I have been a fan of to-do lists and list making in general. From David Allen to Mark Forster, Productivity gurus glorify it’s effectiveness and ease of use. To talk about it, there are generally 3 kinds of list-making usage.
- Working with no list at all. Mind it most get away with not using a list. They don’t have a list and they do what needs to be done, when task flows.
- Working with a long list. I belong to this category. I capture almost everything from projects to tasks to ideas and even things to explore in one long list. I process it and select tasks that I particularly want to action, later.
- Then there is the third type. Mark Forster calls this system – the ‘no-list’ system, but technically it means using a shorter list. Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday are great proponents of using a short list for the day and dispose it.
Being an avid list-maker, I was particularly intrigued by the ‘no-list’ system. Playing with a long list did make me loose focus, diluted my attention. Though I felt like I was ‘being’ productive by crossing scores of items, I quite didn’t feel I was doing impactful work.
Erstwhile, I have been a fan of Mark Forster’s FVP system that instructs how to efficiently process a long list. So naturally I become interested in the idea of No-list FVP system that he latter developed. I must say it was a great reliever and focus-getter.
What is NL-FVP anyways?
- Write down a task you want to do.
- Ask yourself “Is there anything I want to do first?”
- Write that down on the next line.
- Repeat the process until you get “No” as the answer to the question.
- Do the end task on the list.
- Before you do the next task (i.e. the last active task remaining on the list), ask the question again and repeat as above until you get no answer to the question.
- Continue this process until there are no active tasks left on the list. Write down another task you want to do and start the whole process again.
- Repeat ad infinitum.
Better still, I liked an explanation of a commenter on Mark’s post.
Here’s how, no-FVP, DIT Random works:
I arrive at the office, open my notebook, add today’s date and start no list FVP. The first task I write is “Go home :)”
Sooner or later one of the tasks I write is “Do today’s list” Today’s list is in Outlook and are primarily yesterday’s emails, some recurring tasks and work in progress from previous day’s that got moved to today… When I am done (list is cleared) or if there is something I want to do more than this, it is back to no-list FVP.
Though I don’t use a ‘daily list’, I like how one can back-trace one’s work from ‘Going home’ and the list reading backwards helps. So without much adieu, here are the 16 reasons why I found NL-FVP worked best for me.
16 Reasons Why NL-FVP system might work
- One doesn’t have to carry a list of backlogs of a long ‘un-closed’ list.
- One works on item that needs to be done ‘now’ and does it. It practically reduces resistance to a task. In that particular moment of decision to do a task, the boss mind and the employee mind are one and the same. (More on ‘boss’ mind and ‘employee’ mind concept later)
- You are working backwards on what is the last thing on the agenda…. Like ‘Go home.’ So the question now is – ‘What is the thing I want to do before I go home. What are the things I want to do before than now?’ This gives a very tangible reference point to make task decisions.
- At the end of the day, you are and will end up with the list of tasks completed, rather than having a debt list unfinished tasks.
- I don’t have to remember anything – if at all any backlog needs to be addressed, I can always come back and refer my reference lists. This is something I am working on. However I am consoling myself to be okay with saying ‘I forgot!’.
- In-the-moment decision, releases resistance and reduces procrastination. If you think about it, a to-do list is a tool for procrastination. You are entering the task on the list so that you can get back to it ‘later’. The very nature of a to-do list is to procrastinate. But in an NL-FVP, you can’t write a task on the list without actioning it now or sooner.
- With a no-list system, I’m trusting (or have to trust) my mind and not on an external list of things. The mind does have to work hard because of that – one to remember things and make decisions. But this level of confidence feels great. I’m not externalising my brains work.
- Since I am working from bottom to the top on the task list, my ‘live’ task is the last task on the list – very easy to locate it and no need of scrolling through the list if I have any.
- Can implement ‘Little and Often’ principle, ‘re-entry’ of tasks, very easily. But interestingly what I noted is that if I select a task by NL-FVP, by default, I see the task to completion rather than postponing it. I am assuming that is happening because the mind simply may not want to engage with the task again – because of the burden of remembering it to coming back again. This mind’s drive to empty itself and to use to process only – seems to wail away the notion of ‘partially’ completed task.
- It automatically allows chunking of the day (similar to time blocking or time boxing):
- before going to bed (11 pm);
- before going home (6 pm); before the noon tea break (4 pm);
- before lunch break (1:30 pm);
- before morning tea break (11:30 am);
- before going to office (9:30 am).
- It gives a freedom not to be bound by everything – neither dictated by a list or feel constrained to an item on the list.
- I can very well be on a pull mode than on push/ resisting mode. This seems that NL-FVP is in fact being very powerful. It feels like working along with the brain (or flow of it), rather than against it.
- It lets me face one task at a time – ‘like an hourglass, the sand dropping through it one grain at a time.’ Forced to single-task – that again results in increased attention and focus.
- Just the freedom of choice to chose what I can do next with my life in the given moment is a great power that NL-FVP restores with a person.
- Not to be worried of 101 things on a task list – I just can choose to do with what I can…
- Use a project dynamic task list of things I may not want to remember – saves the memory problem.
So there you have it. Using a no-list almost seems an anti-productivity advice. But I conspire that productivity gurus cannot survive without suggesting a ‘list-making’ tool, in whatever form it may be. List-making simply feels tangible and doable. I guess the NL-FVP is pushing my thinking – whether I’m defining productivity as ‘crossing’ more-items off or creating more ‘impact’. I still pestered by this contradiction, however I am going to try a little hard to contribute and create more impact rather than just cross things off my life.