Do It Tomorrow - A Brief Summary

A brief summary of Mark Forster's book "Do It Tomorrow"

Table of Contents

Fundamental principles

1. Have a clear vision of what you are actually trying to achieve.

The clearer your vision, the easier it will be to reach completion on the project or goal. Define the vision as narrowly as possible which means defining what you are NOT going to do or what you will leave out.

2. One thing at a time.

Do one thing at a time. The old Zen saying applies: When you are chopping wood, chop wood. When you are carrying water, carry water. Work on one thing at a time and devote you full attention to the task at hand.

3. Little and often.

It is easier to get things done if you do a little bit frequently (usually daily) rather than attempting a large chunk of work infrequently. Little and often is the basis of learning a musical instrument, learning a language or getting fit.

Little and often allows the brain to assimilate new information and experiences, make connections and come up with ideas and new insights. Another term for "little and often" is Spaced Repetition.

4. Set Limits

Our creativity is at its best when it operates within defined limits. Consider what limits you want for the task at hand, and this will lead to better focus.

Another aspect of limits is TIME. You will achieve more if you set a limit on how much time you will spend on a task. Try working in timed bursts, using a kitchen timer (or other timing device) to set a limit of 45 minutes. Then you work with full attention for 45 minutes and take a break.

5. Closed Lists

The Closed List is a replacement for the old fashioned "to-do list" which was really a "wish to do list".

A Closed List is a list with a line drawn at the bottom so nothing can be added to the list. Closing the list establishes a boundary on your work, and marking everything off gives satisfaction and positive reinforcement.

Prioritising you work is not necessary as you do everything on your list for your day, so the order doesn't matter.

The simplest implementation is a page-per-day diary.

6. Reduce Random Factors.

Everything we do that wasn't planned for the day is a random factor. Having too many random factors means you won't achieve what you are trying to do.

7. Commitment or Interest?

You need to be really committed to doing something in order to get results. Rather than just being "interested" in writing, you need a commitment of "writing an article each month for my newsletter".

It is possible to only carry a certain number of commitments in order to do them properly. It is important to follow these commitments to the best of your activity and do them properly, otherwise you might as well not do them at all.

Work ultimately comes from the commitments we have made with ourselves and others. If you have too much work to do, then you need to renegotiate your commitments to get rid of some of them. This is why prioritising your work is irrelevant. You are either going to do a commitment or you aren't.

When you take on a commitment you are choosing to do it properly.

It is better to do a few thinsg really well than a lot of things badly. So how do you choose what to do? Ask yourself if the commitment will advance your processional or personal life in the direction you want.

Never say yes to anything unless you can say it whole-heartedly.

Prioritising and Urgency

The DIT system creates a buffer zone between random inputs and your daily plans by using the daily closed list. Rather than immediately responding to every request, random idea, phone call, visitor, email and personal interruption, you make a decision about the urgency of the random event.

There are really only three levels of urgency:

1. Immediate

You have to drop what you are doing and respond immediately. Obviously this sort of interruption is NOT written down on your closed list. How much of your job or personal has to work like this? Very little actually.

2. Same Day

This level of response is not immediate but sometime during the day. There is no need to respond immediately as the interruption is not life-threateningly urgent. Don't turn this level of interruption into the immediate level of urgency!

Write down the new request on your closed list. It will be written down under the ruled line because the list got closed following the planning of today's activities. Writing it down will help clarify your thinking about the priority.

3. Tomorrow

This is the ideal place to park items on your lists and works best for planning your day. As you plan your next day you know about this item and can action it at the most appropriate time.

Adding an item to the tomorrow list is ensuring you are not giving the item an unnecessarily high level of importance. You don't want to fall into the trap of always working on the latest interruption.

The Closed List

The closed list is a type of "To Do" list that has a clearly defined boundary. As you start the day, you rule a line across the list to represent your plan for the day. As you get interruption you try to add those to the list of tomorrow, otherwise you (relucantly!) add them to today's list under the ruled line. Writing it down makes you think about whether to do the task today or tomorrow.

Your goal each day is to complete all the items above the line, as well as the same day items written below the line. If you can consistently complete everything on your list, then you have a good idea how much work you can achieve a day.

Following this methodology you will have a system for dealing with interruptions as well as planning what you do today.

Make sure you write down everything you do during the day so when you review your daily lists you can see how much work you do each day. The end of the week is a good time to review the daily closed lists and this forms part of my weekly review.

The beauty of writing things done on the closed list for tomorrow is that it allows you to group similar activities and action them together. This is much more efficient than handling them as they turn up at random.

The Task Diary

The Task Diary is a set of daily, dated pages where you write your Closed List. As you start each day, you work with a list prepared yesterday. A rule line indicates the end of the planned items for the day.

I like to cross out completed items using a highlighter pen, so I can still read the description of completed items. Using a highlighter has a similar feel to colouring in a picture and makes the process of completing items seem like a fun activity.

Use a separate calendar system for your scheduled activities.

In summary the task diary is a "will do" list with the aim of completing everything written on a page on that day. Every additional task you do is written on the closed list for the day.

The first item on the Closed List should be the current initiative.

Daily and Weekly Routine

How do you track the regular items you do each day or week? Rewriting in the task diary can be annoying and tedious, so an alternative is to print a daily checklist. These checklists can be used in conjunction with the daily closed list (task diary).

An alternative is to have some sort of weekly timetable with space to mark off the things you need to do every morning, evening, or whenever. Using my example of learning a new word (from the dictionary) each weekday, I put this on my weekly checklist.

Current Initiative

This is a special activity you work on FIRST before you work through your lists. The idea of a current initiative is to get started on a project, finish something off, or major tidying up or reorganising. The current initiative is something you do first every day. The principle could be applied to something you do every evening after dinner, for example, reorganising bookshelves or sorting out a filing cabinet.

A current initiative should only need a few sessions to complete, and then you can choose another initiative. Clearing a backlog is a good example of a current initiative, for example spending 15 minutes every morning first thing to clear the baclog of email after a holiday.

You may want to keep a list of current initiatives so when you have completed one of them, move on to the next.

Getting overwhelmed

What do you do if you are unable to complete these lists? A closed list for the day should represent the work you can do in a day. Each day we collect new work that needs to be actioned, and typically we add this to tomorrow's list. Some of the work gets added to today's list and actioned along with the planned work.

But what do we do when we can't keep up? If you can't complete your list for more than three days in a row, conduct an audit.

There are three main reasons for not completing the lists:

1. You are not working efficiently.

What is your processing speed?

How much work did you do today that wasn't written down on your list?

Solution: Work in closed lists and group similar work together. This should help maximise you concentration and maintain focus. Avoid doing things that aren't on your list for the day.

2. You have too much to do.

There is a limit to how much one person can do!

Solution: Cut back on your commitments. Review your list of current commitments - active projects and the roles you perform. What are the most important things you should be doing that advance your career, personal goals and values.

3. You are not leaving enough time.

Remember your future diary pages already have the commitments of daily living. Just because you have no scheduled activities doesnt' mean you have nothing to do!

Remedy: Don't over commit your time and leave time for yourself.

Keeping Going - Persistence

Procrastination is often a paralysis caused by the thought of having so much work to do and not knowing what to do next.

1. Reward yourself for completing your daily lists.

Completing the daily closed lists gives positive reinforcement and a good feeling of achievement. Reward yourself each week for the number of days you completed everything on the list.

2. Using timed bursts.

Timed bursts are good for breaking procrastination. Set the timer for 12 minutes and work hard, then have a 3 minute break. Repeat 3 more times and you will have done 48 minutes quality work in 1 hour. If the task is particularly odious, use a time of 5 minutes. After the time is up you can decided whether to repeat the 5 minute burst.

3. Taking breaks.

When you take a break make sure you have started something just before the break. The human mind doesn't like to leave things incomplete so when you return from the break you will be motivated to conitnue working. It is much harder to get enthusiastic about a new task after a pleasant break.

Never take a break until you have started the next thing.

4. Keeping track of how you feel

Every day ask yourself "Do do I feel?". Give yourself a score out of 10 and keep this information in a journal along with any comments. After a while you will define what it means to "feel good" as well as discovering what makes you feel good.

5. Tricks

There are many tricks you can use to fool your rational mind to overcome resisting some tasks. For example, if you need to write an essay you might say out loud "I am not going to write my essay, but I will read some notes and write two sentences".

Choosing the descriptions of the tasks can put a new spin, for example using the word "Just": "I will just get this file out". I procrastinate over doing things associated with personal finance. A good strategy for preparing a budget would be "I will just summarise the insurance policy premiums for next year".


A project is something you want to do that is going to take more than one session of work to complete. Reorganising a filing cabinet is most likely a project because it will take more than one session to complete.

There are two types of projects:

1. Continuous projects.

This kind of project consists of a repeating a small number of tasks over a relatively long period of time. For example, learning a language, practicing a musical instrument or getting fit.

Sometimes the project has a definite goal (passing an examination, publishing a book) but often the repetitive action is the goal (staying fit).

Continuous projects need to become a daily habit. This can be done on the Closed List or the daily checklists.

2. Organisational projects.

These are a series of different tasks leading to a specific goal, for example organising a wedding, or planning a holiday. A good way to organise these projects is to break it down into a set of tasks. Drawing a Mind Map is a great way of exploring what needs to get done.

The tasks are then added to the Closed Lists. You can add reviewing and planning type tasks to the closed lists, for example "Plan the next stage of the XXX project".

Instead of trying to prioritise projects, do the LEAST important part first. This is a lot easier than leaving the task so long until you have a panic situation.

Now buy the book!

3rd November 2007