commenteravrum
I think I found it.

Curious - do you know of anyone using AF 1 in 2013?
November 13, 2013 at 20:38 | Registered Commenteravrum
> change the name from AutoFocus to Seedbed

This is more significant than it seems. It would change the attitude and intentions around the list from "what I need to get done" to "what I want to grow and create", "what I want more of in my life". Things to work toward, more than things to be rid of or get done, the kind of change you want to make.

If you are coming from an energy that sees the list as problems to deal with then that will not allow inspirations from the imagination to be creative.
November 14, 2013 at 10:42 | Unregistered Commentermichael
avrum:

<< do you know of anyone using AF 1 in 2013? >>

I think several people have mentioned in the Forum that they are, and I get occasional emails from people who are. And someone I know in person told me a year ago that she was still using it. So I think there may be more than one thinks.
November 14, 2013 at 12:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
michael:

<< This is more significant than it seems >>

Yes, I think you're right. I'm seeing what I can grow with it at the moment!
November 14, 2013 at 12:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Great points Michael.

Mark:

< As I said a week or so ago I am experimenting with a form of AF1 in which unfinished tasks are marked and must be done each time the page is scanned. I'm getting good results so far. >

Please could you say what is that mark you use and where does it go?
November 14, 2013 at 12:06 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
Leon:

It's the same dot as I use to mark tasks in FV. Nothing complicated. My current last page looks like this:

• Email
• Paper
• TV Programme download
Call M
Prepare Talk
Finance
Adjust Clock
Laundry
• Evernote In Box

The comment box gives slightly the wrong impression as it levels the left margin. In reality the tasks are aligned and the dots are projecting to the left.
November 14, 2013 at 12:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
OK Mark, thanks - so do you not use a dot to identify the item you are working on? Or do you have effectively 2 dots for an unfinished item you are working on right now?

It's of significant interest to me as I have a pattern of startting lots of things but failing to finish them, leaving them undone and floundering.
November 14, 2013 at 12:26 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
This works for me:

Dot a task as usual when you start it, but if you don't finish it leave the task where it is and leave the dot (instead of the usual crossing it out and rewriting it at the end of the list).

Then, every time you process a page with dotted items, you must work on those dotted items. When they are finished, cross them off and move on.

Wooba
November 14, 2013 at 14:13 | Registered CommenterWooba
<<Then, every time you process a page with dotted items, you must work on those dotted items. When they are finished, cross them off and move on.>>

But doesn't that kill Mark's "little and often" approach which populates all of his systems (and an idea I really like). Or am I missing something?
November 14, 2013 at 14:23 | Registered Commenteravrum
Leon:

<< so do you not use a dot to identify the item you are working on? >>

The task you are currently working on will always be the first dotted item on the list.
November 14, 2013 at 16:52 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Wooba:

<< Dot a task as usual when you start it, but if you don't finish it leave the task where it is and leave the dot (instead of the usual crossing it out and rewriting it at the end of the list). Then, every time you process a page with dotted items, you must work on those dotted items. When they are finished, cross them off and move on. >>

This would work, but it's considerably slower at getting the unfinished tasks finished than my method. With your method, you only work on each unfinished task once every pass through the list. With my method, each pass you work on all the unfinished tasks as many times as is necessary to get them finished. So at the end of a pass, there should be no unfinished tasks left - unless the "can't do the same task twice running" rule has come into effect, in which case there would be one unfinished task left.
November 14, 2013 at 16:56 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
avrum:

<< But doesn't that kill Mark's "little and often" approach which populates all of his systems >>

As I understand it, in Wooba's method there is no obligation to finish a dotted task when you come to it, only to work on it.
November 14, 2013 at 17:00 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hm - for the time being, I'm going to refrain from asking anymore questions about these new rules, and simply follow the original AF 1 rules. I look forward to hearing more about this when you feel it's ready to be released to the world.
November 14, 2013 at 17:34 | Registered Commenteravrum
avrum:

There's nothing more to tell. I've described everything already:

1, Standard AF1 rules, except:

2. Re-enter unfinished tasks with a dot.

3. A dotted task must have some action taken on it every time you come to it in the normal course of scanning the list.

4. If it's still unfinished, re-enter it at the end of the list with a dot as before.

5. If the above rules would result in having to take action on the same dotted task a second time immediately after taking action on it, then leave it on the last page and go back to the beginning of the list. This will only happen when there is a single dotted task left on the last page and no other task stands out for action.
November 14, 2013 at 18:01 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<< If it's still unfinished, re-enter it at the end of the list with a dot as before>>

Ah, so you are still crossing off tasks, and reentering them, only this time with a dot (indicating work must be done on the task). That's a very nice tweak Mark.
November 14, 2013 at 18:29 | Registered Commenteravrum
Mark,

I like the sound of your method better, because you end up with a filtered list of tasks that you are committed to finishing. Excellent. I will adjust tomorrow!
November 14, 2013 at 19:03 | Registered CommenterWooba
Mark, I've been following the version of UTMS where you dot a started but unfinished task, do not rewrite it when it is done, and on every pas make sure you do some work on that task.

I really like how that is working. What benefits do you seen on rewriting the unfinished task at the end of the list.
November 14, 2013 at 19:45 | Unregistered Commentervegheadjones
Wooba:

<< you end up with a filtered list of tasks that you are committed to finishing >>

Not quite. Remember with AF1 you will still be adding new tasks and recurring finished tasks to the list. So although the dotted tasks do get more concentrated, they never become one filtered list.

However see the reply about UTMS which I'm about to write to vegheadjones.
November 14, 2013 at 20:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
vegheadjones:

<< I've been following the version of UTMS where you dot a started but unfinished task, do not rewrite it when it is done, and on every pas make sure you do some work on that task.I really like how that is working. What benefits do you seen on rewriting the unfinished task at the end of the list. >>

I also developed a version of UTMS (Ultimate Time Management System) which I don't think I ever published. In it you re-enter unfinished tasks at the end of the Old List with a dot, which means that they have to have some action taken on them. Since no new stuff is ever added to the Old List, this does result in the filtered list of tasks which you are committed to finishing - as described by Wooba.

I think this worked better for me than any other version of UTMS. But it still came up against the problem of all AF4 based systems - that it takes a very long time before the New List becomes the Old List. That's why I prefer to use the dotting method with AF1.

The advantage of rewriting unfinished tasks at the end of the list is that it results in these tasks being finished faster. If you leave them in place with a dot they are only worked on once every pass through the list. If they are at the end of the list they have to be finished in the same pass before you can start the next pass.

For those who don't remember UTMS:
http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2013/6/13/the-ultimate-time-management-system.html

http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2013/7/2/the-ultimate-time-management-system-improved.html
November 14, 2013 at 20:21 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark -

A few years ago, you encouraged me to put "time wasting" tasks on my AF 1 list. I believe you suggested breaking down the individual sites (facebook, montreal canadians, etc) versus simply putting "surf web" on the list. However with these rules, the dot guarantees that I will waste time (as if I need a list to encourage this behaviour), given that "facebook' will always be a re-entered unfinished task, with a dot. Is this how you treat things like Facebook?

By the way, it's really nice to be engaging with you, AF and this forum again. Off to donate....
November 14, 2013 at 20:23 | Registered Commenteravrum
avrum:

With the dotting method it's important that you have defined when the task is finished. Facebook, web-surfing, that sort of task are open-ended and I wouldn't put a dot when I re-enter them. The exception would be if there were postings or comments which I had a real need to reply to.

<< Off to donate. >> Yeayyy! I can eat again!
November 14, 2013 at 20:35 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks Mark. I agree with your critique about UTMS. I partly solved the long time getting to the new list by making sure I check the new list every day and...

Do the new list following AF2 rules, that is starting from the newest and always going back to the newest when a task is completed. That means the most recent items get hit first in the new list, not last.

I would go back to AF1 in a heartbeat, but I found I have to use Outlook (work) and cannot find a way to make AF1 work in that environment.
November 14, 2013 at 20:36 | Unregistered Commentervegheadjones
Mark:

<< With the dotting method it's important that you have defined when the task is finished. >>

Ah, I didn't realize the dot was optional when re-entering tasks. I'm currently editing my book, and usually use "edit book" as a task in my current (slowly becoming old) system. To use this rule, I'd need to change the longer term goal of "edit book" to "Edit section 3" or something like that.
November 14, 2013 at 20:41 | Registered Commenteravrum
Since the AF days, I always associate a 'dot' with 'one task I am doing now' , it's always helped me to focus on the one selected task. I personally think I might struggle with lots of dotted items - especially if the tasks do not need to be done in order (or do they?) as in FV

So When it comes to re-entering an unfinished task, I may try placing a small horizonal line (or a vertical one) measuring just a centimetre or so to identify it as an unfinished task. Then I will place a dot more a less in the middle of the line so I can initiate focus on the selected task. I could then repeat this process until the task is done.

Obviously new and recurring tasks do not have a line drawn before them.

It probably sounds more complicated in theory than it actually is practice!
November 14, 2013 at 21:55 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
Leon:

<< I personally think I might struggle with lots of dotted items - especially if the tasks do not need to be done in order (or do they?) as in FV >>

Yes, the tasks do need to be done in order since the rule is that you can't scan past a dotted task without doing some work on it. I personally don't find it in the least confusing since "the one task I am doing now" is always the first dotted item.

However it's really up to you how you mark the tasks. That's not going to effect the way the system works.
November 14, 2013 at 22:10 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I'm locking this thread now as it's nearing the maximum size for one page. Feel free to start a new thread on the same subject.
November 15, 2013 at 0:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

InfoThis thread has been locked.