Looking for ways to get more done with less stress, I recently bought and read Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management by Mark Forster. I’ve started experimenting with it and I like it so far. The Do It Tomorrow system is simple, but not necessarily easy (because it’s about changing your habits). It’s based on clear principles and takes a systems view – focusing on making problems in the underlying systems visible and tackling root causes instead of being just a clever trick. It suits me better than e.g. the Getting Things Done system.
I’ll give my interpretation of what Do It Tomorrow is about, based on what I’ve read and tried so far. Forster nicely summarizes it with the Mañana Principle:
The art of getting everything done by putting it off to tomorrow.
The motto is nothing is so urgent that it can’t be put off till tomorrow. It’s however not about letting things wait until they disappear by themselves! It is about actually doing the stuff that you need and want to do, earlier, with less stress and reduced cycle time (= the time between the arrival or conception of the task/email/thing and doing it).
You get rid of your backlogs (emails, tasks, papers, mail) and set up a system for yourself to keep backlogs away. Backlogs are ‘evil’: they are symptoms of problems in the underlying systems. With systems I mean the systems you use for managing your time and energy, for processing emails and other stuff, the way you manage all your other work and projects. Backlogs tend to hide problems. Stuff waits in your backlogs until it cannot be put off anymore, which makes it urgent without a good reason. In this way, you are driven by the urgencies of the minute, while other stuff in your backlog that does not make enough noise just starves.
Forster states that there are only a few real urgencies that really require an immediate response from you, like your house or office being on fire, your kid being ill at school, or your pc breaking down so that you can’t do your work. Most of our ‘urgencies’ are either misinterpreted as urgent or self-inflicted (caused by letting it wait until the last irresponsible moment). Most of the stuff that comes in can wait until tomorrow.
So the idea of Do It Tomorrow is to set up a system for yourself, in which you handle all of the stuff that comes in today, tomorrow. Of course, some days you get more stuff than you can handle on the next day, but that should even out over time. If not, you have a systems problem that cannot be solved in a sustainable way by just working a bit longer or putting in a bit more effort. The problem is caused by:
- working inefficiently
- having too many commitments
- having too little time for the work
According to Forster, these are the only three possible causes of time problems. Prioritizing and creating to do lists won’t help you in tackling these.
I see a lot of parallels with lean: you establish flow of all the stuff you do, reduce variability in your work. It focuses on reducing muda (waste, inefficient way of working), mura (unevenness of work, caused by procrastination and waiting until nonurgent things become urgent), and muri (overburdening yourself with too many commitments).
In the next blog entry, I’ll give an overview of the 7 principles of Do It Tomorrow and say something about my experiences. I appreciate Willem for the evening conversations leading to these blog entries.