Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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Do It Tomorrow

As promised, a few more thoughts on Mark Forster's Do It Tomorrow...

It was definitely worth buying. He works in a similar way to GTD so the books complement one another. Do It Tomorrow is rather woollier and occasionally felt a bit padded, so basically it could have been a slimmer volume and still said everything important, but it did contain some useful things -- useful for me at least. (Disclaimer: task management methods that work brilliantly for one person may not be right for another. All I can comment on is what works for me.)

Like David Allen, Mark Forster doesn't specify what method you use to list projects and tasks, he leaves you free to use a computer based system or a paper diary or notebooks or whatever. One thing I did like about the book was that he specifically tells you not to prioritise tasks by importance.[1] However, he makes quite a big thing about choosing your commitments carefully, because having taken on a commitment, he stresses that you must do all the tasks pertaining to it, even if they seem unimportant or even trivial. He also warns about taking on too many commitments. (Eyes bigger than stomach syndrome.) You can only do one thing at a time but that when it comes to tackling large projects, little and often is the way to go.

He also says that you must be clear about what you're not going to do. In order to take on a new commitment, you'll have to give something up and he asks you to consider seriously whether you're prepared to do this.

I mentioned his method of closed lists in my earlier post. That is lists that don't get more tasks added like a traditional To Do list does. I've actually been trying this idea this week and I now have a sheet of paper with lots of tasks completed and crossed off, which I find quite satisfying. (The Next Action sheet still has the same number of tasks as when I started because for every task done, another gets added.) Having a list of Tasks Done on any given day does reassure me that I'm doing stuff. It's also helping me focus and get down to tasks on my Next Action sheets instead of fiddling around not really doing very much but appearing to be busy while backlogs build up.

I think his point about "do it tomorrow" makes a lot of sense. And by "Do it tomorrow" he's not talking in the traditional "tomorrow never comes" kind of way, but means that you should firmly say, "I'll do it tomorrow," and then when the next day comes, actually do it.

He explains that it's very easy to work by Stimulus/Reaction. For example the phone rings (stimulus), we answer it (reaction). Sometimes you have to respond to a stimulus, but Forster maintains that a lot of the time immediate action isn't necessary. Do we really have to reply to an email right away? If you become known as someone who says, "I'll do it tomorrow," and then actually does do it tomorrow, you will be reliable and efficient and can plan your day and workload properly.

I do have to plead guilty to being very prone to Stimulus/Response type working. It was actually something I'd been thinking about even before I opened the book. I'd worked out that one of my reasons for procrastination is that for years, as a mum, I'd been rather like a fire fighter waiting for the next call on my services. Keeping the family organised and fed and fitting in paid work meant that I really didn't have to think what to do next, you just looked around or waited for someone to shout for something, and there was your next task. If there was a moment when no one wanted anything, you grabbed the chance for some downtime.

Now I don't have kids to look after and I have much more autonomy in my day job, I'm floundering. Because there is no stimulus, I'm permanently hanging around doing not very much waiting for the next call -- which of course never comes! I need to learn to be firmer with myself and others, pick things to do each day and then get them done without allowing myself to be distracted by "urgent" stuff that isn't really.

The most interesting thing though was Mark Forster's suggestion that though the reactive mind is more powerful, it can be fooled by the rational mind. This is one of those things that definitely won't work for everyone, but it seems that it does work for me (at least to some extent).

It's our old friend, "It doesn't matter if this draft is crap because I'm only writing this novel for practice so that I can tackle the one about X properly." Of course we aren't writing the novel just for practice, but saying it firmly enough silences the panicking reactive mind enough to allow us to sit down and write.

Anyway, this week I used this method to get the book about steam trains to the second hand bookshop. This task was triggering a lot of resistance. It involved going in a shop I hadn't been in before, approaching someone I didn't know, offering them something and asking if they were prepared to give me money for it. I could feel the resistance every time I looked at the carrier bag sitting in my study. So I said, "I'm not going to take this to the shop but I'll just put this bag by the front door." It sat by the front door for a few days. On my next day off, I said, "I'm not going to take this to the shop, but I'll take it with me when I go to town." Of course by the time I'd got into town and was walking past the shop with the bag in my hand, actually stepping over the threshold was no problem.

I need to explore this method further, especially with regard to making phone calls, which are a bugbear, owing to my phonophobia.

Anyway, I think that sums up the main points. I do feel I've had a productive week, partly due to applying Forster's methods. Of course The real test will be whether the method is still making me productive long after the novelty has worn off!

[1] I remember during the teacher training course we had a session on time management which espoused the method of dividing things into "important and urgent", "important and non-urgent", "unimportant but urgent" and "unimportant and non-urgent". At the risk of perpetrating a sweeping generalisation, I think this is a rather male way of looking at work. Men usually reserve the important stuff for themselves and delegate the trivia by default[1]. That is, they don't do it until someone else realises that no one will have any clean underwear if the laundry isn't done.

[2] At least they regard it as trivia, until the undone trivial task turns out to have unforeseen consequences.
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