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Autofocus after four months

For me launching Autofocus has been quite an experience. It’s proved immensely popular - the fact that volunteers have so far translated the instructions into sixteen languages is proof of that. It seems to have struck a chord with an immense number of people who may not have had a great deal of success with other methods.

For such a simple system, it seems to have had far-reaching effects. It’s got a reputation for being addictive. After four months people are still going strong. Not everyone likes it - that would be too much to hope for - but it’s most distinctive feature seems to be that it requires no mental effort to work it. There are no huge system overheads - and there is no forcing oneself to do anything. The system emphasizes working in an intuitive, flowing manner.

However as the inventor of the system I still don’t think Autofocus is the perfect system - not even for me! There are certain aspects of it which I think could be improved. The two major ones are dealing with urgent items and dealing with items one really doesn’t want to do. It’s not so much that these don’t get done in Autofocus - it’s that they don’t get done quickly enough. My ideal system would be a bit sharper on both of these.

That’s why I have been keeping on with the experimenting. I would really like to reach the perfect system one day, because all this experimenting wreaks havoc with my own organisation. What’s more I would really like to reach the perfect answer while I’m still young enough to make full use of it myself!

I am currently working on a system which is very similar to Autofocus in many respects. It works off one long list; it uses the “standing out” method of selecting tasks to work on; it encourages “little and often”. But in other respects it differs quite considerably: it does not use the “closed list” concept at all; there is no “dismissing” of tasks; and potentially any task on the list can be done at any time.

In the short time I’ve been using this system, I have satisfied myself that it is as easy to use and as addictive as Autofocus. It’s also much better at dealing with urgent items than Autofocus, but I haven’t been using it long enough to find out to my satisfaction how well it deals with high-resistance items. First indications are good though.

Reader Comments (19)

I love the system so far, moving from a traditional GTD method, although I also do not believe it's perfect, YET! One area of contention, for me at least, is the digital/ubiquity aspect of the system. I loved moving to a pen and paper, but after 2 months, I still miss the ability to 'sync' the system across multiple computers at home/work/web. I wonder if there is a way to implement technology to some degree, not to make the system any more complicated than it needs to be, but to increase the 'ubiquity' of it. Thoughts/Tips/Tricks?

Recently, I checked The Hit List ( out and I think it complements the pen/paper technique of AutoFocus, but lacks the syncability I am looking for.
May 4, 2009 at 16:01 | Unregistered CommenterJacob Graf

First, thanks for the Autofocus system! Although I have been using it for only a month in its pure form, it seems so much longer. It has validated so much of what I was already doing for time and task management that I am anxiously awaiting the delivery of "Get Everything Done" and "Do it Tomorrow."

My greatest problem with many systems is the scattered nature of tasks (GTD's Contexts for example) and the focus on the process of managing tasks. I have abandoned several systems due to losing sight of completing tasks and being focused on their tracking. Autofocus has eliminated much of that and has been a great boon to my productivity.

I have 2 comments that are not so much critiques or requests for help/explanation as they are individual experience that I hope will assist you in developing Autofocus 2.0 (for lack of a better name.)

1. Much of my work involves projects. Several steps (or tasks) are needed to complete the final goal and often these are inter-dependent to the final goal. I have found that short of moving the entire set of steps (including those completed) to the end of the list, I tend to lose my place in the process and have to constantly refer back to the original entries even though they are crossed out. I started tabbing my notebook but this ended up causing a case of Yellow Sticky -itis. That mass of tabs meant to help you find things that ends up confusing you worse.

2. I believe that my situation in #1 is related to #2. I am terrified of losing my notebook and thus my "situational awareness" if you will. At least every couple of days, I update a list I keep in excel. This has three benefits for me. a) I know that if catastrophe happens (spilled coffee, loss of the "primary" list, etc) I have a backup that will keep me moving forward with a minimum of trouble. b) this listing allows me to move those completed tasks off my list to another worksheet which allows me to enter a project once and keep any parts of it that I need for reference without re-entering again. and c) I build a linked spreadsheet that keeps my "diary" of work and status. I had tried to use just the Autofocus task list and keep a "work diary" in the front of the task files but found it cumbersome to pull files each time I just wanted a reminder of where I was in accomplishing the task.

I may be unique and thus taken your time for a scenario affecting only a small percentage of your adherents but felt compelled to share it with you. Thanks!
May 4, 2009 at 16:42 | Unregistered CommenterTA
As a clarification on my earlier post. When I mention the scattered nature of tasks and reference GTD Contexts, I was referring to other systems attempts to separate say phone calls from emails etc. I don't like that separation. If I am working on a project, I want to work on that project. I don't do email for 2 hours, phone calls for 2 hours etc, I work on that project and if I need to call someone, I do it during that time I've allocated to that project.

May 4, 2009 at 16:49 | Unregistered CommenterTA
I'm happy with AF as it stands but am interested to see what you come up with. Will you be revealing it here in the blog?

Thanks again.
May 4, 2009 at 16:50 | Unregistered CommenterJim (Atlanta)

The question of how to keep track of projects is one that is raised often. My own feeling is that it's a mistake to overload oneself with detailed project tracking. Most projects probably do not need this. I personally only track a project if and when I feel it needs it. I think Autofocus 2 (for want of a better name) makes it slightly easier to keep track of complicated projects than Autofocus 1.

As far as losing one's notebook is concerned, this is usually not such a disaster as one imagines it would be. If you simply add tasks to your list as you think of them or as they come up, everything that's relevant will quickly get reconstructed.
May 4, 2009 at 17:55 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

I'm not sure yet. I might even try to make some money out of this one!
May 4, 2009 at 17:55 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I concur that most of the time a detailed tracking of projects is not needed. (Insert memories of micro-managing bosses here.) In my current situation however, I am often the only one working a project and determining the steps to accomplish that prevent me from having to "discover" what needs to be done next repeatedly. With 8 separate projects running at once, this can add up to significant time saved and greater efficiency.

Thanks for the response. I look forward to your next evolution of the program!

May 4, 2009 at 19:28 | Unregistered CommenterTA
I just started using AF last week and I am much more efficient, spending much less time "processing" and more time doing=, thank you for a system which focuses on the do, not the planning. Having moved over from GTD very recently, I am more comfortable if i check in my mind each morning that I am prepared for today's meetings, have read all my emails / notes etc., and done things that HAVE to be done now. Only then do I start running through my AF list. I managed to combine GTD / AF using "my life organized" software but it was taking too much time to track all the detail. Often at meetings I am outlining projects on a single page. I was wondering about using a ring binder for my AF list, and having a whole page for a maximum of say, 5 projects that NEED outlining, then when an item has been completed simply move it to the back of the binder - any thoughts? For the record Mark - you are certainly entitled to earn a few quid for AF!
May 4, 2009 at 20:14 | Unregistered CommenterDD
Yes projects. This is where I have struggled, where to track my projects while still keeping track of all the other stuff needed to be done. Looking forward to the new system as well.

May 4, 2009 at 20:31 | Unregistered CommenterGerry
I you do decide to make money off it please publish as an ebook before a mainstream publisher - I am sure I am not the only one who would pay right now given our experience with AF. Perhaps a price skimming strategy ;-)
May 4, 2009 at 21:12 | Unregistered CommenterMark j
I second the e-book request!

I really do want to have the opportunity to give back to you for what you've given me. Whatever price you named probably wouldn't come close to how much I've benefited financially and more importantly, with increased peace of mind in the last four very happy months of using Autofocus.
May 4, 2009 at 22:10 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline
I also would gladly pay for an e-book!

May 5, 2009 at 4:29 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Drake
I would too.
May 5, 2009 at 8:07 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Well I would too, but I'm also worrying about how long we might be kept in suspense here!
May 5, 2009 at 14:05 | Unregistered CommenterEd C
I would gladly pay for an e-book too. What is confusing now is -- what method do I use? It was hard enough being torn between DIT and AUTOFOCUS. Now there's some third method on the horizon ... it's a little bit puzzling.
May 5, 2009 at 14:12 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

The new system will work with your existing Autofocus list without any disruption, and if you find it doesn't work for you then you can change back using the same list - again without any disruption. So in answer to your question, if you are already using Autofocus then continue to use it.
May 5, 2009 at 15:16 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I just thought of a Buckminster Fuller quote in thinking about your pursuit of the "perfect time management system":

"To build a new system you don't compete with the old one, you build a new system that makes the old one obsolete."
May 5, 2009 at 23:22 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline
Hi Mark!

Sounds exciting.
I'm willing to pay for it.
But I don't want to wait.
Why not do it this way:
If I pay now, I get both the current 2.0 version and future updates,
like a software.
That way you get payed, I get my curiousity satisfied,
and you don't have to be finished with the method,
because we know it's work in progress.

If you sell it as an e-book, I guess (but I'm not sure)
you could sell it through an e-reader software,
that hinders copying
(which would be possible if selling a pdf-file)

I guess $4.99 would be a good price.
Too low?
Too high?
What do you other people think of the price?
May 11, 2009 at 1:03 | Unregistered CommenterJohan
7 1 09


For urgent items, you might consider using color. You could, for example, highlight matters that are or become urgent in RED. (Or, if something is urgent when you enter it, you could enter it in red.)

D Crow
July 1, 2009 at 21:52 | Unregistered Commenterd crow

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