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Discussion Forum > Doting On My List

I'm enjoying the system I have now, and it's somewhat different, so I thought I'd share. (And also a small pun.)

Using a Moleskine "reporter" style book, hardcover ~100 pages, but small enough to fit in a pocket. The reporter style flips up instead of flipping sideways, and I found this is much easier to hold open and to flip pages than a normal left to right notebook.

Moleskines come with an elastic band to hold the book or pages closed, and I liked the feature so much I added two ordinary rubber bands to the book. One band holds the dead pages at the back, one band holds the dead pages at the front, and one band holds the blank pages together. So what's left is I have my working list as a small bunch of pages free to flip through at the front, and I can always easily access the first unfinished page as well as the new page with a simple flip. And at the back I have a few reference lists: routines checklist, goals, weeklies, and the rare scheduled items. These are also easily accessible with a simple flip and turn a page thanks to the rubber banding.

Now the main list also has a unique spin that I like very much: Dotting. It reduces rewriting, and cuts down on the number of pages even without putting any restriction on adding tasks or impetus for deleting older tasks. (Though I nevertheless am also picky about what I add, and do make an effort to get rid of chaff.)

The process goes like this: Whenever I get to a new page, I take a ruler and draw a wide margin, big enough to draw 5 dots. Whenever I work an item on this last page, instead of rewriting, I just mark it with a dot to the left of the margin. When I finish the task, I draw a line linking the dot to the margin. I cycle through this page as much as I want, eventually accumulating several dots to some frequently executed tasks, all connected with a line .

On older pages (by now all having the margin and linked dots), when I pick a task I draw a dot at the left edge of the paper. When I finish the task I get to connect the dot straight across the line. I might then reenter it or a related task at the end of the list. (So yes, there is some rewriting.) To clarify, this part is no different from Simple Scanning, except for how it looks.

Visually, it's a very striking approach. It is always immediately obvious what things I did once, what I did multiple times, what I didn't touch, what is completed (on this page), and what things are not completed. Also, the tasks listed are generally NOT crossed out at all (just the dots and lines to the left) so it's smooth reading.

One final feature, I generally only write on the lower page of an open pair, which leaves the upper pages free for any sporadic notes I need to take.
December 3, 2017 at 3:20 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Hi alan. amazing system. Could you show a picture linked with evernote or anything else ?
December 3, 2017 at 7:49 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
Alan:

It sounds as if it might be a very interesting system but I have to confess I don't understand how it works.

As I understand what you've written (and I've spent nearly an hour puzzling over it), this is what happens:

You can circulate round the last page as many times as you like and instead of re-entering tasks you just dot them. You don't say it, but I assume you cross out tasks that are completely finished.

Other than that it's exactly the same as Simple Scanning. On earlier pages you cross out and re-enter in the normal way.

Is that right? If so, can you clarify the following:

If there are only a few tasks on the last page, circulating the page may not occur at all. On the other hand if the page is nearly full, it's very likely that a new last page will come into being very quickly and circulation will then presumably move to the new page. In which case it would stop immediately as there would only be one or two tasks on the page.

Very little visual advantage would seem to be obtained in either of these cases, which must happen about a third of the time. So I don't really see quite what the advantage of this system is over standard Simple Scanning.

Alternatively you might have meant that as well as circulating round the last page you can work on any task on any page up to four times without re-entering and only have to re-enter on the fifth. This makes more sense to me, but isn't what the instructions say. It still leaves the question of what happens if the last page fills up and a new last page is started, but that's a relatively minor point.
December 3, 2017 at 16:25 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
hm, looks like i need to explain a little clearer. To be certain, at this point I consider the physical aspects more significant than the actual rules for processing which I don't claim are anything special. Indeed I go more by feel than any actual "you must do this". But to satifisfy the curious I will write a precise instruction:

0. We have one continuous list written on pages. Pages don't matter except for the last active page which is handled differently.
1. I work with a 22 line page. I don't know how much this matters but this number feels good and I don't think smaller would. Likewise, 50 lines might be too much. This only matters when dealing with the last page.
2. When you start a new page, establish a 1" margin for dotting.
3. Whenever a task comes to mind that you want to do, write it at the end of the list.

4. Scan through the list from front to back selecting any task that stands out to work on it.
5. When you select a task not on the last page, mark it with a dot at the left edge of the page. Do the task. Cross the task out. If the task is to be continued later, reenter that task at the end.
5a. You may also decide to delete a task. Just cross it out.

Thus far, it's just Simple Scanning. Now comes the unique part.

6. When you select a task ON the last page, mark it with a dot by the margin, do the task, but DO NOT cross the task out. Instead, just draw a line from that dot to the margin, indicating that you worked on it and set it aside.
6a. If later you work this task again and this is still the last page, mark a dot beside the first one. When you finish, draw a line connecting this dot to the previous one. You can do this as often as necessary.
6b. (Visually, if you see a lone dot on the page, that's the task you are doing now. All other dots are linked to the margin with a horizontal line running through them.)

7. When you get to the end of the list, you may return to the top of the current page to continue doing more tasks on this page. Or you may go back to the start of the list. Your whim.
7a. Keep in mind #3. If you want to do something not on this page, you can just write it in and do it.
7b. I'm very flexible. If I feel like referring back a page for some idea of something to do, I will.

8. The original post mentioned a few other lists at the other end of the book. Each of these is just called out as a task in the main list.

Next up, answering Mark's questions.
December 4, 2017 at 1:00 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
In response to Mark's inferences.

"You don't say it, but I assume you cross out tasks that are completely finished."

Correct.

"If there are only a few tasks on the last page, circulating the page may not occur at all. On the other hand if the page is nearly full, it's very likely that a new last page will come into being very quickly and circulation will then presumably move to the new page. In which case it would stop immediately as there would only be one or two tasks on the page."

Oddly this doesn't come up much. If there are very few tasks, I end up adding some in order to tackle a key task with repeated iteration. If there are many tasks, I don't feel a need to add much, as there's always something important to select, besides these same key tasks which I will pick a couple times over. The result is the page only tends to grow if it's mostly empty.

But yes if it does fill up and I start a new page, I will end up copying some of these items onto the next just as a matter of course And if things don't feel exactly right I adjust to do what feels right.

"Very little visual advantage would seem to be obtained in either of these cases, which must happen about a third of the time. So I don't really see quite what the advantage of this system is over standard Simple Scanning."

As I explained above, those cases don't happen as often as you expect. But what does happen is instead of the list growing downwards spreading over more pages, we have a last page that fills up and has very few crossed-off items even though I did work on many. It keeps the list more compact. The visual advantage I claim is not about the process at all, but rather the layout. It ust feels "neat".

"Alternatively you might have meant that as well as circulating round the last page you can work on any task on any page up to four times without re-entering and only have to re-enter on the fifth. This makes more sense to me, but isn't what the instructions say."

The rules I follow are based on a work pattern I devised years ago. The pattern is to quickly scan through the entire list, picking items, getting each of them ready, and entering them at the end. Having done this, you quickly reach the end, where you have a list of all items you are ready to spend more time on. So at that point it's natural to focus on them and get that bunch to completion, hence the cycling of that last page. Not rewriting them over and over when you get there is a recent innovation.

Finally, I don't claim this is better than or more efficient than or more effective than any other method. I only claim that it's been good to me for a month.
December 4, 2017 at 1:24 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan:

Thank you very much for clarifying. I understand it now - at least as far as one can without having tried it out yet.

I'm trying to put this into my own experience of Simple Scanning. I'm nearly at the end of my list as I write but not quite at the point yet where my previous scan ended. After the last crossed-out task there are 23 tasks before the end. Since none of these tasks have yet been crossed out they are in a quite clear and distinct block.

It strikes me that this block of tasks corresponds to your last page, but since it is in fact spread over two pages only the last three tasks would be circulated if I stuck to your rules.

It would however be easy for me to draw a line at the beginning of this block of 23 tasks and treat the block as a virtual page which I can circulate round for as long as I want. Anything which I then add to the list would get included in the circulation.

This sounds very like what you are doing, but not constricted by where the boundary of the last page chances to fall.

I might give it a try, though I'd be worried by the fact that I move through the list at different speeds at different times of day, and concentrating on the end of the list might upset that movement.

I'll report back!
December 4, 2017 at 14:15 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Alan,

I second Jupiter's motion for a visual example - perhaps a video clip if you are willing to make the effort.

If I understand correctly, *all* pages would have the margin with multiple dots for repeated actions, (if you start this approach by making a short fresh list). And the special rules for the last page are a way to cause old full pages to get crossed off sooner, while reducing the need to rewrite current active tasks that naturally land on the last page.
December 4, 2017 at 16:38 | Registered Commenterubi
Mark, a quick read but without thinking it through, I think I'm in agreement with what you write. That bit about worrying about getting stuck at the end, I have two thoughts on: a) it's your choice to stick or to move on. B) I think I have different priorities than you. I rarely am rushing to do another turn through the whole list whereas you seem to make that a priority.

Ubi, I will get to it eventually when I feel I have a good representative last page I'll link a couple pics. But no, it does not get anything crossed out more quickly in list terms, except it does push some tasks to get more action in a short period of time. To the contrary, the process reduces pages by not crossing things out as often.
December 4, 2017 at 19:29 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan:

<< That bit about worrying about getting stuck at the end, I have two thoughts on: a) it's your choice to stick or to move on. >>

Yes, of course. But one's choices are heavily influenced by the design of the system in which one is working, which is why I've spent so long trying to get this right.

<< B) I think I have different priorities than you. I rarely am rushing to do another turn through the whole list whereas you seem to make that a priority.

To be clear I don't have a priority to rush to do another turn through the whole list. My priority is to react appropriately to times of day, energy levels, etc, To do that one needs to keep up a good pace on the list.
December 4, 2017 at 20:11 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I'm not convinced your last sentence is true.
December 4, 2017 at 22:11 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan:

<< I'm not convinced your last sentence is true. >>

OK, I'll amend it to "To do that I need to keep up a good pace on the list."
December 4, 2017 at 23:16 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I like this 5 dot system.
Very good to see at a glance how much progress is made on recurring tasks.
That should help balancing the attention they all get.
Great idea....I will incorporate it in my short task list system.
December 5, 2017 at 21:56 | Unregistered CommenterMrBaclog
MrBaclog:

Are you going to be reducing your name by one letter every time you reduce your backlog?
December 6, 2017 at 13:15 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Good one!
I have a new name....it certainly feels like that today.
December 6, 2017 at 13:24 | Unregistered CommenterMr Clog
Mr Clog:

Next stage is Mr Cog I suppose
December 6, 2017 at 13:36 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Sorry - run out of any witty replies!
December 6, 2017 at 16:45 | Unregistered CommenterMr Clog
December 10, 2017 at 2:47 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Thank you for posting pictures. I like the way the finish line goes all the way across.
December 11, 2017 at 3:06 | Unregistered CommenterErin
Thank you Erin.

And in case anybody missed it, "Doting" means "to express excessive fondness for". I realize it's just a list, but at the same time for some reason I really enjoy this much more than similar ones I've had before.
December 12, 2017 at 3:38 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
I've thought more deeply about Mark's suggested modification, and even tried some variants, and the conclusion for me is, No. There are a few key things that are working for me that have only worked with the current structure. I'm going to begin by restating the rules:

0. Pages build up like with any similar system. If you think of something to do, write it down.

1. Start at the last page. While on this page, you are in Free Mode.
a. In freemode, you may work on anything whatsoever by writing it down and doing it.
b. If it's already written on the page, you can just mark it instead of writing it again.
c. (Full details of how things are marked, etc. are described previously. My point here is to focus on Selecting and Doing, not the marking.)

2. At any time, you may switch over to Simple Scanning. Operate exactly as described in Mark Forster's blog. When you reach the end of the list, return to Free Mode.

What I like about my rule 1:
1. It's great for low-energy times. Never-ending scanning gets tiresome sometimes, and especially for me the rewriting. Instead, just looking at a single page, no flipping, going with my heart, and minimal pen work is excellent.
2. It's great for when there's little time available. I open to the last page, write some things, do some things, and can quit any time.
3. It's great for focusing on a big project. Sometimes it's a thing that takes hours, but best spent 15 minutes at a time. So I will Simply Scan through the entire list, pick up a hand full of things to work on, and then at the end I can do Big Project, Small Thing Small Thing, Big Project, Small Thing, Small Thing, and in half a day I will not only have major progress on one Big thing, I will have completed several things with very little distraction.

All 3 of those are very important to me. When these qualties fail, I have a tendency to abandon use of any system for a period of time. Abandoning systems is long-term detrimental, but sticking with a system and running into situations counter to these qualities is a burden that I can't sustain.

Meanwhile, rule 2's biggest plus for me is getting things out of my mind, and not be worried that i will forget one of them.
December 15, 2017 at 1:57 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

<< I've thought more deeply about Mark's suggested modification, and even tried some variants, and the conclusion for me is, No. >>

I had to re-read the entire thread in order to find out what my suggested modification was!

It sounds as if you've found something which continues to work for you - and others as well - which is excellent news. I haven't tried it myself yet, but as soon as I get to my next last page (which is currently one page away) I'll have a look and see how well I think it might work for me. I'll comment again shortly.
December 15, 2017 at 10:51 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Alan Baljeu:

Right I've reached my last page. On a page of 31 lines, I have 17 tasks. I'll just remind myself of your instructions about what to do next:

"The process goes like this: Whenever I get to a new page, I take a ruler and draw a wide margin, big enough to draw 5 dots. Whenever I work an item on this last page, instead of rewriting, I just mark it with a dot to the left of the margin. When I finish the task, I draw a line linking the dot to the margin. I cycle through this page as much as I want, eventually accumulating several dots to some frequently executed tasks, all connected with a line ."

Ok, I can cycle through the page as much as I want so I don't need to do the tasks in the order they are on the page. Let's go.

The first thing I note is that I feel impelled to read through the tasks on the page in order to decide which to do first. I wasn't expecting that.

(A few minutes later) I've completed everything I want to do on the page, which is three tasks none of which I want to do again immediately. So the net effect is that by ruling a margin and drawing three short lines,I've saved having to re-write five words.

The problem is that all the tasks on the last page are tasks I've only just worked on on previous pages. If I hadn't been running this test it's quite likely I wouldn't have re-done any of them at this stage. And thinking about how my list usually pans out, I suspect it's going to be the case most of the time that the tasks on the page will will have been already worked on very recently.

Obviously this is not your experience, but I'm not sure what we are doing differently which produces the different result.
December 15, 2017 at 11:27 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark

I'm not sure but I think Alan may be gathering a small number of tasks/projects from the list and "promoting" them to the last page so that he can cycle around them as he wishes.
December 15, 2017 at 12:17 | Registered CommenterCaibre65
Caibre65:

Yes, on re-reading it all (again!) I see that you're right.

This gathering of the projects one wants to work on at the end of the list takes place naturally in Simple Scanning in any case.

Using Alan's method, gathering all these tasks at the end of the list presumably involves scanning the list and re-entering the tasks at the end of the list without actually doing any work on them - this seems to add to the burden of scanning and re-entering rather than diminishing it. You'd have to work on the brought-forward tasks three times before you saw any benefit.
December 15, 2017 at 15:42 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Probably a significant difference lies in daily usage patterns. Whereas you tend to work all day every day with this (more or less), my habit has been some days for 20 min up to an hour, other days not at all, and only occasionally for a longer period of several hours.

A consequence of this limited time is I would often open to the last page and do some things and never get around to scanning through everything.

I also observe you did not add anything while working that last page where I often would.
December 15, 2017 at 18:27 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

<< my habit has been some days for 20 min up to an hour, other days not at all, and only occasionally for a longer period of several hours. >>

So what method(s) do you use for the rest of the time?
December 15, 2017 at 20:44 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
No Method. Simply, I am not working at other times. Or I am working on a single thing. Or I am away from home and otherwise occupied. But regardless of situation, if I am not running with the system described above, there is no other system employed.
December 16, 2017 at 5:39 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Today is a good example. I have lots of time and I've gone through the list exactly once. One of my tasks , laundry, involves taking clothes to the laundromat to dry. Knowing this, I took steps to prepare things for my time at the mat. These each ended up at the bottom of my list and consequently as I am now there waiting on the machine, I also have my list of ready items to work on, sitting on that final page.
December 16, 2017 at 18:36 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu