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« Autofocus system - instructions | Main | New Registrations for Beta Testing »

The First Day of the New System!

Well, there was certainly quite a reaction to the issue of the Autofocus instructions! There was a huge number of comments and postings by people anxious to understand the system and get the most out of it, and by the end of the day there were quite a number of postings from people who had tried it out and found it was working very well for them.

I think I’ve just got a couple of general observations:

  1. There were a lot of postings from people who wanted to get every detail of the system and how it would work clear in their minds before starting it. This is very understandable, but you can only really appreciate this system by actually working it. That’s why in the instructions I gave a Quick Start guide. My advice is start working the system and then worry about the details!
  2. More disturbingly (to me anyway) there were a lot of people who were suggesting modifications to the system that they were going to make before starting it. This is the wrong way round. What you need to do is work the system exactly as written and then make modifications to it to suit your style.

How did the system stand up for me during what was an exceptional day for me by any standards?

Answer: brilliantly. I just trusted the system and it took me through the day without any worries, strain or panic. Everything that needed to be done got done, and quite a lot else as well. I ended the day completely up to date with replying to the Comments on the website (it seemed like thousands!) and completely up to date with email (ditto). It’s now 9.55am and I’ve already cleared all the comments and email that came in overnight.

This was a very different day for me from the the days during which I have so far used Autofocus. I was extremely pleased (though not surprised) at how easily it adjusted itself to the different circumstances.

Thanks to everyone who is taking part in this trial for your enthusiasm and interest. I hope you will find yourselves well rewarded!

Reader Comments (25)

Hi Mark, your observations seem spot on to me. On reflection this is how I was approaching Autofocus. I wonder if some of the anxiety is/was about (albeit temporarily) letting go of a trusted, working system and taking a leap of faith with Autofocus?

Anyway, I've picked up the system now and I found your quick start guide very easy to understand and adopt. Thanks!
January 6, 2009 at 10:44 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
I'm sure you're right, Leon. It is a bit of leap of faith!
January 6, 2009 at 11:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I had a transformative day using Autofocus yesterday - thank you, Mark. Key observation has been the lack of Procrastination - it feels like structured pottering at the moment, though some conflicting deadlines coming up may add some stress... We'll see!
January 6, 2009 at 11:10 | Unregistered CommenterMal
Mark, I'm beginning to see a downside for you.. How are you going to write an entire book about such a simple system? ;0)

Have you considered publishing it as a small format book? I'd give one to my nephews when they head off for college. Have you called Oprah yet?

Perhaps it's more given to growing it on the web and forgoing a book for a while?
January 6, 2009 at 16:20 | Unregistered CommenterKevin
I started my list yesterday and confused what I do next the day...just keep making list or start at the top and check off from there? I did not 25-30 items is this okay? I really want this to work for me and succeed!
January 6, 2009 at 16:39 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

I love that - "structured pottering" - I think that sums up my Autofocused life to a T

Up till recently I'd been doing a fair amount of unstructured drifting combined with the occasional rigid structure that was just too tight to stick to. Even DIT went by the wayside as I found it too structured.

However Autofocus feels so much freer and the name is just perfect because it does literally find my focus automatically as if by magic.

Elsewhere on the forum I've mentioned I've cheated a bit by letting un-autofocused items slip in out of sequence but I can see that when I stop doing that it will work even better. This blog and forum being the biggest culprit but it's been great fun reading everyone else's experience with Autofocus and there's been so much to keep up with that I've let myself off the hook for now.

It must be proof that Autofocus works well that Mark has managed to keep up with all the comments that have been deluging this site. Unless of course that's all he's done for the last 2 days!! Can't see it somehow though...
January 6, 2009 at 16:55 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

I don't intend to write a book as such on the subject. As I stated in the instructions I intend to make the final version of the system free to everyone.

What I will be charging for is seminars, if I decide to run any. And as you rightly say, growing it on the web will be the way to get people interested in attending them.
January 6, 2009 at 18:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

At the beginning of the day, start again from where you left off the previous day.

Do make sure you re-read the instructions to check you are doing it right.
January 6, 2009 at 18:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark

I am glad it is working really well for you.

I was wondering how does the AF system work with you doing your normal work plus responding to all the comments and emails regarding the new system? Is it because you are drawn to responding to all the queries? I suppose you put an item on the list 'respond to queries'? and keep putting it on the end of the list.

I have (sort of) started - I have a list of about 15 items which I put together by thinking of things to put on it (but not in a deliberate way) i will have a proper go tomorrow and put more items on it.
January 6, 2009 at 20:50 | Unregistered CommenterNick

I have a task "Comments" and another task "Email". Over the last two days they have both been actioned and re-entered many times a day. That has enabled me to keep completely on top of both. But I have also done many other tasks over the same period, including some quite important project planning.

The best way to grow your list is to start with a few items (as you have) and to add new ones as you think of them or as they come up.
January 6, 2009 at 21:34 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hello Mark,

I'm sure I'm just being a bit dense, but one thing I'm not entirely clear about in your last post is how you can enter something multiple times in a day - if it is a long list and you are adding "comments" and "email" to the end of the list - possibly several pages away - it may be some time before you reach them...


January 6, 2009 at 23:52 | Unregistered CommenterDave

One can frequently action an item several times on the same page. For instance if I am on the last page - as I am at the moment - when I've finished the item "Comments" which is what I am doing at the moment, I will re-enter it on the same page (there are still five empty lines to go). I will then be going back to the beginning of the page to do another pass,and will come back again to "Comments" after working on other items.

Eventually I will fill the remaining four lines with other tasks, and the next time I re-enter "Comments" will be on the next page. So I have one more page to keep re-entering "Comments" on.

For what happens when I finally get to the end and have to start again from page 1, have a read of the blog post I have just made about speed of movement.
January 7, 2009 at 0:42 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

Ignore this if it's covered elsewhere. You said "I will then be going back to the beginning of the page to do another pass,and will come back again to "Comments" after working on other items."

So this means that after moving on from a task you look at the whole page again to see if you are drawn to any? I was only moving onto the subsequent tasks on that page, not revisiting the whole page, so this is a useful understanding.
January 7, 2009 at 20:04 | Unregistered CommenterJ in London

You continue revisiting the tasks on a page until you do a complete pass through the page without doing any items.
January 7, 2009 at 20:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

I am now confused - when doing my slow review down a page I come to an item that appeals and do it and cross it off (entering a further action on the last page if appropriate). Do I then continue my slow review from the next item on the list or return to the top of the page and start the slow review afresh for that page?
January 7, 2009 at 20:40 | Unregistered CommenterAndy from Preston
OK - answered my own question. Just read you clarification post on "Standing Out" and see that I start from the top of the page again which is what I have been doing!
January 7, 2009 at 20:44 | Unregistered CommenterAndy from Preston
Erm, nope. Having read the comments to your Standing Out entry I am still somewhat confused - oh dear! I now believe I carry on from the next entry below the one I did and crossed off. Is this correct? Whilst your coin analogy may have helped with the definition of standing out it has confused this aspect of processing a page!
January 7, 2009 at 20:50 | Unregistered CommenterAndy from Preston

The coin analogy is exactly what happens with the page (except that on the page you are moving from top to bottom instead of left to right).

If you have a page of 25 items, you go down the page until you do item 15 (say), then you carry on down the page until (say) you do item 24, you carry on past item 25 and start again past item 1 and continue down to (say) item 4 which you do, then you carry on down the page... and so on.

This is what it says in the instructions and what I have been saying all along.
January 7, 2009 at 21:23 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark
I've been enjoying getting in to the swing, but have a quick question for you that I need an answer to before I plough in much further! I travel a lot and work for 2 companies, sometimes working for either company from home. I now have four notebooks on the go. One for my business & personal stuff, and one for the other business (where I am an employee). I adopted your "make sure you can make notes" idea and instead of lugging these two fairly large (but great to write on) note books around with me, also carry two mini-note books for each 'location'.
I now have to transfer what i wrote throughout today on a business trip on behalf of BOTH businesses to London on the mini-notebooks to my main notebooks and this seems an unecessary duplication. I also now need to carry a bring forward diary with me. Previously all I needed with DIT was the one diary which I logged my tasks in, but now I seem to have a lot more journals to think about.... I'm sure I'm making it more complex than it needs to be - but any observations as to why we need a different notebook for different "locations" would be appreciated. Otherwise, I might just try using one (and risk jumbling up my "clean the fridge" instructions with "write a draft report")....
That said, I'm loving the idea of the auto-focus; and have experienced the jumping off teh page thing you mentioned. It also seems to be better for projects, because I don't separate them out psychologically from my tasks as much as I used to do before.
January 7, 2009 at 21:53 | Unregistered CommenterLee
As I was travelling today i had the first opportunity to use my "second notebook". I am personally finding that keeping all tasks in one book (incuding "write report" and "clean the fridge" is fine - if I am on a train as I was today I suspect that "clean the fridge" would be unlikely to stand out :-) Today I just used a lot of my travel time to write out new tasks in my "travel" notebook and then transferred them to my AF list when I got home. I used the rest of the time to brainstorm some of the project ideas that AF had brought to mind, so even though I did not scan through any of my lists today I was still able to use AF and am excited about rescanning and developing further areas tomorrow.
January 8, 2009 at 0:09 | Unregistered CommenterChristine B

It's really up to you to decide how many lists you need and what should go into them. Only you know what your working practices are, so you probably need to experiment a bit to see what works best for you. My recommendation about having separate lists for each location is only intended to be a guide, not written in stone.
January 8, 2009 at 0:18 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks Mark, and thanks Christine - My mind went to work while I was sleeping overnight and I woke up this morning with a 'solution' of a notebook with one divider in it for each 'location'- an automatic and creative (however small) response to my mind's fear of 'getting it wrong' and getting bogged down in the instructions!
January 8, 2009 at 8:57 | Unregistered CommenterLee
Hi Mark,

I'm just getting into this today. I agree with your comments about common sense. I see people thrashing about trying to account for things which would probably take care of themsleves.

On your observation that one should not try to modify the system before trying it as described, I would point out that we have all probably used other systems and already know some things that will NOT work for us. For me, this is the admonition to use multiple notebooks. I have already been there and know that, for me at lest, that way likes madness. I have struggled with trying to find the right book to write something in, not finding it, writing it in the wrong book, then trying to remember where it was written. Or needing to make a call to find a plumber and finding myself with only my "work" notebook at work. Likewise notebooks with multiple divided sections, etc. It all detracts from the basic simplicity of your system, IMO.

Life experience has taught me things that simply do not work -- for me. So it is not that I need to tear up your system and redo it before I even try it ... it is just that it is pointless for me to revisit things which I already know don't work -- for me.

I have tried the GTD system and found that the concept of "contexts", though it seemed like an excellent idea in the beginning, added unnecessary overhead. I do use "lists", when appropriate, but not in a way that might be described as "contexts". So I do get the instruction, in your system, to use one big list. I was evolving that way when I came across your system so I'm hopeful that this will work well.

As to the "someday/maybe" idea, I still think it is pretty useful. However, my actions tend to come from my planning and when I ask myself if I will really spend any time doing "this", if I know I will not, I simply don't add it to my list of things I'm going to do. So I have found that I don't need a "someday/maybe" list, per se. I just need to not schedule any such actions to do during the next work period. However, I do see the advantage of capturing stray ideas just to keep them out of sight. IOW, if I scribble a note I will forget about it for the moment and it will not distract. I find an advantage to that.

As I see it, your system has the virtue of simplicity while forcing a method of reviewing and carrying forward actions to keep things moving along.

OTOH, where I think you will get some flack will be in your not addressing the planning stage of things. I'm not suggesting that you SHOULD ... any system of planning fits with your system ... but maybe you should address that subject in your final "release". Just words to the effect that you do NOT address planning and you assume that will be done before hand to generate actions for your list. Perhaps emphasize that this is a task management system, rather than a whole life organizing system -- or whatever people call those all inclusive systems.

Thanks for a great idea. I'll now get into it more. I already have a pocket notebook with a long list in it ... all I should need to do is execute your review process. I'm looking forward to the result.

January 11, 2009 at 0:23 | Unregistered CommenterMike
I've really enjoyed tinkering with the AF approach over the past few days. It reminded me very much of a the fairly unstructured way I used to track tasks in a notebook a couple of years back, inspired by a salesman I did business with. He had this simple approach that was intriguing. I don't think he was aware that I was paying so much attention to his organization rather than his product!

One thing that seems to me an issue which I solved rather well with the DIT approach (in fact it was a lifesaver for me), was the fact that for years I never felt like I ever finished a day. I was working off an eternal list of actions stored in Outlook, and as fast as I removed things from it, new things were added. It resulted in me chasing my tail trying to get ahead in an endless loop of overtime. DIT really solved this for me by using a closed list to plan my day by selecting a group of tasks from Outlook, shifting it to a written page in a notebook from which i worked, giving me the satisfying sensation of crossing off items and feeling like I had finished a day. This was huge for me. I could look at a day and walk away feeling like I had accomplished what I set out to finish (most of the time), and get on with the other stuff of life.

As much as I like this system, I fear that it has the same propensity as my old Outlook endless list to become a treadmill with no clear endpoints. You even made a comment about that somewhere in here about needing to be disciplined, and I thought immediately that this was exactly right. This system is foregoing the huge benefit of closed lists.

Any comments on this?

Thanks again for the journey... :-)
January 26, 2009 at 8:00 | Unregistered Commentermark o'brien

You're right in so far as there is no completion for the day in AutoFocus. My advice for those who miss a sense of completion is to use a definite stopping time. Personally I don't find that necessary at the moment.

However it does use closed lists. Each page is treated as a closed list, and the system is based on cycling through a series of closed lists. As the last page is an open list, you get the benefits of both closed and open lists.
January 26, 2009 at 9:19 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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