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« Estonian is the first! | Main | Simplified Chinese Version of AF2 »

The Revised Autofocus System (Autofocus 3)

This is a major revision of the Autofocus System which greatly increases its effectiveness.

Download pdf version here

Chinese (Simplified) version

Chinese (Traditional) version

Dutch version

Estonian version

French version

German version

Hungarian version

Italian version

Japanese Version I Version II

Russian version

Spanish version

You are recommended to read these instructions through once in order to get an overview and then to follow the step-by-step “Getting Started” section at the end.


Autofocus consists of one long list of everything you have to do. As new things come up you add them to the end of the list. There are three modes by which you work through the list. These are Reverse Mode, Forward Mode and Review Mode.

Reverse Mode

As the name implies, in this mode you are working from the end of the list backwards. The end of the list is where newly entered tasks are to be found. Reverse Mode is intended particularly for taking action on the more urgent tasks which appear on your list, though it is by no means restricted exclusively to urgent tasks. You always start the day in Reverse Mode.

Forward Mode

In this mode you are working from the beginning of the list forwards. This is primarily intended for taking action on less urgent tasks which have not been dealt with by Reverse Mode, though it is not restricted exclusively to non-urgent tasks.

Review Mode

At the beginning of each day a few of the tasks which have been on the list longest are put on notice for review. If no action is taken on them during the course of that day, then they are highlighted for review and no longer count as part of the active list. They may only be put back on the list once they have been reviewed.

Detailed instructions

Reverse Mode

You always start each new day in Reverse Mode.

Starting from the last task on the list, you read each task until you come to one that you feel is ready to be done. You work on this task for as long as you feel like, and then delete the task from the list.

If you have not finished the task, then re-enter it at the end of the list. If a task is a recurring one (e.g. email), then you should also re-enter it at the end of the list.

Once you have done this, repeat the process starting again from the last task on the list.

N.B. You always return to the end of the list after finishing work on a task.

Forward Mode

Include the task “Change to Forward Mode” on your list.

From Reverse Mode, you switch to Forward Mode when you come to this task and it feels ready to be done.

In Forward Mode you work in a quite different way from Reverse Mode.

In Forward Mode, you move forward through the list on a page-by-page basis. Go to the first page on which there are any unactioned items. Read through all the unactioned items on the page once without taking action on any of them. Then read through them again and take action on any that feel ready to be done.

Keep circling round the same page until no more tasks feel ready to be done. Then move on to the next page and do the same again.

The signal to move back to Reverse Mode is when you come to a page and don’t do any of the tasks on it. This rule does not apply to the last page of the list - the one on which you are currently entering tasks.

When you return to Reverse Mode, re-enter the “Change to Forward Mode” task on the list.


1) Whenever you come back to Forward Mode from Reverse Mode, you start again from the first unactioned item.

2) If you cannot do any tasks on a page because of your location (i.e. it’s physically impossible to do them), then you can skip the page and continue in Forward Mode.

3) If you are still in Forward Mode when you reach the last page of the list, once you have finished working on that page start again from the beginning of the list (i.e. the first unactioned item).

 Review Mode

At the beginning of each day, the first contiguous block of unactioned tasks is put on notice for review (this may be one or more tasks). To signal this a line is drawn below them.

Any of these tasks remaining unactioned at the beginning of the next day are put on review. The recommended way of doing this is to highlight them.

These tasks are now treated as deleted, and they may not be re-entered on the list until they have been reviewed. This is done by putting “Change to Review Mode” as a recurring task on the list.

In Review Mode you may re-enter any or all of the highlighted tasks onto the list (see below for guidelines). Highlighted items which have been re-entered should be crossed out so that you know not to include them in subsequent reviews. You should also cross a task out if you decide not to review it again.

Once the review is complete, re-enter the “Change to Review Mode” task on the list, and go back to whichever mode you were in previously.

Guidelines for Review Mode

Please take the rule seriously not to re-enter these tasks before they have been reviewed. Putting tasks on notice for review is one of the most powerful parts of the Autofocus system, and not doing it properly will affect the workings of the whole system.

When in Review Mode you should consider carefully why each task was put on review , whether it really needs to be done at all, whether the time is ripe for it to be done, whether it distracts from your main goals, and any other relevant factors. When you do re-enter a reviewed item, it is often a good idea to break it down or re-phrase it in some way.

Getting Started

  1. To start with all you need is a pen and a notebook with ruled lines. Later you will need a highlighter. Please note that it is strongly recommended that you work the system on paper initially, even if you intend to switch to electronic implementation later.
  2. Write a list of things you have to do in your notebook - one task per line. There is no need to make this list comprehensive to start with. As you think of things or they come up, just add them to the list.
  3. Include “Change to Forward Mode” as one of the tasks.
  4. Re-read the Detailed Instructions for Reverse Mode again. Make sure you understand them.
  5. Start working the list in Reverse Mode.
  6. When you decide the “Change to Forward Mode” task is ready to be actioned, then re-read the Detailed Instructions for Forward Mode again, make sure you fully understand them and start working the list in Forward Mode according to the instructions.
  7. Continue working through the list, switching between Forward and Reverse Mode according to the rules. Don’t worry about how often you do this - it will vary a lot according to your circumstances.
  8. At the beginning of the following day, re-read the Detailed Instructions for Review Mode and put tasks on notice for review as described in the instructions.
  9. Start working the list in Reverse Mode (you always start the day in Reverse Mode).
  10. Sometime in the course of the day, re-read the entire instructions.

Sample Page

For an example of one of my own unedited Autofocus pages click here.

Notes to the sample page:

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 during the current day.

3) Deleted items are crossed out with a single straight line. When I start on an item I put a dot next to it in the margin (you can see where several of them were). This helps me to commit to the task, and also find my place. When I have finished action on the task I draw the line from the dot.

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 have been placed on notice for review. 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 in 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 (62)

This looks like an excellent revision, Mark. I'm going to print this out in A6 size to kep in my notebook.
July 28, 2009 at 15:59 | Unregistered CommenterLefty
I love this system. I you need some new French translation, feel free to ask.

Warm regards from France,

July 28, 2009 at 16:13 | Unregistered CommenterLionel
Dear Lionel

Yes, please!

Translations welcome in all languages. You can either send me the translation for posting on this website, or post it on your own website and send me the link.
July 28, 2009 at 17:07 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark,
Looks great - can you possibly have a youtube video made of you going through the system? (Or one of your fans can record you :)) I forget who interviewed you for AF1, but sometimes seeing the whole thing at work helps it all make sense.... well for the way I visually learn at least.

(sorry if this is a duplicate post, the first one did not seem to go anywhere)
July 28, 2009 at 17:20 | Unregistered CommenterKathy
Thank you Mark. This is fantastic!
July 28, 2009 at 17:20 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Ann
Hi Mark,

Initial reaction? Thanks for what comes across as a pragmatic approach combing AF1 and AF2, or at least that's how I interpret it!

I shall call it RAF in my postings and in my notebook, also a tribute to The Few of 1940 and Our Boys out in Afghanistan (the Few of 2009 in terms of numbers and equipment, not commitment or effort).

I am away from my own home base today, will be interested to see the comments by everyone, especially the Christines, Mels, Davids, Mikes, apologies to those omitted.
July 28, 2009 at 17:21 | Unregistered CommenterRogerJ
Hi Mark, I have a very general question about your revised Autofocus system. Do you view it as a replacement or "upgrade" from the system you describe in Do It Tomorrow? Or are there aspects in DIT that you still advocate using?


July 28, 2009 at 17:38 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

<< can you possibly have a youtube video made of you going through the system? >>

Yes, that's the next step I think.
July 28, 2009 at 17:46 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< Do you view it as a replacement or "upgrade" from the system you describe in Do It Tomorrow? >>

It works on very different principles, so I regard it as a replacement rather than as an upgrade. That doesn't mean that everything in DIT is superseded of course.
July 28, 2009 at 17:48 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark
Following on from Cynthia's question, one of the best aspects of DIT is understanding what a day's work looks like and knowing when you have done one! With RAF, how do you decide whether to stop work or work to completion?
July 28, 2009 at 17:54 | Unregistered CommenterPaul
There are probably many lurkers out there who feel as I do. But I just wanted to say "Thank You"! for creating and refining the AutoFocus process. It works for me like no other system ever has, and I have tried a lot of them. That's all. Just wanted to say thanks. Cheers. Mike
July 28, 2009 at 18:07 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rives
Great update!

Question: What are the numbers next to a few of the items, such as "Portugese," "Spanish," and "Towel"?
July 28, 2009 at 18:46 | Unregistered CommenterJacob
Thank you, Mark! Can't wait to get some miles on these tires.
July 28, 2009 at 18:55 | Unregistered CommenterDan P.

The numbers next to Portuguese, Spanish and German are the lesson numbers in the Pimsleur course. If I find it necessary to listen to the lesson more than once I put another number so Portuguese 14 means do lesson 14 for the first time; German 21/4 means listen to Lesson 21 for the fourth time.

The "Towel" item you mention is actually Journal 10+ (sorry about my handwriting!) You can read all about that at
July 28, 2009 at 18:55 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< With Revised AF, how do you decide whether to stop work or work to completion? >>

Personally I don't. I just keep working at it. But then I've got all my personal and leisure stuff on the list. If you look at my specimen page you can see there's a lot of non-work stuff on it.

However for those who don't want to do that, it would be very difficult to work to completion unless you had a very short list, The simplest way is to set a definite stopping time for your work.
July 28, 2009 at 19:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, thank you for this, I'm already trying it out.

A query - how would you suggest that future to-do's are handled in this system? For example, reminders to buy and send birthday gifts or a prompt to set up a meeting at the appropriate time? I'm seeing the 'review' list becoming longer and a repository for things that are not ready to be done yet, but too important to forget.

Many thanks.
July 28, 2009 at 20:21 | Unregistered CommenterAmber
I am so excited to give this a go, Mark!! A million thanks for your generosity in sharing this with so many. I'm a lefty, so I use all my spiral bound notebooks backwards (ie: spiral binding on the right) and write in my books from back to front. Weird, but then I don't have spiral markings on my arm and can actually write clear to the binding. So I had to alter your directions in my head for reverse and forward mode, but it totally works!! Kudos!!
July 28, 2009 at 21:15 | Unregistered CommenterAllison
>>For example, reminders to buy and send birthday gifts or a prompt to set up a meeting at the appropriate time?

Amber -- I have put future to-dos like that in my list anyway. I find myself ahead of the game that way instead of behind like I used to be!! If they are MONTHS down the road, I put them on a post-it a couple of blank pages down in my book and just add them in when the date is closer.
July 28, 2009 at 21:17 | Unregistered CommenterAllison

Thank you so much for revised Autofocus. I really like it!

Couple of questions for understanding revised Autofocus:

1) Please explain what do you mean as "Contiguous deleted items". I'm afraid I didn't understand it fully.

2) How do you enter tasks needed to be done for certain date (for example if you have to write an article for August 5th)?

Thank you so much!

PS I will translate revised Autofocus instructions into Estonian this week :)
July 28, 2009 at 21:18 | Unregistered CommenterKristjan Otsmann
Thanks for the update! I love my all-in-one list.

I don't understand about the "day numbers". Is that the day you completed the task?
July 28, 2009 at 21:54 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

<< I don't understand about the "day numbers". Is that the day you completed the task? >>

Yes, that's correct. But it's entirely optional whether you bother to do this.
July 28, 2009 at 22:37 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< Please explain what do you mean as "Contiguous deleted items". I'm afraid I didn't understand it fully. >>

I mean deleted tasks that are next to each other on the list. If you join them with a vertical line, you can see clearly where the gaps are. If you look at the sample page you can see at a glance that all the tasks on the list have been actioned except the last three.
July 28, 2009 at 22:41 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< How do you enter tasks needed to be done for certain date (for example if you have to write an article for August 5th)? >>

If I feel the need to put in a deadline, I put it in brackets after the task, e.g. "Write Article (by 5 Aug)". Usually I don't find it necessary though.

P.S. Thanks for your offer to translate it into Estonian. I look forward to receiving it. Translations into all languages are very welcome.
July 28, 2009 at 22:46 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< A query - how would you suggest that future to-do's are handled in this system? >>

Anything that is more than a few days away should be put into some form of reminder system, e.g. a diary, Outlook tasks, whatever. Note that the reminder should not be to do the task, but to enter the task on the list.
July 28, 2009 at 22:50 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark wrote: "If [future todos] are [due] MONTHS down the road, I put them on a post-it a couple of blank pages down in my book and just add them in when the date is closer."

That's a smart idea! I think a lot of people would find that useful. Is it worth putting a short "Tips" section at the end of the instructions with this in it?
July 28, 2009 at 23:16 | Unregistered CommenterAlys

How does one track Projects with several steps. Do you keep a separate Project list?
July 28, 2009 at 23:37 | Unregistered CommenterPhil

You could make one of your tasks to check your email. It's pretty easy to set up email reminders to yourself using Google Calendar or
July 28, 2009 at 23:41 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Actually, I think it was Allison who put forth the post-it note idea, not Mr. Forster. (Brilliant suggestion, I think, none-the-less. . .thanks Allison).


Regarding projects, I believe Mr. Forster has addressed this in other areas of his site (probably in the discussions of AF1?). Essentially the AF list can handle anything you put on it, from the granular (i.e. go to the library) to the intermediate (i.e. research mousetrap patents) to the overarching (i.e. invent a better mousetrap).

How you thread your way through projects would seem up to you. For simple projects involving only a few steps, I would think that after you complete one step you simply enter in the next action on the list. If the project is complex then perhaps you would consult a project plan in order to determine what the next action (to be entered on the list) should be.

As can be seen in other posts above regarding calendaring, Autofocus doesn't seem to be intended as a catch-all, in the sense that it would replace calendars or project plans. What it seems to do, exceptionally well, is act as an "engine" that drives your activity -- whether they be small actions that exist only on the list, or actions borrowed from a project plan, or actions imported from your calendar.

But, of course, I would await Mr. Forster's corrections on the above.

July 29, 2009 at 0:40 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph
Thank you for sharing this, Mark! It is brilliant. I have been getting along quite nicely using AF2, and didn't think I'd feel the need to combine the systems, but the way you have described it sounds so logical, I'm going to follow these instructions seriously.

Like Allison, my list goes in a book from back to front ~ not because I'm left-handed, but because my brain seems to like this model ~ it's like a pile of tasks that I can keep adding to by stacking things on top, but I can still get to the things on the bottom without making the whole pile topple (like the one on my desk)!

I had to change "reverse mode" to "top-down," and "forward mode" to "bottom-up," (and alter some of the other language in the same way), so that I wouldn't get confused.

I actually do use tags/category signifiers in my list, in a very limited way. If the task is to be done at the workplace, I have a boxed "GS" next to the item. If the item is a DVR program to be watched, I have the word "watch" highlighted in pink. And if the task is an errand, I have a red circled "E." These are the only circumstances when I need to pick out certain categories of items when I am scanning the list, and to me, it does not make the list appear messy. It works very well for me. I wouldn't add any more tweaks, though, because I can imagine it would get cluttered.

Other than that, I am following the instructions exactly, and I'm looking forward to using the system.

Thanks again!!
July 29, 2009 at 1:53 | Unregistered CommenterSarah J

I think Joseph has answered your query very well. I tend to take the attitude that for most projects we know what the next step is anyway so there's no need to keep a separate list, but there's nothing to stop you doing so if you want to.

My concern has always been that people shouldn't get themselves bogged down in unnecessarily complicated project planning - something that seems to be encouraged by GTD in particular.
July 29, 2009 at 8:41 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
What happened to the instruction of the original AF2 (aka reverse mode) to read through your entire list first thing each day? Is this dropped from the combined system (or optional)?

I resisted switching to AF2 as for me AF1 seemed to work fairly well. But now I intend to start testing the revised AF after my three weeks vacation (still 3 working days to go though...)
July 29, 2009 at 8:42 | Unregistered CommenterMarc (from Brussels)

The main thing is to find what works for you. The only thing I would say is that with both AF1 and AF2 several people commented that they were going to use various markings, tags and colour codes - and then reported after a few weeks that they had dropped them because they found they were unnecessary.

My concern is simply that people don't make the system so complicated that they start resisting it, or spend more time on the system than they do on the work!
July 29, 2009 at 8:46 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

I've dropped the read through from the instructions because it doesn't seem to be necessary with the combined system. It's basically been left up to the individual how much they read through the items on the list.
July 29, 2009 at 8:50 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark as I great fan of the AutoFocus system I can translate it in Dutch if you'd like.

July 29, 2009 at 10:22 | Unregistered CommenterBas ten Hove
Mark - like the others, thanks for this development.
2 questions - do you envisage this solving my previous question about what to do when you're away? If you can leave pages in the forward mode when you're in the wrong context, that solves that but it doesn't solve the problem of putting things into review because you're in the wrong place. But perhaps it would be an advantage to do a big review when you return from a trip?
And, is there any point in restarting our lists, or should we just carry on with our AF2 list in this new way?
July 29, 2009 at 11:33 | Unregistered CommenterLesley Moss
I have now been using this RAF for just one day.

I had switched from AF2 back to AF1 recently - but this revised method seems to address all my niggles with AF2. Today has been productive and stress free and the system works a charm. I love being able to trigger mode-switches as I fond the forward mode works best for me most of the time - but the reverse mode is needed to deal with urgent items and what I call 'exploding items'.

When an engineer describes how an assembly is composed of sub-assemblies and then individual components – that’s called a parts explosion. I have seen that many 'high level' items on my AF list 'explode' into a set of smaller tasks when I work on them - and these in turn can explode into even smaller tasks etc. The reverse mode handles this very well.

So, once again Mark, well done! You have blended the best of both AF1 and AF2.

I also love the crisp, clean look you achieve with you sample page - it has inspired me to use the exact same format - no more 'graffiti' clutter for me! I had been using an expanding range of symbols and doo-dahs around my items - I now see they are unnecessary – it was making my lists look cluttered. I just seemed to have this emotional need to add symbols for context and urgency etc. Today I just trusted the system and it worked a charm!

July 29, 2009 at 12:31 | Unregistered CommenterZytex aka Paul

<< I can translate it in Dutch if you'd like. >>

Yes, please!
July 29, 2009 at 13:32 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< do you envisage this solving my previous question about what to do when you're away? >>

Well, my feeling is that any item which is near the beginning of the list will have been around for a while, so it's due for review anyway.

If you are away for significant periods of time, I would advise having a separate travelling list anyway.

I started a new list but that was mainly because I needed to keep stats on how it went for evaluation purposes. It should work ok with your old list.
July 29, 2009 at 13:35 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

Many thanks for your generosity in publishing your new version online. Your book, "Do it tomorrow," helped me to get organized each day more than any other method. And I've tried them all. Then, your Autofucus, made my self-organization even more exquisite.

Thanks again, Mark, for your service to many, many people who need the kind of help you offer.


randy place
July 29, 2009 at 14:43 | Unregistered CommenterRandy Place
I'm a great fan of MS Word 'Outline' mode. Have you any tips for applying this system by using MS Word?
July 29, 2009 at 15:18 | Unregistered CommenterMal

I'll let others answer that one as I use paper and pen myself. If you don't get any answers on this comment stream, try asking the question again on the Discussion Forum on this site.
July 29, 2009 at 16:27 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

Allow me to add my name to the list of grateful AF users.

These new instructions compare quite favorably to the older ones. I am glad you replaced "standing out" with "feel like." I love the clarity of your description of Review Mode.

And I marvel out how you were able to integrate a closed list with an open list approach.

I feel privileged to have watched as you pieced this creation together. The freshness of your thinking is a joy to behold.

Thank you!
July 30, 2009 at 19:47 | Unregistered Commentermoises
Thanks, Moises. I'm glad it's been of use to you.
July 30, 2009 at 23:51 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Sarah J.,

I completely resonate with your approach of reversing the "pile" so that most recent items are added in front. There must be at least a few of us "right-handed" folks who have such internal wiring in them. This points to the fact that the format and even the materials used are so important to our sticking with a system and enjoying using it.

Terry Leigh Britton
July 31, 2009 at 19:06 | Unregistered CommenterTerry Leigh Britton
Hi Mark,

Excuse me for getting a little exuberant here but truly- your generosity, brilliance, dedication and genuine service seem to know no bounds!
I have received so much from DIT as well as How to Make your Dreams Come True.

I was a little unclear about the AF1 system so I hadn't actually started it yet. This new system and your instructions seem to have answered some of my concerns - it is very well thought out. I am very excited to see how this AF2 will work. (I'm a professional organizer as well as an artistic creative type - and your way of approaching getting things done is an inspiration both for me personally as well as in my work)

One question comes up while reading your directions for Review Mode.

"At the beginning of each day, the first contiguous block of unactioned tasks is put on notice for review (this may be one or more tasks) "

I'm not clear why any unactioned tasks need to be contiguous. Does this mean you are only going thru part of your list? And if so, does it matter whether you start in forward or reverse direction?

Thank you so much Mark!

July 31, 2009 at 20:41 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

The idea is to put the oldest task(s) on the list under notice for review. If you then do them that day - fine. If not they are removed from the active list and can only be put back on it after being formally reviewed.

So yes it does matter whether you start in forward or reverse direction. It's always the first group of unactioned tasks (i.e. the oldest ones) that are put on notice.
July 31, 2009 at 21:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I've been using AF1 for a month now and it really works for me. It just makes me so much happier, I'm really glad I've found the system. Gonna try this revised version, see if it's working for me.
If nobody else intended to do so, I can translate it to Russian.
August 8, 2009 at 9:39 | Unregistered CommenterDorinem
Hi Mark, I've only just heard about your system a couple of days ago. I am trying to understand how it works, but I seem to be missing something fundamental (or maybe its just me!).
Your instructions indicate that I should include items "Change to Forward Mode" and "Change to Review Mode" on my list. However, your example list includes neither of these items, so I am still not sure how everything fits together. I think I can see the merits of the system, but I guess until I fully understand it, I'm not convinced that it s right for me to adopt.
August 10, 2009 at 13:44 | Unregistered CommenterRohan
Hi Mark. I'm new to AF, but it looks great. I have a quick question: I don't quite understand the "Review Mode", or specifically when you say to start each day (or the review mode) by looking at the "....first contiguous block of unaction tasks is put on notice for review..." I'm confused at what this means? Are you simply saying that you go back and work your way through all the items that have been marked for review, and then decide if they should remain on the list or deleted? Thanks for your efforts!
August 10, 2009 at 21:07 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Mark's example list is just one sample page taken from a multi-page list. Presumably the items "Forward Mode" and "Review Mode" occur on one of the other pages.
August 11, 2009 at 14:10 | Unregistered CommenterRichard C

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