Reminds me of another system I just read from the excellent book “Secrets of Productive People” by Mark Forster. I hope it’s ok to quote a long passage here that summarizes his system:
Here is a very simple time management system, which is based on the principles I’ve been discussing. The result is that in spite of its simplicity it’s nevertheless immensely powerful. Of all the many systems I have tried out or developed myself over the last fifteen years or more, this is the one I find works best. Don’t be misled by its simplicity into thinking that it is too obvious to work.
1. Write out a list of five tasks. The tasks can be any size, large or small, but you should be clear in your mind what the definition of ‘finished’ is with regard to each task. For larger tasks and projects you would want to define what your target is for the day, e.g. write 1,000 words of the book, list potential clients for the new initiative, clear backlog to end-July.
2. Do the tasks in order. You don’t have to finish a task –just do some work on it.
3. If you finish a task, cross it off the list.
4. If you work on a task but don’t finish it, cross it off the list and re-enter it at the end of the list.
5. Repeat this process until you have only two tasks left on the list.
6. Add another three tasks and repeat steps 2 to 6.
When you start work each day throw away yesterday’s list and begin a fresh one. You can also start a fresh list any time that you feel that a change in circumstances has made your current list inappropriate.
Don’t feed your list from another larger list. The contents of the list should come fresh from your head. This is essential if the method is to work properly.
You can use reminders for specific items you don’t want to forget, but that is all.
At the end of each day your task list will show you what you have actually succeeded in achieving during the day. It’s a good idea to ask yourself whether what you have done is what you would have wanted to do. Did you do the right tasks? If there were tasks you ought to have done but didn’t, which tasks on the list would you have omitted to make room for them? You can then apply the answers to these questions to what you do the following day.
The system makes us ask ourselves many times a day ‘What should I be doing?’ As we’ve seen, asking the same question many times is a very effective technique.
It goes deeper than that because the questioning is repeated day after day. It’s kept anchored in reality because it never takes us away from what we are actually capable of achieving in a day.
This process of continuing questioning and feed-back produces very focused action.
The system also makes use of the ‘little and often’ technique by encouraging us to work in small bites of action.
The result is that we are combining the insights received from the questioning with the deeper thought of the maturation process and the elimination of procrastination which little and often brings.
After you’ve used this system for a few days, you will probably find that you are falling into a natural routine for many of the tasks you do each day. This is a good thing provided that the tasks in the routine are ones that should be done. There shouldn’t be a problem with this provided that you review your day in the way I’ve indicated at the end of the last section.
The system also encourages one further thing –and in many ways this is the most important of all. You may have wondered why the list starts with five tasks and not more or less. The answer is that this number gives considerable impulse to one’s work. The system has what I call ‘drawing power’. That is to say it draws one along and keeps one moving. This is a desirable feature of a time management system which is often neglected. A list of less than five tasks lacks some drawing power. There is a tendency to dawdle and get distracted.
By contrast a list longer than five tasks tends to become stale and build up resistance.
I have found by experience that starting with five and replenishing when it’s down to two is just the right number to keep one moving.
If you try it out, I’m sure you will experience the sense of anticipation that comes from finishing three tasks and getting them out of the way so that you can replenish the list with three new tasks