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Discussion Forum > Confused about implementation systems


Although I'm new to all of you, I'm not new to the Final Version, or some of the other systems that Mark has put into place. I love the simplicity of it all, but am having trouble making them work for me on a day to day basis, and would love some insight from you.

Here's the deal on my life:

I work full time. This job consists of marketing, human resources, and database management. There's a lot of strategy here, but it's also very reactive, with emails and messages flying around that need immediate response.
I'm exploring other career paths (taking online courses, talking to people, etc)
I have a separate online business that I'd like to eventually take over my full time gig
I am a singer and multi-instrumentalist, and have gigs, lessons, and practice time
I have daily habits that I try to remember to do (workout, meditate, etc)
I'm married and run a house (bills, cleaning etc)

It really doesn't seem to make sense to me to keep everything in ONE uber long list. I currently have two separate lists, one for my full time job, and one for personal/home. I also use the reminders app on my iphone for anything that needs to happen on a scheduled date, and then I move that item over to my to do list that's in a paper notebook for that day.

Here's my problem:

-It still ends up that every day, even with trying to follow this system, I have so many urgent things that need to be accomplished, that I am writing new tasks down for the day, and only have time to accomplish the new ones, and not the back log of other things from the master list. I'm lucky if I can even finish all the things I'm reminding myself to do on any given day.

-I'm also dealing with a situation where my master list is getting too long, but everything on there is important. I'm tempted to create separate lists but then there's the issue of having separate lists (not seeing all the information at one place at one time). For example, let's say my task is "marketing" related. If I add it to the master list, I feel like it gets lost because my master list is too long. If I create a separate "marketing" list, then I have an entirely separate list, which has it's own set of problems (like not looking at it since it's on a separate list. That said, I'm just using marketing as an example. Every one of the things I have listed above could have it's own sub list because I have several things to do under each category.

-Regarding the marketing example, many timesI find myself just writing "marketing" instead of "create marketing calendar for next month" because I have so many things to do under that one category, but am not writing them all down because I feel like the information will get lost. Again, just using marketing as an example, but this could apply to any one of the above areas.

I've tried cutting down on the tasks needing to be completed, but it always ends up that I seem to have more to do than I can, and don't want to have an overly complicated way of managing this.

June 28, 2018 at 18:20 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria
Your post reminds me of myself. So here are some observations, and some things that have been helpful for me.

Let me try to summarize some key elements in what you are describing. Please tell me if this is accurate: There are many things that seem super important right now, but don’t get done today. They probably don't get done the next day either. In fact, a large number of them fade from importance after a few days, and NEVER get done, because other things have become more important. Or perhaps they resurface after days or weeks of lying dormant. They can resurface as a new emergency, or maybe because it's something you really want to do and just force your calendar to yield some time so you can work on it.

Is this basically accurate?

I found a few techniques that work really well with this situation.

One of them is Final Version Perfected (FVP). Use whatever variant makes the most sense for you -- I liked "Fast FVP" and "No Question FVP" the best.

This is a long-list system, but in your situation, you will probably always be working near the end of the list. You may quickly get to the point where you never revisit the earlier pages of the list. And that's OK.

It works well because it steers you to the things that are most important RIGHT NOW. It helps you stay in a productive flow, and focusing on the right things. FVP is really, really good at this.
June 29, 2018 at 0:24 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
One problem with the FVP approach I described above: sometimes it feels a little aimless, like you are always just processing the latest random thing. That's probably a reflection of the workload, more than a reflection of the system. Which just means, FVP can help, a lot, but it's not the complete answer.

The thing that really helped me was learning that all the urgency and pressure creates a powerful illusion that all this work is really important.

FVP made it very visible that many things I thought were important on Monday (and consumed half my day), by Friday had faded in importance almost completely, to be overtaken by something else.

This was puzzling - how could it feel so urgent and important, but then be so easily dropped, with no real consequences?

Then I had an emergency medical issue that forced me to stop working, and kept me away from work for almost three weeks.

All I could do was make a few short phone calls to coworkers and managers to let them know what was going on, and then hope for the best. And spend three weeks sitting in a chair without moving LOL.

It was a bit crazy for them all while I was out -- but it was really not a disaster or anything. It was a lot smoother than I thought it would have been. Probably half of the "urgent" stuff simply waited till I got back. And they dealt with the rest somehow.

What if, instead of taking a day off because of a medical emergency, I took a day off to think more strategically about what's really important in all this work? OK, maybe I feel like I can't take a whole day -- what about two hours? It feels impossible but it's not.

To me, this was the first step toward really reducing the craziness. Just force myself, from time to time, the oftener the better, to get away from the computer and the coworkers and meetings and everything, go lock myself in a conference room, and think for 2-3 hours.

How to make use of those strategic hours? There are a lot of techniques how to think about the work from this "big picture" perspective.

Mark writes about a lot of them in his books.

I usually use something like Greg McKeown's "most important hour of your life" technique:

Even better -- I *love* Clarke Ching's new book on managing your bottlenecks. It really gets to the heart of figuring out where your bottleneck is, and how to deal with it. You can get some real breakthroughs with his techniques (based on Theory of Constraints).

Hope you find something useful in all that. :-)
June 29, 2018 at 0:32 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
There are many great systems but they take a while to implement. As a quick fix and to retain your sanity I would suggest this: -

1. do all urgent tasks and stand out things as and when then come in as quickly as possible.
2. make sure you record the date all tasks come in or sort things into chrono order. etc.
3. Each day spend a bit of time reviewing tasks that are over say 2 weeks old (or a date of your choice depending on your circumstances).
4. Allocate some time to work on these older tasks each day as they will probably be just as urgent as the new tasks coming in. Idea being so you get everything done and nothing slips through the cracks (and so you don't drop a clanger on old tasks which is likely when loads of urgent things are cropping up all the time).
5. Devise a good carry forward system so tasks that need to be done in the future are dealt with at the right time.
6. If you are constantly not able to keep up with your work to your choice of timescales, then after a few months then you must look to reduce your work commitments and delegate to others.
7. Be mindful of what is really urgent and what is not. Don't get into the habit of just doing tasks there and then because you don't trust your system to do it at the right time.

Hope that helps!
June 29, 2018 at 9:00 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog

Some good points raised by Seraphim and MrBacklog (both of whom, I hope they will forgive me for saying, have plenty of experience with this problem!)

Here's a few points I would like to add:

1. The question is not how important something is but whether you should be doing it at all.

2. The only sensible criteria for prioritizing is URGENCY

3. Urgency relates to when you need to START the task, not to when you need to finish it.

4. There are two types of urgent tasks. The first is tasks which are urgent in themselves. The second is tasks which have only become urgent because you haven't done anything about them before.

5. If you stick to using Urgency as your method of prioritising, you will avoid too many of the second type of urgent.

6. The best system for this type of situation is FVP with "What is more urgent than x?" as the question.

7. Finally, don't forget that even with the finest system in the world you can't fit a quart into a pint pot (which brings us back to point 1)
June 29, 2018 at 16:25 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

I cope with similar situations by using One Day FVP. It's a method that hasn't attracted a lot of attention on here. However, I use the outliner Checkvist rather than paper. I think Mark intended it as a no-list system but I use a master list and do a quick sort into a "today sublist". When something new comes up it either goes into the today list or the masterlist as appropriate. Prioritising the "today" list using the FVP algorithm is very effective and responsive to changes.
June 29, 2018 at 19:08 | Registered CommenterCaibre65

The problem with One Day FVP in this situation is that the sort into a "today sublist" interferes with the big picture of what your activities should be, which is the whole point of FVP.

You're right that I intended it to be a "No List" system. The one thing I have consistently hated is master lists. That of course needn't stop you from using them if you wish!
June 29, 2018 at 19:24 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I used the term master list more as a response to Victoria’s use of it in her opening post. I don’t really use the term for my own list. Though I am curious why you think it is different from an Autofocus list or an FV list. Surely it’s just a list of reminders to do things. The only difference I think is that you apply a set of simple rules to select items for action.

I got the impression that Victoria found this long list of hers somewhat overwhelming. Though perhaps I’m reading too much into that. I certainly feel overwhelmed when I try to work directly from a long list. My solution , that works for me at least, is to perform a single scan of the whole list selecting all items that stand out for action that day. Once these are grouped together I process using FVP. I add in to the sublist and move items from this base list as I progress through the day. It’s very fluid and flexible but doesn’t freak me out when I look at it.

My own work list in Checkvist is labelled “Today - Not Today” Checkvist lets you create a line that separates the list. Today items I have above the line and Not Today items below the line.
June 29, 2018 at 23:18 | Registered CommenterCaibre65

If I am understanding you right, you and Victoria are using the term "master list" to describe two different things.

She is using it as a synonym for "long list" as the term is used on this website.

While you are using it to mean a list from which as shorter list is extracted for a day or other period. As I said I hate master lists of this type - my reason is that they disguise the amount of work that you have taken on. They tend to become like an attic in which all sorts of old stuff is mouldering.

If someone finds their long list overwhelming the reason is probably that it IS overwhelming. (See my Point 7 above).

The solution is to reduce one's commitments, not hide most of them out of sight.

But if what you are doing works for you, don't let me put you off it!
June 30, 2018 at 0:31 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thank you very much for recommended Bottleneck Rules. I bought the ebook and read it today. (Nice and short.) Very interesting. I will need to take some time to figure out how I'm going to apply the thought process to myself in my personal life (I can think of plenty of places where things are queuing up, but also wondering what exactly I want to optimize for at this point), and potentially in working with other teams at work, since I'm realizing simply making myself more efficient probably doesn't help as much as making sure I help where the bottleneck really is.
June 30, 2018 at 0:42 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Thank you Mark, Seraphim, Don, and Cailbre65 for your thoughtful responses!

Yes, when I said “master list” I mean my one long list that I use.

That said, I am 100% sure I’m trying to do to much. I do have an end goal that will not require so much of me, but the reality is that I’m trying to fit a bottle of wine inside of a glass.

I will checkout the bottleneck book! Hoping that might shed some more insight.

I wish there was more of a straight forward answer. Thanks for your help!
June 30, 2018 at 3:22 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria
...and yes, my lists are super overwhelming...
June 30, 2018 at 3:26 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria
I tend to be long-winded, which probably made my earlier reply seem not-so-straightforward. But really, I think it's pretty simple:

1. You are suffering from Overcommitment Syndrome. (Having suffered from it myself, it's easy to see the symptoms.) :-)

2. This means you have two pressing matters to deal with: Deal with the overwhelming amount of work, and eliminate the root cause behind the overcommitment.

3. FVP (or Fast-FVP) are probably the best systems to stay on top the most pressing things and deal with the overwhelming amount of work.

4. FVP/Fast-FVP will help deal with the symptoms but will probably not eliminate the root cause.

5. To get long-term relief, you need to discover and address the root causes of the overcommitment.

There are lots of ways to discover and address these root causes. The most straightforward is probably the "audit of commitments" approach from Mark's book, Do It Tomorrow. He describes this kind of thing here:

If that works for you, great!! But personally it never worked for me. It just seemed too "brute force" and didn't seem to address the deeper causes. I'd cut away at my commitments, but within a week they would all resurface.

I've had better results with the McKeown method and the bottleneck analysis I mentioned earlier. The bottleneck book is based on the Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes and is a good introduction to those methods.
June 30, 2018 at 22:59 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
It definitely sounds like you have so much on that you can't decide which is actually important. Ask, of each thing, "If I don't do it today, what will happen? If I don't do it until other parts of my life are under control, what will happen? If I don't do it ever, what will happen?"

If dropping one project (for now) would guarantee you success in something else, what would you drop?

If you could only work for 8 hours a day for the next week, what would you work on?

Check out the Eisenhower matrix, also known as the Covey matrix.

Try putting time estimates on what you want to do this week. Does it add up to more hours than exist? Now try putting those hours in the Eisenhower matrix.

When Mark says prioritize by urgency, he (I think) assumes that you've already weeded out anything that's not important.

If you have difficulty saying No to a task or project, focus instead on what you are saying Yes to. I am saying Yes to Project Y, which means, regretfully, that for now I can't say Yes to the other one.

Experiment with short and long lists. Some weeks, I do best with a very short list for the day, that I finish. Other weeks, I do best with long lists I can pick from.
July 5, 2018 at 22:19 | Registered CommenterCricket
I've always found the Eisenhower matrix to be frustrating when you include anything like housework into the list of available tasks, and overall I can't make it work across life areas.

I think most housework is technically quadrant 3 (urgent but not important, you should delegate it) ....unless you're the primary person responsible for it, when it becomes quadrant 2. (Paying someone else to handle it is not currently an option for me.)

I most often want to use the matrix when I've got a few hours on the weekend - should I mow the grass? Do the dishes? Do the taxes? Pursue my beloved hobby that really makes me happy? And all of them are quadrant 2. So I have to figure out relative importance on some other scale. Besides, the dishes and the grass become quadrant 1 very quickly, so they're arguably always "more important" in Eisenhower. Taxes are close behind, so art is always always last.

I keep wanting the Eisenhower matrix to work, and I haven't been able to make it happen yet. My experience is that it really only works within a single life-arena. "For maintaining my home, what are the quadrants of these tasks?" "For completing my year-long art project, what are the the quadrants of these tasks?" "For building my career, what are the the quadrants of these tasks?" Then I use other criteria to pick what (hopefully quadrant 2) tasks I'm going to tackle.

I know that the issue is that I need to figure out my values/priorities. But Eisenhower is often suggested as a way to help with that, and I find it only helps AFTER you've done that work.

Cricket - I love your questions at the top of your post. I'm going to play with those. I'm not quite sure what you mean by your mention of putting the hours something takes into the EM. Can you clarify?
July 6, 2018 at 15:24 | Unregistered CommenterR.M. Koske
To be more potentially helpful to Victoria -

The thing that helped me a great deal with choosing what to do in a 2-3 hour period was a journaling technique I have been calling CSWtWd. It stands for "Could, Should, Want to, Worth doing."

I've never been able to make this work very far in advance (I can't do it the day before I expect to have free time, but I can sometimes do it before leaving work and have it be useful for that evening) and I've never been able to make a single session work for a long time frame (for instance, a four day weekend with no plans.) But it is really useful when I'm feeling frazzled and overworked and want to give up but feel like I can't afford to.

I might have posted about it here before, but I don't find it. Forgive me if I am repeating myself.

To do it, you'll make four lists of possible things to do in the time you have. Make no effort to make these lists really exhaustive or complete. It usually takes about 5 minutes.

List one is things you COULD do. I like to include stuff that I might not normally do, like going to see a movie in the middle of the afternoon, or eating only ice cream for lunch, as well as the things that are more top-of-mind like responsibilities and things I'd like to do. I do limit myself to things I could really do with minimal money and effort. "Go to Paris" won't work because I can't do it in the time available, it's expensive, and I need to renew my passport first.

List two is the things that you think you SHOULD do. I find that this list tends to be absolutely ridiculous, more work than I could possibly do in the time I have even if I was perfect. That's kind of the point of this one, so feel free to put everything that your brain is nagging you with. "In the next hour and a half, I should wash the car and do the taxes and clean the toilets and exercise for an hour. Oh, wait..."

List three is the things you WANT to do. I sometimes include things like "give up and run away to Disney World", or "watch youtube for six hours", along with the more reasonable "sit on the deck to eat lunch," or "take a nap."

Tasks may be on more than one of the first three lists, that's fine. Could items can also be Shoulds, or they might be Want to items. Occasionally I'll have a Should that is also a Want to, but that doesn't happen very often, because usually I'm not stuck enough to resort to the technique if I'm feeling that strong of a pull on a responsibility.

List four is where everything comes together. Write down what it would be WORTH giving up your next few hours for. Not in a martyring save-the-world way, but in the "what would be the best life-value to me for the time spent?" way. Your contentment and self-satisfaction are equal factors in the decision with your responsibilities.

I usually find that the final list ends up a mixture of a reasonable amount of the Should work and a little bit of Want to or Could. Even if I was originally trying and failing to coerce myself into working on something important and urgent, once that task ends up on this last list I can usually get some work done on it.

I don't actually plan to do everything on the worth doing list, but I use it as the focus on for the time I've got.

I think this helps me because you can really see how unreasonable the amount of work on the Should list is, and it pulls in a little of Neil Fiore's ideas about pre-planning leisure and reward as a way to help with procrastination.
July 6, 2018 at 18:17 | Unregistered CommenterR.M. Koske

<< When Mark says prioritize by urgency, he (I think) assumes that you've already weeded out anything that's not important >>

No, that's not right. What I said was (and I've said it many times before):

"The question is not how important something is but whether you should be doing it at all."

In other words, if you have made a commitment to do something, then importance becomes irrelevant. You have to do it.

That's why it's so important to audit your commitments. The time to decide the importance of something is when you are considering whether to commit yourself to it.

With importance out of the way, the main factor for deciding what order things need to be done in is urgency. There are of course other factors to be taken into account such as fatigue, weather, time of day and the like, but these are generally obvious.

The Eisenhower matrix has been hideously misrepresented by some time management gurus. The actual matrix as laid down by him was (emphasis mine):

Urgent and important (tasks you will do IMMEDIATELY).
Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to DO LATER).
Urgent, but not important (tasks you will DELEGATE to someone else).
Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will ELIMINATE).

Note that the only boxes Eisenhower did himself are the first two.

Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).

And what is the distinguishing factor between them? Urgency.

Exactly what I said.
July 6, 2018 at 19:18 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Following on from my previous reply, I can see people saying "but Eisenhower had plenty of people to delegate to". Yes, he did and so have we sometimes.

If however you really have no one and are not prepared to pay for it to be done, then the tasks for delegation have to be moved to one of the other three boxes, i.e. done by you or eliminated.

So again we have only two boxes for our action and the criterion remains urgency.
July 6, 2018 at 19:25 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Your notes on the Eisenhower Matrix are making me think, Mark. No conclusions yet, but your post is definitely doing me some good. Thank you!
July 6, 2018 at 21:32 | Unregistered CommenterR.M. Koske
Another mega essay, sigh.


CSWtWd sounds like a useful set of questions. There are a few other ways to use it.

1. Look at a task (from a list or your brain) and ask which categories it fits before deciding whether to do or not do it.

2. Use them as questions for FV, or Standing Out, or Weeding.


Most of my housework is Q1 or Q2, not Q3, since I've already cut out most Q3 housework. (Haven't cut out Q3 hobby projects, which is a problem.)


You're right that things move from II to I, often predictably. Try using the matrix with different time frames. What's urgent this week is often not urgent this hour.


For putting hours into the EM matrix, pick a time frame or deadline.

Looking only at this week, how many hours will each task or project in Q1 take? If you don't have enough hours to do everything in Q1 every week, and a good chunk of Q2 most weeks, then you have a problem. (That's how I divide Q1 and Q2. If not doing it in that time frame will cause problems, it's Q1. Note: Ignoring everything in Q2 this week might cause Q1 to overflow. So, "Reduce next week's Q1 to reasonable level" is a Q1 task for this week, even though the individual tasks are Q2.)

Play around with different time frames. What changes if you look at this hour? Today? Tomorrow? This week? Next week? Month? Year? Five years? Before the kids move out?

It's worth actually measuring time spent. My estimates were widely off in both directions. Also, do you really have that many hours of project time, once you subtract work, sleep, exercise, commute, social, etc? Do you consistently have that many hours per week, or does it vary widely? (My weeks vary widely, which complicates things.)

Once you've cut down your commitments to match the hours you actually have, you can call it a plan. A tentative plan. Repeat when things change.


I disagree with Covey: He says improving systems is Q2 (important but not urgent). I say it's Q1. Compound interest! Maybe Q1.5, since not doing them won't cause problems.

Other things that are more powerful if done early:

1. Decrease barriers and bottlenecks to good thing. (Cut up carrots for snacks; buy second cutting board; learn to do it faster and better)

2. Increase barriers to bad thing. (Freeze credit card.)

3. Decrease structures supporting bad thing. (Don't keep junk food at home.)

4. Increase structures supporting good thing. (Gym buddy.)


Maybe the long Q2 project is really a Q1 project in disguise, or Q4. Ask, "How I will feel in December if it's done? Not done?" If it's Q4, drop it. If it's Q1, set weekly goals. Staying on schedule is now Q1, otherwise you'll not finish by December.

What is the definition of done in December? A few hours each week experimenting with knitting makes me happier than the same time working on a sweater.)

Remember, saying No (or not now) to some things allows you to say a stronger Yes to the rest.


For cutting down your commitments:

Try a Wheel of Life (aka Covey's Roles) as well. Maintaining your home, year-long art project, building your career, each important relationship, self-care -- more than 7 gets too fiddley for an overview.

Are you happy with a) the results you are getting in each role and b) the time you are putting into each? If you don't have the time to put in all the hours you want overall, are you happy with how you're spending the ones you have? Most people start with badly unbalanced wheels, both in hours and results.

If you're unhappy with the results in one role, you have a problem. More success in a different role rarely compensates.

More time or more projects do not always produce better results. Most roles do best with one project at a time, and at least one session per week. Some do best with smaller, frequent sessions. Kids, for example, do best with time every day and less frequent special events. Some roles actually do worse with more hours since you resent the time spent.

If you moved time from one role to another, would you still be happy with the first and happier with the second?

(You can repeat the exercise within a role. As a student, I did 30 hours of homework a week, spread over 5 classes, but not 6 on each. I was happy with 2 hours a week on German, and happy with the results that gave me. My lab class, however, needed 10 hours a week, with no way to reduce and still get the marks I wanted, be prepared for the exam and the class next year, and do my share of the teamwork.)

Also, if you have more than one project in a role, would it be better to (temporarily) let most go (or at least drop to maintenance level) and focus just one and do a great job with it?

Also, if you have fewer hours overall, the ideal balance will change. Also, if you have fewer hours in role, sometimes a simpler project you can finish in that time is better than a long one you won't.

Ask if a different project give better results in fewer hours. A hand-knit hat in her favourite colour will make my MIL just as happy as a fancy cabled sweater. (Happier, since she rarely wears sweaters.)


Absolutely pre-plan leisure and rewards, in pen! My ADHD/ASD support group recommends doing the leisure and reward first. It increases dopamine, which we are short of. Once the dopamine goes up, we can do harder things. It takes some attention, though, to find leisure and rewards that actually increase dopamine rather than just distract us. Also, most of us don't respect timers (although some have successfully trained themselves to), so the activity needs a firm natural stopping point. New members always say, "But, but, all the books (written for and by neurotypicals) say to eat the frog first." We ask, "How is that working for you?" (Hint: They've come to the support group because things aren't working well for them.)
July 6, 2018 at 21:51 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
Victoria, there is only one way to deal with so much to do. As you and others suspect, you might have too much to fit into the time available. You need to schedule your time. To the day or hour as needed. And up to week or months for larger scope. You can schedule weeks ahead, or live mostly in the now. Next 3 hours, I choose to do this and this. Next? And IN a block of time, manage what doing from a list system. That works. But overall structure of your life, you cannot operate from open ended goals and plans with no sense if fit in actual time. And then, yes, can make choices of what to move, drop, change duration and such. That must be done from the real boundary of time.
August 1, 2018 at 17:52 | Registered CommentermatthewS
I don't know how I missed your reply previously, Cricket, but thanks so much! I need to read it slowly and think it over, but I can run with what you've described pretty well. (I love your "mega essays" - I find them tremendously useful.)
August 2, 2018 at 20:09 | Unregistered CommenterR.M. Koske