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Author Topic: Suggest Questions for our interview w/ Mark Forster (Do It Tomorrow Author)  (Read 22774 times)
urlwolf
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« on: September 13, 2006, 05:17:28 AM »

Hi,

Mark Forster, author of 'Do It Tomorrow' (DIT) and 'get everything done' (GED) agreed to be interviewed.

We will have a set of twin interviews with David Allen and Mark Forster, who could arguably be the current top two time management gurus. Some members of this forum are using both GTD and DIT systems (with some doing hybrids).

So do you have questions you'd like us to ask him, about DIT or time management in general? Please post them here.
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nudone
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« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2006, 07:08:07 AM »

i'm just catching up with the most recent posts as i've been away so i don't know what else you've been discussing yet. whilst away i read Forster's 2nd book 'How To Make Your Dreams Come True'.

this 2nd book seems to contradict the first and third books that Forster has published - i'd like to know how he resolves the conflict - does he even think there is one?

does he consider that his third and most recent book 'Do It Tomorrow' is the only one that offers 'correct' guidance as it supplants the previous two books - or does he not think it does and they can all be treated of equal importance?
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mouser
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« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2006, 07:22:47 AM »

great subject for discussion nudone; i think one of the things those of us who have read the latest forster book is his willingness to say, this worked, this old idea didn't, and let's think about how to fix it.  so i think it would be useful to talk to him in depth about this - about ideas that have turned out to be not so useful, and how he goes about experimenting, etc.  i think he may be one of the best people to talk to about our experiment and get his advice on how to look for ideas that work, etc.
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nudone
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« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2006, 07:45:02 AM »

i won't go into it now but the second book confused me - made me question the whole self-motivation 'business'.

don't get me wrong - there are things in it that i think would be very useful. but if you want to read the antithesis to 'Do It Tomorrow' then read 'HTMYDCT'.

(might be better if you just don't read it.)
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mouser
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« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2006, 08:06:36 AM »

Sounds like a very interesting subject to ask him about.
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mouser
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« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2006, 08:12:40 AM »

I really liked Forster's ideas about getting around the resistance of the reactive primitive part of our brains, and the interpretation of this part of the brain as reacting to a task as a "threat" or as an obstacle to be avoided.

I like the idea of "tricking" this part of your mind in various ways to get the momentum going, since I find that his description fits some of the problems I have in working on bigger projects - once you get started it's ok, but sometimes just getting started can be incredibly hard.

I'd like to hear more about his thoughts on these techniques, and any other tricks he has tried or is thinking about, which ones work, which ones don't.
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mouser
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« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2006, 08:15:36 AM »

I'd also really like to hear Mark's thoughts on "games" one might play to break through resistance, whether it might be giving yourself "points" for doing things, or figuring out other approaches.  Ideas for possible software tools that could be used for such purposes.
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brownstudy
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« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2006, 08:40:25 AM »

I agree that Mark's ideas have developed over the years. If I happen to have a ton of small tasks to do, I might pull out some of his tricks from the first book. Lately, I've very much liked using DIT as a way to structure my workday and to handle tasks that come at me throughout the day but that are not urgent. I find that his notion of urgency works very well for me.

I would disagree about DIT negating HTMYDCT. I view DIT as the "runway "doing" level whereas HTMYDCT would be the 50,000 foot "thinking, goal-setting" level, if I may mix GTD/DIT metaphors. I still use the techniques in DREAMS to coach myself at my job, generate ideas, and do "longer thinking", whereas DIT helps me navigate the short and medium term.  It's the difference between using a microscope (DIT) and using a telescope (DREAMS), it seems to me.

I find great value in his latter two books, but don't refer to the first book as much.

I too would be interested in how he tracks his self-experiments, how he uses the DREAMS technique nowadays, and his thoughts on how thinking and doing require two different frames of mind to be effective.
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tomos
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« Reply #8 on: September 14, 2006, 08:51:20 AM »

I really liked Forster's ideas about getting around the resistance of the reactive primitive part of our brains, and the interpretation of this part of the brain as reacting to a task as a "threat" or as an obstacle to be avoided.

I like the idea of "tricking" this part of your mind in various ways to get the momentum going, since I find that his description fits some of the problems I have in working on bigger projects - once you get started it's ok, but sometimes just getting started can be incredibly hard.

I've only started his book (DIT) & gotten as far as this idea.
I suppose the "Next action" idea in GTD makes a project less daunting/big and reduces it to the First or Next Step.

Quote
I'd like to hear more about his thoughts on these techniques, and any other tricks he has tried or is thinking about, which ones work, which ones don't.
I'm a slow reader so I'll be very happy to hear what he says these days smiley
I wonder does he still think of the mind in this way.
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Tom
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« Reply #9 on: September 16, 2006, 09:31:34 AM »

Here is one thing that troubles me about GED.
In GED, Forster recommends to do small time slots for different tasks, and rotate them. E.g., 5 min task X, 5 min task Y, 5 min task Z...

For writing, programming, etc (all tasks where you need to use your brain a bit) there is a huge cost for stopping/ressumming the task (at least 15 min in some cases to get in 'the zone' again). Breaking and ressuming tasks like these would not work for me (I haven't tried).

What do you think?
Anything else you want to ask related to this?
How can this be ellaborated into a good question?
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nudone
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« Reply #10 on: September 16, 2006, 09:44:42 AM »

i'd say that is just for 'trivial' tasks. you've got a list of things that aren't that special, you don't know where to start so you just attack them all in short bursts to get things moving.

is it realistic - in the right situation i guess it is - i can't quite see how it would be that practical to use as your main system. it's there to overcome the inertia of not being able to do anything at all so 5 minute chunks are so quick and easy they are something you wouldn't complain or object to - 5 minutes doesn't sound like a 'serious' amount of time so you wouldn't feel any fear of trying - it would sort of be fun to rush through the tasks.

you probably wouldn't get any 'proper' work done but you would get airborn - the 5 minute tasks are like bouncing across the runway - eventually you make a big enough bounce to take off completely and get into 'serious' task completion mode.

that's how i see it - correct me if i'm wrong.

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mouser
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« Reply #11 on: September 16, 2006, 10:27:28 AM »

yep, makes sense nudone, but some of forsters other suggestions like:
"Stop Right as You Begin a New Item" (i'm paraphrasing that)
and forcing yourself to stop at specific times even if you are in the middle of something
might still be worth thinking about even if your work periods are in blocks of hours not minutes.
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nudone
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« Reply #12 on: September 16, 2006, 12:30:15 PM »

i did think about his 'stop as you have just begun' technique when i read it but i'm not that convinced by it. i appreciate that the idea is because he sees that the mind will want to to finish the task off so it will be easier to pick up again.

i'm sceptical on this one because pretty much everything i do gets left uncompleted - i don't really ever end up rushing back to complete these unfinished tasks - they just get done when i get around to them next time. i don't have any sense of urgency in my mind to get back to them either - rather, i'm often bored by them - that's why i move on.

as an example: all the cody wallpapers i'm doing - none are particularly finished, nor are they at an interim stage that could be called complete. am i rushing to get back to them and finish them? no, i'm not. am i walking around with them playing on my mind? not really.

perhaps i'm belittling his idea as i know that i'll complete these wallpapers very soon so the task is obviously still in 'focus' but i'm procrastinating about getting them done right now.
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nudone
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« Reply #13 on: September 16, 2006, 03:46:52 PM »

this just extends from what i said above. i mention it as it seems more important than the 'leaving tasks unfinished' principle OR maybe it is the 'leaving tasks unfinished' principle.

i've had a few ideas for these wallpaper things i'm doing - just rough sketches and doodles on a scrap bit of paper - THIS makes me want to carry on with the task. i'm not going to carry on right now and i might not get chance tomorrow either but i'm certainly eager to get cracking.

so, am i just doing what Forster described or is this different. if it's different then i think it worth considering - the principle being to think of new things to incorporate into your procrastinated task. i guess it's just an obvious thing to suggest - find something or invent something novel that relates to the task, something that makes you a little excited about it.

easier said than done i suppose and it certainly will depend on what you are trying to achieve. it's something i'm going to think about anyway - see if i can conjure up a novel approach to non design related tasks that i have to do.

i'm wondering if this is simply how these self-motivation systems tend to work - they make you get on with stuff because you are approaching the task in a novel fashion that you wouldn't normally do. you are thinking about it differently to what you would normally. the problem is that the novelty wears off after you have been using the system for a while and you soon find yourself back to procrastinating - if so, then the solution lies in keeping things new - keep changing the rules of the system. is this why Forster keeps moving on to a new system? i think this might be an important and valid point.

« Last Edit: September 16, 2006, 03:48:23 PM by nudone » Logged
urlwolf
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« Reply #14 on: September 17, 2006, 12:39:43 PM »

Ok, some obvious Differences with GTD:

In GTD if an item is in your list it is not a commitment, it may be there as a reminder, a 'maybe one day' thing. In DIT all items in the list are commitments. They all have to be done. This has the added advantage of NOT having to prioritize your lists.

But, how are 'maybe one day' things integrated in the DIT system? If you have to write everything on paper (one of the lemmas of DIT), some of these things will not be really commintments but 'maybe one day' things.
How do you action those?

My guess is that you have a monster list (a la GTD), and two smaller lists (today and tomorrow) that draw from the big one.

I also think that the monster list would be called a backlog smiley

Another problem that both systems have is that both systems have is time Estimation: For these systems to work,  you need to be pretty accurate estimating how long it'll take to finish something. This is rather difficult, again, when you are programming or writing a scientific paper.

Probably, what the Forster and Allen would say is that one needs to especify actions so they are doable and easily estimated (e.g., write 2000 words today, or work for 4 hours on that paper). This is not an ideal solution, but it may work.

Thoughts?
   

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mouser
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« Reply #15 on: September 17, 2006, 12:56:28 PM »

as you say i dont think GTD has a real counterpart to DIT's notion of WILL DO lists.  as you say, forster advocates having a list for the day that respresents a real commitment of what you WILL do that day, which i like.

I think one of the issues that keeps coming up here is managing projects that dont have such simple discrete single-action tasks.  i think this is definitely worth asking more about, and forster clearly has thought about it as his discussion on tricks to making progress against the resistence of this stuff shows.

as nudone suggests, there is surely an element of novelty that helps all new systems work at the begining, like diets.  but most quickly lose their power, so it definitely taks some practice to see which ones hold up over time.
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nudone
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« Reply #16 on: September 17, 2006, 01:05:53 PM »

at some point - if there are a sufficient number - shall we have a list of things that don't appear to fit in with these current self-motivation systems. if we can expose the areas of time management that have not been considered by DA and MF, etc. it might be useful for us to concentrate on the problems and suggest new approaches.

it may be even more valuable/fun for us to try our own newly devised techniques. i know we are meant to be developing our own systems - i just thought it might be interesting to focus on the grey areas or unanswered areas that keep being mentioned.
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« Reply #17 on: September 17, 2006, 01:11:35 PM »

i hope that we will indeed get into the discussion of these areas that are missing or don't work for us.
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brownstudy
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« Reply #18 on: September 17, 2006, 01:49:20 PM »

Here is one thing that troubles me about GED.
In GED, Forster recommends to do small time slots for different tasks, and rotate them. E.g., 5 min task X, 5 min task Y, 5 min task Z..

I typically use this strategy when I get back from vacation and have piles of postal mail, email, and assorted cleanup tasks to do, but the thought of spending hours tackling any one of them makes my insides dreary. So that's when I set one of my Palm timers to the 5x5x5, 10x10x10, 15x15x15, etc. pattern. Switching from one activity to the next adds a little more novelty to the game and I don't get bored as quickly. I also use the GTD precept of 2 minutes or less for these tasks. I segregate longer tasks as separate projects to be done later. But that's part of the processing.
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brownstudy
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« Reply #19 on: September 17, 2006, 03:20:15 PM »

as an example: all the cody wallpapers i'm doing - none are particularly finished, nor are they at an interim stage that could be called complete. am i rushing to get back to them and finish them? no, i'm not. am i walking around with them playing on my mind? not really.

perhaps i'm belittling his idea as i know that i'll complete these wallpapers very soon so the task is obviously still in 'focus' but i'm procrastinating about getting them done right now.

One of the insights in DIT that struck me and that hasn't been mentioned yet was the idea of urgency. If, all things being equal, I have decided that all the things on my list of things to do are important, then really the only way I can judge what to do next is by urgency. Now, Allen uses his idea of context and the time/energy/priority criteria to triage your day. Both are valid approaches, depending on which resonates with you. I find Forster's criteria resonates with me more than Allen's at this time.

So I'd say that since you've judged the wallpapers to be important, then you'll have the passion to see the project through to its end. Forster was interviewed on some Hay Radio show (don't have the URL at the moment), and his answer to the question of what to do when you have lots of projects is to work on all of them a little bit every day. "Little and often" is another of DIT's precepts that hasn't been mentioned in this thread. So with the wallpaper project, even if you only work on them for a few minutes a day, then you're getting work done on them, momentum of some kind is maintained, and you're doing OK. And if you're not working on them daily, maybe getting them done is not a matter of urgency to you.

I find that when I'm near the end of a project, I get a burst of energy knowing I'm about to be done with it and can work hours to get it to a point of doneness. You may not be at that point yet.

Allen has the idea of the Someday/Maybe as a place to hold the non-urgent stuff; Forster doesn't have a place for someday/maybes in DIT (I think), but Forster's focus in DIT  is on  getting a day's work done. I think Allen's GTD book is the same. I don't believe Allen has written a lot about long-range goal-setting (I gather he has a special seminar for that) but that's the area where Forster's Make Your Dreams Come True book specializes. Depending on which lens I'm using to look at my life, I'll use techniques from either of Forster's 2nd or 3rd books.
 
For long-term projects: I use the aforementioned Limoncelli book's method of salting my future daily pages with tasks related to long-term projects. Or, I keep a list of my open loops (GTD's project outcomes) on a PBWiki page and I type one of two next actions beside them, and I review them a couple of times a week. I find this is enough for me to stay on top of short, medium, and long term tasks. Even if I don't do anything on them this week, they're still in front of my face.

Forster says in his book, and I think Allen would agree, that when you feel on top of your responsibilities, you feel better.  One of the reasons I moved away from GTD's context lists was that I found myself compulsing about finding a new item to put on the list when I checked one off. I felt I was tending the lists more than getting things done, and that's why I like the DIT method better. If I get a day's work done early, then I move to the next day's work that I've laid out, and I start to be ahead of the game.

That said, I still use bits of GTD, DIT, HTMYDCT, and Limoncelli's book--and other tips/tricks picked up from hither and yon--in my own Frankensteinian way and getting a lot out of them.
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nudone
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« Reply #20 on: September 18, 2006, 12:45:33 AM »

thanks, brownstudy, that was interesting to hear and also encouraging to know that you've been using these methods a while - could you please let us know just how long you have been using this mixture of techniques and whether you find it a natural thing to do now - are these just habits or do you have to force yourself to carry out the system?

i think, perhaps, my own personal problem is that i expect a single book or guru to provide all the answers even though i know this is ridiculous to expect.
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brownstudy
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« Reply #21 on: September 18, 2006, 09:22:49 AM »

Ah, geez, I've been using GTD since before the book came out. I hung out on DA's forum when it was a single ribbon of unthreaded messages--1999, maybe? Before that, I scavenged tips from books by Stephanie Winston, Edwin Bliss, and others. But they were all tips, they weren't a coherent front-to-back system that DA presents. I used GTD (or my brand of it) for a couple of years in hard-copy and on my Palm using a variety of softwares. But while I felt facile using the system, I often didn't feel that I was getting the right things done. (That's not DA's problem, I think, I just wasn't thinking big-picture enough to know what to say yes/no to. I'm more comfortable doing the fiddly stuff rather then tackling the scary bigger stuff.)

I must have heard of Forster's work from someone on the DA board 2 or 3 years ago, subscribed to his newsletter when it was a Yahoo group, and then grabbed as many of them as I could when he shuttered the group. Now he does a biweekly (?) newsletter and includes some nice little tidbits.

The Limoncelli book I came across earlier this year--can't remember where. Maybe a blog post somewhere that sent me to the O'Reilly site that had Limoncelli's Cycle chapter posted in PDF. I'd been looking for an analog way of tracking my stuff. DA has some guidelines, Forster's first and second books really don't go far enough in describing a single tool/methodlogy to use for this. Limoncelli's book--which describes his methodology and his analog way of implementing it (he has software suggestions, but he uses a paper planner)--was the key for really wrapping it all up for me.

When Forster's DIT came out, I bought it from Amazon UK and read it in July about 2-3 times. His analog system is somewhat similar to Limoncelli's (they both advocate daily to-do lists, though Forster hates the term "to-do list"), but it is a system as fully fleshed out as Limoncelli's and neither contradicts each other, I think. Limoncelli's is more geared to the interrupt-driven life of a sys admin, Forster's the office denizen, but I've cribbed from both.

For example, I used Powerpoint to create my "will-do" list, which stands in a little document holder beside my monitor. The list runs like this:

Action yesterday's emial
Action yesterday's voicemail
Action yesterday's inbox
Task diary
Check calendar
Time card
Next day's list
Tidy desk
Clean coffee gear

The "current initiative" is something I handwrite in my planner and I box it, so it's the first appointment of the day. I've gone through the above list so often, I don't usually refer to it often. But it's a great reminder. I use Forster's method for writing down tasks on tomorrow's list. But I use Limoncelli's idea of salting future pages with tasks related to long-term goals (and maybe Forster mentions this too, I don't remember).

Limoncelli also talks more about automating tasks, reclaiming the 40-hr week, and stuff that Forster/Allen don't talk about.

Basically, you know, I just throw stuff at my habits and see what sticks  smiley  If something doesn't "take" for me right away, I don't always go back to try it again.

My current challenge is I have about 4-7 concurrent projects at the office, and I'm looking more seriously at Forster's "little and often" strategy to keep them moving. But I don't remember if he gives examples of how to do this (the book is at home). So I'm trying out some Palm timer alarms that I hope will help me cycle through these projects regularly so that their connections in my brain stay refreshed (now, that IS a Forster idea). I'm thinking of writing up an index card with each project's name keyword, and during the "task diary" phase above, just crank through each project for an hour. By that time, I get into the everyday stuff that needs to be done (clean my coffee pot, fill out time card, etc.).

So as you see, I take a bit from here, a bit from there. Next month, after the current crunch is past, I'll only have 1 or 2 big projects to concern me. They have longer deadlines, are amorphous, and I'll need to handle them differently. I may also start pulling someday/maybe projects from my lists in the back of my planner. And so the challenges will be different and there will be new self-management/project-management problems to solve. At that point, I'll probably pull down the DA/MF/TL books and skim them and refresh my memory about what they have to say and probably get new ideas to implement, based on  my situation at the time.

Whew, sorry for the braindump!  smiley  I guess you pressed the right button.

BTW, in his latest newsletter, Forster announces he has a blog at http://www.markforster.typepad.com/. His first post is on making decisions.

Best -- mike
« Last Edit: September 18, 2006, 09:24:27 AM by brownstudy » Logged
mouser
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« Reply #22 on: September 18, 2006, 09:39:35 AM »

mike, i hope you will stay with us through this experiment here and continue to participate in the discussions - it sounds like we can all benefit from your experience.
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Deozaan
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« Reply #23 on: September 18, 2006, 11:01:19 PM »

I have a question for Mark Forster.

Why put it off until tomorrow if you could do it today?  tongue
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nudone
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« Reply #24 on: September 19, 2006, 01:22:52 AM »

thanks, brownstudy. i'll have to take a look at the Limoncelli book by the sounds of it. thanks for mentioning the new Forster blog also.

it IS encouraging to hear that you've get a system going for so long - can i ask, are you a 'disciplined' kind of person anyway? i mean, have you always been quite capable of sticking to things that need returning to time and time again?

i ask this as i think the majority of us are just starting out with these time-management methods, so you are one of the few that has been doing things for more than a couple of weeks - you are an example that proves it can be done.
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