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« Chinese Version of AF2 | Main | Autofocus 2 latest situation »
Saturday
Jun272009

Autofocus 2 Time Management System (AF2)

Chinese version

Chinese (Simplified) version

Hungarian Version

This is a preliminary instruction written for those who are familiar with the original Autofocus (AF) time management system. I will write instructions for those who aren’t familiar with it at a later stage.

My aims in producing a revised version of Autofocus:

  • Easier handling of urgent and must do items.
  • A more balanced approach to the day as a whole.
  • Quicker handling of large or difficult items.
  • Elimination of the tendency for the list to slow to a crawl.
  • Faster sifting of unwanted items.
  • Dismissal less of a hit-and-miss process.
  • Less need to use subsidiary lists.
  • Removing the need for most of the tweaks which people have reported in the Forum and elsewhere.

All without losing any of the advantages of AF!

Similarities to Autofocus

  • One long list of everything
  • Tasks can be entered without evaluation
  • Tasks are actioned when they “stand out”
  • Dismissal of tasks is the same in principle, though it is triggered in a different way
  • In general the system is intended to achieve the same sort of things as AF. Just as in AF, no attempt has been made to include a formal project management system. It can be used with any project management system or none.

Differences from Autofocus

  • Pages are no longer treated as units. The new system is not affected by the length of page used.
  • It works on one open list, not a series of closed lists.

Advantages of the New System

  • All tasks on the list are potentially accessible at any one time. This removes problems with urgent and same day items.
  • It’s much easier to break down a task and enter the sub-tasks straight into the list, rather than make a separate list.
  • Dismissal is not such an “all or nothing” process, which makes it easier to include both work and home items on one list if you wish.

Disadvantages

The one disadvantage is that it takes longer to identify the next task if it is one of the earlier items on the list. I have not in practice found this to be a significant handicap – in fact it may even be an advantage because it allows your intuition to have a better handle on the overall picture.

How the System Works

You draw up your list and add to it in exactly the same manner as with Autofocus. The difference lies in how you work the list: 

  1. Go to the last item on your list (i.e. the most recently entered task)
  2. Work backwards from the last item looking at each task in turn until a task “stands out”.
  3. Do the task in whole or in part.
  4. Re-enter the task if necessary.
  5. Repeat steps 1-5

Note that after taking action on a task you do not continue to move back through the list, but instead  return to the end of the list each time. As the list is constantly growing the last item on the list will usually be different from the one you started from last time.

Dismissing Tasks

At the beginning of each day, go to your oldest active page, and draw a line after the first block of unactioned tasks (i.e. the oldest tasks that are still awaiting action). These tasks are now “on notice” for dismissal. The block may include any number of tasks, from one upwards.

At the beginning of the following day, all items before the line which have not been actioned are dismissed. The preferred way to dismiss items is to highlight them as this makes it easy to review them.

Then re-draw the line as before.

Example:

At the start of the day the line drawn the previous day is followed by two deleted tasks, then three active tasks, then five deleted tasks. A new line is drawn after the three active tasks, which are now on notice for dismissal. If any of them have not been actioned by the start of the next day, they are dismissed.

Even more than with AF, the threat of dismissal affects the way you work the whole list. Without it there would be very little incentive to go back to the earlier pages. So please remember that if you don’t stick to the dismissal rules, you are likely to throw the whole system out of balance.

Reading through the list

At the beginning of the day, after re-drawing the line and dismissing any items, you are recommended to read the list through before starting work. It is best to read it from the beginning to the end, paying particular attention to tasks which are in danger of being dismissed in the next few days.

Starting off

You are recommended to start with about five easy items on your list and then to add additional tasks as they come up or as they arise in the normal course of work. That way everything on the list is fresh and relevant.

If you wish you can continue to use your previous Autofocus list, but most people will probably want to start afresh as above.

Cautions
Do not dump tasks into the list from old to do lists or by drawing up lists of every possible thing you could do. If you do that you will be putting a huge lump of indigestible material into the list. Resist the temptation to do this – instead do as recommended in “Starting Off”.

Also resist the temptation to skip going back to the end of the list after actioning a task. It may seem pointless to go all the way back to the end if you want to do a task which is very close to the one you have just finished, but psychologically it is very important to do so.

Reader Comments (57)

I think this might actually work!
June 27, 2009 at 12:00 | Unregistered CommenterDavid P
"At the beginning of each day, draw a line right across the page after the first block of unactioned tasks."

That's going from the bottom up, right?
June 27, 2009 at 12:06 | Unregistered CommenterBill Adams
Hmm. I do autofocus in an application, not on paper, so adding new items at the top is just as easy as adding them at the bottom. And it looks like that is a nice fit with the new system -- I'll be looking at the top first, returning to the top, etc.
June 27, 2009 at 12:11 | Unregistered CommenterBill Adams
Mark,

Thank you.

So you never have actions entered before the previous day?

This will be a BIG difference to me!

This clearly cannot possibly work: I can foresee all sorts of problems. Let's see how they play out in practice...

I'm going to have to declare a backlog.


Thank you again.
June 27, 2009 at 12:17 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Looks intriguing - more different from AF1 than I expected!

Like Bill, I'm slightly confused about the phrase "draw a line right across the page after the first block of unactioned tasks" . Do you mean the line is drawn at the end of the list, or somewhere else?
June 27, 2009 at 12:20 | Unregistered CommenterLinda
Bill:

No, I think you have misunderstood the instructions. The line is drawn after the OLDEST block of unactioned items - the ones that have been around longest. I will amend that paragraph as several people seem to have misunderstood it.
June 27, 2009 at 12:23 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Will:

No, you have misunderstood the instructions.
June 27, 2009 at 12:24 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark

Thanks very much for this. As others have indicated on the discussion forum, it is most generous of you to share your creative thinking with the world for free when you could potentially make a lot of money from it.

I read your instruction as to where to draw the line differently to Bill Adams, but I wonder whether it can be clarified.

One big addition to the system is dismissal of items at the end of the day. However, users are likely to be able to use the system for different lengths of time each day. Would you still dismiss items above the line that had not been actioned during a day when you had only been able to work the list for (say) half an hour?

I note your advice on starting with a short list. Does the system work well with lists that have grown longer?

Best wishes and thanks again.
June 27, 2009 at 12:25 | Unregistered CommenterJames T
Thanks, Mark, that's certainly the more logical place. I don't know why it wasn't obvious.
June 27, 2009 at 12:25 | Unregistered CommenterBill Adams
(My last post written before seeing Mark's reply to Bill).
June 27, 2009 at 12:26 | Unregistered CommenterJames T
Thank you! I also didn't understand the dismissal rule first, but your comment makes it clear.


My intuition says this is a big improvement compared to AF1, at least for me.
June 27, 2009 at 12:28 | Unregistered CommenterRonald
I'm excited to try this. I'll start as soon as I get up. I set my alarm early and am reading this from bed. I'm also interested in more definition of "unactioned block".
June 27, 2009 at 12:29 | Unregistered Commenterslothbear
Thanks!

AF2 solves my problem that in the morning I don't remember which page I was on the evening before. Leaving a task open as a marker is very counter-intuitive to me.

I have already started a new list and have crossed off the first item :-)
June 27, 2009 at 12:35 | Unregistered Commenterlazy cat
James:

I've amended the bit about drawing the line to make it clearer (I hope!)

Re length of day: ultimately the decision is yours. But as with AF I tend to think that one needs to be as strict as possible about dismissing items. Bear in mind that one's attitude to dismissal effects the whole way you approach the list, especially in AF2 how far down the list you are prepared to travel when it gets a bit longer.

The longest period I've used AF2 (not quite in its finished form) is for about three weeks. It worked fine for that period and I found the length of list was levelling off once I got to a certain point. However I do not think it would cope with someone dumping every single thing they could think of into it. That's not a sensible thing to do with any list. The aim of building the list up gradually is to make sure that everything on it is actually relevant and viable.
June 27, 2009 at 12:39 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Slothbear:

"Unactioned block" simply means the oldest group of contiguous tasks which haven't been deleted or dismissed. If you look at your existing AF list, what is the oldest task that is still awaiting action? Is it immediately followed by another task which is awaiting action? If it's not, then it's an "unactioned block" of one task. If it's immediately followed by other tasks that are awaiting action then they form an "unactioned block" of more than one task.
June 27, 2009 at 12:47 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark
I'm confused! If I work my list sequentially without jumping around it, then the line would be drawn at the bottom of the list with ALL the unactioned items!!!!
PLEASE tell me that I'm wrong! I don't like to jump around so I'd be stuck with the entire list under threat except that day's task done without any jumping around.
Example: I have 50 items on the list. I complete the first five in succession. Does that mean that the 45 remaining are under threat unless I jump around a bit to falsely create a break?
learning as I go
June 27, 2009 at 12:50 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Learning:

You are absolutely right. But if you are just going to do your tasks in strict First In First Out order then you don't need Autofocus!
June 27, 2009 at 12:53 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark Foster said: <<The aim of building the list up gradually is to make sure that everything on it is actually relevant and viable. >>

This seems to be another difference from AF1, where you very specifically state that items added to the list should not be filtered. Are we supposed to filter new tasks before adding them to the list in AF2?
June 27, 2009 at 12:56 | Unregistered CommenterMartyn
Martyn:

No, you are supposed to add tasks to the list as they come up or arise in the ordinary course of work.
June 27, 2009 at 12:57 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark:

Thank goodness. Having to work out what to put on the list was what made all the other systems useless to me.

Another question: Under Advantages you list "It’s much easier to break down a task and enter the sub-tasks straight into the list, rather than make a separate list." Please can you explain this -- why is it easier?

And thank you very much for giving this system to us.
June 27, 2009 at 13:03 | Unregistered CommenterMartyn
Hi Mark
I suppose you're correct. Although..... I may play around with this implementation of my miscellaneous list.
learning as I go
June 27, 2009 at 13:24 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Slightly disappointed not to be massacring my list after all.

Oh well, I'll just have to take some action, I suppose...

Much clearer: thanks again again
June 27, 2009 at 13:32 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Martyn:

<< Another question: Under Advantages you list "It’s much easier to break down a task and enter the sub-tasks straight into the list, rather than make a separate list." Please can you explain this -- why is it easier? >>

Because if I start work on a task "Work on Project X" and I decide I want to break it down into smaller actions I can just enter them at the end of the list and start work on them immediately. With AF1 I would have had to wait until I got to the final page before I could work on them.
June 27, 2009 at 13:37 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I really like the shaping / auto-prioritizing pressure created by the new dismissal rules. I suppose there will be a higher rate of both dismissal and rescues from dismissal, but I don't see any necessary downside to that. Switching over to A2 without qualms.
June 27, 2009 at 13:38 | Unregistered CommenterBill Adams
p.s.
You stated:
"You are absolutely right. But if you are just going to do your tasks in strict First In First Out order then you don't need Autofocus! "
I don't work sequentially DIT style....I use a weekly format. Each day, I draw up my prioritized MITs. I do them and my normal routine stuff. I'm the arbitrator of creating my work, not the random flow of the work coming in......unless it's an actual surprise urgency (which rarely happens) This way I'm assured that I'm doing the most important stuff first in case my pain derails me or my donkey brain decides to appear which requires my STRICT guidance to finish the MITS first. Then I can slacken the reins for the lesser routine stuff
learning as I go
June 27, 2009 at 13:41 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Learning:

If you are drawing up weekly and daily lists, then the concept of dismissing items is hardly relevant in any case.
June 27, 2009 at 14:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark
True, the work is presorted. I wasn't really considering the dismissal aspects. As usual, I'm simply willing to investigate possible improvements to get my work done when it's not going smoothly/easily. That's why I have my MIT's. If I get derailed, the most important stuff is done and I'm able to remain current. It takes effort to get back on track if I get derailed. I , of course CAN put myself back to rights ......I'm just always on the lookout for a easier/better way....
learning as I go
June 27, 2009 at 14:23 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
p.s.
*blush*....plus, it feels more playful to experiment with a system tweak. It seems to dilute the effects of being mired in scutwork! *blush* I'll probably never change my policy of MIT's first because I know myself...both my strengths and limitations. If I run out of gas, I want the most important stuff done. I might be a bit disappointed, but at least I'm "safe". Then I can slacken up a bit to get the lesser stuff done *enough* to my satisfaction. If I have a shiny, new tweak.....the work seems more palatable until I get myself over the hump. True, the time bursts always work,....but...sometimes it's effortful. *blush* Even if the effect of the new tweak is temporary, I'm grateful. It's like getting a tooth pulled....I'd prefer having novocaine administered. first...
learning as I go
June 27, 2009 at 14:35 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
So this is a LIFO to do list.
June 27, 2009 at 14:44 | Unregistered CommenterMikeyB
Hi Mark: Thank you so much for AF2. AF1 was working wonderfully for me. Now I realise why the list, on some days, had a tendency to slow down to a crawl. I always got stuck on the last pages, where many tasks stood out due their urgency and importance. With AF2, I am dealing with them right away, while being pulled to save my tasks in the earlier pages from being dismissed. Brilliant tension going on there!

A question: I suppose you are recommending a read of the entire list before you start work because with AF2, you stop as soon as something stands out reading from bottom up. There is no quick scan of the page, then a slower read and then making a choice, because the Closed List effect of a page has disappeared. Would I be correct to state that?

If that is a case, then I guess you are really getting attuned to the standing out effect that a task has on you, because it makes you stop from going further. And you really got to trust that intuition too.
June 27, 2009 at 14:44 | Unregistered CommenterJD
Very, very interesting.

>> I guess you are really getting attuned to the standing out effect that a task has on you, because it makes you stop from going further >>

While using AF1, I found tasks jumped out at me during my first pass, and it was frustrating to not do them when my intuition said "GO". I'm glad I no longer have to struggle with that urge.
June 27, 2009 at 14:50 | Unregistered CommenterAvrum
Do you review dismissed tasks for re-adding periodically as in standard AF? BTW, thanks Mark for your generosity with your time and wisdom.
June 27, 2009 at 14:57 | Unregistered CommenterMel
Mark - It's Monday, and I dismiss 3 unactioned items on my list. One task is "Research squirrels on the web". 3 hours later (same day, Monday), I get a strong urge to "Research squirrels on the web". Would you not do the task (in keeping with dismissal) and wait until you review dismissed tasks? Or would you give in to desire, and throw the dismissed task at the end of your list?
June 27, 2009 at 15:01 | Unregistered CommenterAvrum
MikeyB:

<< So this is a LIFO to do list. >>

No, it's no more a LIFO to do list than AF1 was a FIFO to do list. You keep working back from the end of the list, but that doesn't mean that the tasks get done in LIFO order.
June 27, 2009 at 15:26 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mel:

<< Do you review dismissed tasks for re-adding periodically as in standard AF? >>

Yes, these instructions are written for those already familiar with AF1 so that I didn't have to re-explain a lot of basic stuff. When I write the full instructions I will incorporate things like this.
June 27, 2009 at 15:28 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Avrum,

Mark might have a different view...but if you get a strong urge to do something that's not on your list, that sounds like a new task to me...even if you have dismissed it earlier.

Something in your life experience must have changed since you dismissed it otherwise you would not now want to do it...so it's the same task but a different reason for doing it, I would think.
June 27, 2009 at 15:30 | Unregistered CommenterFrank
JD:

<< I suppose you are recommending a read of the entire list before you start work because with AF2, you stop as soon as something stands out reading from bottom up. >>

Yes, that's right. I stress too that it's important to be aware of the items at the beginning of the list. Otherwise it's a bit like heading off into the desert with no idea where you're going.

What I find is that once I've scanned back a few pages and nothing has stood out, I then become keen to keep moving back, because the beginning of the list is pulling me towards it. As you say, a good tension.
June 27, 2009 at 15:33 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Avrum:

I think Frank has got just about the right answer there. The question would be why the strong urge to research squirrels hadn't struck you during all the days the task was there *before* you dismissed it.

Today I have an item on my list under notice of dismissal "Get pay-as-you-go cellphone instead of contract". That item has been hanging around for months (in fact I have a nasty suspicion it might be years!). If I were to dismiss it tomorrow and then got a "strong urge" to sort it out, I would be very grateful!
June 27, 2009 at 15:39 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<< then got a "strong urge" >>

Mark - whenever you talk about your system, you need to highlight the "intuition" aspect. No other time-management author has been able to capture this element as eloquently as you have. Moreover, it will help newbies appreciate why AF is not simply "another to do list".
June 27, 2009 at 15:43 | Unregistered CommenterAvrum
At last! We ancient Greeks can join the AF revolution without cutting up our scrolls...

-Reward self with lovely hot bath
-invent steam engine
-Move world
-Find fulcrum
-Consider why heavy things float

...
June 27, 2009 at 16:03 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Just wanted to add my thanks too, Mark for AF2. I think this will work better for me as I really struggled to dismiss items, which meant I was reluctant to work the system as given. I guess I couldn't get my head around the fact that dismissed items were not necessarily gone for good. AF2 will force me to dismiss items every day and some at least will need to be re-added on review.
June 27, 2009 at 16:28 | Unregistered CommenterLinda
I'm trying to understand the very last paragraph:

" Also resist the temptation to skip going back to the end of the list after actioning a task. It may seem pointless to go all the way back to the end if you want to do a task which is very close to the one you have just finished, but psychologically it is very important to do so."

It does seem pointless to go back. What would be wrong with hanging around doing tasks that stand out on the same page and only once they were exhausted, *then* go back to the end? Exactly why is it "psychologically" important to go back after actioning a single task?
June 27, 2009 at 17:01 | Unregistered CommenterTommyk
This looks like it might work! One question: for AF1 you recommended to keep separate lists for use at home and at work. Would that still work with AF2? I've been struggling a bit with separate AF lists, after finding that with one list dismissal doesn't really work, so I'm wondering about this part.
June 27, 2009 at 17:24 | Unregistered CommenterNicole
Mark Forster wrote:
"The line is drawn after the OLDEST block of unactioned items - the ones that have been around longest."

So it looks something like this:

actioned task
actioned task
unactioned task #1
unactioned task #2
unactioned task #3
--------------------------------------------- (horizontal line)
actioned task
actioned task

???
June 27, 2009 at 17:33 | Unregistered CommenterRainer
Thanks Mark for AF2.

By a curious chance i began since 3 days going backward. I seemed to me natural for treating the most up to date item.

The dissmissing is for me still confuse. I must admis that for the moment i dont catch it. I am sure i would like a picture to understand how it works or even a video.

At the moment and for a serious test i decides to begin with a new AF list like you said in "starting of" and read again the instruction and comments about dissmissing items.
June 27, 2009 at 17:36 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
Question regarding the daily start sequence:

Am I getting this right?

First thing every day would be finding the line I draw yesterday and then dismiss all items before the line which have not been actioned.

Then find the next set of unactioned tasks and draw a new line.

The next thing would be reading the whole list, paying particular attention to tasks which are in danger of being dismissed in the next few days. (If something “stands out” I should work on this item ?)

Then I work on my list in the way described under “How the System Works” (Steps 1 to 5).

Or am I off the track?
June 27, 2009 at 17:57 | Unregistered CommenterRainer
@MF

Reading through the list

"At the beginning of the day, after re-drawing the line and dismissing any items, you are recommended to read the list through before starting work. It is best to read it from the beginning to the end, paying particular attention to tasks which are in danger of being dismissed in the next few days".

Does it mean that if you find an item or some to do, you re enter them at the end of your list ? For me it seems logical if i can(t doing it by now...
June 27, 2009 at 17:58 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
Tommyk:

<< What would be wrong with hanging around doing tasks that stand out on the same page and only once they were exhausted, *then* go back to the end? >>

I tried doing this during the early stages of testing, but quickly found that it was much better to go back to the end each time. The reason is that tasks on earlier pages are usually unrelated to each other, and also the fact that two items happen to find themselves on the same page doesn't mean that they have equal priority. The great advantage of AF2 is that it is very sensitive to changes in the time of day, new items, urgency, etc. All these get upset if you artificially hold yourself to one section of the list.

By all means try it both ways and see which works best for you.
June 27, 2009 at 18:22 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Nicole:

<< for AF1 you recommended to keep separate lists for use at home and at work. Would that still work with AF2? >>

It would definitely still work, but I think that with AF2 it is easier than in AF1 to work with one list for both. The reason is that if a task is on notice for dismissal you have all day (in theory at least) to do it. Another reason is that when you are at work, new work items will all go together at the end of the list. And the same for home items when you are at home.
June 27, 2009 at 18:26 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Rainer:

Re lines: yes, you got it!
June 27, 2009 at 18:27 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
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