Can Mark Forster’s Simplest and Most Effective Method Help You Get More Done?

Can Mark Forster’s Simplest and Most Effective Method Help You Get More Done?

Mark Forster simplest method


This is Week 5 of a Year of Living Productively

This week I tested the ability of Mark Forster’s Simplest and Most Effective Method of All which hereafter I will refer to as SMEMA.  Scroll to the bottom of this post to see how I used it. I used the Clear iPhone app to implement it, but paper would have been a very workable option.

How SMEMA Saved My Sanity This Week

  • Effective in delaying gratification. I’m convinced that this is my biggest productivity problem. When I feel like checking email, researching a topic online, or chatting on the phone, I just do it–even if that is NOT how I should be spending my time. Once I recorded the tasks that I wanted and needed to do, I immediately felt resistance. I think this is because of the perceived obligation I’ve written about before. I talked myself into delaying the tasks I suddenly wanted to do more than the ones I’d written down by saying, “You can do as little as you want on the first two tasks and then you can add two more tasks you really want to do.” I don’t believe I’ve ever found a reward more motivating for me than the opportunity to add new tasks! I knew I could pick absolutely anything which gave me a sense of control that I loved.
  • Eliminated overwhelm. I used my weekly planner to get a sense of everything I had to do for the week, but other than looking at my “must do” tasks for a given day (of which there were few), I had a maximum of three tasks in front of me at any given time. I no longer felt like I was buried in things I should be doing. What’s more, I added to this feeling of being on top of my tasks by refusing to add anything to my IQTell list that I couldn’t remember to do naturally.
  • Gave me a sense of completion. When I went to bed, my list was complete. That’s a feeling I’ve only had before by putting tasks off so they weren’t due today. I’m someone who has very few opportunities to experience completion so this was wonderful.

How SMEMA Made Me Crazy This Week

  • The Mark Forster forum shenanigans. I won’t go into detail, but there were some problems on the forum that were pretty frustrating. I can go a bit off course when I focus on what other users say is the best way to use an approach, too. The purpose of A Year of Living Productively is for me to find productivity hacks that work for me, to share ideas, and enjoy discussions with others about what works for them. It’s not to win a debate. I have teens for that purpose, after all!
  • Task ordering. There were times when I wrote down that I would do a first task followed by a second. Then something came up which made it difficult or impossible to use that order. I made a new rule for myself that changing of the order (or even the tasks!) was allowed as long as I wasn’t doing it just to procrastinate or get to a more fun task.
  • Not being able to use it every day. I had several days this week when my time was completely scheduled. There’s no point to using SMEMA then, but on the other hand, there’s no point to using ANY productivity hack.

Did SMEMA Help Me Get More Done?

Without a doubt, YES. I plan to continue using it, and to think of it as strengthening my skills in delaying gratification. I’m hopeful that the accountability of writing this blog will help me continue. If it falls apart, I can certainly update this post to that effect.


I never use SMEMA now. The biggest reason why is because of the resistance I had to the ordering of tasks. I find that I need more flexibility to deal with tasks in the moment.

The Productivity Approach I’ll Be Using for Week 6

Lifehacker Guilty Hour

I read Nick Jehlen’s article on the Guilty Hour last month and knew I wanted to try it. I don’t mind having a backlog of things that I’d like to do, but I can’t stand feeling guilty about things I haven’t done.

The concept. Once a week, you work on the task you feel most guilty about for an hour. You can help someone with one of their guilt-producing tasks or vice versa, but because I don’t work with a team, I’ll be dealing with my own guilty tasks. I could spend an hour on one day this week on a guilty task, but I don’t know that I would experience the power of the method that way. Instead, I will spend a minimum of 15 minutes 4 days in the upcoming week on the task(s) I feel most guilty about. If I find I want to keep working, I will. If I don’t, I won’t.

If you’d like to join me this week, here’s what you do. Read the article on Lifehacker. Decide if you’ll do one hour once this week (and when) or if you’ll break it up as I plan to do. Then get ready to go guiltless!

To see how the Guilt Hour worked for me, click here.

If you’ve tried SMEMA to increase your productivity, please vote in the poll below.

Here are the links to the productivity hacks I’ve tried so far:

A Year of Living Productively

Week 1: Paper To-Do List

Week 2: Covey’s Quadrants

Week 3: Routines

Week 4: Paper Planner

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Can a Paper To-Do List Help You Get More Done?

Can a Paper To-Do List Help You Get More Done?

Can a Paper To Do List

This is Week 1 of a Year of Living Productively

When I told a friend whom I met on a productivity forum that I was going to be using a paper to-do list this week, she laughed and said, “Techno Girl is going paper, huh?”

Yeah, I’m out of my element. I haven’t consistently used a paper to-do list in many years. Those of you who’ve always used paper may be frustrated with me. First, I’ve discovered benefits of paper that are no-brainers for you. But second, I’ve also discovered some frustrations with paper that you will think aren’t an issue at all.

How a Paper To-Do List Saved My Sanity This Week

A sense of completion. The biggest unexpected benefit for me was feeling like I actually accomplished something. I do think I did more than normal, but even if I hadn’t, I felt like I did. Most digital to-do lists dismiss completed tasks from view, leaving me with the feeling that I haven’t accomplished anything. In fact, I assumed that I hadn’t gotten much done this week until I noticed that most of my tasks are crossed off. There’s just something about crossing off a task with a pen, too.

Reduced overwhelm. Because I only planned to use paper for the work week, I didn’t list everything that I could potentially do in twenty lifetimes–which is what I tend to do on a digital list. Several times when I felt stressed, I reviewed my list and thought, “That’s all?” A limited number of potential tasks is a very good thing for someone like me.

I left it behind. One of the things I assumed was a drawback of paper was actually a benefit to me this week. Because I didn’t take my list everywhere with me like I do with digital lists on my phone, I felt like I didn’t have to do anything but enjoy the activity at hand. So I chatted with friends at the kids’ P.E. class rather than trying to figure out what tasks I could do at the same time.

How a Paper To-Do List Made Me Crazy This Week

Lack of integration with e-mail. I am accustomed to having my email and tasks work together. I didn’t like the feeling of wasting time writing down email-related tasks. I expect that paper users don’t do this, but because I clean out my inbox constantly, I didn’t know what else to do.

Pen failure. Not only did my pen run out of ink, but it tore my paper as I tried to get it to work. Then I couldn’t find a decent pen. That’s the kind of thing that drives me nutty.

Poor follow-up system. If I knew I wasn’t going to work on a task until after this week, I didn’t have a good place to put it. I chose to use a digital approach because I no longer use a paper planner nor do I keep written notes. For me, it seemed silly to have to move back and forth from paper to digital and all-paper is out of the question for this woman who needs digital alarms to remember any kind of appointment.

Did a Paper To-Do List Help Me Get More Done?

Yes! I was more motivated to cross off tasks that remained on my list and felt productive finishing my to-do’s for a change. While I am ready to return to a digital list this week, I realize that I have to find a way to limit my lists AND see everything that I’ve finished.


I still occasionally make paper lists and like them when I do. But my primary lists are digital because of the convenience of having my phone with me at all times.

The Productivity Approach I’ll Be Using for Week 2

The late Dr. Stephen Covey’s approach to productivity explained in First Things First can be distilled down to his focus on four kinds of work: urgent/important; not urgent/important; urgent/unimportant; and not urgent/unimportant. He emphasized the importance of spending time in Quadrant II: not urgent/important. Urgent and important tasks are attended to without much effort, but those activities which enable us to grow, build relationships, or fulfill our dreams are so often put on the back burner because they don’t demand our time. That is, unless you have my kids and husband. They demand my time! But I’m thankful for that. Of course, Covey urged us to spend less time doing unimportant things, urgent or not.

This week, I am going to see whether categorizing all of my tasks by these four quadrants will improve my productivity. I’ve spent a lot of time determining what’s important in my life, so I am ready to go. I am beta testing IQTell and will be using this very flexible system to categorize tasks this way. If you’d like to join me this week, you can set up tags or categories for almost any digital to-do list. However, there are paper forms for you pen lovers, too.

Hoping that checking in with your results next week at least ranks as Quadrant III! Please vote on whether paper helps you be more productive before you click off to get things done. Have a blessed week!

P.S. Read A Year of Living Productively if you don’t know what I’m doing. Click here to see how Covey’s Quadrant Approach worked for me.




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