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« Simplified Chinese Version of AF2 | Main | Simplicity »

Autofocus 2 Sample Page


This is in fact the genuine first page of a new list which I started two days ago to experiment with a method of combining AF1 and AF2, but it is identical to what a page would look like for AF2 alone.

Note the following features:

1) The date is written in the extreme left-hand margin next to the first item for that day. In this case it is 21/7 (which for Americans would be 7/21).

2) The day number only is written to the left of deleted tasks. I write these as a batch at the beginning of each day. Hence you will see that there is one deleted task (Article for “Eaglet”) which has no number against it. That’s because it was done today.

3) Deleted items are crossed out with a single straight line. When an item is started I put a dot next to it in the margin (you can see where several of them were) and draw the line from the dot when the task is completed.

4) Contiguous deleted items are joined with a vertical line. This makes it very quick to identify where unactioned tasks are located on the page.

5) You can see that on two occasions there are lines going right across the page. These are the lines which mark off tasks which are “on notice” for dismissal. There was only one item on notice today and that was the previously mentioned Article for “Eaglet”.

Of course there is no need to put the dates if you are not interested in keeping statistics.

Note that I don’t put any tags, priority signs or category marks on the tasks, so the page remains quite clean in appearance

Reader Comments (17)

Thanks Mark, good sample of simplicity. And it makes feel good to see that I'm not that far from it.

I also put the date on the left for statistics and reference, but include the month, as items added closed to the end of a month are possibly focused beginning of the next one. But while I'm writing I realize that this is maybe not necessary.

Instead of vertical lines I put small squares that I then mark when done (check), partially done (slash), or deliberately cancelled (X). I feel somehow I need to keep track of this.
July 24, 2009 at 8:29 | Unregistered CommenterJiru

There's no need to put the month as well as the day unless the task has been on the list for over a month.
July 24, 2009 at 8:34 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks for sharing AF2 with us. I just wanted to share an idea of mine (probably not at all original) to decorate each task with a small arrow that indicates urgency/importance. For example, I use an arrow pointing NE to mean urgent & important, an arrow pointing NW to mean nonurgent but important etc..
July 24, 2009 at 12:01 | Unregistered Commentersugi
LOL - I think the point Mark was trying to make in his previous blog and this one was the simplicity of the system WITHOUT having to have extra little markers and graphics on the page.

The real key is putting your trust in the system.

One thing though - I must admit I tend to scribble out a completed task with numerous lines rather than just one - simply because it feels so good :-)
July 24, 2009 at 20:38 | Unregistered CommenterDarrenW
As a refugee from GTD (spent more time on the system, rather than doing), I liked AF, but something kept me back. AF2 gives me the necessary tension mentioned by others. I run IT projects in a large company, and the juggling of priorities are mixed with medium and long-range planning. I was missing the immediate priorities with AF. AF2 solves that for me.

The only thing I hate, though, is reading 'backwards'. I just cannot abide reading from the bottom up. Solution? Start the notebook at the last page, and add entries in reverse, so that the newest entry is always at the top. That way the morning scan feels more natural, and I just 'top up' the list during the day.

It sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but it really works for me. YMMV

People stare at me when I'm the only one at the table with a notebook and a pencil, while all the others spend more time tapping away at their notebooks, rather than participating.

A final aside: We run a development methodology known as Scrum (google it), which is very 'organic', for want of a better word. My developers went nuts when I introduced them to AF2. It fits perfectly with a concept we use intensively, a backlog. Imagine my amusement when the most hardcore geeks in the company are running around with real notebooks :o).

Mark, thank you for an effective, intuitive, and most of all simple system that gets out of your way.

All the best

July 24, 2009 at 22:20 | Unregistered CommenterJacob Handeman
@Jacob. That is a wonderful solution to something that niggled me too. Thanks for keeping it simple.
July 25, 2009 at 1:17 | Unregistered CommenterRoger
Jacob - the backwards recording is a great idea. Well done!
July 25, 2009 at 2:21 | Unregistered CommenterScott

I did as you suggested and googled Scrum and was interested to read in the Wikipedia article:

"A key principle of Scrum is its recognition that during a project the customers can change their minds about what they want and need (often called requirements churn), and that unpredicted challenges cannot be easily addressed in a traditional predictive or planned manner. As such, Scrum adopts an empirical approach—accepting that the problem cannot be fully understood or defined, focusing instead on maximizing the team's ability to deliver quickly and respond to emerging requirements."

That's exactly the approach I was aiming for when developing Autofocus.
July 25, 2009 at 11:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

That's precisely why AF2 resonates so well with me and my developers.

It was particularly difficult to introduce Scrum in our organization, especially since they were dominated by the old waterfall model, and while it isn't necessarily cheaper (though in my experience it is), it delivers what the customer needs *and* wants, on time.

Where AF2 and Scrum really resonate, is that in Scrum the Sprint backlog (the iteration we're working on at the moment) is inviolate. If the customer wants to introduce something else, something in the backlog will have to be dismissed (see?), because we only have a finite amount of hours in a sprint.

The result: We achieve our objectives, and it is extremely seldom that developers have to work overtime (read 22 hours in 2009 so far). And they never work weekends. The result is that everyone have a feeling of knowing what is happening, and that the team is in control

AF2 achieves the same, because in a chaotic environment, especially when users from the pilot test report back, the developers each have an AF2 list, where everything gets dumped on, without interrupting their flow. Emerging requirements is one of the key tenets of Scrum (as time and iterations pass things become clearer, both for us and the customer).

Sorry to be long-winded, but it really fits together hand-in-glove. It is easy to wax lyrical about methodologies, but as far as I am concerned, both Scrum and AF2 have proven themselves in the trenches.

Again, thank you for a deceptively simple system.

July 25, 2009 at 16:06 | Unregistered CommenterJacob Handeman
It just occurred to me that AF2 and GTD (and other productivity systems" can come together is a very natural and EASY way. My big AF concern was not having ALL thoughts captured. It doesn't have to be a problem though.

Take a notebook with multiple sections (work actions, home actions, projects). Enter items in AF fashion, hilighted (deleted) ones are the same as "someday/maybe". So, hilighted projects are someday/maybe projects and on the same lists with active projects. This simplifies things and makes the "weekly review" more frequent and easy. It makes me feel better to know everything is out of my head and in a trusted system, just in a different way.

Put a circle to the left of "most important tasks" and you quickly identify what is, in effect, your daily task list. The MITs jump out at you. Work them then other tasks in an AF way...Never worry about what you don't do because at worst it's hilighted and can be reactivated when you review the older (sometime/maybe) stuff.

Much easier to enter and review items than GTD because there are less lists....I'll have to test this.
July 25, 2009 at 20:14 | Unregistered CommenterScott

I had been thinking of posting about the similarities between AF and Scrum but have been too busy - so well done on articulating this so well.

I'm a Scrum Master for years and apply Scrum to change-managament projects as well as IT projects. Scrum is just one of a range of new approaches to managing projects - collectively known as the Agile movement.

The way both Scrum and AF allow the 'significant few' to emerge organically from the mountain of the 'trivial many' is amazing!

Like you, I have found it hard to persuade 'traditional' executives of the value of both (Scrum and AF) as they want to stick to their Big-Plan-Up-Front methods that don't work but look complete on paper. They want to legislate for all eventualities and they have this amazing faith in the idea that you can plan ahead in enough detail and expect those plans to work. There is a large body of emperical evidence showing this does not work. But it FEELS good to have huge detailed plans and highly structured lists and categories and priority-based systems for managing things.

But people who have already embraced the Agile approach instantly see the value of AF and readily embrace it. I spend a great deal of my time 'selling' the Agile approach in my consulting work - so I love to find fellow crusaders for the cause.

Agility looks less 'in control' but it sure delivers what customers value most - results today and the flexibility to change tomorrow!

July 27, 2009 at 16:18 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Interesting stuff. Do you have any good links for reading about the Agile approach?
July 27, 2009 at 16:30 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I've also implemented Scrum. I've found Mike Cohn's site and presentations ( and Control Chaos ( to be a good introduction.
July 27, 2009 at 17:14 | Unregistered CommenterStuG

I've pretty much convinced my own organization on the Agile methodologies (even been given the resources to practice 'real XP', including pairs programming (sorry, this isn't a developer forum, so I'll stop with that)), but, in management, methodologies for Doing, rather than Planning are having a tougher time. My immediate superior, our CIO, has a stack of papers on his desk. That is his todo! Half of the time he is in Analysis Paralysis, because he cannot prioritize/delegate/dismiss.

I'm hoping to convince him to really go the paper route, and use AF2. I'm not too confident that I'll succeed, however. Ah well, at least it is working for me and my guys.


Before going too deeply into the different acronyms in the Agile Universe (there are many), have a look at the Agile Manifesto ( ). That is really it in a nutshell. The signatories are some of the highest luminaries in the software development world.

July 27, 2009 at 17:29 | Unregistered CommenterJacob Handeman

Thanks for the info. I'll check them out.
July 27, 2009 at 17:30 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

Thanks for the reference. I'll check that out too.

Good luck with your boss!
July 27, 2009 at 21:31 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

Once you've taken a look, I'd be interested to see whether you think Scrum is more similar to AF or DIT. I first noticed the similarities when reading DIT - essentially timeboxing your main list and not letting new items disturb your sub-list (your today list) then reassessing your next timebox at the start of the next iteration/day.
July 28, 2009 at 8:25 | Unregistered CommenterStuG

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