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If you want to be tougher, be tougher. Jocko Willink, former Navy SEAL Commander
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Discussion Forum > Seeded No-List

Not sure if that's the best name, but it gives an idea how the system works.

1. At end of day, take a new sheet of paper and write down six things you want to complete the next day. Draw a line under the last item. This is your "commit list" for the next day.

Daily Process
1. Review the new sheet you started at end of the previous day.
2. Write down anything else on your mind that you want to get done.
3. Work through the items on the list in whatever manner you choose.
4. Add new items at the end of the list whenever you want.

At Close of Day:
1. Did you complete everything on your commit list?
2. If yes, you have the option to increase the number of items on your next commit list by one.
3. If no, you must reduce the number of items on your next commit list by one -- but never reduce it below one item.
4. Start a new sheet and write a new commit list for the next day.
5. Repeat the Daily Process.

That's it!
May 12, 2017 at 0:22 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Just to be clear, the only thing you are concerned about at the end of the day is whether the items above the line get completed or not. It doesn't matter at all whether the other stuff on the list is done or not. Is that right?

Presumably you need to define carefully what "completed" means in respect of each of the above-the-line tasks?

I like the way in which it combines definite goals for the day with complete flexibility about how you go about doing them.
May 12, 2017 at 1:47 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
"Yes" to both of your questions.

And yes, I love the flexibility and the focus. It seems to have a great balance of both!
May 12, 2017 at 3:08 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

What a great idea for a system, it sounds very good! I could try using this but am doing well at the moment with my own method. Good luck !
May 12, 2017 at 11:54 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
Very interesting. I like the DIT influence. The gated idea is also intriguing.

Have you considered this with the non-crucial items (the ones under the line) as a catch all? In other words, the crucial part could be populated from the non crucial list each night?
May 12, 2017 at 15:07 | Unregistered CommenterTommy
Great system, Seraphim. I'm working now on the Eastertide challenge applying the "Secrets of Productive People" techniques, in particular the 5T or time management system of chapter nine. As I posted on my last comment on that thread, this system made a curious evolution from the original instructions, and now it is very similar to the one you designed, but not so perfect.
What I do now is to start the day writing five items I feel I need (or want, or like) to do, in the way Mark says on "Secrets". But then, as I have other commitments and appointments, I list the rest of things I have to do (appointments from my calendar or reminders). I just write the tings I think I need to focus on that day, the things that attract my mind. Then, I start working on the list in a FVP without question method. The next day I write another five tasks or things (again, my subconcious mind works here), then I write things that needs my focus from my calendar or reminder (again: only things that need my focus, not things that I work fluently from my subsistems), and decided what to do with things I have left undone the previous day.
May 12, 2017 at 15:47 | Unregistered CommenterPablo
Tommy wrote:
<< Have you considered this with the non-crucial items (the ones under the line) as a catch all? In other words, the crucial part could be populated from the non crucial list each night? >>

Here is what I typically do:
1. During the day, I don't refer to previous days' lists at all.
2. At the end of the day, when I am deciding my commit list for tomorrow, I do review previous lists and notes and projects and my calendar and whatever else I feel I need to review to be sure I am staying on top of my work. But once I fill my commit list with the things that are bothering me the most, I generally don't refer to those lists till the next evening.
3. In general, I try to throw away those previous lists as soon as possible. I really don't want to collect all kinds of stuff from the past.
4. I may decide to violate (1.), if (for example) I am starting to collect too many old lists. I may put "weed old lists" as one of my commit items. That hasn't happened yet, but I imagine it probably will.
5. I may also decide to violate (1.) if I've completed my commit list for the day, am maybe feeling a little aimless, and want to review if there are any other deadlines or projects I should work on next. That hasn't happened yet, but I imagine it probably will.

I didn't specify any of this in the rules, and that was deliberate. You can do whatever you like with the old lists. But it's important to note that they don't fit into the core algorithm of the system. This is what keeps the system flexible and alive and fresh.

I don't want the system to turn into a catch-all system, for all the reasons Mark writes about:
(and many other blog posts written around the same time period)
May 12, 2017 at 15:48 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

Very interesting! Yes, your approach seems very similar!
May 12, 2017 at 15:53 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

Thanks for your comment! Yes, but I think your system is much "beatiful" than mine. If someone ask me wich system apply, I will suggest yours instead of mine. However, I will not apply your system yet, because I want to see how my system changes - or how a system develops naturally from the practice.
I noticed this with Mark's approach to productivity: He doesn't teach you "productivity techniques" but really a productivity approach and principles to deal with your life. If you apply any of his systems (DIT, Secrets, AF, SF, FV or else) you will develop a productivity attitude that is more important than one system for itself.
Mark rocks! (and all you, friends, too)
May 12, 2017 at 17:09 | Unregistered CommenterPablo
That's an interesting system, Seraphim. If I try it, I'll use a dated page-per-day diary or similar, so that each day's list is kept, not thrown away. I think it would be fascinating to look back and see what tasks were on my mind during a certain period, and whether or not they were important enough to get done.
May 12, 2017 at 21:54 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret
May I ask something? Today, I worked a lot and finish my list with eight tasks or things undone (I started with five, as usual, and completed eight task, four of them are part of the original five). Considering I'm working with a no-list kind of system, How do you handle the tasks undone of today? I'm asking for suggestions and ideas; I have these options: one is discarding all the undone tasks and start the next day with a fresh list made up from my mind. The other is, as I posted before, to revise the next day the tasks undone of the previous day and decide what to do, but I can't avoid the feeling of overwhelm and frustration.
As Mark says in "Do it Tomorrow": one day of income work must equal one day of outcome work - that's an iron rule.
May 12, 2017 at 23:17 | Unregistered CommenterPablo
<< I'll use a dated page-per-day diary or similar >>

I started out that way, and it was working fine. Then I tried just using a whiteboard for a day, and now I'm trying it with an undated notebook. It seems to work fine with all of these.
May 13, 2017 at 0:40 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

<< How do you handle the tasks undone of today? >>

The main thing is NOT to carry over tasks from one day to another. If you do that, you'll just create a catch-all list, and worse, a catch-all list with no real structure or organization.

I keep the older pages but only refer to them at the end of the day when I am creating my commit list for tomorrow.

During that review process, I find that many of the tasks have already been completed -- they came up without any special prompting, just during the course of my daily work, and I got them done. I find that many other tasks are no longer needed at all. The remaining tasks sometimes include an important task, or something with a deadline -- those are the ones that are candidates to be added to the commit list for the next day.

<< discarding all the undone tasks and start the next day with a fresh list made up from my mind >>
The main idea behind this system is to choose a small number of key tasks -- you start the day with those on your list, and nothing else. But then you add to the list with whatever is fresh on your mind.

<< As Mark says in "Do it Tomorrow": one day of income work must equal one day of outcome work - that's an iron rule. >>
I haven't found that to be true, in practice, for several reasons:
- Parkinson's Law: work expands to fill the available time. Many tasks can be completed in far less time than you might think. We have a lot more control over this than we often realize, I think. And that implies we have a lot of control over that formula. For example, if you treat email like Twitter, or at least adopt a "five sentence rule", you can drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to process email.
- Just because some task shows up on our list doesn't mean we need to take action on it (this is also one of Mark's rules)
- Many tasks simply take care of themselves if you let them percolate for a couple of days. Either they get done in the normal course of your work without giving them any special attention. Or someone else does it. Or the situation changes and it no longer needs to be done at all.
- The rule implies an inbox-driven approach to work: figuring out how to respond to all the incoming demands. But I've found I am much more effective when I complete all the incoming demands in as little time as possible, creating enough slack in my schedule so I can focus on thinking, on taking initiative, on strategic things that create breakthroughs. None of that stuff is "incoming work" -- it is self-initiated, and requires plenty of slack in my schedule so I can drive it.
May 13, 2017 at 1:02 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

It occurs to me that there is a more purely no-list way of achieving a "seeded no-list."

Start by writing your six commit-list tasks at the top of a sheet of paper, one per line in the reverse order you intend to do them, i.e the one you intend to do first is last on the list.

Then work the list using No-List FVP.
May 13, 2017 at 11:46 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Yes, that's one way you could do it. It fits perfectly within the rules that I've defined. I could never get No-List FVP to work myself, though -- it doesn't have enough "brainstorming" built into it.

Actually I was guessing some people might prefer to use the No-List FVP algorithm with this method, or one of the 5T-type methods, or any other favorite no-list method, or even FVP or AF1. I left the actual list-processing algorithm undefined to allow any and all of these, and also to allow experimentation within the overall framework.

Personally, when the list is short, I just cycle through and do whatever stands out. But if it's a busy day, and all kinds of things come to mind that feel like they need attention, I get more focus with the No-Question FVP algorithm. But I'm open to trying other methods. :-)
May 13, 2017 at 15:17 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

Thank you very much for your response! Your ideas and suggestions made me think a lot. This are some of the insights your post gave me:
1) Don't turn a no-list system in a catch-all list: As I understand from Mark's writings, the no-list sytems, and I feel this specially with the 5T of Secrets of Productive People, are systems to focus your mind on the work, not to act as reminders. That's what I decided to use another systems to take on my reminders and appointments (calendar and so). But the problem here is to turn those systems in another catch-all list. How to deal with this situation? In a way, I think that I must avoid or reduce the things that can go in a catch-all list. How to do this? Well, this goes to my second insight.
2) Systems: Marks makes a good point in Secrets about the Systems. In other recent post I read your appreciations of "Work the System" and "The System Mindset" by Sam Carpenter. I read both books and have similar oppinion: Sam makes a lot of effort to convince us of the "systems view", but when he came to the practical level, gives very basic practices to deal with work. What I do with my personal "systems": I have a lot of checklists to deal with processes, and notice that, when I follow the instructions, I not only do my work more consistently, but I improve the instructions (a.k.a.: the systems) in a natural way. But this idea comes more from Atul Gawande "The cheklist manifesto" than from Carpenter work. (note: I don't read Goldratt's work yet, but you make important points on his books; I take note to read them in a near future).
So, I think that in an ideal setting, the mayor part of my work must be dealt through systems (cheklists and stablished procedures) and routines (things and processes I do on a regular schedule).
3) The 5T list: so, What goes on my 5T or Productive 5 item's list? The things I have or like to work on this daytime frame. In an ideal setting (where my routines and systems works well and very little work needs attention outside those systems), I think I will put there the important things I want to work on: to dedicate "mind and time" on them; some routines and habits I need to stablish (for example: exercise or writing time), and important things I need to do on that day, so I must keep them on my radar.
So, when I have someting to do (a new e-mail, a new call from a customer), the first (and ideal) option is to have a subsystem that deals with that "thing", so I put that on that subsystem routine. If the new thing needs more attention, goes on my list for today.
This framework is just an idea. I will work with this frame during this week and report them the results.
May 14, 2017 at 23:17 | Unregistered CommenterPablo

<< Thank you very much for your response! Your ideas and suggestions made me think a lot. >>

I'm very glad it was helpful!

<< Atul Gawande "The cheklist manifesto" >>

That's a really good book -- I've read it at least twice and get something new from it each time.

<< But the problem here is to turn those systems in another catch-all list. How to deal with this situation? >>

I've often run into the same problem, and wrote about it here:

<< in an ideal setting, the mayor part of my work must be dealt through systems (cheklists and stablished procedures) and routines (things and processes I do on a regular schedule) >>

In principle, I agree with this. But in practice, I've often seen my routines grow and grow till they take up too much time every day.

No-list helped cure this. No-list seems to trigger the routines when they are most needed, and a natural rhythm develops, without the need for scheduled routines. I've found that the Seeded No-List system preserves this benefit of no-list but does even better at subordinating the routines to the critical things that must get done that day.

In other words: The real action happens in my focus work -- that's where I can really make a difference in my work and life. So I want my routines to support my focus work. Just enough time should be given to those routines to keep the routine maintenance in order, and not let it grow into a problem -- but no more. The idea is to get back to the focus work as quickly as possible, and spend as much time there as possible.

No-list accomplishes this by prompting you and niggling at you when those routines need attention.

<< This framework is just an idea. I will work with this frame during this week and report them the results. >>

I am looking forward to hear how you are getting along with this!
May 15, 2017 at 7:30 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

I like this idea. For a long time, I did something similar: identify three of my tasks as the 'Big 3' for today, and declare success if I did those. Putting the N (starting with N=6) commit-list items at the top of the list, and creating a fresh list each day, seems like a good way to keep focus. And decrementing N tomorrow if you fail today is a straightforward way to manage your expectations and give yourself feedback on how much you can really do.

As Mark said, it's important to specify (quantify) the completion criterion for each item 'above the line' (not so much for the catch-all items below the line).

Thanks for suggesting this approach.
May 15, 2017 at 17:34 | Registered Commenterubi
ubi - Thanks! And let us know how it works out for you if you try it!
May 16, 2017 at 20:37 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
After trying this system with some of my kids, and getting some feedback offline, I would make one change to the rules.

During startup, begin with only 1 item on the commit list. Let it grow from there.

The reason for the change: it can feel like failure to start at six and then drop to five, then to four, then to three. But it can feel like growth and increasing level of challenge to start at one, grow to two, grow to three, etc.

When thinking about this, I was reminded of a quote from Stephen Covey:

<< As we make and keep commitments, even small commitments, we begin to establish an inner integrity that gives us the awareness of self-control and the courage and strength to accept more of the responsibility for our own lives. By making and keeping promises to ourselves and others, little by little, our honor becomes greater than our moods. >>
May 16, 2017 at 20:38 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
(I started with six because that's the number in the Jane Westman approach.)
May 16, 2017 at 20:42 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

My main problem with the idea of this system - which I haven't tried in exactly this form yet though I've worked with plenty of similar systems - is that if you've done the six (or whatever) tasks you've had a successful day, but if you haven't done them then you haven't had a successful day.

So when I did 112 out of 176 possible tasks in one day using NQ-FVP was that a successful day or not? And if I'd identified six of those tasks in advance and done only those, would my day have been more successful?

What I'm getting at is that one thing I've learned by bitter experience in the past is that selecting a small number of tasks which must be done during the day can be a recipe for procrastination and a low volume of work.
May 16, 2017 at 21:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, thank you for these observations! It gave me some ideas, which led to this post:

I wouldn't define success in either of the ways you described.

In the Seeded No-List system, completing the items on the "commit list" isn't the only requirement for success. I would agree it's necessary (at least most of the time), but not sufficient. You also need to be able to deal with whatever unplanned work comes up during the day, make progress on other work to an adequate degree, stay on top of your maintenance items, etc.

Also, if changing circumstances required me to abandon my commit list and do other things, then completing my commit list and leaving those other things undone would be a failure. Something like that happened to me over the weekend.

And in the NQ-FVP scenario, the large volume of work completed does not guarantee success. If you completed 112 trivial items and left 64 more impactful items untouched, I would not call that a success. I am not implying that's what you did -- but I know I've done that kind of thing many times when working my catch-all systems.

I completely agree with the way you are describing this problem in your third paragraph -- I've had the same bitter experience. My answer is in the new discussion post.
May 17, 2017 at 0:28 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

Ok, maybe success is the wrong word. But the fact remains that your system relies on committing yourself to a small number of specific tasks with a reward if you do them all and a penalty if you don't.

In NQ-FVP on the other hand the aim is to do everything - and to do it as quickly as possible. And that by and large is what it succeeds in doing.
May 17, 2017 at 1:31 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I myself didn't feel the increasing/decreasing of the items on the commit list to be a reward or penalty. To me it was just a kind of regulator to help me assess my overall workload and mix of planned vs unplanned work. It *does* feel really nice when I get all the things done on the commit list. But the reward is that satisfaction of completing some substantial pieces of work, and in getting a sense of closure. It feels a lot like DIT in that way. Closed lists like that have a powerful draw.

A few other people did say it FELT like a reward/penalty system. And I can relate to that.

But I don't feel like that's the main mechanism behind the system. There's no need to make it a hard and fast rule. Which is why I removed the rule from the updated version posted at

The rule to increase or decrease the commit list is now a suggestion or guideline. The idea behind the number isn't to get a reward or penalty but to find the right number that can be sustained over time.
May 17, 2017 at 4:10 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

Out of interest, do you manage to get all the tasks done on your commit list without any dismissal or procrastinating? Interesting to see if it is working over a longer period of time.

I have tried something similar in the past and find that naturally urgent or difficult things end up on the short list. I tend to resist them more. How odd....

I think we are all different and a few lucky people have no procrastination what so ever (the ones you get instant replies from), most are somewhere in the middle and deal with things in a week or two. A few have serious procrastination issues and have a bunch of thing that hang around for ages - maybe some people reading these blogs?
May 17, 2017 at 11:54 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
Me Backlog:

So far, with three commit items, I am very happy with this system. Just enough focus and emphasis on those three items that I have always been getting them done. And enough flexibility and responsiveness to deal with new issues, stay on top of regular maintenance, and handle all the odds and ends. My project backlog has been declining as I am regularly getting things finished. There hasn't been any resistance or procrastination.

I'm struggling a bit balancing work and personal items. I think this is actually just revealing the fact that I have very little time for any serious attention to personal and family projects during the week. On the weekends, it worked fine focusing on three or four personal/family items to get done.

Lots of systems start strong but then show their weak points over time, so we'll see where this one goes.
May 17, 2017 at 22:07 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Oh that is good.

Interesting how trying a new system gets good results to start with and then it seems difficult to stick with over a length of time - I suppose easy to fall back into bad habits.

Certainly that was the case with me on trying short list type of systems. I just got distracted on the more shouty/urgent things and the list just seems to get buried....

I seem to be getting success recently with more of a DIT type system and just working through the oldest first and feeding bits of the backlog in each day.

Also, I have delegated and reduced commitments and that has certainly equalised the work in roughly to equal work out.

It all seems so much easier to manage when up to date and resistance to tasks is much less in the current state of play.

I wonder if certain systems are better suited to the state people are in (i.e. up to date, overloaded, etc). I suppose one day an ideal solution to fit all will emerge....
May 18, 2017 at 12:52 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
Completing 6 of 6 lines or 112 of 176 is probably comparing 6 apples to 176 mixed fruits.

I _suspect_ the differences are:

a) Importance and urgency. Every one of those six lines is of high value and urgency. If it's ok to leave 64 of the 176 undone, those are probably of lower value and/or urgency.

b) Granularity. In the past, Mark has listed washing dishes as a separate task. I usually combine several housework tasks on the same line.

c) Today vs Soon vs Maybe Never. Seraphim's six have been chosen for today. Whether they are done to day matters. I suspect the 176 includes many that can be delayed with no major consequences, and some will eventually be deleted.

I usually define success as looking back and being pleased with my choices for the day. I try to predict what will make the day a success, but accept that a plan is only as good as the map, and no map is perfect.
May 24, 2017 at 21:25 | Registered CommenterCricket

Bear in mind that my aim is to do everything and to do it quickly. This as you say is quite different from _selecting_ six things to do and then doing them.

However the reason 64 of the 176 got left undone was not because they were of lower value or urgency, but because I keep on entering tasks throughout the day and these were the ones that by and large got entered later in the day.

I don't have any backlogs and my work is kept as up-to-date as circumstances permit.

To put it another way, I don't have to select the six tasks because I'm going to do them anyway.
May 24, 2017 at 23:37 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I'm intrigued by the idea of "everything". Does it mean if it ends up on your list, it all gets done? There are no tasks that get dropped because you decide it's not worth doing?

I could see how that could work if you are doing something like No-List FVP, where you don't enter tasks until you are about to start them. But I didn't think your current system operated that way.
May 25, 2017 at 20:40 | Registered CommenterSeraphim