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Discussion Forum > 4 by 2

I have found a way of working that I am finding helpful. I call it 4 by 2

A: Down the left side of a piece of paper, write four tasks that you wish to do. They can be taken from any system that you like, such as Autofocus in any variant. Down the right side of the page, write another four.

B: In any order you like, do two of the tasks from the left list and two from the right. Mark them completed by crossing through them or by any other notation that you favour.

C: When you have finished these four tasks
- transfer the two tasks yet to be completed in the right hand list to the left list, so that you now have four tasks on the left and zero on the right
- replenish the right side with four new tasks

D: Repeat from step B.

I am finding this makes the most powerful use of the structured procrastination written about by John Perry at http://www.structuredprocrastination.com/ and mentioned no shortage of times in these pages. For the first task that you choose from the eight, there are seven serving the role of being even less attractive to perform. For the second task that you choose, there are six filling that purpose. Even for the fourth task, there are two others on that side of the page that will make it look relatively appetising.

I have been doing this for some time and found it keeps me in the productive flow state more reliably than anything else I've yet tried.
January 20, 2019 at 12:04 | Unregistered CommenterDavid C
David:

That sounds really good. I'm going to try it out.

I also want to try nuntym's system out, but it's probably quicker to judge the effectiveness of a No List system so I'll start with yours.
January 20, 2019 at 16:40 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
David C,
Thank You for sharing.
How do you manage an unfinished task? Do you lave it where it is untill completion? Or you mark it completed and reenter it in the future when you feel it?
Thankyou
January 21, 2019 at 9:04 | Unregistered Commenternick61
<<I have found a way of working that I am finding helpful. I call it 4 by 2>>

Whenever I think "Everything's been tried" in the productivity space, there's always someone on this site that proves me wrong.

David - I think I might try this as well.
January 21, 2019 at 14:27 | Registered Commenteravrum
I've been using this all morning - good experience so far.
January 21, 2019 at 15:11 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret1
I like the focus this 4x2 idea brings onto a smaller number of tasks. That should help eliminate overwhem when faced with loads of tasks on a very long list.

I have always liked the idea of a "half-life" atom decay etc and how that can apply to a list of tasks which is effectively what your system is.
A while ago I tried doing half the tasks on a list each day based on the oldest first to try and break it down. Interesting how after a while that keeps the items on the list about a day old at most. i.e keep adding to the list and do half each day.
Doing half also gives a nice target and helped to motivate me by reaching a goal.

4x2 looks a great idea!
January 21, 2019 at 16:36 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
For NickC: I feed the 4x2 from a longer list, though I have found that it works well also when run on a no-list basis. When a task is worked on but incomplete, I put it back on the longer list. It will be selected for placing on the 4x2 at some later time.

As others have mentioned, I find it gives me a mix of focus and lack of overwhelm, while delivering the comparison with other tasks that characterises structured procrastination.
January 21, 2019 at 18:18 | Unregistered CommenterDavid C
David:

"...I put it back on the longer list. It will be selected for placing on the 4x2 at some later time...."

It is what I've been doing today, waiting for your reply to my question!

I select the new 4 items from a long list which I keep on circulating. So I have all the advantages of the long list approach (as described in detail by Mark) and, at the same time, the "structure" of your 4x2 system.

I felt very confortable all day long....

thanks again...
January 21, 2019 at 20:03 | Unregistered Commenternick61
David, are you supposed to do the selected task in its entirety before moving to another, or does it allow for crossing-off and rewriting within the respective column? If the latter, are you supposed to stick with the two tasks that you selected for each column, not touching the other two? Or can all tasks be worked in parallel as desired, until you have two unfinished tasks per column?

I like this idea.
January 23, 2019 at 18:50 | Unregistered CommenterCameron
This sounds intriguing. For those of you who have been giving it a try, how has it been working out?
January 26, 2019 at 23:37 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I'm trying a blend of Seraphim's serial no-list with 4x2.

With my notebook open, I do a brain dump on the left page of everything on my mind. I keep the lines short so I can have two columns on that page (if I need them).

On the right page, I use 4x2. I draw tasks from the left page and, what the heck, anything else I might think of. It's hard for me to include "read novel" or "relax" in a task list, but I've been doing that the last month (I was one of the contractors sidelined by the US government shutdown) and really finding the value in including them.

The original instructions confused me a bit, because it seemed you could pick from any of the 8 tasks, do one, then any of the 7 tasks, etc. but there was also an emphasis on doing 2 from one column and 2 from the other column. So I instead start with the left column, do any 2, then work from the right column, do any 2, rewrite the left column to have all 4 remaining tasks, and draw four new or recurring tasks from the left page. (If anything recurs, it goes on the left page.)

I like using 4x2 as a structured way to work through the list. I find though, with interruptions and whatnot, that I rarely go more than 2 or 3 rounds on the right page. That may just be typical of the tasks I'm selecting and my life's interruptions/demands.

Still early days, though, so no conclusions drawn. But I'm enjoying the process and feeling mostly on top of things though my inboxes are out of control at the moment. (I'm on several committees and there's a lot of activity happening at the moment.)

And I go back to work tomorrow! So I'll be using the serial no-list and 4x2 in my work notebook there.
January 27, 2019 at 14:33 | Unregistered CommenterMike Brown
I pick the tasks in any order, not necessarily from the left side first, so long as I don't attempt more than two of the tasks on either side of the page.

I'm finding this method gets me into a flow-like state quickly and leaves me there for a longer time than any other I have tried.
January 28, 2019 at 12:26 | Unregistered CommenterDavid C
I'm surprised at how much I like this approach. It has real drawing power to me because I look forward to completing 4 tasks so that I can create a new "block" of 8. It has helped me get through those tasks I defer on too often with simple scanning a long list. I still have a "long list" and I alternate adding tasks to the 4 X 2 after scanning the long list or just from my intuition like a "no-list" but once I have my 8 tasks I stick to them.

One thing I changed was that I drew a line halfway down a clean page and I do the "left side" list on top and the "right side" list on the bottom under the line. I think this works better for my handwriting because I have been doing this in a smaller notebook.
January 30, 2019 at 5:22 | Unregistered CommenterBrent
David C,

In 4x2, does the right column outpace the left and run away onto a farther and farther page?

I haven't tried it, but if I understand the rules, you are continually adding two tasks to the left (copied from the right), and four to the right, so it sounds like the right would eventually run miles ahead, and you would no longer have all eight tasks on the same page.

Is that how it works out?
February 1, 2019 at 6:38 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
I alternate adding tasks to the left and then the right column, and that keeps things even. Great method.
February 1, 2019 at 9:02 | Unregistered CommenterIan
Ian, that is clearly the perfect solution! Thanks.
February 1, 2019 at 15:42 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
I do this with a spreadsheet, because I work in finance and live in spreadsheets. I simply erase the done tasks. There are never more than 8 cells occupied.

If you use paper, and strike through tasks that you have done or transferred from right to left, then the left side grows by two rows per cycle, and the right side grows by four, so, yes, the right list would grow twice as fast as the left.

I think it's important that the two lots of four tasks are next to each other, or nearly so. If they are separated by one or more pages, and can't be seen at a glance, they can't serve as comparisons with one another, each making the others relatively attractive to do. I'd rewrite the 4x2 as completely as necessary to achieve this.
February 1, 2019 at 18:29 | Unregistered CommenterDavid C
Ian:

<< I alternate adding tasks to the left and then the right column, and that keeps things even. Great method. >>

I'm not sure I understand that. Doesn't it destroy the balance in the system by which you do two new tasks from the right column, and two older tasks from the left column? This is its most distinctive and valuable feature.
February 1, 2019 at 19:39 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
David C:

<< I think it's important that the two lots of four tasks are next to each other, or nearly so. If they are separated by one or more pages, and can't be seen at a glance, they can't serve as comparisons with one another, each making the others relatively attractive to do. >>

I don't understand this either. In the system as described by you where is there any comparison between the tasks in the left-hand column and the tasks in the right-hand column? Comparisons are always between the tasks within the same column. So I can't see what difference it makes whether the columns are on different pages or not.
February 1, 2019 at 23:01 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark,

"Comparisons are always between the tasks within the same column."

David C described the first task beating out 7 others, and the next beating out 6 others, etc., so I thought he meant to just do tasks that stand out of all 8 but with a cap of two per column. You wouldn't be limited to one column until the other column had taken two hits.
February 2, 2019 at 7:08 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
Bernie has it right.
February 2, 2019 at 11:49 | Unregistered CommenterDavid C
I agree with Mark at 19:39
February 2, 2019 at 11:50 | Unregistered CommenterDavid C
Me:

<< Comparisons are always between the tasks within the same column >>

Bernie:

<< I thought he meant to just do tasks that stand out of all 8 but with a cap of two per column.>>

David C:

<< Bernie has it right >>

Yes, Bernie does have it right. The reason I got it wrong is because I figured out as soon as I started trialing it that both methods achieve exactly the same result.

I therefore did the (slightly) simpler method and forget that wasn't what David put in his instructions.
February 2, 2019 at 14:30 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I'm still enjoying this concept but I have modified it a bit more.

I call my version "Sets of Four"

I have also been combining it with some the "Serial No List" concepts (one fresh new page per day with a periodic review of previous days pages.

Here is my approach

Each day I start a new list on a fresh page

After every 4 items I draw a line and close that list.

[ ] Item 1
[ ] Item 2
[ ] Item 3
[ ] Item 4
-------------------
[ ] Item 5
[ ] Item 6
[ ] Item 7
[ ] Item 8
-------------------

I try to complete the items in each set as uniformly as possible as described in 4 X 2 rules but I allow my intuition take over as needed . As the number of sets on the page grows throughout the day I still evaluate each set against the other sets but I find that I subconsciously like to close earlier sets faster than the later sets.

In a sense, making the sets of 4 has added a game element to my lists. I like to close the sets. It has also reduced my feeling of overwhelm because I see sets instead of pages. This is especially true as I review previous days pages. I like to continue to close out the sets on previous pages by reclarifying and rewriting the "important ones" on to the current day's page and closing it on the previous page or dismissing it all together on the previous page.

My Pages start to look like this

[X] Item 1
[X] Item 2
[X] Item 3
[X] Item 4
-------------------
[ ] Item 5
[X] Item 6
[X] Item 7
[X] Item 8
-------------------
[ ] Item 9
[X] Item 10
[ ] Item 11
[ ] Item 12
-------------------
[ ] Item 13
[X] Item 14
[X] Item 15
[ ] Item 16
-------------------



Can you guess what item I want to do next? in the above example, regardless of how difficult it is I am drawn to doing something with Item 5. I think this helps me with some of the tasks I end up avoiding.

As the pages get older, the isolated items stand out more. Mark called this attenuation. It seems the "sets of 4" increases that.

Brent
March 21, 2019 at 15:47 | Unregistered CommenterBrent
Could you perhaps elaborate how exactly the original 4 x 2 rules still apply or don‘t apply in this new setting? I am not sure if I really understand this correctly.
March 22, 2019 at 14:49 | Unregistered CommenterLaby
Laby,

It is a good question. I've broken the rules so many times I'm not always sure what my rules are. :)

After some contemplation, I think I can say that I've generally changed the original rules as below:

Rule 1: Old "Rule A" changes from using two columns to a single column. Every 4th item, draw a line under it to make it a set of 4. Stick to one page a day if possible. For me, this means a maximum of 8 sets of 4 (32 items on a page)

Rule 2: Use "Simple Scanning" to scan all sets on the page equally for the current day. Do the item that "stands out"

As mentioned before, a single remaining item in a set tends to "stand out" which is often a good thing as it relates to procrastination. I have attempted to enforce the original "Rule B" by doing 2 items from the top set (set 1) and two from the next set (set 2) before moving on to set 3, but have found that this was a rule I violated often because newer items came in that needed immediate attention.

The magic of for me comes from completing sets and reviewing on the next day anyway. (see Rule 3)

Rule 3: When starting a new day, make 2 completely new sets from the previous day's page(s) by taking 1 unfinished item from a each incomplete set on the previous pages.

For example, on a single page I find I can create 8 sets, so this means I would "transfer", a maximum of 8 items from previous pages and populate 2 new sets on the fresh page. Once items are transferred to the new day's page, mark the item on the old page as complete.

This last rule is a work in process for me. After several days, I have a lot of pages to choose from but ideally, I would keep it to only 8 items transferring. The whole idea of starting a new list each day is to attempt to limit my choices and reduce overwhelm each day. After I create my first two sets, I add additional items (and sets) as things pop up but my current day's page always starts with two sets of items that are chosen from previous pages based on the algorithm of one per incomplete set.

Each day I'm forcing myself to evaluate/work on at least 8 items from previous pages while maintaining the freshness of a new list each day.

Rule 4: Do what works for you. :)

Brent
March 27, 2019 at 4:54 | Unregistered CommenterBrent
Fascinating! As I take part in the lenten challenge, this is forbidden land for me, but still: fascinating!

Thank you very much for your explanation.
March 27, 2019 at 9:57 | Unregistered CommenterLaby
I posted the suggestion of the 4x2 approach some time ago, and made the claim that "it keeps me in the productive flow state more reliably than anything else I've yet tried." And so it has, and continues to do, and I am getting enormous amounts of stuff done, which is valuable given that the number 2 in my team has left and I am temporarily doing his job as well as my own.

But, I am finding, this all comes at a price, which is a sense of exhaustion and overwhelm. Is it inevitable that the more effective a system is in raw productivity, the more powerfully it will bring unwanted side effects? I've found that during periods when I have scheduled tasks for the coming week in my calendar, and stuck well to that plan, the sense of control is larger, though the amount completed is smaller.
April 1, 2019 at 10:26 | Unregistered CommenterDavid C
David C -

<< And so it has, and continues to do, and I am getting enormous amounts of stuff done, which is valuable given that the number 2 in my team has left and I am temporarily doing his job as well as my own. ... But, I am finding, this all comes at a price, which is a sense of exhaustion and overwhelm. >>

This reminds me of my experience with No-List. Great engagement and flow and focus, but also a sense of overwhelm and relentlessness.

Mark gave some great suggestions on what is going on there, in this reply to my question on another thread:

http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2725827#post2725844
April 1, 2019 at 16:59 | Registered CommenterSeraphim