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Discussion Forum > Bottlenecks and Time Management Systems

In a current thread ( http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2715250 ) we are discussing bottlenecks in our work.

But how about bottlenecks in time management systems themselves? What are the bottlenecks which affect the amount of work we can do in a given amount of time using one system rather than another ?
July 1, 2018 at 9:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I think it's a big problem with a systematic approach. By definition you have the protocols of the system and the bottleneck of moving stuff through those protocols. There's always a bottleneck. A working approach has to be as light as possible to avoid it.

I use the principle of understand where I'm going, and why, across all domains, and that generates the stuff I need to do each day with the drivers to get it done already implicit. No system needed, and no bottleneck.

On a tangent, I've found that poor diet leads to sub-optimal sleep, and the two together lead to a surprisingly big reduction in what can be done, far more than any differences between systematic approaches. Something to consider if someone is struggling with feeling behind.
July 1, 2018 at 14:40 | Unregistered CommenterChris
>>By definition you have the protocols of the system and the bottleneck of moving stuff through those protocols.<<

But those motions also help me to get more and more important tasks done.
July 1, 2018 at 15:19 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher
Chris:

<< I use the principle of understand where I'm going, and why, across all domains, and that generates the stuff I need to do each day with the drivers to get it done already implicit. No system needed, and no bottleneck. >>

1. Understand where I'm going

2. Understand why I'm going there

3. Repeat 1. and 2. across all domains.

4. Generate tasks for the day (in writing?).

5. Do tasks.

Basically this is a system known as the Day List.

Step 5 can be accomplished in several ways, e.g.

1. In order as written down

2. Picked off the written or mental list in any order

3. Using a system such as FVP, Simple Scanning

Where would people identify the likely bottle-necks in a system lime this?

1. If all goes to plan

2. If circumstances force an adjustment or additional work during te day.
July 1, 2018 at 15:27 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Chris:

<< I've found that poor diet leads to sub-optimal sleep, and the two together lead to a surprisingly big reduction in what can be done, far more than any differences between systematic approaches.>>

There may be many reasons why one is feeling less than on the top of one's form during the working day. In my experience having a systematic approach helps immensely in maintaining one's focus.

I'd be interested to know whether other people's experiences would agree with this.
July 1, 2018 at 15:35 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Indeed, in using one system there's a cost of the system's overhead vs the benefit from using it. In comparing systems you get dimishing returns as you move to doing what you need to be doing, yet the costs are unbounded and only limited by imagination. As complex as it has to be to help and no more complex than that, is a good rule of thumb.
July 1, 2018 at 15:35 | Unregistered CommenterChris
MF: Good system. I'd say the bottlenecks would be initially found in 1, 2 and 3 and then in 4.

You asked about systems. I take that to mean your approach of writing out lists and interacting with them repeatedly, following rules for how you must navigate them. I used to use GTD which was as close as I came to that.
July 1, 2018 at 15:43 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Sorry, Chris. You were too quick for me. I've amended my 15.27 post while you were writing your replies.
July 1, 2018 at 15:47 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Chris:

<< I take that to mean your approach of writing out lists and interacting with them repeatedly, following rules for how you must navigate them >>

Are you saying that your stage of generating the stuff you need to do each day does not make up a list?

I'm not trying to catch you out. I'm trying to understand why you think your approach isn't a system in the sense of writing out lists and interacting with them repeatedly.
July 1, 2018 at 15:52 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
MF: I'm not trying to catch you out. I'm trying to understand why you think your approach isn't a system in the sense of writing out lists and interacting with them repeatedly.

Just as you're not trying to catch me out, I'm not trying to be smart with you. Your opening question asked about bottlenecks in different time management systems. I'm assuming that by systems you mean AF, FV, FVP, SMEMA, 3T, No-List, etc. I think they are all different systems to deal with point 3 in your ammended list but you often position them as (and indeed they arise from an endless search for) a way to have some algorithm tell you exactly what you should be doing in the moment at any time. That feels to me like the car driving the driver. If you follow the earlier points in your list – and to that add understanding where you shouldn't be going – then that gives you a very good sense of what you should and shouldn't be doing in the moment.
July 1, 2018 at 17:19 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Chris:

<< If you follow the earlier points in your list – and to that add understanding where you shouldn't be going – then that gives you a very good sense of what you should and shouldn't be doing in the moment. >>

So you are saying that, having done the earlier spadework, you just follow your sense of what you should and should be doing without using any lists or other similar aids at all?

I'm very glad for you that you can do that, but I know from long experience that I can't. And I doubt if many people following this blog can either.
July 1, 2018 at 18:00 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Chris:

<< you often position them as (and indeed they arise from an endless search for) a way to have some algorithm tell you exactly what you should be doing in the moment at any time. That feels to me like the car driving the driver.>>

No, you are totally misunderstanding the purpose of the systems. They arise from an endless search to find the quickest and easiest way to do what you have have to do or have decided that you want to do.

My car changes gear automatically, tells me which route to take, warns me when something needs attention and will drive at a constant speed without my interference if I tell it to. But I am always in charge. That's in car driving terms what I am trying to get to in time management.

It's complicated for me because as well as being the car driver I'm also the car designer.
July 1, 2018 at 18:06 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
To answer the original question, it's important to know exactly what you mean by "bottleneck."

There's the generic sense: whatever causes the flow to be blocked. This could be obstacles, problems, bad habits, chaotic work situation, etc. For example, a friend of mine was saying that "too many meetings" is a big bottleneck where he works.

Then there's the more specific sense of a constrained resource. In other words, a work system is a set of interdependent resources and the flow of work between those resources. In this context, the bottleneck is the resource whose limited capacity controls the flow of the whole system. The main point is that the bottleneck is a RESOURCE with limited capacity -- NOT the problem or obstacle that generates the limitation.

It's an important distinction, because the approach to solving the problem depends on what kind of bottleneck you are talking about.
July 1, 2018 at 19:18 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Eli Goldratt spent his whole career understanding and explaining and exploiting bottlenecks and developed an entire system of thought around it, called Theory of Constraints. His foundational insight was to recognize that THE BOTTLENECK CONTROLS THE OUTPUT OF THE ENTIRE SYSTEM. He also demonstrated that in any complex system, there is really only a very small number of bottlenecks -- usually only one or two. So the key to improving the performance of any system is to improve performance AT THE BOTTLENECK. If you improve performance at the bottleneck, it immediately improves performance of the whole system. And there's a corollary: If you improve performance anywhere else, it will have NO IMPACT AT ALL on the throughput of the overall system.

So his central idea for improving a system overall involves 5 steps:

1. Identify the bottleneck
2. Make full use of its capacity
3. Coordinate the operation of all the other resources to support (2)
4. Increase the capacity of the bottleneck
5. Watch to see if the bottleneck moves -- if so, repeat from (1)


Repeating these steps, the bottleneck typically moves from one resource to another, till it finally stabilizes somewhere -- usually at the bottleneck resource that's hardest to change.

This fact, combined with the fact that every system has a bottleneck, leads to the ultimate question: where do you WANT the bottleneck to be?

In a factory, for example, you generally want the bottleneck to be the resource that represents your core capacity as a factory -- the thing that gives you your competitive advantage, that distinguishes you in the marketplace, the thing about you that's most difficult to replicate. Design this into the system as the bottleneck, and design the relationships of the rest of the system so as to support that bottleneck. For example: never let the bottleneck be starved for work. An idle hour on the bottleneck is an idle hour for the entire factory - that can be very expensive. So you should make sure the other resources are situated such that the bottleneck resource is never starved for work. There are ,many other techniques for designing a system to support the bottleneck.
July 1, 2018 at 19:18 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
OK so how does this apply to personal time management. I've been stewing over this problem for the last year but still don't have a clear answer. But here are my thoughts so far.

We personally have many different capacities and resources at our disposal:
- Time - 24 hours per day
- Money
- Tools that can do work for us (e.g., a laundry machine), i.e., they can function as a standalone resource
- Other people who can help us
- Our personal capacities such as attention, physical strength, mental acuity. I'm not so sure it makes sense to count each of these things as a separate resource -- they all involve ME. So I would just say, "my personal physical and mental capacities", or "me", for short. 🙂

I don't think a time management system itself is a "resource" of this kind. Nor any of the other systems we may employ. The systems are very important but play a different role. The systems are basically the method organization and operation of the resources. A method defines how we make best use of a resource, but isn't itself a resource. A bad method is a type of obstacle or problem -- not a resource bottleneck.

OK so what is the resource bottleneck in personal time management?

It's easy to get lost trying to figure out where my current bottleneck is located. Sometimes I feel pressed for time, sometimes pressed for money, sometimes my health issues are blocking my personal capacities. It can also change depending on what I am trying to accomplish at the moment.

So it's important to take a step back and look at the larger picture. Overall, what resource tends to be the limiting factor? Not for any one task, but overall?

But even that can be difficult to nail down. Our personal lives are very fluid in comparison to something like a factory or a business project.

So perhaps it is even more important for personal time management to consider where we WANT the bottleneck to be... That is the area I have been finding to be most fruitful.

Where would YOU want your bottleneck to be?
July 1, 2018 at 19:31 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
MF: So you are saying that, having done the earlier spadework, you just follow your sense of what you should and should be doing without using any lists or other similar aids at all?

No, I'm not saying that. Are you genuinely interested in how I use lists or do you just want to hear me say that I do and then double down on your claim that I'm really using a system if only I could realise it?
July 1, 2018 at 19:39 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Chris:

<< Are you genuinely interested in how I use lists >>

Not particularly, no.
July 1, 2018 at 20:36 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Chris

I’m interested. Have you changed your method you outlined in your Single Text File post a few years ago?
July 1, 2018 at 21:05 | Registered CommenterCaibre65
Seraphim asks, where the bottleneck is in time management. My rough sense is it's this: We try to squeeze all the things we want done through the narrow neck of time available to do them.

Can you produce a more refined understanding?
July 2, 2018 at 16:58 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
I’ve been stewing over this. I think my original statement was wrong:
<< Our personal capacities such as attention, physical strength, mental acuity. I'm not so sure it makes sense to count each of these things as a separate resource -- they all involve ME. So I would just say, "my personal physical and mental capacities", or "me", for short. >>

The critical capacity seems to be the ability to find one’s focus, and execute on it.
July 2, 2018 at 17:14 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Alan - I don’t think time is the limiting factor, except in certain artificial situations. Maybe you have time, but no energy, or no money, or no focus. And there is always Parkinson’s Law to contend with.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_law

If time were the bottleneck, then doubling available time should double the outcomes. That works for something like an hourly-wage job. Can you think of other examples?
July 2, 2018 at 17:23 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
>> The critical capacity seems to be the ability to find one’s focus, and execute on it.

IMHO only when you can use that focus to work repeatedly on the same (most important) task over long stretches of time. Otherwise all that focus or at least most of it goes to waste…
July 2, 2018 at 18:08 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher
I don't mean only finding the high-level focus, but also the day-to-day focus -- "Where do I want to go?" and "What should I do right now to get there and deal with all the other stuff that appears along the way?"
July 2, 2018 at 22:12 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
... and more specifically, here is what I was getting at.

I was trying clarify my thinking on the ideal positioning of the bottleneck resources for personal time management. At first, I was thinking that all a person's individual capabilities could be grouped together as a single resource in the network of resources that contribute to successful personal time management. But as I did some thought experiments, it became clear that some personal capacities have a more central impact on personal time management than others.

For example, let's say I decided that "personal energy level" was the ideal place to put the bottleneck resource. The key feature of the bottleneck resource is that it controls the overall throughput of the system. So if I have double the energy, this should always equate to double the results, double the success, etc. But that doesn't match my experience. Energy certainly has an impact, but it isn't so straightforward. It seems to have more of a marginal impact.

Another key feature of the bottleneck resource is every other resource should be coordinated with it so as to maximize the capacity of the bottleneck -- and this will have the direct result of maximizing the capacity of the whole system. If "personal energy level" is the ideal place to put the bottleneck, this means everything else should be subordinated to it, so as to maximize my personal energy level at all times. But that doesn't seem to match my experience either. I may have a lot of energy, but if I don't make use of my capacity for vision and focus, then the energy will be wasted, it won't lead to any particular direction or outcome. To the contrary, it seems that I should always ensure I have enough energy to support my vision, rather than enough vision to support my energy levels.

Whatever capacity I imagined to be the ideal bottleneck resource -- personal ones such as health, attention, physical strength, mental acuity, etc., and others such as time, money, etc. -- none of them made sense unless they were coordinated toward fulfilling my vision and focus -- what is it that I really want to do.

This led me to two conclusions:
(1) It is important to consider the various human capacities as separate resources - not group them together
(2) The ideal place to put the bottleneck for personal time management is on the personal capacity to form a clear vision / purpose / focus, and execute on it.

Doing some more thought experiments with (2)... I asked the same questions as mentioned above. If the ideal bottleneck is my capacity to form a clear focus and execute on it, will increasing this capacity have a 1:1 impact on my results? This actually does align with my experience. The worst thing is being aimless and getting no particular results at all, and the next worst thing is having a purpose but being pulled in so many other directions that I make no progress on it. When I am able to discern the right place to focus, and I am able to arrange my situation to allow me to execute on it, it's almost magical, it is so powerful, there is tremendous motivation, tremendous flow, and tremendous results. As soon as this capacity is blocked, the results are blocked commensurately.

Then I asked the next question... is there anything else to which this capacity to focus and execute ought to be subordinated? I honestly couldn't think of anything. I suppose I want to be able to focus on the right things, get the right results, correct quickly when I find I am on the wrong path, adjust quickly when circumstances throw an obstacle in my path and I need to decide how to handle it, etc. The faster I can come to a good decision, establish my direction, get focused, and take action, the faster I get results. It's a direct correspondence.

No wonder Mark's first long-list system was called Autofocus. :-)
July 2, 2018 at 23:33 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Another interesting thing about bottlenecks. The CURRENT bottleneck in your situation is probably NOT going to be the IDEAL bottleneck. It will be somewhere else.

For example: Maybe TIME is the current bottleneck. You have a clear vision and purpose, but you don't have time to carry it out. So right now, your bottleneck is time. For now, everything should be coordinated toward freeing up time, and putting that freed-up time toward your overall purpose. If you have extra money you can spend on personal time management, and there's something you can spend it on that will give you more time, it should be done, because it will have an immediate 1:1 impact on your ability to achieve your purpose. Anything else you can do to free up time will have this immediate impact.

Eventually, if you get really good at freeing up time and applying it toward your larger purpose, that bottleneck will probably move. Maybe you find yourself consistently having enough time to work on your focus and purpose, but you are frequently getting blocked by lack of MONEY. OK, this means the bottleneck has moved. Now you need to figure out how to free up funds, without causing the bottleneck to return to TIME. Do whatever else you can to make more money, free up more money, reduce expenses, etc., and throw all that money at your purpose. Again, be careful not to cut the things that allowed you to free up your time. You don't want to get into wandering bottlenecks, where it flip flops between time and money.

If you get good at that, then you'll have enough time, and enough money. Maybe another bottleneck will appear. Or maybe it won't -- maybe it will have finally come to rest where it should be, on your capacity to arrive at a focus and to execute on it. Now you can focus completely on THAT -- how to get better and better at arriving quickly on a focus, maintaining that clarity, and maintaining execution against it.
July 2, 2018 at 23:45 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim and All:

When I asked the question I specifically asked it about time management systems in relation to each other, not about our own personal capacities nor about the characteristics of time in general. Those are both interesting subjects but not actually related to the subject of this thread.

First, let's identify what is supposed to be flowing through the neck of the bottle. In the case of a real bottle it's a liquid of some sort, wine, milk, water, lemonade, whatever.

In the case of a time management system it's work. A good time management system will allow the work to flow faster than a poor time management system. So the difference between a good time management system and a bad time management system is the speed set by each system's major bottlenecks. Bear in mind that systems are dynamic and different parts of the system may become the bottleneck at different times.

What sort of factors effect the speed of work? I can think of a few. I'm sure you can think of more.

1) Planning. If a large amount of time is taken up in planning, categorizing, prioritizing and re-prioritizing then that planning may be a possible bottleneck. Or it may have the effect of speeding up and focusing the work.

2) Routines. Routines are the foundation of speedy, efficient work. If a system fails to produce good routines, then it is producing bottlenecks instead.

3) Selection. The amount of time spent actually choosing what to do next can be quite considerable in some systems. In addition, poor selection of tasks can mean missing deadlines, failing to take action to avoid trouble, and other time-wasting effects.

4) Emergencies. How well does a system respond to sudden changes of priority caused by emergencies and other unforeseen circumstances? Using an inflexible system can result in enormous bottlenecks.

So, which system do you think has the fastest throughput of work? And please, when I talk about a "time management system" I mean any method of attempting to utilize one's time to best effect.
July 3, 2018 at 0:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
>> So, which system do you think has the fastest throughput of work?

3T / 5T
July 3, 2018 at 1:20 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher
Hello everyone,

I'm new to this group and although I read - and loved - Mark's book many years ago, I'm a "first time caller". Seraphim suggested I pop by and say hello because I wrote the book about Bottlenecks that he mentioned here last week. It's called The Bottleneck Rules. Bottleneck management is a big thing in manufacturing, but it's also applicable to us ordinary folk.

Factories have a "slowest machine" which determines the speed of the entire factory. If they run the factory faster than that machine, the factory doesn't produce more, it just gets clogged up. If they waste that machines time, the entire factory goes up. If they find that machine, then thoughtfully manage then work flows through it, the factory ships more product and makes more money. I have a simple recipe in my book, called FOCCCUS, for finding then managing bottlenecks in all workplaces.

In terms of individuals like us, I think the bottleneck for (most) people is their brain's capacity to do work. And, time management systems are the systems we put in place to squeeze as much good quality, high value work out of the brain. They're similar to a factory's scheduling software, combined with the sales department being picky about what work they take on. In my FOCCCUS formula, the O stands for Optimise, first C stands for coordination, the third for Curation. All of the steps are useful but those 2 Cs are particularly helpful for knowledge workers. I'm happy to share more if you're interested.

The bottleneck might not actually be brain capacity. Here's a simple, but common example: for some people, for a long time, it was and still is, the speed of their internet connection. If you run a business that requires lots of internet capacity and you haven't got it, you'll need to manage that. I'm learning to dictate my next books and talking is hard and exhausting, so I need to schedule and manage that.

Hope this helps. Any questions, happy to see if I can share more.
July 3, 2018 at 1:55 | Unregistered CommenterClarke Ching
Thanks for posting Clarke, and welcome to the site. I'm about halfway through your book myself. It's the clearest exposition of bottleneck management I've yet seen. In fact it's a good example of clearing the bottleneck in learning about bottlenecks!

Are you intending to come back to this website regularly over the next few weeks? I was wondering if we could open a new thread in which you can answer reader's questions.
July 3, 2018 at 2:15 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I’d love to come back, Mark. I think people who enjoy your work will resonate with mine.
July 3, 2018 at 4:24 | Unregistered CommenterClarke Ching
I’ve got some reading to do myself. Off to amazon to get Do it Tomorrow.
July 3, 2018 at 6:28 | Unregistered CommenterClarke Ching
Mark and Clarke - I am so very delighted to see the two of you get connected! :-) :-) :-)
July 3, 2018 at 7:30 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Mark wrote:
<< When I asked the question I specifically asked it about time management systems in relation to each other, not about our own personal capacities >>

Sorry for misunderstanding and going off topic! :-)


<< So, which system do you think has the fastest throughput of work? >>

For me, the systems that have demonstrated the greatest raw throughput are Randomizer (until it didn’t, because it started to feel like it wasn’t actually doing the right stuff, and I would start to resist the system itself), and No-List (until it didn’t, because it started to feel aimless and disconnected from my larger purpose and/or desired outcomes).
http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2014/1/22/random-time-management.html
http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2612782

I think a successful system has two requirements: it must have fast throughput, and it must also help align that throughput to realize the larger outcomes.
July 3, 2018 at 7:36 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Clarke Ching, fancy meeting that name here. I'm sure I've encountered you some years ago (online elsewhere), something about software developement.
July 3, 2018 at 7:42 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Clarke Ching:

I've opened a thread for readers to ask you questions at:

http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2715650#post2715650
July 3, 2018 at 12:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Seraphim:

<< For me, the systems that have demonstrated the greatest raw throughput are Randomizer (until it didn’t, because it started to feel like it wasn’t actually doing the right stuff, and I would start to resist the system itself), and No-List (until it didn’t, because it started to feel aimless and disconnected from my larger purpose and/or desired outcomes). >>

As you say it's not enough to be fast - it has to be fast at the right things. Otherwise the initial speed will be illusory.

What was it someone said long ago?

"Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away."
July 3, 2018 at 12:19 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I’m trying to make sure I understand your use of the parable here.

I suppose the tasks are the seeds. They are scattered across the earth which is one’s life’s. They spring up quickly -- they see quick action -- but do not have deep roots in your life, so they wither. The tasks that are associated with more important outcomes in your life are the ones that find deep roots and grow and are sustained and blossom into the larger outcomes.

Is that kind of what you meant?

If yes, could you elaborate how you see the relationship of this to maximizing the throughput of work through a system? Sorry for making you connect the dots for me -- I am just not seeing it. :-)
July 3, 2018 at 22:27 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim:

<< I suppose the tasks are the seeds. They are scattered across the earth which is one’s life’s. They spring up quickly -- they see quick action -- but do not have deep roots in your life, so they wither. The tasks that are associated with more important outcomes in your life are the ones that find deep roots and grow and are sustained and blossom into the larger outcomes. >>

Um... I was just using the passage as an illustration that initial speed may be illusory.
July 3, 2018 at 23:33 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
LOL!
July 4, 2018 at 0:56 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Alan,

You may have read my other book, Rolling Rocks Downhill, the business novel?

I’m quite well known in Agile circles.

Clarle
July 4, 2018 at 3:39 | Unregistered CommenterClarke Ching
Mark Forster wrote:
<< What are the bottlenecks which affect the amount of work we can do in a given amount of time using one system rather than another ? >>

A good way to identify the bottleneck in any system is to see where things get stuck and pile up. So here are some personal thoughts on specific systems.

DIT: in chaotic and complex situations (cf. Cynefin framework, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynefin_framework ), DIT gets overwhelmed, and the "audit of commitments" process isn't always robust enough to eliminate the root causes of the overwhelm. As a result, everything begins to pile up. Perhaps DIT's bottleneck is the capacity to deal with frequently changing priorities.

AF1: I saw things pile up in two ways with AF1:
(1) Overall volume of tasks
(2) Larger outcomes and goals getting lost for all the many small tasks

DWM: For me, things piled up outside the immediate 7-day range. Those items almost never got any attention from me. So, for a task to get any attention at all, I had to treat it as "urgent" and enter it on the 7th day. This amplified the original problem, causing BOTH the immediate range adn the longer-term range to pile up. Ultimately it was just overwhelmed with the overall volume of tasks and the larger outcomes/goals being deferred into the future. Hm, similar to AF1, I suppose.

SFv3: The first column would be OK until I started collecting a few too many urgent items or unfinished items (WIP). As per the rules, these would go into the second column, which must be cleared before I could proceed to the next page. This would start to slow down the system, and the items in the first column would not get enough attention. This led to the same backlogs as with AF1 and DWM: too much WIP, too much focus on trivia, and not enough focus on the larger outcomes.

With all the above, I remember when I got to this point, I'd either start over or start tinkering.

FV: The chains would get too long, so I couldn't complete them within a day. So it stopped working. Too much WIP.

FVP: Fantastic at generating output on smaller items. Great flow. For me, there would be a backlog of old tasks that would never be addressed, but this never really seemed to become a problem. They would just fade away. FVP was especially good when I already had a clear focus on the larger outcomes -- such as a large fire to put out. It would help me deal with the intermediate urgency and issues and changing dynamics. But it was hard to re-establish focus if it was lost for some reason, and then I'd process lots of smaller things aimlessly.

No-List: Seemed to have similar results to FVP. The thing that would pile up would be unfinished projects on my project list.

Randomizer: Would work great until either (1) I'd collapse from sheer exhaustion after hours and hours of being "in the zone" getting stuff done, or (2) it started to feel that the larger outcomes weren't getting dealt with appropriately, or maybe some urgent items were being dropped. But I never had the sense of anything "piling up". Maybe there would be too many trivial items on the list after several passes through the whole list -- and it would be hard to say "no" to these tasks. Everything feels "ready" with Randomizer.


Some common threads:

It's very easy to allow new tasks into all these systems. If they aren't dealt with quickly, they pile up, require frequent attention, and clog up the whole system. FVP doesn't have this problem because it is effective even if you always stay near the end of the list -- you never return to see all those unhandled tasks. And No-list avoids this problem by design.

It's also seems very easy for the task work to get out of alignment with the larger outcomes.

Hmm.. I think one of the premises of the "standing out" idea is that the larger outcomes will emerge naturally and intuitively from the task work itself, if you just let your intuition do its job. I suppose these results call that into question?

On the other hand, "top-down planning" and "SMART" goals and things like that have always been a disaster for me.

The thing that seems to work for me is to have *some* method to allow the larger outcomes to "emerge" naturally -- but perhaps they should emerge from the conflicts and dreams and aspirations and bigger things like that, rather than from the task level?


So where are the bottlenecks?

It's OK to allow stuff into the system as long as it is handled quickly. The decision process whether to accept a task and let is live -- this is a bottleneck. It must operate quickly, get closure quickly, otherwise too much WIP builds up. FVP does this without any force at all - the tasks just fade into the background. I guess this is akin to a "QA" process -- is this task good enough to have on my list? If the QA process is indecisive, it will create a backlog of stuff that needs a second look. That sounds pretty close here. Or maybe instead of "QA" it's more like a committee that investigates investment opportunities. If they are always holding on to lots of opportunities and take forever to decide which ones to seize, it will all clog up in their queue.

Another bottleneck is the ability of a system to form a larger outcome from all the stuff you throw at it. If the larger outcomes never emerge, then the system processes lots of trivia. So either align to a previously known outcome, or spontaneously align to a larger outcome -- either way would be OK, I think. But if the system is slow to do this, it just builds a backlog of random stuff with no larger purpose. This seems like what I wrote earlier -- the capacity for quickly forming a focus and executing on it. If everything is out of alignment, there is huge waste and huge trivia. Hm, I guess this is like several different work lines that come together at some integration point, but things are so whacked out that the integration takes a long time, or fails completely, and the system is backlogged with more and more small unfinished WIP that goes to waste. So the bottleneck is the integration resource.
July 7, 2018 at 2:38 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim:

I was wondering what you were talking about when you mentioned Cynefin (Welsh: Habitat) since it's the title of one of my favourite programs on Welsh TV. It usually features leisurely strolls through beautiful landscapes or abandoned historic industrial sites. Not quite what you meant I think.

The pronunciation given in Wikipedia is incorrect by the way. The stress is on the second syllable :

cu-NE-vin. http://forvo.com/search/cynefin/
July 7, 2018 at 10:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Seraphim:

What emerges for me from what you have written is that your problem is not with getting stuff out of the bottle (which is what the word "bottleneck" usually implies) but with getting stuff into the bottle. It's as if you were trying to fill your car's petrol tank using the high-pressure pump reserved for heavy trucks. What is needed is a cut-out mechanism to shut the pump off as soon as the pressure rises.

I think one amendment to the rules for all the methods will solve the whole thing for you. "The list must not exceed 80 tasks."

In fact I might go further than that and say "All your lists must not exceed 80 tasks in total". Your capacity is the car's petrol tank, not the petrol station's storage tank.
July 7, 2018 at 10:27 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Seraphim:

I'll specifically reply to what you said about the Randomizer.

There are some things which make the Randomizer unique and it's worth spelling these out:

1. The Randomizer doesn't care in the slightest about your priorities and goals.

2. Everything you put on the list WILL get selected.

3. You can't control WHEN a task will get selected.

4. You CAN estimate fairly accurately how long it will take for everything currently on the list to be selected at least once.

5. The longer the list the longer it will take.

6. Some things will get selected more often than others, but there is no meaning behind this.

7. To work the Randomizer successfully requires an entirely different mindset from working with the other systems.

"The one thing that absolutely distinguishes thoughts from matter is that thoughts are always about something, and matter is never about anything." Franz Brentano
July 7, 2018 at 10:53 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Seraphim:

<< I think one of the premises of the "standing out" idea is that the larger outcomes will emerge naturally and intuitively from the task work itself, if you just let your intuition do its job. >>

Yes, but I think it's more than that. I think that working one system consistently, such as Simple Scanning for example, will actually change your brain. When I look at the list of tasks I gave in "Get Everything Done", I think "Is that all I could do in those days?"

A constant overloading of the systems will prevent this from happening. Which is why the new rule: "Your list must not exceed 80 tasks" is important.
July 7, 2018 at 13:11 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark:

Do you have a preferred method in mind to keep the workload under 81 tasks?
July 7, 2018 at 18:11 | Unregistered CommenterLaby
Laby:

I would count your tasks once a day, less if you're nowhere near the limit. And then decide which tasks to strike off the list if you are near/over the limit.
July 7, 2018 at 18:32 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark wrote:
<< I think one amendment to the rules for all the methods will solve the whole thing for you. "The list must not exceed 80 tasks." >>

The problem with cutting down to 80 tasks is -- "which 80?"

It is never immediately obvious.

I tend to live, perhaps even to thrive, on the Chaotic and Complex side of the Cynefin framework. I get bored with the merely Complicated and can't tolerate the Simple for very long.

So it is never simply a matter of aligning them to my specific commitments and cutting the ones that aren't associated with my Authorized Project List.

Sometimes it's just not immediately clear whether or how a new task / demand / tension / idea / problem / opportunity is related to my existing commitments.

On the other hand, sometimes it clearly does represent a new commitment, but it's not clear whether or not I should prioritize this new commitment and drop something else. Often the new approach will accomplish the same or better results as several other initiatives I've got going -- but it's not clear yet if that is really the right direction, if that's a really valid conclusion.

This is typical of the Chaotic and Complex domains. I love these domains. I've come to realize I am pretty good at figuring out how to do things here. Overwhelm comes with the territory, but that's part of the fun -- taking an extremely overwhelming situation and extracting as many fantastic opportunities and valuable treasures from it as possible. And also figure out whether I can move it over to the merely Complex or Simple domains so someone else can take over, while I go find another Chaotic or Complex situation to sort.

The rules are different in the Chaotic and Complex quadrants.

This is going off topic, so I decided to expand on this in a new post.
http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2715968
July 8, 2018 at 1:53 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Mark wrote -
<< What emerges for me from what you have written is that your problem is not with getting stuff out of the bottle (which is what the word "bottleneck" usually implies) but with getting stuff into the bottle. It's as if you were trying to fill your car's petrol tank using the high-pressure pump reserved for heavy trucks. What is needed is a cut-out mechanism to shut the pump off as soon as the pressure rises. >>

I wasn't trying to describe any particular problems with my own time management situation.

I was describing where I have observed bottlenecks appearing in some of our favorite time management systems. Others might see bottlenecks appearing in other places, but I don't think the bottlenecks I describe here are really very unusual.

Regarding my personal time management challenges, I don't think it's possible, and perhaps not even desirable, for me to limit arbitrarily the flow coming out of that pump.

I have chosen to accept many elements in my life that lead to a continual stream of more demands on my time than I can possibly handle. I work for an employer with a long history of being very demanding on its employees. I have a very large family. I have a long commute. I have some chronic health issues.

It's OK. I like it this way. :-)

Perhaps one consequence is there isn't a single time management system I can use that can handle the situation. That's OK too.

All your systems have definitely helped me manage the chaos, and I agree with you, following these systems definitely changes one's mental habits, perhaps even one's neurological structure, in very positive ways. They helped me challenge many unspoken rules and assumptions. They helped me learn to be much more confident in relying on my intuition - which is a key to getting both focus and speed, it seems to me, especially in the Chaotic and Complex domains. And helped me to be OK with things not always making sense 100% - the sense emerges and clarifies as one works through things. I love that.

In other words: You are absolutely correct, if I always kept my list to 80 tasks or under, I would eliminate all my backlogs. But what would I be losing in the process? I'd probably need to give up my love of surfing the chaos and finding hidden treasures in the midst of complexity. I don't think I like that tradeoff much.
July 8, 2018 at 1:59 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim:

<< I'd probably need to give up my love of surfing the chaos and finding hidden treasures in the midst of complexity. I don't think I like that tradeoff much. >>

I sympathize with you on this, because it sounds to me very much like the way that I keep trying to find better and better systems. I sometimes think that I should just choose one system and stick with it for the rest of my life.

That sounds theoretically correct, but would I enjoy life so much? Half the fun is in finding new ways to do things. I would really miss that.
July 8, 2018 at 19:37 | Registered CommenterMark Forster