Fooling the reactive mind: Mark Forster’s time management system

October 13th, 2006 by jose

 Is the latest time management book by Mark Forster. Do it tomorrow (DIT) presents some very innovative ideas that are surprisingly simple.

Mark Forster is a time management and life coach expert whose works are best known in the United Kingdom. To give you an idea of his recognition in Great Britain, DIT is ranked #214 in sales at Amazon UK at the time of this writing. The Observer recognized Forster as one of Britain’s top ten life coaches.

The title of the book comes from one of the central ideas: to create a buffer between the time a task is born and the time we action it. Forster’s advice is to ‘Collect all your lncomlng work during one day and deal with it in one batch the following day.’ This simple thing can help us to rescue our day from the influence of random interruptions. Forster also recommends not taking a single action without writing it first. The logic behind these two recommendations is a distinction between what he calls the reactive vs. rational brain. During our day, some tasks are not done at all because the ‘reactive brain’ puts in a lot of resistance. Most people would be familiar with this kind of resistance: ‘I really, really need to finish that paper… but let me check my mail once more’. Although the rational brain knows the importance of completing a task, the reactive brain just ‘doesn’t feel like’.

The reactive brain is not smart, so Forster proposes we should ‘cheat’ on it. For example, saying to yourself  ‘ok, I’m not going to finish the paper, but I’ll just put the folder on top of the table’ is sometimes enough for the reactive brain to feel relieved and for us to actually start witting!

The idea of an automatic vs. controlled mode of processing is present in current cognitive science, popularized by books such as for example Stanovich, K. E. (2004). “the robot’s rebellion” and Slovic et al’s (2002) ‘‘affect heuristic’’ notion: Purportedly rational judgment is often influenced by gut feelings (there is a large collection of judgment and decision making heuristics that work just bypassing the ‘logical’ system. These are only examples of evidence for the ‘reactive brain’ and rational brain’ distinction that Forster makes.

However, there is another heuristic that goes against the premise that ‘the rational brain knows better and the guts feelings should be avoided’. In one of his other books called ‘Get everything done’ (GED), Forster recommends to do the action that we resist the most. The idea is that this gut feeling signals the things that are the most important. I find this a bit of a contradiction.

Many people seems to be  complaining around how much it takes to keep a time management system running (although they mostly refer to the current geek’s favorite, ‘get things done’ -GTD-, which is all the craze in productivity blogs around). I  think this Forster system has great potential to become a next craze in that it is several orders of magnitude simpler than GTD. DIT is simpler in that there is no need to keep record of importance, energy levels, contexts, etc. It also delimits when your job is done (which is important if you want to have a life).

Now is this a book that I would recommend to academics? As long as academics have to deal with deadlines, papers, emails, conflicting goals, and procrastination like any other mortal, the answer is yes!

DIT is not a book on project management, or on how to select which project to work on next. This topic is well covered by other books, such as Berkun’s ‘project management’ that I will review soon. But DIT is filled with surprisingly simple advice to increase your effectiveness in dealing with your day-to-day task. I’ll probably write more about it… but I’ll ‘do it tomorrow’ :)

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Slovic, P., Finucane, M., Peters, E. & MacGregor, D. (2002). The affect heuristic. In T. Gilovich, D. Griffin, & D. Kahneman (Eds) Heuristics of intuitive judgment: Extensions and applications. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Stanovich, K. E. (2004). the robot’s rebelion: finding meaning in the age of Darwin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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6 Responses to “Fooling the reactive mind: Mark Forster’s time management system”

  1. mahaNo Gravatar Says:

    it’s wanderfull book

  2. Study Hacks » Blog Archive » From the Web: Introducing Academic Productivity Says:

    [...] Fooling the reactive mind: Mark Forster’s time management system A review of one of the latest fads in the personal productivity community: Mark Forster’s Do it Tomorrow system. A good analysis of the key ideas; e.g., separate the rational and the reactive mind. [...]

  3. Dan O'NeilNo Gravatar Says:

    This is not a book I’ve come across yet, but from your write up looks like it may be worth a read. Another book about being effective today is called Eat That Frog, by Brian Tracy.

    Thanks for the review,

    Dan O’Neil

  4. KelsieNo Gravatar Says:

    My friends have been telling me to read this book and I found your blog by searching for this book in the search engines. Could you tell me how much it costs? because I might pick one up for my husband as wele. thanks.

  5. Binaural BeatsNo Gravatar Says:

    Hey jose it’s kelsie. I looked up the price in amzon today it costs: $10.85 – I have purchased it, can’t wait to read it – thanks again for the recommendation.

  6. Goal Setting CollegeNo Gravatar Says:

    Hmm… I’m really curious to pick up this book now to see how we can literally “cheat” our reactive brain. Might be a great tool when it comes to goal setting, especially in executing our goals action plan. Thank you so much for the heads up!

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