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Discussion Forum > New System: Halves

Start with a long, unorganized, nasty list. (Start where you are, right? It's been one of those seasons.)

Put dots on the higher priority lines. Aim for dots on half of them.

Repeat, aiming for a second dot on half of those that got dots the first time.

Repeat, adding an extra dot on half of those that got dots last time.

When down to just a few lines, start work on those with the most dots. When those are done, look at those with the most dots, and add a dot to half of them.

Problem: If you have too many lines, you might think, "I've dotted too many / not enough. I should change my threshold." Possible solution: Divide list into chunks of 15-30 lines. Review each chunk separately. Then combine top five or so from each chunk into a list of "quarter-finalists".
August 5, 2016 at 21:04 | Registered CommenterCricket

Actually I've tried this. If I remember rightly there are at least two major problems with it:

1) By the time you've done a few hour's work on it the pre-prioritizing is out-of-date and rapidly getting more so.

2) What do you do with new or re-entered tasks?
August 5, 2016 at 23:11 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
1. That makes sense.

2. Hadn't thought of that.

It was a spin-off of another system I was thinking about. The idea is to limit the active list, by saying that at least half the lines are of lower priority. Those lines would then not need to be reviewed for quite a while.

Really, though, on my next full pass, would I limit myself to only considering lines with enough dots? Hard to say. Probably yes if my passes were frequent, and no if I felt things had changed, or was tempted to use prioritizing as a way to stall.

So, on the list of thing to try if I need to shake things up for the day, but not as the core of a system.

Very glad I typed it out here rather than wasted a day trying it!
August 5, 2016 at 23:48 | Registered CommenterCricket
Seems like this would work much better in electronic form, moving items up and down a list, or starring/tagging them.

When priorities change, you're not cluttered up with dots. If you tagged/starred them, you can clear them all with one click.

Probably not *all* items are affected by near-term priority change, so after your first pass, subsequent edits should require less effort.
August 6, 2016 at 0:18 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
The basic idea bears some resemblance to ASEM.
August 6, 2016 at 0:32 | Unregistered CommenterAustin
August 6, 2016 at 20:12 | Registered CommenterCricket

ASEM = Another Simple and Effective Method

It's not really very similar.
August 6, 2016 at 20:57 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Nope, not similar at all. ASEM is a way of working the list, all lines of equal priority.

Mine is a way to evaluate priorities that prevents me from agonizing over "is that a E or F?" It really doesn't matter if it's E or F, at least not right now. (I could argue that identifying Zs is important. Get them off the active list!) A vs B, now, that's affects what you'll actually do.

Maybe it should be Single Elimination Prioritizing System, SEPS -- assuming I've correctly identified the tournament type.
August 6, 2016 at 21:27 | Registered CommenterCricket


Sounds like an infection. "Doc, is it true!? Do I have the SEPS!?" "I'm afraid so, son. You won't be using Tinder for quite some time." "Nooooooooooo!"
August 7, 2016 at 5:52 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
Over-analyzing here. In single elimination tournaments, you compare A to B, and C to D, and E to F, and G to H. The system in the original post doesn't compare individual tasks. It says, "I have 20 tasks and 10 dots. Is this one worth a dot?"

Any sports organizers out there?
August 8, 2016 at 16:47 | Registered CommenterCricket

It's not really a sports event, more an elimination tv show in which half the contestants get voted out each episode.
August 8, 2016 at 21:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Picturing the task contenders in sports clothing, and the announcers. This match, we have clean kitchen and fish tank. Kitchen is important, and if not done before it's time to cook supper, could delay supper, leading to poor diet and rushing to evening events. In the other corner, we have the fish tank, a weekly task. It was last done a week ago, and can wait another day. What do you think, Joe? Well, Sam, if she doesn't do the fish tank today, she'll have to do it tomorrow, and that's a busy day, which means she'll put it off yet again. Those fish would suffer.

This brings up another reason it's not comparing two tasks against each other. You might pair two tasks that both should make it to the quarter-finals. (Double- or triple-elimination is a bit much overhead for a task list.)
August 9, 2016 at 15:48 | Registered CommenterCricket
One thing I really like about no-list methods is that these prioritization and selection activities almost completely disappear. I think these activities can be a form of "motion waste" or "overprocessing waste".
August 17, 2016 at 2:14 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
You're right. Time spent prioritizing tasks you won't get to for a long while is time wasted.

With this system, though, half the lines only get thought about once. The focus isn't on raising and prioritizing. It's on temporarily dismissing. After the first pass, half of them are gone. Another quarter fall off the next pass, and by the 3rd you're down to 1/8, by which time you've probably decided which to do next.

I came up with it when everything was clamouring for attention, and I needed to silence many of them quickly. I haven't used it, yet, but do something a bit less drastic for my Read Sometime - Maybe list.

My Read Sometime - Maybe list is where I put things I'm not sure if I want to read. Rather, I am absolutely certain at that moment that I will want to read them, but need to focus on something else, like the next email.

When that list gets too long, I delete 10 before I get to read 10. It's easier to say this one is in the bottom 10 than this is the very bottom 1, which is why I don't alternate read 1 then delete 1. Deleting half before reading half might be too big a step. The end result is the same, I only read half (or less, because I usually find several in a row that don't make the cut).
August 18, 2016 at 1:54 | Registered CommenterCricket
Further Thoughts

I don't know if it's the season or the Lenten challenge, but I'm coming up with lots of ideas these days.

Two days ago, I wrote instructions for a system in my evening journal, tentatively called Halving. The next day, I thought it felt familiar. Mark's site has a good search feature!

I didn't try the system the first time because of logistical problems.


Possible Solutions to Awkwardness of Reprioritizing:

1. Erase the dots. (Whiteout tape costs 0.25 $CDN/m, or 0.25 cents/cm.)

2. Add columns to the page. Each time you reprioritize from scratch, use a new column. Added benefit: This preserves the history. If the last several times you reprioritized, this line rarely got dots, it probably won't make the final cut this time, either.

3. Ask broader questions about big-picture-importance for the first pass, and work towards urgency for the final pass. If a habit is important to the big picture, then it gets a dot, even it's not urgent.

This way, if it's important it will have at least one dot, probably more. You don't have to restart from scratch as often.

4. For subtasks, I like putting each subtask on its own line, especially if the tasks need to be done at different places or times. Each subtask has the same importance as the project, but might be more or less urgent (e.g., call before business hours end).

Risk: If all the tasks of a very important and complicated project get another dot, there won't be any dots left for other projects.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. If the project is large enough to need many lines, then you need to give it a lot of time.

If the project is still getting too many dots, then only dot the most-important or urgent tasks of the project, or move those lines to a sub-list, with a single entry on the main list.

(Fast way to separate sub-tasks: Put an S or project code in front of the task, where the dot would normally go.)


Alternative: Dot fewer than half to process the list faster.

Observation: If you add a dot to half each time, in only 5 passes you'll be down to 1 in 32, so unless your list is very long, halving is fast enough.

Safety-net: If in doubt, give it another dot. This is faster than agonizing. Worst case, it will take another pass to get down to today's list. It's safer because you will have another chance to vote on it.

Now I'm tempted to erase the priority on my ToodleDo list, and use Priority for dots.


Email Backlog and Current: I haven't tried it since the 10% method is working well (but I need to give more time to my "archive and/or read" folder).

Reading List: I tried it today, but the list was too long to do even the first pass in a single sitting. (600 were added in February. Eeps. I'm working on both sides of that problem.) I'll try it again very soon, with a way to spread the longest passes over several sittings.
March 12, 2017 at 0:08 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
I used Halves with Multiple Time Frames on the reading list last night, and liked it.

The list started with about 500 articles, and took 7 passes to get down to 15. (Mathies will say 15*2^7= more than 500. I selected more than half on some of the passes, because doing an extra pass or 3 was easier than agonizing over some of the items on the early passes.)

For the first pass I thought about forever, and looked at each article individually, unless they were obviously in a group. Being left behind on that pass meant I might not read it. Ever. Scary. Reminding myself that they'll probably get another chance before the month ends made it easier.

I read about 20 a day, or 140 a week. Any that survived the 280 to 140 pass would be read in the next week, so I started thinking about that time frame when the list reached 250.

At this point, I knew I'd read them all eventually, so balancing each day's reading became more important. By now, it was easy to see that some topics had too many articles. Some were deleted immediately. (I don't need to read 20 articles on that topic this month, and this morning I already flagged more for next month.) Some lost a dot, so I'll look at them again when I get back to that group. There was a large group of long articles, so I promoted only half on each pass, to spread them out.

At 50, I thought about that day, and only 15 made the cut, leaving 35. I finished reading early, so chose half of those 35. About 15 on the current list works well. Small enough to see all of. Large enough to allow choice and remind me that I don't have to read them all. (One of them, that had survived all 7 passes, suddenly looked useless, when compared to the other 14.)

I'm curious what it will be like at the end of the month, when I Iook at those that didn't make the first cut. Will they look interesting again, or will it be easy to delete most of them? How will it work when I know that any that don't make a cut will be deleted unread?

I also noticed that I thought about picking half of the long articles each pass, to spread out the reading, rather than whether they were important in the first place. I'll have to keep an eye out for this.
March 12, 2017 at 18:54 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
Digression: Remember the discussion on what sports' organizers would call this?

It's more like heat racing than single elimination.

Heat Racing

In some races, not everyone can race at the same time. Instead, they have heats of about six racers each. After each set of heats, the winner(s) of each heat move on. The rest go home.

Halves is similar to this if I only look at one page (screen) at a time, which is close to what I do. Not strictly, but it's easy to see if I've chosen more than half on a page, and then ask why, and whether I should do something about it.

Also, in Halves, the losers of each heat don't go home. They hang around until after the medal heat, and then race again.

King's Court Tournament Method.

Sending half the professionals home after their first heat might be ok, but it's not good for amateurs who want a day of racing, whether they get a medal or not.

In this method, your first heat is determined by your time in the qualifying round(s). After the each set of heats, the fastest two in each heat move up to the next fastest group, and the slowest two move down. (Fastest two in fastest group and slowest two in slowest group stay where they are.)

This way, everyone gets several races and competes against those of similar skill. A bad early race doesn't eliminate your chance of a medal, since you can move up a group after each set. The medal contenders are all together for the final race of the day.

This sounds good for tournaments, but too complicated for a todo list. Maybe. It's tempting. It's on the list to try if I ever move my list to a spreadsheet. Or maybe a system of dots, and add or delete so many dots per page each planning session. Later.
March 12, 2017 at 19:05 | Registered CommenterCricket

A reading list of 500 articles?

I assume that must have taken some time to build up. It you've managed to survive without reading them for that long, it does pose the question of whether you really need to read them at all.

My solution would be as follows:

1. Declare a backlog and deal with future articles coming in on the same day they arrive. Use the halving method to work through them. Delete anything left unread at the end of the day. Also examine ways of reducing the flow so you can get through them most days.

2. Mark a date a week or so in the future when you will delete/destroy everything in the backlog. That leaves you a week to identify and read everything that really must be read.
March 12, 2017 at 19:44 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Nope, that's a month's worth of incoming. Like I said, I need to work on the incoming end as well. I only started counting them in January. Before, I'd just see the steady increase but didn't realize how fast it was growing. (Pocket doesn't say how many have each tag, just counts them when you select or add the tag.)

1. I declared a backlog on Jan 1 (backlogging everything older than a month, so I read Dec's arrivals in Jan, and Feb's in Mar). Having done that, I can really see how fast it's growing.

2. I'm still resisting that, but it might be necessary, and freeing. I'll definitely delete a good chunk of Feb's arrivals by the end of March. Half the articles failed the first pass. I hope to give them one more chance before the end of the month, but no more. Failing two passes is enough.
March 13, 2017 at 16:49 | Registered CommenterCricket
Now that I've used Halves for a few days on the reading list, I've gotten used to the flow of the last few passes. The decision isn't "whether", the decision is "when", but it's this-week or next-week, then 1-2 days or 3-5, then today or tomorrow.

It's easy to add up the time estimates at each level, and see, for example, that there are more than 2 weeks of work at the this-week or next-week level.

I used to, sometimes, list the work I'd do each day on a grid. (Tasks down the left, days across the top, each cell showing hours, compare scheduled time to ideal, and see total for each day.) That calmed me down, but I usually fell behind pretty quickly.

Today I took my list for the day (more of a wish list or a menu, definitely not a will-do list), and applied Halves, thinking only of today, since the list felt like two days of work.

I used a combined question. Which tasks would create the most benefit if done today, or cause the most pain if not done. I also stayed aware of which tasks needed to be done by the end of the week.

It boiled down to two main projects, both of which are ongoing, neither of which is more important. Normally I'd use Randomizer (or stall).

This time, I thought "which fish to take out of the pool for a bit." The other would stay in the pool, at the next level of the pyramid. When I do enough work on the project I chose, I'll drop it back in the pool, back at the next level of the pyramid, where it will once again compete. Whether it wins or not depends on whether the other project wants a turn, or the first is on a roll.

Strange. "Back in the pool" wasn't part of Halves at all, and certainly not part of the reading list. Those stay in the pool, but don't go back in once read.

But, those are the observations.
March 13, 2017 at 17:11 | Registered CommenterCricket
Mark, another insight into my too-large reading list.

It _feels_like_ "all those articles deserve to be read. They have a right to be read. I have a responsibility to read them. If I didn't have the time, it would be different, but I do."

This might come from my time in writing groups. Members are expected to read and comment on all the contributions, or the ones assigned to you, so all the work gets attention, not just the better-written pieces, or those by the most-popular person.

Hard to say, but I'm going to start looking for that thought, lurking under the other answers of because it's useful, interesting, or informative.

(Mindfulness training: Thoughts are not truth. They are real. They have effect us strongly. Even so, they are not truth.)
March 13, 2017 at 19:51 | Registered CommenterCricket

500 articles in a month? That's a bit more than 15 a day. The question is whether that's the best use of your time, and only you can answer that.

One of my maxims has always been "Just because something is an excellent opportunity doesn't mean you have to do it."
March 13, 2017 at 20:23 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Reading Bernie's thread brought up a new question:

What impact will reading it have? Not reading it?

For most articles:

Reading, positive impact: unknown, but usually small.

Reading, negative impact: time spent, which has a known opportunity cost.

Not-Reading, positive impact: unknown opportunity cost. Key phrase: Unknown Cost.

Not-Reading, negative impact: Self image. I stay informed in the fields that interest me or affect my family. I keep up with things. I value the writer's time. (Does whether or not I value the writer's already-sunk time change anything?)

Would my self-image be better served by using that time on other things? Probably. (Baby steps.)


How to set the pass/fail threshold, using Colley's Rule.

The first line fails. The next line that's more important than the first is the lowest level that passes. Risk: The first line might be worth keeping. Smallish. You'll end up with a very short list of things that are even more important than that one.

Variation: Evaluate the first four. The most-important passes. The second-most important barely passes and becomes the threshold. The other two fail.


The base system is very tolerant of a poorly-set threshold. If it's too high, then the process goes faster. The final list might be so short I actually finish it on that day, in which case a short list of those that survived is already there.

If it's too low, I will need to take more passes.

Is letting too many through each level really safer? It feels that way. It's safer in that more tasks get a second chance. Maybe there will be more information, or I'll realize that part of my life needs more attention, or I'll feel better about the project.

Plan: In early passes let a bit more through. I'll reevaluate those levels every few days. For today's work, though, don't waste time choosing. Maybe instead of halves, use thirds or even tenths.

Meanwhile, I'm supposed to be using ToodleDo, and incorporating the comments for the program for this weekend's concert.

(This weekend is World Storytelling Day. There will be concerts around the world.
Note: Not all of the concerts are family-friendly. Even if your child is ok with the unsanitized versions, the teller and other audience members will worry. It's a shame, because the old versions of those tales are often more powerful.)
March 13, 2017 at 20:53 | Registered CommenterCricket
I've got thousands of unread articles stored away in Pocket. I used to be mildly anxious about that fact. :-)

Lately, I am totally OK with just letting them sit there. I've even been considering just deleting my Pocket account. I am not sure it's adding much value.

I've been finding that most things in my world are interconnected, interrelated. By using Current Reality Trees to identify core issues, I am finding the main things that will really make a difference in my world -- where I should focus. And learning that if I apply effort elsewhere, it has minimal impact.

Let's say I've got many undesirable effects in my situation. I'll call them A, B, C, D, and E. They are all interrelated through various complex cause-and-effect relationships.

How do we usually go about addressing them? Perhaps we'd list them by order of biggest impact to smallest. Or most important to least. Or most urgent to least.

Here is a problem with all those approaches. Let's say we look at all the cause-and-effect relationships, and we find that "D" is really at the core of them. It's having ripple effects that inevitably bring about the other effects.

If we apply effort to A, B, C, or E, we may temporarily relieve the problem. But since we haven't addressed the core problem -- D -- they will come back. That was wasted effort.

If we apply effort to D, then we might resolve all five problems in one blow -- since D is ultimately the root cause.

It's not always apparent which item is the core problem. It takes some serious thought and experimentation. Thankfully it can be a rather quick process, and gets quick results.

Now apply all this to reading.

Let's say there are 100 articles out there.

How many of them are *required* for you to read, in order to carry out your ordinary work obligations?

Maybe a few, if you really need them for a class or something. But probably zero. They aren't *required*.

OK, then how many of them will be directly impactful in helping address your core problem?

Maybe some of them, by random chance, will directly impact your core problem, and help you resolve it. But most likely, your core problem is a result of some conflict in your world -- that's why the core problem persists. And the conflict is based on some hidden assumptions. It requires some challenging self-reflection and surfacing of assumptions to resolve those. This can be a quick process -- but I've been finding that relevant professional articles usually make it HARDER to resolve things like this. They give me ideas for SOLUTIONS -- not helping me uncover hidden assumptions. And those SOLUTIONS are often the same kinds of things I've come up with myself -- and they can seem promising, even alluring -- but not help me at all to get rid of my hidden assumptions or resolve my core conflicts.

So some general reading might be a nice break, might give you some new ideas to think about, but are really not going to move your work forward, and can even set you back.

I've done so much reading, with a general interest for learning, new ideas, new approaches, new opportunities. But I get 100x the learning by actually attacking things with this focused approach on eliminating core conflicts. And the current reality tree method is like having x-ray vision or something, you can get to the heart of patterns much more quickly.

I really started to get *annoyed* at my Feedly and my Pocket for being so useless most of the time. I already pruned about 80% of my Feedly feeds and unsubscribed from dozens of email subscriptions that have always given me some marginal value. It feels so free and focusing and I don't have any of that "FOMO" that we've discussed sometimes here (Fear Of Missing Out).

Anyway, I am just sharing my own experience here over the last few months. It's been quite a journey. I feel like I am doing a lot less reading and a lot more deep thinking and learning that is helping bring real results.
March 13, 2017 at 22:03 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

<< Lately, I am totally OK with just letting them sit there. I've even been considering just deleting my Pocket account. I am not sure it's adding much value. >>

I came to exactly the same conclusion about mine.

<< I already pruned about 80% of my Feedly feeds and unsubscribed from dozens of email subscriptions that have always given me some marginal value. It feels so free and focusing and I don't have any of that "FOMO" that we've discussed sometimes here (Fear Of Missing Out). >>

I've got rid of Feedly completely. I just have a few blogs which I visit regularly. The difference between that and using Feedly is that I go to a blog when I feel like seeing if they've written anything recently, rather than having them thrust in my face and having to keep up.

I don't think I have any email subscriptions at the moment.

March 13, 2017 at 23:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I realized late last night that I'm sounding like my daughter, who is a hoarder. (She also has Aspergers and ADHD and OCD an anxiety issues. Very glad we have a good team of professionals. We've been warned to expect the stress of 10 teenage daughters. Fortunately, she's also very smart and motivated, so will go far with good supports.)


Why won't you use try my system? If it works, things will get done, and you'll win. If it doesn't, you'll also win, since you'll have proven me wrong.


Is your current system working?


(Mom tries not to roll eyes.)


Next day:

You're making a mountain out of a molehill. Most of your stress is because you feel you should feel stressed about it.

Shut up.


Seraphim, Originally, the value of Pocket was it prevented me from reading things immediately. Less reading, and at a better time. It also let me read offline, but I haven't used that feature in a long time. It worked for those things, but now it's just moving the decision point. For a while, it was easier to say Ridiculous! to an hour of reading than to five minutes at a time, so for that time it worked. I can read ebooks or use my phone at appointments.

Another part of the issue is energy levels. I know from experience that I shouldn't do focus jobs when tired; I then have to spend time fixing mistakes. Also, working after supper leads to insomnia. (Very annoying, since I can often focus well then.) Pocket is easy to sneak in.

Instead of reading, I could be meditating. It will probably do me more good.

Core problem in my world: Anxiety. Two teenagers. One with mental health problems. One about to start college, but he's not motivated. Typical parenting issues.

Yep, I sometimes feel annoyed at Feedly and Pocket, and then annoyed at the person who got into the mess, so I tackle the easier problem.

Goal: Delete 50 articles today, and flag another 50 for deletion (or actually delete them).
March 14, 2017 at 15:43 | Registered CommenterCricket
Seraphim, do you have any examples of current reality trees, and the other trees? The ones I found are all mass-manufacturing based. Although, the base concepts are old friends, just need to apply them here, and take the time to dig deep. I'm currently not digging deep enough into the real problems, but think I've made some progress this week, at least in looking past the top few layers.
March 14, 2017 at 15:46 | Registered CommenterCricket
105 deleted, about a third of the ones I reviewed. None flagged. Took 25 minutes, since I tagged them "to delete" then double-checked the list. These were the low-hanging fruit, things I'd flagged last year, and found several patterns. When I find a good site, I flag a lot, even reviews of concepts I already know know (because it's good to see it from another perspective). When I get interested in a topic, I go wild. Topics come in cycles. When one person writes about a new topic, everyone else in the field writes about it within the next months. A few clusters that I want to get used to the idea of deleting first.
March 14, 2017 at 16:40 | Registered CommenterCricket
Cricket -

Here's a really good explanation of how the Current Reality Tree works:

And here's a great explanation of how to build one:

He has great explanations of all the other TOC thinking processes on that website also. Don't be thrown off by the terminology and apparent complexity -- at heart, these are really very simple, intuitive processes.

If I have time, I will look for one of my own examples. I often use these to sort out personal and family things, as well as work issues.
March 15, 2017 at 4:04 | Unregistered CommenterSeraphim
Thanks! Quick look, it's takes Root Cause Analysis deeper, few more things to look for.

(Yes, I added it to Pocket. Seems counter-productive, somehow.)
March 16, 2017 at 17:36 | Registered CommenterCricket
graphviz dot would be a quick and easy (if you're comfortable with the process of installing open source software and running stuff from the command line) way to draw the diagrams. You just type in what points to what and the program would automatically generate the diagram for you.

digraph G {
effect1 [label="whatever"];
cause1 [label="something"];
cause2 [label="something else"];
effect2 [label="blah blah blah"];

cause1 -> effect1;
cause2 -> cause1;
cause1 -> effect2;

It's quicker than visio or whatever because you don't manually move things around.
March 16, 2017 at 20:50 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Don R, that looks great for an open source solution!

Personally I really like Flying Logic, but it's not free. It also does all the drawing for you, so you can concentrate on thinking.

It has a great manual that's useful even without the software:

Another great way to do these trees and diagrams is with a whiteboard and stickies. Or a whiteboard notebook with Lumocolor pens:
March 17, 2017 at 2:07 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Cricket - I found a PowerPoint with some great practical Current Reality Tree and other examples:

See especially slide 15 and following.
March 21, 2017 at 22:56 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim: I've been reading that Flying Logic manual. I also enjoyed your "Breakthroughs" thread.

I'll have more time to read it this weekend (I've read up until the actual tools are discussed), but I've used some of the ideas already. For example, there was a problem where 6 causes combined to cause the problem. Identifying those, I could see that preventing any one of those 6 would prevent the end result, so I chose the best one to fix.
March 25, 2017 at 0:18 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Don R - I'm glad you found it useful! If you do anything more with it, I'd love to hear how you are you getting on.
March 25, 2017 at 19:28 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Post deleted. Rambling.
March 26, 2017 at 0:55 | Registered CommenterCricket