My Latest Book

Product Details

Also available on,, and other Amazons and bookshops worldwide! 

To Think About . . .
Anything you say before “but” is not worth saying. Tyrion Lanister
My Other Books

Product Details

Product Details

Product Details

Product Details

Click to order other recommended books.

Find Us on Facebook Badge

Search This Site
Latest Comments
« Clarification: Speed of movement | Main | Autofocus system - instructions »

Clarification: "Standing Out"

It’s clear from reading the comments that many people are having trouble with the concept of a task “standing out” when one does a pass through a page. This is a difficult concept to grasp for people who are used to using an analytical frame of mind, but it is essential if you are going to use the system correctly.

Here’s a little exercise to help you grasp what I mean:

Arrange six or seven coins in a row in front of you. They can be all the same or a variety.

Starting from the left hand end run your finger quickly along the row, making a very slight pointing movement towards each coin.

Now start again from the left-hand side and move your finger more deliberately along the row, pointing quite definitely at each coin. In the course of this pass, pick up at least one of the coins and put it to one side. Try not to anticipate which coin or coins you are going to pick up.

Now start from the left again, and do exactly the same but this time you can pick up any number of coins from zero upwards. If you picked up no coins by the time you reached the end of the row, stop. If you’ve picked up one or more coins, keep going until you either pick up no coins on a pass or you have run out of coins.

This is exactly the process that you go through when dealing with a page (except of course that you are moving from top to bottom, rather than from left to right). Get the hang of what it feels like to pick an item without making a conscious choice.

Reader Comments (17)

Thank you Mark. These are the very two things that concerned me, especially as I didn't get off my first page today. Thanks for all your dedication to answering so many queries so quickly. Taragh
January 7, 2009 at 0:50 | Unregistered CommenterTaragh
Well, I'm thinking maybe I need to write more clearly. Or it's my handwriting. Or I need to print out pages with fewer lines.

My words all run together and it takes me a while to "read" the items. Makes it hard to to the 'run through' that I want to.

Also, a lot of my work as a psychiatrist involves calling back patients and other providers who have left detailed messages of all sorts. So if I try to run through all the notes I've taken from the messages, it's more than 1 line per item. Makes it really hard to tell the TO DO item with in. (Call them back, call someone else, document something else, call in meds, check somethink in the chart...)

So, I'm toying with the idea of transcribing messages in one place and then having the Autofocus list be separate and have the gist of the TO DOs distilled into a few words which could be more easily scanned. (ex: Call xxx to reshedule). Of course, then I'd need a way for the two to reference each other.
January 7, 2009 at 3:04 | Unregistered CommenterLena
"pick up any number of coins from zero upwards"

I'm a little puzzled by this, as I thought the idea was to move down the list until *one* item stood out to be done, so to speak. Can you clarify, please?

Anyway, after a day using this at the Studio, it worked very well. Still concerned about what will happen to my Current Initiative, though.
January 7, 2009 at 6:46 | Unregistered CommenterLaurence

No, the aim is to move down the page until one tasks stands out, and then when you have done it continue to move until another task stands out and so on. Each coin represents a task "Pick up coin", so the exercise exactly reproduces the process of dealing with a page of tasks.
January 7, 2009 at 9:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark

I didn't have any trouble with the concept of "standing out" but maybe it's just a case of semantics.

Perhaps the phrase "run down the list until an item CATCHES YOUR ATTENTION" would be clearer for some - especially non native English speakers?

I'm loving the system and am running it much better today due to less chucking unlisted items at it (I'm now adding almost everything straight to bottom of the list) and also waiting till items come round before doing them i.e. checking this site and forum!
January 7, 2009 at 11:49 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

Yes, I'm already starting on a re-write of the instructions to make them clearer.
January 7, 2009 at 11:54 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hello Mark (and others)

Another thing I wanted to check. When you have worked on an item on a page, and finished working on it, do you then start the pass of that page from the top, or continue down the page from where the task was that you worked on. For example, if you went through a page, and a task half way down stood out and you worked on it, would you then continue looking at tasks from half-way down the page or would you go back to the top of that page?

Hope that makes sense.

Ben H
January 7, 2009 at 12:35 | Unregistered CommenterBen H

The way I envisaged it is that you would continue down the page from where you did the task, so you are continually cycling round the page.
January 7, 2009 at 14:00 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Another way of putting it is that you can let the item "choose itself". But whatever you call it, the experience of an item "standing out" will differ from person to person.

It might appear brighter, more colourful, larger, closer, louder, friendlier or more solid; it might pull you in to itself, or it might make you twitch in readiness.

It might therefore be helpful to encourage people to discover for themselves their own way of knowing what is "standing out".
January 7, 2009 at 17:26 | Unregistered CommenterGez
A Sharp Intake of Breath

Reminds me of a crisis system I ran a few years ago, before GTD, DIT, Palm Pilots, e-mail and Outlook...

Every issue went in a tray. If there was no related paperwork I simply wrote one line on a sheet of paper and added it to the tray.

I would skim through the tray each morning, or when an item was finished, and every now and again something would surface and I would take an involountary "sharp in take of breath". That was the one to work on!

Progressed uncompleted items went back in the tray for a later trawl ~ the equivalent of re-entering them on the list. This was fine short term, and specifically for a crisis situation. AF looks like working better, and won't break the filing system or the tray!
January 7, 2009 at 17:50 | Unregistered CommenterMike
The first day I started using the system I was still recovering from a nasty cold. Perhaps I was still a bit feverish, but as I started to look down the list that I had only just compiled at that stage, there were items that literally seemed to have been written in dayglow ink, or were jumping up and down on the line they were written on, or seemed to have multicoloured lines round them, like in a children's drawing. It was really quite fascinating...

Obviously, I don't expect everyone to have such vivid visual experiences, and I have calmed down a bit myself now that I'm more or less back to normal health, but I do still get this sense that an item on the list speaks to me in some way or other, telling me loud and clear "I'm next".

The thing that I'm a bit wary of, and not sure whether I should allow it is that, sometimes, I already get the next thing queueing up, so while I'm doing the thing that said "I'm next", I've already decided what to do after that, without even resorting to the list again. Perhaps that's jumping ahead?
January 7, 2009 at 22:15 | Unregistered CommenterBetti
Hello Mark.

You mentioned above that you are working on an update to the instructions. Any diagrams in the pipeline, by any chance ? Lots of people 'get it' more easily with pictures...


January 7, 2009 at 23:35 | Unregistered CommenterDave
It's one of the things I'm considering, yes. No promises though!
January 7, 2009 at 23:58 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Wow Betti - what cold cure are you taking!! :-)

I know what you mean about other items lining up - what I've found is that AF somehow frees my mind up so that while I am working on one task my mind is already working on the next steps. If I recall rightly Mark mentioned such a process in his first book (How to get everything done .....) Pre AF my mind was usually focusing on the task at hand but in a very grumpy manner as if it was saying "I really do not want to be doing this ....."
January 8, 2009 at 0:16 | Unregistered CommenterChristine B
Hi Lena

One of the things I do is produce systems to manage "stuff", whether client contact systems, filing and administration systems, or credit control systems. I am finding AF useful in guiding me where I need to perhaps tweak some of my existing systems. If you use, for example, a database to manage your client records then perhaps you could just enter a task of "update record for client xxxx" with a brief description, or perhaps you will find that AF highlights a need to review an existing system as a separate task. Hope that may help?
January 8, 2009 at 0:21 | Unregistered CommenterChristine B
Hi Lena

To avoid the problem you're having of everything running together I've put a small dash (or hyphen) in front of each new item. This way I can run down my list and see each item separate to the next, especially useful when some of my items run over more than one line (2nd and very rarely 3rd lines don't have a dash in front). I try to keep items as short as I can but sometimes I need to use a few more words than will fit on one line.

Hope this helps?
January 8, 2009 at 15:47 | Unregistered CommenterHannah
Perhaps another way of expressing it would be to say "Which item feels loud in me?" and then "How can I see it as an opportunity to be creator rather than victim of?"

The perspective is not "I have to do X or something bad will happen" but rather that there is some sense of satisfaction in going with an impetus or urge to do X. And even though objectively there could be a negative outcome in our perception it can be regarded differently - a move from "half empty" to "half full".
April 18, 2014 at 19:00 | Unregistered Commentermichael

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.