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I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. J. K. Rowling
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Discussion Forum > thinking about WIP - a modification to AF1

I have been pondering WIP lately -- how does it grow, what causes it to grow, how it is at the root of many vicious cycles in personal time management.

I've also been thinking of a modification to AF1 that helps distinguish WIP from new work. Basically you split each page into two columns -- left column for new tasks, right column for re-entered tasks. Only add new tasks and re-enter tasks on the last page (just like AF1). Start a new page when either column fills up. Follow dismissal rules as usual except a page with any active tasks in the right column is never dismissed.

I'm still not sure how to handle recurring tasks here. In a way, they are always WIP -- you always have the responsibility to do these. But for now, I am entering them into Column 1 when they are "done for now", and entering them into Column 2 when they are "unfinished". For example, I enter "email" into Column 1. When it stands out, I work on it. If I cleared my email for the day, then I re-enter it into Column 1 on the last active page. If I didn't finish clearing my email for the day, then I re-enter it into Column 2 on the last active page.

Here is a presentation with some of the ideas I've sketched out behind this:

It has a nice "dashboard" feel -- I can see how new tasks compare to WIP, and get a better sense of how much I am taking on. For me, I always have a lot of "new ideas" -- and I'm finding it's a lot easier to dismiss them when they are on their own page, not mixed up with WIP, which is where the real commitments tend to land.

It also has a nice diagnostic aspect to it. Basically, the only way WIP can increase is by re-entering unfinished tasks. And the only way that happens is by stopping work before a task is finished. And the only way that happens is if I go do something else instead. The diagnosis process is simply to look at each WIP task, and ask, "what caused me to leave this task and go do something else?" Then look at the most frequent causes.

Still working out the kinks but I'm having a lot of fun with this, and it has some of that wonderful AF1 feel to it. I'm expecting it will crash and burn like most of my other ideas, but maybe some folks here would like to observe the process. LOL
October 2, 2017 at 2:05 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
One more thing - the change to the dismissal rules has a rather dramatic effect. Dismissal doesn't feel like being penalized -- it feels like "winning" (which, I know, is how Mark always intended it to work!).

There isn't the fear of dismissing something "important" -- the only things left are new items that didn't get any traction (and recurring items that will tend to come back by themselves if needed).

This also enhances the "seedbed" effect of AF1 -- ideas are sifted and allowed to grow; the ones that don't sprout are dismissed.

This has changed dismissal from something that I subconsciously tried to avoid in AF1 (despite all of Mark's exhortations to the contrary!), into something I really try to do as often as I can. And the only way to get a page "dismissal-ready" is to move forward all the WIP items (or delete them). So it helps drive WIP items to completion - another big benefit.

By the way, "WIP" means "Work In Progress" = all the work that's been started but not finished.
October 2, 2017 at 2:58 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Interesting system, Seraphim!

I actually am trying out a somewhat similar system to yours in that it uses two columns: the right column is for new tasks and the left is for both WIP (per your terminology) and recurrent tasks. The right column tasks have two "days to live" before they are DDD'd like in RAF, while the left column tasks have seven "days to live" before they also get DDD'd.

While your system tries to root out reasons for procrastinating on your WIP tasks, mine tries to establish a weekly routine in which I ease in new tasks. I guess our systems are just tailor made for us: I use mine for house work and errands since scheduling at my work is a moot point, while you use yours for business.
October 2, 2017 at 6:49 | Registered Commenternuntym
Hi nuntym,

<< your system tries to root out reasons for procrastinating on your WIP tasks >>

It's more about getting control of overall WIP rather than dealing with procrastination.

It occurred to me that the only way WIP can increase is to start a task then stop before it's completed. Sometimes there are very good reasons for that -- "little and often" is a very powerful principle, after all. But taken too far, it results in WIP growing out of control, which slows everything down, and requires more and more overhead to manage.

<< it uses two columns >>

It's interesting we're both using the two-column approach. It's similar in some ways to SuperFocus (SFv3) but without the constant insistence on moving forward with every Column 2 item at every turn of the page. This new variant seems to get the benefits of the two SFv3 columns while preserving complete freedom of action.

<< I use mine for house work and errands since scheduling at my work is a moot point, while you use yours for business. >>

Yes, I use my system primarily for work but also for family and personal things as well. It's been working pretty well in both environments. Actually it was over the weekend managing family and personal things that it really started to get some traction. There is actually a stronger need for the seedbed-type filtering at home than at work. I guess we'll see how it plays out over time.
October 2, 2017 at 16:08 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim & Nuntym:

A couple of comments -

1) Instead of double columns one could also use the "stalagmite/stalactite" method of dividing the page.

2) For me the criteria is not whether something is "Work-in-Progress", but whether it's New Work, i.e. work which I haven't already been doing. This distinction is important because it is all about traces being laid down in the brain. Therefore in answer to Seraphim's concern about where to re-enter "done for now" tasks, I would definitely come down on the side of re-entering them in the WIP column, at least if they were going to recur within a day or two.
October 3, 2017 at 10:25 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark -

(1) Yes, I have played with doing this with the stalagmite/stalactite method. It has a very similar effect. Personally I like counting each 2-page spread as a "page", and entering new tasks on the left, re-entered tasks on the right.

(2) Yes, I can see how that approach might be better. I've been trying it both ways to see what works for me in practice.

October 3, 2017 at 16:23 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Inspired by Mark's latest blog post

I decided to drop the dismissal rules altogether, and just let pages be dismissed/deleted whenever that occurs naturally.

Also, I have gone back to the stalagmite/stalactite method. That's what I tried at first, and it's just simpler. So Mark's intuition was correct there as well.

I still see value in visually emphasizing the difference between new tasks and re-entered tasks. And it has diagnostic value as well. So I think I'll keep doing this, rather than switch to Simple Scanning altogether as Mark's blog would suggest.

The result is a much simpler system that should prove even more effective. Thanks Mark!!
October 4, 2017 at 18:50 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Thinking about new tasks vs work in progress. I prefer calling the sides Inactive and Active.

"Neatly set down project" is an important task. Assemble the stray notes in one place, put it in the file cabinet, make notes in case you want to pick it up again, or someone else wants to take over, and tell anyone who needs to know. That formally gets it out of WIP. As Mark said, "it is all about traces being laid down in the brain." Actively closing it, and knowing it's closed, at least for now, tells your brain to let it rest.

Then it goes on the inactive side. Yes, you had started it, but now you've Stopped it.
October 6, 2017 at 16:51 | Registered CommenterCricket
I've been operating under a similar premise. The distinguishing question for me is, "do i plan to continue working on this (today)?" If yes, it goes to the active column.
October 7, 2017 at 20:49 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Thanks for the suggestion of stalactite/stalagmite, Mark. Like Seraphim noted for his own system, it made mine simpler to work on.

<< For me the criteria is not whether something is "Work-in-Progress", but whether it's New Work, i.e. work which I haven't already been doing. This distinction is important because it is all about traces being laid down in the brain.>>

I agree on this and I think what I am using reflects this outlook.
October 9, 2017 at 4:58 | Registered Commenternuntym