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