Kicks Condor

Fast FVP

The ‘hot and ready’ style of checklisting.

I am not generally interested in time-management or productivity systems—because I enjoy being such a mess—but this is a case where my study of algorithms kicks in. The Fast FVP system—formerly the Final Version Perfected, previously Final Version, née AutoFocus—is an algorithm by Mark Forster for determining what to work on, given a large list of tasks. (However, since none of those names are descriptive, I think of it as the ‘hot and ready’ system, when I explain it to someone.)

It is based on the question: “What do I want to do more than X?”

The algorithm looks like this:

  1. Put a dot next to the first item on the checklist.
    • That item is now X.
  2. Ask: Am I ready to do X now?
    • If so, you’re done: stop and do it.
  3. Ask: What do I want to do more than X?
    • Scan the list until you encounter a subsequent item which is more appealing.
    • Dot the item. It is now X.
    • Go to step 2.

And then, of course, you come back to the list later and cross off a completed item (re-adding it to the bottom of the list if you have remaining work to do on it) and run the algorithm again.

As mentioned, the development of the algorithm has gone through several variations. This reminds me very much of the recent trend to discover better hashing methods[1] and even extending to things like PageRank or YouTube’s curation algorithms.

What I like about Mark Forster’s approach is that he took the existing algorithms (many involving day planners or things like the GTD processing flowchart) and simplified the algorithm down to its bare essentials, never straying from its core emphasis: ‘psychological readiness’.

This is where FVP really enters new dimensions. By using a pre-selection process, the brain is softened up towards the selected tasks. But this isn’t all. The selection process is based on what you want to do. This colours the whole preselected list so that even tasks which seem like chores get affected.

It seems that, once simplified (made primitive?), an algorithm can then be played with, to try to reconfigure its simple pieces to align it closer to the ideals behind it. I make note of this approach so that it can be applied to the algorithms I (or we) are working on curate links or to orchestrate a crawler.

I also like that this is an algorithm designed for human software. While I sometimes use ‘recipes’ or manual processes as an analogy for algorithms, I like that this one is entirely mental/psychological—it seems perhaps unique in that regard. It is designed to be ‘loaded’[2].

  1. Such as recent developments like XXH3 and HighwayHash. ↩︎

  2. In fact, in the link above, the author simplifies Fast FVP down to the phrase: Ready? More? As if it were code. ↩︎

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