To-Do List Essentials: How to Recruit Your Subconscious Mind

Time management expert Mark Forster's Fast Final Version Plus will help you manage your task list to a tee.


Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #521

The wonderful thing about technology is that it gives us the illusion we can do everything! So we try. And then...we get overwhelmed. And then we suffer severe cognitive decline, physical stress, and we start to pull our hair out. It may be a good way to save on barbershop visits, but it isn’t great for quality of life. (Except for our corporate overlords, who buy lapis lazuli yachts with the profits from our amazing productivity.)

What we can do, however, is manage the overwhelm so it becomes doable. You’ll have to pay for haircuts again, but it will be worth it.

For example, David Allen’s Getting Things Done system is a great way to manage stuff when it comes into your life. It turns into a bunch of task lists, though. For me, it quickly turns to chaos.

Fortunately, there’s a better way. Just keep one Long List of tasks, and have a good way to decide what to do next.

Use a “Long List” for All Your Tasks

My favorite system for managing a gazillion tasks was created by Mark Forster. I think he’s the best productivity mind I’ve ever encountered. I’ve been a follower of his systems since the Get-It-Done Guy began.

Mark has designed a dozen different systems for recording and doing tasks. He starts with a different attitude on task management. He scoffs at ranking things according to priority (and he’s British, so when he scoffs, it sounds great). Instead, he uses the psychology around the interplay between your conscious and unconscious minds to decide what to do next.

My favorite system of his is “Fast Final Version Perfected” or FFVP for short. Here’s how it works:

  1. Use one long list to record your tasks. I use a paper notebook. Paper engages all my senses in a way that works better than online lists.
  2. Put a dot by the first incomplete item in the list.
  3. Scan forward, considering tasks with a relaxed mental attitude.
  4. When you see an item that jumps out at you, put a dot by that item.
  5. Now, you have a choice: you can work on the item you just dotted, or keep going until another item stands out to dot.
  6. When you have worked on an item for as long as you want, mark it complete. If there’s still more to do on it, re-add it to the end of the list.
  7. Now work on the previous dotted item, or keep scanning forward from the one you just marked as complete and keep dotting.
  8. When you reach the end of the list, work on the last dotted item.

“Jumping Out” is Conscious and Unconscious

When you scan the list, just scan it with gentle attention. Don’t try to prioritize or analyze. Let your unconscious and conscious minds both consider the items you’ve written.

Mark believes both minds need to buy in to a task for you to be productive on it. That means even when we’re alone, we’re running things by committee. Isn’t that comforting?

When something jumps out, it may jump out for any reason. Maybe there’s a deadline coming up. Maybe it’s something that’s really important. Maybe it’s something that you just want to do. But when it jumps out, that means your unconscious mind is ready to let you work on it.

Because your task list has a mix of items from everything you’re working on, you are implicitly balancing all your projects against each other, and allowing your unconscious mind to prioritize them.

Depending on the size of your tasks, you’ll end up with a few large items dotted, or several smaller ones. Keep each set of dotted tasks to a length that’s short enough to finish in a couple of hours. You can (and will!) always dot more tasks. 


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.