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If you want to be tougher, be tougher. Jocko Willink, former Navy SEAL Commander
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Discussion Forum > Tools but no plan

It has slowly dawned on me (I'm slow sometimes...) that, as great as these systems for picking which task to do are, they are not really what I'm in need of. It's as though I try a hammer, then a screwdriver, then a wrench, then back to the hammer. However, I've realized that the tool isn't my problem. The lack of consistant monitoring is.

See, what I've been trying to do is use a system to get me to do the thing I need the most to do. But the thing is, if I can have a clear view of all my tasks, obligations, scheduled items, projects, etc, then I really don't have a problem selecting the thing I should do next. My problem is in getting that clear view.

To that end, I'm exploring ways to capture my future activities in a way that I can trust to give me clarity. This also involves setting a very rigid, repeatable order of review.

Since simplicity would seem to facillitate my goals, I have reduced my notebook to:
*a few sheets to catch anything that comes my way.
*a few sheets of calendar
*ONE list of to-do's
*a seperate section for notes and project lists.

First I MUST be able to trust that what comes into my life (which I need to do further action with) will be captured and easily seen by me.

Then is the part I struggle with: constant/systematic review.
1) re-write anything from catch-all list into proper place.
2) monitor calendar
3) scan ONE list for things I should do/make progress on.

I should note that regarding the ONE list I have been scanning it in the morning and marking anything that I WILL or MUST make progress on today with a "O". That helps me with the clarity I'm seeking.

Any ideas are welcome. This is the first approach that has helped me not have a feeling of "I'm forgetting something" but I want to keep working at it until I find that peaceful state of KNOWING that my notebook & my scan of it leaves no items lurking out there.
December 31, 2016 at 8:36 | Unregistered CommenterTommy
I like Alec Mackenzie's division of the 'daily list' into three. If memory serves:

1. Appointments. (Things that must be done at a particular time.)
2. Life-goal stuff.
3. Discretionary to-dos.

I think this is the natural structure of daily activities. With regard to the catchall, I favour a notebook, kept as chaotically as desired, whose contents are regularly reviewed and dispatched to particular lists, e.g., 'Books to read', 'Books to buy', etc.
December 31, 2016 at 18:22 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Williams
Tommy, you certainly nailed understand what the problem is. No, don't yet have clear answer. It is 2017, a NEW YEAR, so I'm looking at new plans, others certainly are too. So, if have any great answers or even potential answers, will post.
January 2, 2017 at 4:52 | Registered CommentermatthewS
As I search methods and systems to gain clarity, I decided to "get back to basics". I want to experiment with list based methods BUT until I'm fairly confident in a method I don't want to loose handle on my life.

So.... my back-to-basics is a calendar. (I know, pretty exciting!) I have read before how truely successful people (however successful is determined...) DON'T use to-do-lists but instead schedule everything. I've never tried it so I'm giving it a go. All appointmens, tasks, projects are getting a date.

So far I'm finding this surprisingly simple and effective. I feel slightly silly for ignoring such a basic approach for so long! My main concern is that self imposed deadlines on tasks that are not time sensitive would lead to me not taking my calendar seriously, ignoring that task, and thus loosing faith in my calendar. Atleast that's what I've been told is the dangers of scheduling everything. So far this has NOT been an issue! I spend time in the morning looking through and rearranging my calendar. It just takes a little thought to determine when I can spend a little time working on something.

So the non time sensitive tasks that are on my calendar just get treated slightly differently. They aren't necessarily "due" on that day. All I'm saying is that I will do something to move that task forward. I then do it and if more is needed I move it forward.

I'll still search list methods but I wanted to share my experience so far with an "everything calendar".
January 10, 2017 at 16:13 | Unregistered CommenterTommy
I tried that method years ago. It worked for six months. I was often a week or three behind in non-deadline tasks, especially repeating tasks, but didn't bother copying them to today's page them unless they were getting critical. I'd plan at least a week ahead, often two. In pencil. I treated each day, or each week, memory is fuzzy, probably experimented with both ways, as a single AF1 page. Then vacation, plus a huge project or three, and it fell apart. I tried to reboot it a few times, but it didn't take.

Things I liked about it:

- Future tasks stayed out of the way until they were doable.

- Easy to look ahead and see deadlines and busy days. Easy to set a start date for long projects I couldn't start immediately.

- Forced awareness of how long ago I planned to do something.

- Asking When? and discovering no room for the next two weeks kept me realistic. Yes, I could have put it three weeks out, and did if I had to, but that third week was beautifully empty -- empty enough to remind me that I hadn't yet written in routines. Or maybe empty enough to make me not want to fill it any sooner than necessary.

What I didn't like:

- No room for notes. Easily solved with separate notebook or stickies.

- Not easy to reboot when overloaded. (Would be easier now that I use booklets I print myself.)

Thinking back, I'm not sure why I the reboot didn't succeed. Maybe I was too burned out to trust it again. Maybe that was when I discovered Mark and AF1 and the joys of experimenting with systems, although I remember using AF1 on the calendar, at least near the end. Maybe I didn't want to spend the money on the next year's book.

Would it work for me now? Is it worth trying again? Maybe. It's tempting, but I think my real problem is that I'm in an over-optimistic phase. Again. Looking at a small number of lines available each day might help. Looking at a week grid (project vs day, with hours in each cell, and totals for line and column) isn't working. It's too easy add another line for another project, and think about balancing the load between days instead of No, I can't realistically expect to do that many hours in a week.

Thanks for making me think about this. The timing is good.
January 10, 2017 at 23:27 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
And, I've remembered why I couldn't reboot the calendar method. Took me all of ten minutes of trying to convert back to it. Too many things. In theory, if I need to make a space for something, I need to erase something else. In practice, that's a lot of erasing. When I fell behind, there was too much to reschedule. Maybe it would have gone better if I had identified the big rocks and put them in first.
January 12, 2017 at 14:58 | Registered CommenterCricket
< ... successful people ... DON'T use to-do-lists but instead schedule everything ... >

Tommy, I'm doing something similar for similar reasons. I have suggestion for your non time sensitive items that you are concerned about putting on a schedule.

Consider a day. 3pm is blocked out for hard fixed appointment with person at known location. You could also block out 7-9pm as fixed time for open project. Perhaps write a document. There is research, calls, notes, organization, write draft, write final, format, send, wait for response. Many parts that need to be changed to deal with situation and how you feel from moment to moment. So you have list or file/project/folder of all the pieces and possible steps, yet ONLY put work on Project on the hard schedule. When it is actually 7-9pm, you will decide as you need, with any system, such as the many systems described in this forum, what you will work on. You might at 9pm jot down what you will do next time, or not. And follow what you did jot down next time, or not.

This gives structure while also not stupid structure. From 7-7:05p Thursday I will read documents regarding the Project.

Make sense? Suggestions?
January 13, 2017 at 0:20 | Registered CommentermatthewS
I find scheduling is a useful exercise because it makes me examine the territory, not because it produces a schedule that I actually use. Falling off the schedule usually discourages me. Also, I prefer to have more flexibility so I can adapt to moods and if I'm on a roll.

However, examining the territory is necessary. Today, I forgot that I can't do focus work the hour after the kids come home.
January 23, 2017 at 21:36 | Registered CommenterCricket