Here are the preliminary instructions for AF4 as demonstrated yesterday. I will write them up in more detail later, but basically everything you need to work the system is here.
I will give the system for paper and pen, but it is easy to adapt the system for electronic use.
You will need a ruled notebook.
1) Draw up your list of things to do with one task per line. (If you already have a list you can continue to use it). You don’t need to put everything on the list at this stage as you can add other tasks as and when you think of them.
2) Draw a line at the end of the list. Everything before this line is known as the Backlog. As you think of new tasks add them after the line. Everything after the line is known as the Active List.
3) You start with the Backlog. Look through the tasks in the Backlog in order and work on any tasks which feel ready to be done. Delete each task when you feel you have worked on it for long enough, and re-enter it at the end of the Active List if you need to do more work on it.
4) When you come to the line, do not go into the Active List. Instead return to the beginning of the Backlog and continue to move through it in it doing any tasks which feel ready to be done. Keep circulating in this way, until you have done a complete pass through the Backlog without any tasks being done.
5) You now cross the line into the Active List. Move through the Active List in order working on any tasks which feel ready to be done.
6) When you reach the last task on the list, you then go back to the beginning of the Backlog and repeat the process from Step 3.
7) When you have crossed off all the tasks in the Backlog, you draw a line at the end of the Active List and this now becomes the Backlog.
So just to recap:
Your list is divided into two parts, the Backlog and the Active List. You circulate round the Backlog until no more tasks seem ready to be done. Then you do one pass through the Active List. After that you return to the Backlog. Once you’ve done every task in the Backlog, the Active List becomes the Backlog and you start a new Active List.
Deleting undone items
After you have been working on the Backlog for some time it may be reduced to a few tasks which for some reason or other you are reluctant to tackle. At this stage you may find that when you go back to the Backlog from the Active List you do a complete pass of the Backlog without doing any of the tasks.
If this happens, you should delete all the remaining tasks in the Backlog using a highlighter instead of a pen stroke, and then proceed as in Step 7 to make the Active List the Backlog.
The next time you come to the beginning of the list, you should finally cross off the highlighted tasks by deciding what to do with each one in turn. You may elect to abandon it, re-enter it on the Active List (with or without re-phrasing), or put it into a reminder system for review at a later date. In making the decision what to do with each task, you should look at the reasons why you haven’t done it yet.
It’s perfectly acceptable to use sheets of ruled paper rather than a notebook. You need two lists, a Backlog and an Active List. If you have undone items to review as in the previous paragraph, you will need to keep the old Backlog list until this has been done.
Electronic implementation is easy, as seen on my example yesterday. Rather than use Strikeout for actioned items, you can simply delete them. There’s no need to put new tasks in italics - I did that purely for demonstration purposes. You might want to use Bold for the current task, as it helps to find your place again.
There is a brilliant file by Andreas Hofmann which gives an animated version of my demonstration of AF4. This is an absolute must for quick understanding of the system. Many thanks, Andreas, this was a huge undertaking.