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Discussion Forum > Definition for "staying on top of all work" © Seraphim

In the thread on his fundamental conflict over here:
http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2670494

Seraphim provided the following defintion for "staying on top of one's work":

>>>
I think "staying on top of my work" means maintaining a state in which:

(perceived demand on my time) <= (my perceived capacity)
<<<

I pondered it since then and found it terrific! But, am I overlooking something? Can anybody chime in and say something mean about it?

He himself criticizes it a bit:

>>>
But this is somewhat problematic. In one sense, the perceived demands on my time are ALWAYS greater than my capacity. There are always more opportunities for doing new valuable things than I could possibly ever accomplish in a thousand lifetimes. All of these represent some level of "demand".

So maybe I should narrow "perceived demand" to something like "the perceived demands which I have accepted" or "the perceived demands which I have implicitly allowed to place demands on my time and attention". I've let the dogs in through the gate -- now I have to deal with them. Or worse, maybe I don't even have a gate, and the dogs come and go as they please.
<<<

So, what about it? Any meanies?
May 28, 2017 at 19:00 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher
It seems as if you're on top of things when the demands of the things you're committed to - your authorized projects ( http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2016/2/20/authorised-projects-list.html ) - are within your perceived capacity. The infinite demands that one could never keep up with come from all the dreams, bright ideas, someday-maybes, etc, that haven't been allowed onto the authorized-project list.

This is purely theoretical on my part. I don't remember ever having been on top of things.
May 29, 2017 at 8:02 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
I suppose there are many ways to express the same idea. Here's another way:

Am I getting the results I want?
Am I doing it in a way that's sustainable?

For me, this gets more to the heart of the matter. I don't just want to feel like the demand is within my capacity. I also want to make sure the demand is for stuff that's really important to me.

I was thinking about this in the context of Mr Backlog's comments on Spinning Plates, here:
http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2672135#post2674452

Basically I want to focus as much time and attention as possible on the things that matter to me, while maintaining everything else in reasonable order with minimum attention and effort. If I do that, and do it sustainably over time, then I'd be on top of my work.

Not sure if that actually answers your question! LOL
May 31, 2017 at 7:45 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Keeping the things you _have_ to do under control so they don't interfere with the things you _want_ to do.
June 1, 2017 at 12:54 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<< Keeping the things you _have_ to do under control so they don't interfere with the things you _want_ to do. >>

I like that definition!
June 1, 2017 at 18:21 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Yes! And being able to recognize _have_ to do, _want_ to do, and all the other things on the list.
June 5, 2017 at 19:01 | Registered CommenterCricket
Cricket:

<< all the other things on the list >>

Doing things you don't either have to do or want to do is the definition of wasting time.
June 5, 2017 at 19:21 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Agreed. All the other things on the list are wasting time.

The challenge is sorting things correctly in the first place, and also noticing when a _have_ to or a _want_ to becomes neither. (Well, if a _have_ to becomes a waste, it wasn't a _have_ to in the first place, but we still have to notice that mistake and fix it.)
June 5, 2017 at 23:00 | Registered CommenterCricket
Cricket;

<<The challenge is sorting things correctly in the first place >>

Personally I don't see any point in sorting things. I don't put time-wasters on the list in the first place. The ones on the list are all going to be done, so they don't need to be treated differently from each other.

If I put something on the list which I subsequently discover I don't either need or want to do, then I delete it.
June 5, 2017 at 23:49 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Have to do, or want to do - or _ought_ to do?
June 6, 2017 at 15:27 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
Mark, you sort things correctly in the first place. Worthy of being on the list, or time-waster. I'm not as good at that step.

Thinking more, maybe I should add an extra step to every line: Consider whether this is worth doing.

In my initial enthusiasm, I "know" it's worth doing. Asking the question a few days later, especially after I've gotten a better feel for what's required, and sometimes a harsh reminder of the rest of my list, would be useful.

This applies to steps as well as projects. Sometimes, even though the original project is still worth doing, some of the steps in the original plan aren't.

(Atul Gawande in The Checklist Manifesto says that checklists should include steps that are often missed, no matter how obvious. The official Boeing checklist for engine failure in flight starts with "Fly the plane." Many pilots get so caught up with diagnosing the problem or calling the tower that they forget to fly the plane.)

Chris, The word _ought_ is a red flag for me. My reactions to it are unpredictable, but I'm trying to use curiosity. What will happen if I don't?
June 6, 2017 at 16:29 | Registered CommenterCricket
@Cricket: "Mark, you sort things correctly in the first place. Worthy of being on the list, or time-waster. I'm not as good at that step."

If you don't mind me answering this Mark: This is why we use systems: they help us sort things correctly. It is not that tasks have to be worthy opf being placed on the system list, but the system has to help you sort things out and highlight those worthy of being done and discard those that are not worthy of doing.

But note that such systems HELP us do this sorting; ultimately it is up to us to use such a system correctly and choose the worthwhile tasks.
June 6, 2017 at 16:52 | Registered Commenternuntym
Chris Cooper:

<< Have to do, or want to do - or _ought_ to do? >>

What's the difference between have to do and ought to do?
June 6, 2017 at 18:06 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Cricket:

<< Consider whether this is worth doing.>>

I didn't say anything about whether it is worth doing.
June 6, 2017 at 18:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
nuntym:

<< This is why we use systems: they help us sort things correctly.>>

Some systems may do that, but I don't think that's the primary purpose of systems. Systems are there to enable us to do things systematically.

And to do that in a context of constantly shifting priorities, time pressures, degrees of readiness and so forth.
June 6, 2017 at 18:16 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
@ Mark Forster

>What's the difference between have to do and ought to do?

No difference at all, for saints.
June 6, 2017 at 19:05 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
Chris Cooper:

What's the difference for you then?
June 6, 2017 at 19:34 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I'm currently working through quick tasks in the morning and then longer tasks in the afternoon.
All worked in chrono order (oldest first) and trying not to procrastinate on the harder tasks.

Feels productive and maybe addresses some of the "staying on top of my work" issues.
Lots of quick wins and I know the longer tasks are all scheduled in.

Anyone tried something similar? There are may systems on this blog, so I expect it is covered somewhere...
June 7, 2017 at 12:03 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
@ Mark Forster

> What's the difference for you then?

About things I have to do, I have no choice.

About things I ought to do, I have a choice, which might not be easy.

Saints treat "ought to" as "have to". I don't.
June 7, 2017 at 14:04 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
Chris Cooper:

<< About things I have to do, I have no choice. >>

Saint or no saint, one always has a choice. Therefore by your definition there are no have-to's, only ought-to's.

So for you I will amend my definition of being on top of your work to:

Keeping the things you _ought_ to do under control so they don't interfere with the things you _want_ to do.
June 7, 2017 at 19:55 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
The difference to me between ought to (or American should) and have to is consequences, reason for doing, and whether I actually expect to do it. It's a sliding scale, and there's a lot of overlap.

I have to buy enough food for the family and store it properly. If I don't, very bad things will happen.

I ought to cook full meals every night. That's what Mom did. If I don't, my family will have to cook for themselves. I ought to exercise more often. That will improve my odds for a long, healthy life. I ought to hand-make all my Christmas presents. That's what Martha Stewart says. (Therapists sometimes consider "ought to" a clue as to where to look deeper.)

"No difference at all for saints." Saints do the right thing, even when they don't have to. (Or maybe for them, there is no middle ground. Things I will do. Things I will not do. Nothing sort'a important that they won't do, but feel guilty about admitting.)

_Have to_ usually means I expect to do it. _Ought to_ means I am considering not doing it. Often, when I look at why I think I ought to do it, and the consequences of doing or not doing, I realize that I'm better off not doing it.

There's a lot of overlap.

(Americans, and Canadians, don't use should or ought as "expect it to happen." "You should do well in school," is telling a child to do well or else bad things will happen. It doesn't mean "You studied, so I would be surprised if you don't.")
June 7, 2017 at 22:20 | Registered CommenterCricket
Cricket:

That all just goes to show that as soon as one introduces the concept of "ought" into time management one is on the way to having a huge guilt-ridden list of things that you really don't want to do at all, don't have time to do - and don't really have to do either.

My advice:

Keep the things you _have_ to do under control so they don't interfere with the things you _want_ to do. Forget the rest.
June 8, 2017 at 1:52 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Cricket:

<< Americans, and Canadians, don't use should or ought as "expect it to happen.>>

I was interested in this so googled the phrase "he should do well" and the very first entry was:

Donald Trump on Ted Cruz: 'He should do well in Maine, because it's very close to Canada.'
June 8, 2017 at 12:25 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
@Mark Forster

>
as soon as one introduces the concept of "ought" into time management one is on the way to having a huge guilt-ridden list ...
>

But if the concept of "ought" exists in one's life, how can one keep it out of time management?

The three-way must/ought/want division seems a useful planning tool to me.
June 8, 2017 at 12:55 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
Mark, I stand corrected. If I'd read an American say that, I'd interpret it correctly: odds are good it will do well in Maine. On the other hand, If Dad told me that I should do well in school, I'd take it as an order to study more. I have to think twice when reading British books.

Sigh. Another word to be very careful using.

Chris and Mark, Yes, getting rid of the ought-tos (deleting them, or deciding that they are actually have-tos and actually doing them) is a good way to prune the list, get rid of guilt, and have more time for the haves and wants.
June 8, 2017 at 22:07 | Registered CommenterCricket
Chris Cooper:

<< But if the concept of "ought" exists in one's life, how can one keep it out of time management? >>

First of all, let's get back to the subject of this thread, which is the definition of being on top of one's work.

I said that to be on top of one's work you need to be in control of everything you _have_ to do. Are you are saying that in addition you need to be in control of everything you _ought_ to do as well?

In that case you don't need to make the distinction. Just do them all.
June 8, 2017 at 22:27 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Cricket:

<< If Dad told me that I should do well in school, I'd take it as an order to study more.>>

I think we'd tend to say "You should study more"

The following would be perfectly normal British English.

"Your results are not good enough. You should work harder"

"You should check your tyre-pressures every week"

"You should train properly before attempting to run a marathon"

"You should get that dent repaired"
June 8, 2017 at 22:41 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
@ Mark Forster

>
Are you are saying that in addition you need to be in control of everything you _ought_ to do as well?
>

Well, yes.

>
In that case you don't need to make the distinction. Just do them all.
>

Fair enough.

Chris
June 11, 2017 at 8:58 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
I concur with Cricket's understanding of the words.

"Keep the things you _have_ to do under control so they don't interfere with the things you _want_ to do. Forget the rest." - Mark Forster.

So since I don't have to "eat my vegetables" and don't "want" to do so (but I ought to), I should forget about it? How would you fit that chore in your taxonomy?
June 11, 2017 at 21:09 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

I would say that if you have decided you want to eat healthily, then you _have_ to do it.

Just as if someone decides they want to run a marathon, they _have_ to do the training, or fail miserably.

The trouble with "ought" is that it is often followed by a stated or unstated "but", e.g.

I ought to eat my vegetables but it won't matter if I leave them just this once

I ought to do my training today, but I just don't feel like it.
June 12, 2017 at 10:06 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark's explanation makes sense. That unstated "but" is the important part.

The ADHD parenting class pointed out that "but" usually erases the first half of the sentence.

"Yes, M, you have very good reasons for doing that, but you should do this."

They recommended using "and also", but daughter learned in improv this year that "and" often does the same thing. "I see the elephant (that you were talking about), and I also see this penguin (and am going to change the direction of the scene)."
June 12, 2017 at 15:53 | Registered CommenterCricket