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FV and FVP Forum > Getting more focus with FVP

I thought I'd give a more complete write-up of my "current initiative" hack for FVP (first mentioned here: http://markforster.squarespace.com/fv-forum/post/2551911#post2560073 ), and write a little more about how it is working out.

Here are the rules of the hack:
1. Before starting up with the usual FVP mechanism, first do a "strategic" pass through your list, asking a higher-level, more strategic question, such as "What will have more impact than X?". Mark those items with a cross (+).
2. The last item marked with a cross (+) is your "current initiative".
3. Start at your current initiative, and think of all the things you can do right now to move forward towards getting it DONE. Add those things to the end of the list.
4. Starting from the task immediately following the current initiative, switch into "normal FVP mode".
5. Normal FVP rules would say to dot the very first item. With this variant, that would be the very first item following the current initiative. However, it seems to work best if you dot the first item that really "stands out", rather than the very first item following the current initiative. The first item that "stands out" will usually turn out to be directly related to the current initiative, or perhaps some pressing item that needs urgent attention.
6. Work your list following the normal FVP rules until those rules bring you back to your current initiative. (In other words, there aren't any dotted tasks following your current initiative.)
7. At this point, ask yourself: Is the current initiative DONE?
8. If no, then repeat from Step 3.
9. If yes, then cross out the newly-completed current initiative (hurray!). Now, switch back to "strategic mode": Take a look back at the last item marked with a cross (+). Then, starting from the item immediately following your newly-completed current initiative, ask yourself the strategic question (such as "What will have more impact than X?"), and scan to the end of your list, marking those items with a cross (+). Then repeat from Step 2.
December 9, 2015 at 5:45 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
How to handle it when the current initiative just doesn't seem right any more.

Just as with standard FVP, sometimes the dotted items just don't feel "fresh" any more. Likewise, the current initiative selection sometimes just does't feel right any more. Maybe context has changed (work vs home etc.), or maybe the situation has changed, or maybe priorities have shifted for one reason or another. Or maybe you are blocked from making progress on your current initiative. Or maybe you are just tired of working on it. What to do.

Just as with standard FVP, I've found the best thing to do is to scratch out the item, re-enter it at the end of the list, and just carry on. I may work on one or two other current initiatives for awhile, and then the one that didn't seem fresh, now seems fresh again.

(For example, at work, I focus on a current initiative related to work. But then I go home for the weekend, and it's not a priority anymore. So I delete it and re-enter it at the end. Over the weekend, I find some other current initiatives to focus on, related to family/home. But then on Monday, I pick back up with the current initiative I left behind on Friday.)

I suppose I should say something like "don't abuse this rule, only do this when you are really blocked" or something like that. "Otherwise you might run the risk of gaming the system, or not really getting the focus on completion!" But in actual practice, I just haven't found it necessary to beat myself up like that. Things change. So I just roll with it, and it works out fine. Basically it leaves me always in charge, and gives me complete freedom to do whatever seems best at the moment, while still providing the right focus and the right priority. This is one of my favorite features of standard FVP, and my hack preserves that sense of freedom. :-)
December 9, 2015 at 6:01 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Another surprising thing - I never really know in advance what I am going to select as my "current initiative". I am always caught a little by surprise. Sometimes the most impactful thing turns out to be getting some small deliverable finished and out of the way - maybe the deadline was niggling me and I just wanted it done, which then frees up my mental bandwidth for other things. Or sometimes it's clearing out the last day or two of email -- because if I let it linger, it will come back to bite me and prevent me from getting anything done at all.

The method does also select those larger things that my rational mind would have told me are what I should choose as a current initiative. It just doesn't select those things as often as I would have expected.

And in any case, just like standard FVP seems to find the ideal path through a list of items, getting them done in the right order, this hack finds the optimum order for the higher-level strategic things. All while working the same single list. And all without pre-determining what those strategic things should be. You can just throw anything at the list, and the algorithm sorts it out. I'm really pleased with how it's working out.
December 9, 2015 at 6:10 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim:

Although this is dressed up in FVP clothes, it actually reminds me of of the 5T system in my "Productive People" book.

In that, if you recall, you list five strategic tasks and starting with the first one draw up a dynamic list of "all the things you can do right now to move forward towards getting it DONE". You can add to the dynamic list as you work.
December 9, 2015 at 10:29 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Day two of using this, feeling lots of energy and focus. This hack helps me from keeping "busy" while avoiding the most important thing because of some resistance.
Seraphim, these instructions added greater clarity, many thanks for writing it out and being so thoughtful.
December 9, 2015 at 14:18 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher E.
Mark Forster: That makes a lot of sense! I really like that "dynamic list" idea. Is that how it is described in the book? I didn't remember the "dynamic list" idea, so went back and re-read Chapter 9, and checked the index, and didn't see any mention of it. Maybe it's mentioned elsewhere in the book? I am still working my way through the whole thing (which is your best book so far, I think!).
December 9, 2015 at 17:17 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Christopher E.: Glad it is working for you! Will be very glad to know your further thoughts / observations.
December 9, 2015 at 17:18 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Mark Forster: Ah! I think I found it - I searched my Kindle version and found the Dynamic List idea described in the chapter on "Sowing Seeds" (ch. 31) and how to move forward with projects.
December 9, 2015 at 17:47 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I'm trying to figure what the difference between doing this and doing questionless FVP would be.
December 10, 2015 at 18:23 | Unregistered CommenterJesse
Jesse: It tends to create more focus on higher-level, higher-impact items and drive them toward completion.

When I've already set the current initiative and am working in normal FVP mode (i.e., Step 6, above), I typically switch between questionless FVP and "what do I want to do before X?" In other words, questionless FVP works pretty well with this hack for the regular processing.

But it's pretty important to ask a more strategic question (such as "What will have more impact than X?") when identifying and assessing the current initiatives (Steps 1-3 and Step 9).
December 10, 2015 at 20:08 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
This sounds like a very sensible thing to me. I'm going to try it tomorrow.
December 13, 2015 at 5:59 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan - Let us know how it works out for you!
December 13, 2015 at 13:26 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Interesting idea: a two level FVP with different questions for identifying strategic and tactical tasks.

Does the tactical question change to something like "What will contribute most to getting <current strategic task> done?"?

Or do you leave the tactical question as "What do I want to do more than X?" and rely on the strategic task to seed your mind with priorities?
December 14, 2015 at 10:47 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Hi Will -

For me, it's more the latter. For the tactical question, I usually use "What do I want to do before X?"

Sometimes I drop into "questionless FVP" mode.

It doesn't really seem to matter. The algorithm always brings you back to the current initiative, and this seems to provide enough focus all by itself, without the need to adjust the tactical question.

For others who have tried this hack, has your experience been similar?
December 14, 2015 at 14:42 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim, once again you have paralleled my own experiments. Your method has some advantages over what I've been doing, and just one drawback ... I am very intrigued.

A while ago, I discovered a SMEMA cadence I really like:
timely/small task A
Focus Project next step
timely/small task B

I work on the first timely/small and cross it out. Then I work on the Focus Project, cross it out and rewrite it below, rephrasing for its next step. Then I write another timely/small. This yields:
timely/small task B
Focus Project another next step
timely/small task C

I repeat this forever, changing the Focus Project whenever I feel I've done enough and need to attend to something else. For timely/small tasks, I try to select only those that can be finished in a single session, but I consider it fine to take two or three—in which case I temporarily bypass the 2nd preselected timely/small.

What I like about this is it gets the Focus Project a maximum amount of focus, while applying little & often. After all, little & often implies taking many breaks, and a break means working on at least one other thing. So by working on only one other thing, and always coming back immediately, I am little-and-oftening the Focus Project to death as efficiently as possible! For me, this beats the pants of off any other list-based system here, because these wide-open lists always tempt me to get too many things going and not focus enough on any of them. Instead, this SMEMA cadence makes me a serial focuser, yet not a hyper-focuser (which used to be my big problem). The timely/smalls keep my email checked, the pets fed, the phone calls made, etc., while still staying focused.

In conjunction with this, I like to have a plan for my focus items, so that leads to another SMEMA list, called the Focus List:
Focus Project A
Focus Project B
Focus Project C

On the Focus List, dotting an item and "working on it" means that it is being repeatedly entered on the main list. When I am done focusing on it in the main list and am ready to switch, then I am "finished for now" with it on the Focus List, and it gets crossed off. When only one item remains on the Focus List, it is time to pick two new focus items, often reentering one or both of the prior two.

Naturally, the Focus Projects are the same idea as your Current Initiatives.

This is the basis of my approach, and I have experimented with a few structures on top of it. The "no list" aspect of SMEMA never worked for me, so I still have a grass catcher list. I have either pulled ad hoc from the list into the SMEMAs or used various algorithms to feed them in. That part has been iffy and somewhat unwieldy—multiple lists, flipping through the pages, dotting things up and down... The best variant was when I found a way to mark the SMEMA items on a running grass catcher list. I dotted the whole list, FVP style, and I had supplemental marks that showed me where an item was in the SMEMA cadence, so there was no separate SMEMA list. When I had done two of the three, I would use FVP to preselect two more. That was pretty smooth, but I missed having the items together in one block. I found that seeing the block and being reminded of the next item kept me working in little & often fashion. When the items were spread across multiple pages, I was much more likely to hyper-focus again.

I also like having a Focus List for each of three topics: Career, Family, Personal. I like the "dashboard" that this provides, and when I think of something I am anxious to finish, I like seeing it is on the board, so I know it will come up if I just keep working. Or, if it is not on the board, then I'd better re-prioritize.

Now, this may look pretty different from your method, but the similarity is that you have a running list of Focus Projects (C.I.'s) and a running list of timely/smalls (or at least they could be preselected that way). AND you've done it all seamlessly inside the grass catcher list!

That is brilliant.

The part I feel is missing, for me, is the dashboard, showing at a glance what is coming along in my three focus areas, and helping me keep to little & often. But I suppose I could copy the preselected current initiatives to see them all together if that is really important.

Thanks for posting this. I will be trying it out and/or getting other ideas from it. I am also glad to see that Mark picked it up and has fused it with the Reverse concept, so I am watching that one too.
December 20, 2015 at 8:38 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
Hi Bernie!

Glad to see this write-up of how you have been working.

<< Now, this may look pretty different from your method, but the similarity is that you have a running list of Focus Projects (C.I.'s) and a running list of timely/smalls (or at least they could be preselected that way). AND you've done it all seamlessly inside the grass catcher list! >>

Yes, this for me was really helpful, having an integrated list like this. I really didn't like having a separate list of higher-level goals. And a side benefit (which turns out to be pretty central in the way this all actually works for me) is that I'm never really sure ahead of time which items will end up becoming Current Initiatives. They just sort of emerge. Once one emerges, then it's clear WHY it has emerged, and I am motivated to give it that special focus until it's done. But it happens pretty often that the thing that becomes my Current Initiative is not what I would have expected it to be, had I been maintaining a separate list of things I had considered important.

Anyway, all these new developments are very intriguing and it will be interesting to see what everyone comes up with next! :-)
December 21, 2015 at 3:34 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Also, on the dashboard idea... I've always liked the way you think in terms of dashboards -- but I can't really see a way to do that kind of thing with this, without getting over complicated with special symbols or something like that. Let us know if you come up with something!
December 21, 2015 at 3:36 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Hi, Seraphim. How the years go by!

<<Yes, this for me was really helpful, having an integrated list like this. I really didn't like having a separate list of higher-level goals.>>

I totally agree. If I could do without it, and not feel lost, I would. Sometimes I convince myself that it merely needs an attitude adjustment, and that does indeed help somewhat; however, I ultimately find real value in that higher list. I actually like a mind map for the very high level progression. It should exist at a level (large enough goals) that it rarely needs to be updated. Then, pull a few "now" goals from that, for a short, concise list. I have also built it up from the bottom level to the top, which is oddly satisfying. Either way... ugh, the multiple lists!


<<...I'm never really sure ahead of time which items will end up becoming Current Initiatives. They just sort of emerge.>>

I am very attracted to the idea of this, and it could be fun if I had no one to answer to or coordinate with. However, I find that the queue/dashboard helps me field those questions, "When are you going to start working on X?" And I can show what my priorities are preceding it. This holds true, whether the question comes from a partner or from myself. But again... ugh, the multiple lists!


<<...I've always liked the way you think in terms of dashboards -- but I can't really see a way to do that kind of thing with this, without getting over complicated...>>

Yep! There's the rub. Otherwise I would be off in multi-SMEMA paradise by now.


By the way, since Mark's original intent with SMEMA was to have no running list, some may wonder what is the point of using SMEMA fed from lists. The point, for me, is the "psychological distance" of never picking the next task, but instead picking the 2nd and 3rd tasks out. I pick *MUCH* better tasks this way. I have found it a useful add-on to any of Mark's list systems. E.g., run FVP but always lock in your next three items (yes, you'll need a couple of special marks around the dots, to keep track). You do those next two, and your third is preselected; then you scan according to FVP for your following two, and lock them in. This really blocks out the time-wasters!
December 21, 2015 at 7:00 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
Seraphim:

A question about going through the tactical steps:

Do you re-ask the FVP question after completing each task to see if there's anything new now you want to do before the next active task?

Also, in your practice do you only allow tasks that support the current initiative?

Many thanks
September 14, 2016 at 21:12 | Unregistered CommenterLuvs2Learn
Luvs2Learn wrote:
<< Do you re-ask the FVP question after completing each task to see if there's anything new now you want to do before the next active task? >>

Yes, exactly as per the normal FVP rules.


<< Also, in your practice do you only allow tasks that support the current initiative? >>

No, I would allow any tasks. The "anchor" task / current initiative tends to have the effect of focusing your attention on tasks that support the current initiative, without the need for a strict rule.
September 15, 2016 at 5:01 | Registered CommenterSeraphim