A Simple Task List Hack

Recently I came upon the Autofocus System of task tracking by Mark Forster.  I went to YouTube to see if I could find a video to give a good visual explanation of it, but I ended up watching a video about Forster’s “Final Version” method instead.  And it’s a variation on this that I’m going to suggest as a task hack today.

The system is extremely simple.  Essentially it is a running list of things that you need to do.  Every time you think of something new that needs doing, it gets added to the bottom of your list.  Every time you finish an item on your list it gets crossed off.  Recurring or incomplete tasks are added to the end of the list when you are done with them for now. It couldn’t be more straightforward.

I chose to trial it around the house in place of a set cleaning schedule and a specific de-cluttering task list.

Here’s how I have been implementing it.

I took my pad of paper and a pen, stood in the middle of my bedroom and took stock of everything that needed to be tidied, cleaned or removed.  I wrote down all the obvious things that needed to be done. Things like ‘put passports away’ were listed alongside ‘clean window sills’ and ‘vacuum the floor’. I moved on to my bathroom and by the end of that I had a full page of tasks to tend to.

Really? One page and I had only been through two rooms!  Holy moly!  Lots of work to get on top of.  So I started.

I started by reading through the list I had made and, driven by my need to get some small wins under my belt, I chose smaller tasks that maximised visual impact.  I cleared up ten out of the sixteen tasks in the bedroom and five out of fourteen tasks in the bathroom.

The following day I re-wrote the list for the unfinished items in the bedroom and bathroom, then went on to add items for the living room, dining area and kitchen.  At this point I stopped when the list had reached two pages long!

By day three I was able to get enough tasks completed that I could add another two and a half rooms, plus note what laundry was waiting to be done.

Each day I was able to make small, but noticeable gains in multiple rooms, while maintaining the successes of the previous day. It was super simple to create the list – all of 5 minutes each day, and really encouraging to see the list shrink and the house become tidier and cleaner.

My big goal is to eventually get all of my household tasks on to the two pages or less.  I know that this will fluctuate depending on how much time I have to spend on these tasks, how much mess we make and what season of the year it is.  But I believe it will be possible.

Here are some observations about why I think this hack may actually work, even if it does fluctuate back and forth a bit.

– I organised the list of things to do in to logical sections – rooms.
– I split the jobs in to smaller parts – ‘put away passports’ instead of ‘clear up room’.

Both of these simple changes to the original idea of the “Final Version” long, rolling list, would fit nicely in many organisational guru’s toolkit.  They are forms of chunking; breaking things down in to small steps that the brain can easily deal with.  It reduces decision fatigue or overwhelm as barriers to achievement.
I also noticed that jobs can’t hide if you list them out this way.  “Wipe down the window sills” no longer hides somewhere in “Clean the room”, and voilà it doesn’t get forgotten or overlooked, or avoided.

– I wrote the list out by hand.
– I re-wrote the list each day.

Handwriting out notes is known to improve engagement with what is being written.*   Re-writing also serves this function, as well as ensuring that I see which tasks are being avoided as they reappear daily on the new list.

Like all organisational systems this one is not a cure all.  It still relies on the human trying to use it.  This human will have good days and bad ones, but on the whole I think that the act of creating the list each day connects to my nature as an obliger and a ‘list-ticking’ one at that.  I want to tick off the list and see it shrink.  I get pleasure out of the changing list and the changing environment that comes from it.  It creates a positive snowball effect.

And what gives us pleasure, we repeat.  Because we’re like that.

At this point I wouldn’t use this for organising my important tasks as I know that the list encourages my tendency to go for the ‘easy wins’ first and then work my way up to the bigger, more time-consuming or onerous tasks.  This wouldn’t be appropriate for me in a work environment as I would want the important tasks to take priority rather than the easy, feel-good ones.

If you give this hack a try, I’d love to hear how it works for you.  Thanks for reading.


* I know there’s a scientific study or dozen that backs this up.  If I find a reference to it (them) I’ll pop back and annotate this.

Word of the Day: Anhedonia

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-7-00-29-pmI was reading the New York Times today, as you do, when I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by an unfamiliar word. While the context and parts of the word indicated a similar root as hedonism I needed to head to the dictionary to get a proper definition.   My very spotty understanding and recognition of things Latin, Greek and what-have-you came in handy, but I wanted confirmation of the meaning.
Thank you online Cambridge Dictionary, you came to my rescue and enlightenment.

Today’s word in question is:


a condition in which someone is unable to experience pleasure

Ever met someone who always looks on the gloomy side of life?  Well, maybe I’ve found the word for you when you need to describe them.
I have to confess that you may see this word pop up now that I know it exists. It has such a nice feel to it.

On habit change

WARNING: Today’s post is VERY long.  Get comfortable or skip down to TL;DR.   😉

Today’s blog post is brought to you by a desire to change.

Change, that inevitable yet seemingly untameable verb.  We bandy it about quite a bit, and aspire to get some sort of solid grip on it but often come off as well as trying to climb a greasy pole!

Not any more.  I shall tame the greasy pole of change, even if only in a small and very specific way.

Where is all this talk of change leading?  Well, it leads us back quite a few years and also only last week.  Trust me, the mud will settle and the water will be crystal.  Just stick with me.

Last week Mr Oh Waily was heading off for two weeks of work overseas and on our way to the airport he made the suggestion that we have something of a competition while he was away.  He had known that I was keen to address the weight-creepage that had settled in over the past few years – just a couple of kilos each year until you wake up and you wonder where the heck your feet have gone.
Now don’t get me wrong, you wouldn’t mistake me for Bibendum† – yet!   But this year I hit another halfway point on the way to the next 10 kilos in weight.  I suspect that might have matched the heaviest I had been previously and that was quite enough, thanks!

So, the friendly contest – see who could manage the most shrinkage of numbersˆ before his return.

I agreed to it and here we are, just over the half-way point of Mr Oh Waily’s trip.  I’ve learned quite a lot of things in the past week or so, things that had eluded me previously in my attempts to shift the additional poundage, and it’s these things that will take us back a few years.

Our first stop is Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body which I read a number of years ago. The science behind his slow carb diet made absolute sense to me and I even tried it out for about a week with a resulting weight loss of nearly 2kg.  I was sold.  Problem was… the food choices were radically different from my default choices at that time. Breakfast became eggs, whereas before it was cereal or toast.  Lunch became a salad with the protein of your choice, rather than a quickly slapped together sandwich.  It became unsustainable despite the amazingly convincing results.

More recently I became interested in clean eating in the form of primal or paleo, but the same issue plagued me here.  The choices – a meat or protein dominant meal – were not my easy, grain-based defaults.  I would eat well for a few meals and a few days, only to retreat to my defaults when tired or under stress.

Fast forward to the past six months and you will find me listening to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, Happier, in a way that borders on addiction.  Every Wednesday night I lay down in bed and start up the latest episode.  You may now be asking yourself what, exactly, does a Happiness podcast have to do with winning a friendly weight-loss challenge with my other half? Well…

It actually holds the key to my possible success, and the increased likelihood that my stubborn habits may be able to be tamed.
The first key point is the fact that I am an obliger.  An obliger is one of the personality types described by Ms Rubin in her Four Tendencies framework.   The podcast makes it clear that we’re all a bit different in how this tendency manifests in us so I’d like to go on record as putting myself down as a sub-type that I’ve named a ‘Competitive Obliger’.  I respond well to keeping on track when I’m involved in a contest (real or perceived).  Thanks to Mr Oh Waily – there’s my external accountability taken care of !

Not content with having set up the accountability factor, I then took notice of podcast 47 and ‘The Strategy of Convenience’. It came after the start of our friendly contest but it has made a big impact on how I look at things with regards to my default meals.  Tim Ferriss points out in The 4-Hour Body that to make it a successful transition, we need to replace one default meal with a new one.  Fair enough. That makes perfect sense.
The key bit of understanding for making this possible only came to me when listening to the strategy of convenience section of the Happier podcast.  It’s not enough to replace one default with another – if your existing default is both *easier* in your mind as well as in reality.  You have to make the new habit more convenient than your current default.

What does this look like in practice? Let me tell you what it looks like right now as I’m working to reset my dietary choices away from a grain-heavy focus and on to a clean/primal/paleo style of eating.

First off, I’m no cook.  So while it’s not beyond me to whip up some of the fabulous ideas that I aspire to on food blogs like Nom Nom Paleo and the like, it’s not my default setting in the kitchen.  The less time I can spend there for the maximum impact, the better.  So what do I do to hit my goal?  I make it stupidly, ridiculously convenient.

Don’t want to cook up a steak or chook because you’re not confident in the kitchen?
Buy deli meat or a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket.  Do the first if you can’t even be bothered to take the chicken apart.  Remember – convenience is what you are aiming for, even if it seems silly !!

Don’t want to take 30 minutes to create a meal that you’ve never made before & may fail?
Place some of that deli meat on a dinner plate and surround it with your favourite veggies.  If that means you peel and cut up a carrot, dice a radish and open a tin of beetroot – then so be it!  If you can be bothered slicing a lettuce a couple of times – add that too.  And if you find lettuce to be ridiculously bland and unappealing – skip it or add a bit of dressing. (Not lashings of sugar-laden dressing though !!)

Rinse and repeat daily.

Do the same for all of your other meals.  Find a ridiculously easy alternative.  Don’t feel guilty or lazy.  Your aim is to change your current default to a new, healthier one.  Once your new, healthier (and lazier) default is in place then you can get all uppity and start to experiment with new foods, become an amazing chef and expand your repertoire.  One step at a time chickadee – one step at a time.

For me, as I’ve thought about this over the past couple of days, it’s clear that self-knowledge (competitive obliger / rubbish cook) is the first step to a habit change.  Back that up with doing the laziest possible positive alternative to your existing habit (healthy convenience food – not takeaway food!), and you are well on your way to altering a life-long habit that you may have struggled with again and again.

For the record we took a starting measure on the 8th of January and this morning I was 1.8 kg lighter than that weight.

Other than making my meal times super-ridiculously easy, I have attempted to drink 1 litre of water each day as I know it’s important for all my biological processes never mind crucial to fat removal.  I would have hit that mark, for certain on 3/9 days and got really close on a couple of others.
I have also pursued consistent, gentle exercise as well.  Normally I would be all gung ho and pounding out a couple of stop-start runs, but that’s just not possible.  My husband is away, I’m a stay-at-home mum with two young kids and no babysitter on tap.  My solution?  Gentle and/or brisk, depending on the youngest child’s energy levels, walks around our neighbourhood.  None of which gets much past 1.5km each time. So far it’s been 6/9 days thanks to the good weather we’ve been having.

And that’s it.

And now the short version for those with limited time or attention spans.


So the above waffle just went on too long?  Here’s the nitty-gritty.

  1. Know your type; Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, Rebel.
    They hold the key to how you are going to change your habits.  If you need to be accountable to an outside person or need to have the essence of competition to stay on track, like me (a competitive obliger) – DO IT THAT WAY.  You will never be 100% able to do it any other way, so don’t fight yourself as that’s the straight road to failure.
  2. Use the Habit of Convenience.
    The easier it is to do something, the more likely you are to do it.  Want to change your diet? Not a full-on chef-type as a job or hobby?  Don’t start with the idea that you must make amazing meals like you see all the food bloggers do.  Know your skill level and dial it back to the very easiest meal you can make… and do that repeatedly until that is your default choice when you enter the kitchen.  Once that default is solid, then you could consider adding in one new and maybe a bit *stretchy* skill-wise meal.  But set up your ridiculously-easy-for-you defaults first.  Again… don’t fight yourself.
  3. Keep learning.
    Read books and Listen to podcasts that give you insights – both in to yourself and in to the process of change.  I’ve added the two books that have helped me out so far with our friendly little contest in a section called Further Reading below.  Do yourself a favour and find a copy of the first one if it’s any kind of habit you want to change – and the second one if you want to find out about one man’s self-experimentation with his body.  They couldn’t be more different, but each has valuable information.

If you made it this far – well done you!  And thanks for sticking it out.  If you want me to stop by at the end of this coming week with an update on how we each did, just let me know in the comments.


† Yes, apparently he does have a name.  Google him.
ˆ Yes, numbers on a scale are not everything, but they are something measurable.

Further reading and/or listening:

Yes they have affiliate links, but you don’t have to buy them – your library would love you to borrow them.  And, as I’ve stated in the blog footer – I only link to things we love or own, and would recommend to others.  In this case I own both of these & recommend them.

Morning Pages: An Update

MPsI thought I’d drop in and give a quick update on my current cycle of being back in to using Morning Pages as a mind-clearing device.

I’ve been using the website I mentioned in my earlier post, morningpages, and so far it is sticking.  I had a brief moment tonight when I realised I hadn’t already written my 750 words for the day but that was as a result of a number of other things coming up and grabbing for my undivided attention today.  Otherwise it is going well and I’ve been having no trouble remembering to do it.

It is a ridiculously simple interface, for a ridiculously simple task.  But if you’re a bit of a gold star junkie, or a stat-freak like me, then you might appreciate a little something they do for you.  If the “don’t break the chain” habit is something that you use to motivate you, then there’s a little help for you here.  If you like to see how many words you’ve committed to the digital paper, then it does that too.  Or if you like goofy little badges of encouragement, they’ve got you covered.  After my very short six days here’s what my practice looks like. I’m hoping for another badge tomorrow commemorating my first full week back at it.  I’ll let you know if I get it.

I highly recommend this for its simplicity if you need a digital solution to doing Morning Pages.

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