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« If it won't fit on a post-it, it won't fit in your day | Main | Which of my own systems do I like the best? »

My favourite time management system

In my last post, I asked commenters to guess which of my own time management systems I prefer myself.  The majority guessed correctly that my favourite is the original Autofocus (AF1) which I introduced in January 2008. I’m not claiming that it is perfect, but for me there is nothing to beat it.

In order for AF1 to work well, there are three important things in the rules which need to be taken seriously. I think a lot of the trouble that people have had with AF1 has been due to neglect of these.

  • Tasks which need to be done now, should be done now regardless of where they are in the system (or whether they are in it at all). This applies to both urgent tasks and tasks that need to be done at a specific time of day. However it’s important to realise that the system will cope with most fairly urgent tasks without needing to invoke this rule, just so long as one trusts the system.
  • One must not be afraid to dismiss tasks. The rules are quite clear about when tasks should be dismissed and what the consequences of dismissal are. Dismissal and the threat of dismissal are at the heart of the “autofocus” aspect of the system. If you resist dismissing tasks, then the whole system will be thrown out of kilter.
  • As a general rule, one should be aiming to cycle through your entire list at least once a day. To do this, you should pay attention to the “little and often” principle.  There are two aspects of this. The first is the number of tasks you work on when you visit a page, and the second is the length of time you work on a task before moving on to another. By adjusting these two, you can avoid the twin evils of getting bogged down in the early pages of the list or chasing the end of the list.

I intend to write more about AF1 and the advantages of using it over the next few weeks. Your own experiences as always are welcome in the Comments or on the Discussion Forum.

Reader Comments (40)

It's surprising for me. I would guess that AF4 is near to perfect for every task.

With this article I'm seriously thinking in giving AF1 a try.

My job and life is plenty of long-term and urgent tasks, but maybe whit all I've learned by now with AF4 I could have a succesful way with AF1.

Just to be more confident with this: Which are the faults of AF4?
October 26, 2010 at 13:30 | Unregistered CommenterIgnacio Lago

Hi Ignacio,

If you are already OK, and even, as you say, almost perfect with AF4, then I would suggest not to switch to AF1. The disadvantages with AF4, in my opinion, is that it can get bogged down by lots of backlog (especially recurring/routine) tasks, but if you have found a way around that, then AF4 becomes an almost perfect blend of handling of urgent and long term tasks.

God bless.


Hi Mark,

I would have to confess that it is your first item that I am guilty of. So my question is, if my next task is in another page than I where I should be, should I jump to that page and do AF from there, or do I just do the task and return to where I had been?


God bless.
October 26, 2010 at 14:55 | Registered Commenternuntym
AF4 rule number 4:
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.

This is the reason huge backlogs cause AF4 trouble. With a hundred plus items, you're nearly always going to find something to do in that list, and never get to the open list. In my case, AF4 works well for me though I no longer follow this rule as written. Nowadays I follow this rule instead:

4) When you come to the line, you may either go to the Active List or return to the beginning of the Backlog at your option.

This is even less effective at clearing the backlog, but more effective at working on current stuff. I actively keep my backlog small.
October 26, 2010 at 16:18 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu

<< So my question is, if my next task is in another page than I where I should be, should I jump to that page and do AF from there, or do I just do the task and return to where I had been? >>

Do the task and return to where you were in the list.
October 26, 2010 at 16:49 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

My main reason for preferring AF1 to AF4 is that I find I get a better flow with AF1. I find it is actually quite restful!
October 26, 2010 at 16:51 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
+Ad Iesum Per Mariam+

Thanks Mark!

I think the reason I kept having problems with urgent items in AF1 is because I (unconsciously perhaps) keep on thinking that "jumping to an urgent item" is more of an exception to the rules rather than part of the rules of AF1, since it is not part of the instructions but it is in the "Dos and Don’ts", and as much as possible I try to stick to rules.

Yes, I know technically it IS part of the instructions, but still...

Mark, I know this is an odd request, but can you please just move/copy that particular rule from the "Dos and Don’ts" to the "Quick Start" and "Full Instructions"? It's not that important, but still...

God bless.
October 26, 2010 at 17:11 | Registered Commenternuntym
As for me the same-day-urgent items go onto today's calendar page and not to my AF list.
(Remember DIT and it's today-page in the task diary!)
October 26, 2010 at 17:31 | Unregistered CommenterRainer
Hi Mark and all the other AF users. I have been using AF1 for a couple of days and it's the first system where I really been able to stop procrastinating. My days have been productive and full of flow. But for me an important rule has been to not dismiss any task, even if it just means working a couple of minutes on it. If I would start dismissing task, the risk is that I would start procrastinating again on some particular tasks. Anyone have similar experiences?
October 26, 2010 at 17:37 | Unregistered CommenterJohn
One of the main challenges I've faced when using AF1 is the use of little and often on large tasks. I often have a few tasks that take several days to complete. I should be working on them for a few hours each day, but in AF1 I work on each one for a short period (15-30 minutes), move it to the end and switch to another task, but I won't encounter those tasks again for several days as I'm working through everything else. In order for little and often to work with large tasks it seems like the work cycle needs to be shorter.

How do you recommend dealing with this?
October 26, 2010 at 18:27 | Unregistered Commenterdan
I really liked AF1 when I was using it, and every time I re-started it, I got a big productivity boost. The problem for me was that I quickly got bogged down for various reasons, and was basically *forced* to restart every now and then.

Why did I get bogged down? It goes straight to the three things Mark is emphasizing here.

(1) If something needs to be done now, do it now. Practically, for me, this basically means, "keep pressing and urgent things straight in your head, just in case you need to override the normal flow of the AF rules." If I've been sick for a day or two, or caught up in an all-day meeting, I simply don't remember what's urgent. I trusted the AF list to tell me that. But when I got back into AF after a short break like that, I felt overwhelmed by all the things that cried out for attention because they were urgent. The stress of that led me to pick off easy things like "check email" or "read AF forum" LOL. Of course that only increased the stress. My solution was to switch to the last page, write down anything that I knew was pressing, and take a quick scan through the list to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything important, write it down at the end also, and then start from that last page.

Basically this was restarting AF, and it felt good every time I did that, at least for a short time. But since rewriting tasks at the end before actually working on them really fouls up the dismissal process, the long-term effect wasn't good.

Alternately, I could simply restart AF after any break of a day or more. But then I lose all the important recurring items and other miscellaneous tasks that do need to be done at some point. So that didn't work for me.

(2) I wasn't afraid of dismissal, but my moving things forward as a means of dealing with urgency played havoc with the dismissal rules in the long run.

(3) I fell into the "chasing the end of the list" group, because I had such a volume of tasks. I did try the techniques Mark mentioned -- forcing myself to move quickly, by limiting myself to as few tasks on each page as possible, for example. But this process tended to favor the small easy items, rather than the significant and more complicated work that is really where I want to spend my time.

For these reasons, I have found DWM much more effective. It deals with all three of these problems, especially when I broke out the maintenance and "someday/maybe"-type tasks to a separate DWM list and blocked out limited time on my calendar just for those. This allows my main DWM list to focus on the more important projects. This seems to work well, in the spirit of separate lists for work and personal -- "main work" and "maintenance/misc" are two different mental attitudes for me, almost like two different jobs, and the separation is helping quite a bit. If a new task appears and I don't know where to put it, I can put it on both lists (since I manage the lists with Outlook categories). Anyway, this approach helps isolate the "urgent things that must be done now" while still following all the rules of the system.

Secondly, the DWM dismissal is more effective for me, since it forces dismissal after a certain period of time, and tends to keep my total number of tasks pretty constant. I get a much better sense of my total workload and what I can really handle. Again, separating out the main work from the maintenance/miscellany helps a lot. If a main work item falls off the DWM waterfall, this is a red flag to me that there is something seriously wrong -- either my workload is too big, or I'm spending too much time on the AF forum, or something like that, and I can take corrective action. But if a miscellaneous someday/maybe falls off the waterfall, I just say "goodbye" and move on.

Third, cycling the list is helpful, but not nearly so pressing, since the dismissal happens automatically whether you cycle the list or not, and DWM eventually presents you with everything on your list, even if you don't cycle through it.

One downside to DWM is that it takes a few weeks for it to really kick into gear. And this is a strong reason, I suspect, that AF1 works better for Mark. AF1 requires no priming -- you just take a sheet of paper or a notebook and list whatever is on your mind and you are off and running. Mark has done a lot of stopping and restarting, because of his experimenting with new systems. The easy fallback is AF1.

Mark, I would be interested to see whether you continue to find AF1 to be your system of choice after using it, and it alone, for several months, or whether you start to gravitate toward DWM. What is the maximum lifecycle for a single continuous AF1 list? When you reach the end of the notebook, I remember you recommended just starting fresh with a new book, and put an optional task "copy forward items from old AF book if wanted" in your new book. That's essentially doing a restart, which DWM never requires because it forces you to cycle through everything in a month.

Anyway, sorry for the long post, sorry also if it's incomprehensible. :-)
October 26, 2010 at 18:36 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
It occurred to me that I could summarize my last post in a couple of lines:

Does AF1 work best with periodic restarting? Is that another reason, besides the super-easy startup and intuitive flow, that Mark has found AF1 works best in his situation?
October 26, 2010 at 19:22 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I like the esthetics and Flow of AF1. It's something I call "universal" in the sense that it is not limited or linked to another concept (like our use of the calendar) or it's environment. It's a system that is clear of clutter, bells and whistles which help keep your intuition active. I like intuition!

I can definitely see it help people that need more structure and something that's integrated with it's environment. There is security in that. My brain prefers opportunities to security so that's why I gravitate towards the former.

Great summarization!
Limiting, in all it's meanings, really is a powerful skill for being Effective!!!
October 27, 2010 at 0:09 | Registered CommenterErik
AF4 has been my choice because the effect of creating a closed list underneath the backlog has been a powerful motivator in getting the tasks crossed out and into the open list.

Recording the date each time a fresh line is created also adds to the sense of urgency that the longer the tasks above the line remain as they are, the greater the danger of something in there blowing up in my face.

(Yes, I need that kind of motivation to get me going on some of the stuff on my list.)

Another recent development has been that I am batching a lot of my tasks or dealing with them as projects. I credit nuntym for that and for now its been working fine. The danger I face is that if a task is very deeply nested in a project, I may lose the standing out effect it may have as a standalone item but I'll cross that bridge later.
October 27, 2010 at 8:49 | Unregistered CommenterJD

<< But for me an important rule has been to not dismiss any task, even if it just means working a couple of minutes on it. >>

If you've only been working on AF1 for a couple of days, then I am surprised that you've already got to the stage where you are likely to have to dismiss a task. Dismissal is a very important part of AF1, but please read the instructions again and check that you are in fact doing it right.
October 27, 2010 at 10:44 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< I often have a few tasks that take several days to complete. I should be working on them for a few hours each day, but in AF1 I work on each one for a short period (15-30 minutes), move it to the end and switch to another task, but I won't encounter those tasks again for several days as I'm working through everything else. >>

If it's taking you several days to get back to the task, then you're moving too slowly through the list.

However if you have major tasks on which you should be working for several hours, then the best way to deal with them is to give them their own scheduled time-slots, rather than put them on your AF list.
October 27, 2010 at 10:54 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< Does AF1 work best with periodic restarting? Is that another reason, besides the super-easy startup and intuitive flow, that Mark has found AF1 works best in his situation? >>

When I first introduced AF1 I worked with it continuously for several months and never felt the need to restart. But restarting did seem to help some people who were getting bogged down in enormous lists. My feeling at the time was that these people were too reluctant to dismiss. This is a fatal flaw - dismissing should be seen as part of the normal process, not some sort of failure. I have been known to dismiss 30 tasks out of 32 on a page!

I note that you say that you prefer DWM because it has automatic dismissal. This immediately suggests to me that you were too reluctant to dismiss under that AF1 rules.

Please note that I am answering your question, not trying to convert you to AF1!
October 27, 2010 at 11:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< can you please just move/copy that particular rule from the "Dos and Don’ts" to the "Quick Start" and "Full Instructions"? >>

The trouble with amending the original AF instructions is that it would involve amending all those foreign language versions as well.

But you have my permission to amend your own downloaded copy for your own use!
October 27, 2010 at 11:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< I wasn't afraid of dismissal, but my moving things forward as a means of dealing with urgency played havoc with the dismissal rules in the long run. >>

I often move tasks to the end of the list when I need to do them quickly. That doesn't mess up the dismissal process as long as I do the task when I get to it. So I will only move a task forward when I am certain I am actually going to do it.
October 27, 2010 at 11:14 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Since Seraphim has mentioned his preference for DWM, I might take the opportunity to mention a suggested improvement to the DWM instructions which I don't think I've written about before.

One of the drawbacks of the written version of DWM is that the list is spread over many pages of a diary and that you need two entry points - one for new tasks and one for re-entries.

You can use an ordinary notebook and have only one entry point as follows:

1. Have one continuous list of tasks as in Autofocus

2. When you enter a new task, put a mark next to it to show it is a new task (I use a black dot).

3. When you re-enter a task, leave out the black dot.

4. At the beginning of a new day, leave a blank line and enter the day's date on the next line.

5. Then cross out any days earlier than one month previous, and dismiss any tasks which do not have black dots against them on pages earlier than one week previous.

The difference is that instead of your current list stretching forward from today's date, it stretches backwards from it - but the effect is exactly the same.

[Yegor Gilyov has a Russian translation of these rules on his website at ]
October 27, 2010 at 11:34 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
+Ad Jesum Per Mariam+

Hi JD,

<<Another recent development has been that I am batching a lot of my tasks or dealing with them as projects. I credit nuntym for that and for now its been working fine.>>

You're welcome! I'm very glad it has been working so well for you.

God bless.


Hi Mark,

<<The trouble with amending the original AF instructions is that it would involve amending all those foreign language versions as well.

<<But you have my permission to amend your own downloaded copy for your own use! >>

LOL thanks Mark! And I understand, thanks for even just considering it.

<<Since Seraphim has mentioned his preference for DWM, I might take the opportunity to mention a suggested improvement to the DWM instructions which I don't think I've written about before.>>

MARK, THAT'S BRILLIANT! I thought of something similar to this when I read wowi's post,

in which I adopted his way of using symbols to denote the number of days have past since closing a list, but I could never think of a way of replicating the "re-entering tasks" effect of DWM in a straight list. But now that you've shown me the way to do that, here is my own take on the straight-list DWM, which I will test-drive right away:

(please pardon my horrible writing ^___^)

The use of different symbols to denote when to dismiss the re-entered tasks and when to dismiss all the remaining tasks, in contrast to relying on dates, has the advantage of making the DWM list still viable even after leaving it alone for a few days, for example when the DWM is used for work and you would want to not use it during weekends, or when you just want to let your DWM list to fallow for a bit.

I theorize that to start it one has to write "Day 1," "Day 2," "Day 3," etc. on the margins right beside each separating line, but by the time you reach "Day 30" you will not need to mark each new day anymore, as adding additional symbols to the vital three points (Day 1, Day 7, Day 30) everyday for the rest of its use is guided by the symbols used the day before.

I really really REALLY love your latest DWM, Mark (at least the concept; I haven't even started yet!), for I have come across this article,

which suggests that focusing on finishing your hard tasks (even to the point of obsession!), not just being "busy" (which I most of the time feel in all versions of AF), is the way to be successful and satisfied with life. This version of DWM emphasizes the re-entered tasks even more than the previous DWM because of its highlighting of said tasks with a different symbol, and thus the spirit of "completion obsession" (LOL! I love that term) will be easier to achieve with the "little and often" approach than with any other version of AF or DWM.

Anyways, let's see for the next few days Mark.

Thank you and God bless!
October 27, 2010 at 18:11 | Registered Commenternuntym
Nuntym and Mark,

I like this! It's what my current system for unscheduled tasks is moving towards. It can also handle daily lists, although that would dilute the other tasks.

You don't need to write Day 30/7/1 if you don't mind doing a bit of mental math regularly (and aren't stuck on exactly 30 days).

Write the day of the week and the date when each day starts. On January 13, Day-30 is December 15. On Tuesday, Day-7 is last Tuesday. You have to fudge it a bit since the months all have a different number of days, but it works. Or you can use 4-weeks instead of 30 days, so on Monday, all the key days are also Tuesday. (I don't like that. Maybe the reason I didn't do it is related to weekly events.)
October 28, 2010 at 0:37 | Registered CommenterCricket
Mark, AF1 was a huge leap, so it is no surprise to find out you are so fond of it. As a matter of fact, I have found AF1 invaluable as a learning tool, in the same vain of David C's comment on your last post:

First, AF1 really helped me with rules that were simple enough and that I could trust to be second nature. And, as the days went by and I followed the rules, I undestood why they were laid out that way! At the same time, the discussions on the forum helped me a great deal, even when I was not actively participating.

I confess I never really got the gist of DIT, although loving its concepts and having read the book a couple of times. At least, I think, because I could not let go of other systems and just follow plain DIT for long enough.

AF1 was a very different beast: these are the simple rules, let me drop every other system and follow it. There. Days and days pass. Now, this, let me see how this works (and then there were the forums).

I confess that after some months AF1 was a bit impractical to me. This was mainly because of the erratic nature of my job: I sometimes spend weeks coming to university and working 9-to-5, and sometimes I work from home days at end; and some weeks I just mix and match commuting days and work-from-home days. Keeping 2 notebooks will never work for me (as I love being able to go back and forth between commuting and not as the situation poses itself), and the stalactite-stalagmite method was too caotic to work for a long time.

I then jumped into AF2 and AF3, but have little recollection of them. I just went back and skimmed the instructions, and I feel there is an added layer of complexity on them that do not add any benefit to me. But I did follow them when they were released, as they dealt better with my "problem" above. And they were also really, really educational.

When AF4 came, I thought that was perfection and I would never ever consider trying anything else. It really suited me. Then came DWM, and I was pretty skeptical, but there I tried it. Now, DWM *is* perfect (until the next perfect thing comes, but I will not hold my breath)!

You know, on a work trip that lasted a month I reverted from DWM to AF4 during the trip only. It did not flow as well compared to DWM, but I think it suited the trip.

Now, DWM is indeed a kind of DIT. But I could have never jumped straight from DIT to DWM, because I learned so much using all the AFs --- how to trust the system, how to trust the dismissal, how to not worry about having project list if I do not need them.

And thanks for following up with that alternate way to do DWM*! I was so excited to try it that I just sketeched a page to get the hang of it (and thanks to Nuntym, for posting your scheme as well). I use a normal notebook that I date week by week. I don't even care much about the "many pages to be turned". But I have lots of nearly-empty pages and lots of overflowing pages, and I find I shame to have empty pages! I just bought some more nice notebooks and I am glad I will use DWM on them and will not waste any bit of my nice sheets of paper. :)

* Although, again, I just think it works for someone who is already doing DWM with single-day-pages as the original instructions, so it is very clear why we dismiss "undotted" and "dotted" tasks in different time frames.
October 28, 2010 at 1:47 | Registered CommenterNatalia

<<< for I have come across this article, >>>

I almost wept when I read that article, not sure exactly why. (Maybe it's the onions I had for lunch.)

It gets exactly to the heart of my struggles with AF and even DWM, and to my recent rejiggering of my DWM-based system with a couple of DWM-driven "hotlists" for important work and personal projects.

For the last several weeks I have kept repeating to myself, "Results that matter!! Results that matter!!" And trying to make sure that I deliver those results, and not get distracted too much by the miscellany that also needs to be handled.

The article reflects clearly what really happens in my own life -- I have periods of intense focused activity where everything gets shut out for a day or more, after which I can look back and see I've created something significant (in my own little world, at least). And then I putter around for a bit, rest, recuperate, and think about the next big thing, meanwhile catching up on all the maintenance and administrivia that needs attention.

The problem with me has been, the older I get, the more I get distracted by odds and ends and attracted by constantly refining the process; and the harder it is to jump into high gear and deliver something that matters.

Until the very last minute.

But this doesn't work so well any more. I can't do the all-nighters any more; it knocks me down for a week afterward. I can't sit at my computer for 10-14 hours at a stretch; my eyes just get too blurry and my prescription goes up another diopter. Also, some of the big projects don't have deadlines, so there isn't any Last Minute -- they just keep getting postponed till they don't matter any more.

This isn't a recipe for success.

That article, short as it is, gave me inspiration. I'll see if I can make it work for me. Thanks again for the pointer!
October 28, 2010 at 2:06 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
+Ad Jesum Per Mariam+


<<I almost wept when I read that article, not sure exactly why. >>

I really hope it will help you, considering I have read many times in this forum how you have struggled with the phenomenally monstrous number of tasks that come your way every day. I hope all blessings come in your way during your struggles.

However, I think the new way of DWM that Mark explained, which I am trying right now, seems to be a more efficient way of doing the same thing. I'll tell you in a few weeks if I found this to be true, but you are welcome to try.


Cricket and Natalia,

You're welcome!


Anyways, as the first day of my trial of this new straight-list DWM ends, I recollect my thoughts on my admittedly short experience on its use, and I really cannot believe it: this could be the best version of Autofocus yet! Although it may be too early to notice yet, I perceived none of the limitations of the other versions of AFs and DWM that I have tried, and yet it truly delivered what had been the promise of all the versions of Autofocus: focusing on doing what is really important.

This is due to two things that I noticed. First is the special mark that denotes a re-entered task. Now let me be clear here: re-entered tasks are UNFINISHED tasks, not recurring tasks. If the task is a recurring task but I finished it now to be done again later, I enter it as a new task. But if the task was only partially done by the time I stop, I enter it as a re-entered task. Now, because the re-entered tasks are highlighted by the special mark, I keep on noticing those tasks; they always "stand out." And these tasks are NOT urgent/emergency tasks, but are, by definition, HARD tasks, because they cannot be finished in one go but have to be "re-entered." In other words, <<the straight-list DWM method follows the "Resistance Principle" as described by Mark: hard tasks "stand out" and thus are treated truly "little and often”.>> I really cannot believe how fast I finished the hard tasks today that I usually do for far longer because of distractions, and because of that, I did more of those hard tasks that I know were really important.

The second thing that I noticed is its flexibility. The dismissal rules of DWM are time-based, not "process-based" like in AF1 and AF4. Because of the process-based dismissal rules of AF1 and AF4, you have to be rigid in how you process your tasks in those AF versions. But in DWM, the dismissal rules are NOT based on how you process your tasks but rather in the number of days those tasks have been in the list. Because of the multipage character of the original DWM, that characteristic is, unfortunately, hard to exploit in the said system. But in straight-list DWM, the system is one long uninterrupted list, and therefore <<it is easy to process the tasks any way you want to without interrupting the dismissal process, and, I found, without losing the "closed lists" effect..>> During this day, I processed the tasks AF1 style, AF2 style, a sort-of AF4 style, Ping Pong style, a style of focusing solely on the re-entered tasks, and even plain DWM style :D My choice of approach depended on what I feel is the best approach to handling those tasks, and (probably the most important thing) I never got bored or tired of processing the list ^___^

Now, if straight-list DWM handles backlogs as excellently as the original DWM, then I would have to say this is the most awesome TM system that I have ever had the privilege of trying.

God bless us all.
October 28, 2010 at 4:45 | Registered Commenternuntym
+Ad Jesum Per Mariam+


<<You don't need to write Day 30/7/1 if you don't mind doing a bit of mental math regularly (and aren't stuck on exactly 30 days).>>

Actually, once I hit the "Day 30" mark I will not need to date my DWM anymore ^___^

God bless.
October 28, 2010 at 5:15 | Registered Commenternuntym

Your enthusiasm for "straight-list DWM" is inspiring.

There are a couple of differences between the way that you are doing it and the way that I envisaged:

1) You are making a special mark for re-entered tasks, whereas I envisaged a special mark for new tasks.

2) You are marking only unfinished tasks as "re-entered", whereas I envisaged "re-entered" as including recurring tasks.

There's a difference here in the way the marks are being used. I try to make the marks as inconspicuous as possible because they are only used to distinguish the date the task goes "over the waterfall". You are using the marks additionally to make unfinished projects stand out.

Personally I think I would prefer the way I envisaged, but I'll be interested to see how it works out for you.

On the subject of dating the days, all that is necessary is to number each day with the recurring series A-G (easy to remember because it's the nomenclature for musical notes) and 1-30, e.g. B22. At the beginning of each day you take dismissal action on the previous day which has the same letter and the previous day which has the same number. Since you will only number days when you are actually working on the list, this automatically allows for days when you are not working without needing any complicated adjustments.
October 28, 2010 at 10:14 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I must admit that nuntym's enthusiasm got me fired up enough to try out the "alternative" DWM myself! Thanks Mark for those very helpful pointers on implementation.
October 28, 2010 at 13:24 | Unregistered CommenterJD

You're right, the revised DWM looks a lot like AF with different expiry rules. I like it. (Now I understand why Mark called DWM a variation on AF.)

Nice distinction between long tasks that will eventually end with little and often, and tasks that can be done any time but will never end.

This is getting complex.

- Will end if I do little and often (or do a ton and burn out).
- Will never end but should work at little and often anyways (music practice).
- Will end for now, but show up again (water plants, check next month for gift buying, book annual doctor visit).
- One time (get quotes for new roof).
- Re-entred after 30 days. On short notice.

I had been merging never-ending with large-but-will-end, but separating them might be a good exercise.

I like making the first category stand out. Backlogs annoy me but I keep putting them off.


<< Only number the days when you are actually working the list. >>

You read my mind. I was wondering what to do after a week away from the list. Process an entire week's worth at once (overload!) or something else. In that case, Nuntym's right, we don't need to add today's date.
October 28, 2010 at 14:47 | Registered CommenterCricket
Re: "This is getting complex."

I consider this a brainstorm stage. It's supposed to be complex as we explore options. Then each of us will pick the options that work best for us and simplify it.
October 28, 2010 at 14:50 | Registered CommenterCricket

<< This is getting complex. >>

The rationale behind my method is that you can put anything you like on the list and you have 30 days to activate it. Once it's been activated you have to keep it going by taking action on it at least once every 7 days. So the system gives you time to consider whether to allow something into your life, and gets rid of it fairly quickly if it doesn't work out.

numtym's method takes a rather different perspective, which is to concentrate on unfinished work by encouraging you to work on it at least once every 7 days.

In summary, I'm concentrating on keeping the list pruned, while numtym is concentrating more on getting larger jobs finished. The methods of course overlap each other to some extent.

All we need to do now is to find a way of achieving both without complicating things too much.
October 28, 2010 at 15:07 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I've just read the article .

Limited number of active projects and specific goals for each one. That's what I do with the kids, why should I have work through zillions of vague projects?
October 28, 2010 at 15:11 | Registered CommenterCricket
+Ad Jesum Per Mariam+

Guys, I think we should move our discussion concerning Mark's new DWM process so that we do not derail this blog post any longer. I made a discussion thread here:

God bless.
October 28, 2010 at 19:46 | Registered Commenternuntym
An interesting point has been made in this discussion re: whether AF results in one getting caught up in doing little bits of work on a huge variety of tasks and never settling down and focusing on some key large tasks that are the big wins in ones life. This is a worthwhile point, and one I've often wondered about while using AF, and often a reason I've stopped using it. (AF1 and 4).

To create great things, isn't sustained concentration on one problem/task necessary? I doubt Michelangelo, Einstein, etc. were switching rapidly between 50 tasks while producing their great works.

In fact, Cal Newport has similar articles about this:

For me, as I've been finishing my PhD dissertation, I've used the method suggested by Mark in this comment thread: removing these large tasks that require chunks of focused time from the AF list and devoting scheduled time to it.

Mark, I'm curious if you find yourself doing this often, or if it's just a suggestion to your readers, who always seem to be griping about one thing or another?
November 3, 2010 at 5:22 | Unregistered CommenterBdizzy

You might find the recent threads on the Forum interesting as they address this concern.
November 3, 2010 at 8:35 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I believe ultimately you're right Bdizzy. That is the original idea of a vocation isn't it? 8-12 hours a day you concentrate on one thing, and then your little spare time goes to the rest. Unfortunately, work and home are no longer as simple as that, and I think we need to wrestle with the multitude of obligations to bring things back into order. Focus, but don't lose control.

Or, you could try Paul Erdos' lifestyle. Paul only ever thought about mathematics, and relied entirely on the grace of his colleagues for lodging, etc.
November 3, 2010 at 14:40 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Time always matter whether its work or even we discuss any topic. It’s a good idea and easy in applying. I like ProofHub which provides both time management and project management features. It solves my major problems.
February 3, 2011 at 7:50 | Unregistered Commenteralex
Time Management Systems offer many benefits to your teams and organization. They can help to keep track of many kinds of information which prove to be useful later on. Using this software allows you to plan out every project in accordance with the natural boundaries of each one, such as time and budget restrictions. When you can plan the projects using this information and also see the work that everyone is doing in a clear record that is easy to understand, you will find that your organization can benefit from this convenience. This is why so many people choose to use these programs for their projects. Here we will look at some of these benefits in more detail.
October 10, 2011 at 5:38 | Unregistered CommenterTime Management Systems
I am new here, so please forgive me if I go over old ground. I learned about AF about a year ago and found it to be the most useful system for my temperament. It's the only system I have gound which is intuitive and does not require any extraneous bookkeeping. I tried all versions but gave up on AF 4 because the left column became for me not an "urgent" column but a "panic" column and too many tasks ended up there which had no business being there.

There are a few issues which have bothered me about the system though:

1. Tasks which I know won't be done for a while, such as changing the oil ain my lawn mower which will happen some time next spring.

2. Task which are critically important but won't happen for a long time. An example is the renewal of my professional license which is not due until 2014 but will have serious consequences if forgotten.

I'm afraid the system will become cluttered with tasks like that on one hand, but on the other hand they should not be forgotten either.
Any thoughts?
October 11, 2011 at 23:37 | Unregistered CommenterWolff Garritano

Are you sure you mean AF4? There's no left column in AF4.

On your questions 1 and 2, none of the AF/SF systems are designed to deal with tasks which will occur more than a few days in the future. What you are recommended to do with this type of task is to put it into some form of reminder system. The method I use myself is Outlook Tasks. The reminder is not to do the task, but to put it on the list to be done.
October 12, 2011 at 0:45 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

I'll share with you what works for me. Hopefully you'll find it useful as well. And really, I pretty much handle the situations you mentioned in 1 and 2 in the same spirit as Mark's response. For me, Review results in one of three possible consequences: 1) Kill it (cross it off and don't look back) 2) Reincarnate it (re-enter it onto the list, re-written, or broken down into subtasks to account for the re-planning) or 3) Suspend it - which answers both your questions.

For items like the oil change in question 1, I put those items on my DWM2 list (for that's the system I use) as I would do with any other task that came my way. When it got ignored to the point of reviewing the "Change Mower Oil" task, I would cross it off my DWM2 list, and put it on a Maybe Someday list (of GTD fame). The Maybe Someday list is a list seperate from my active DWM2 list full of things that "Maybe Someday" I'll do. I have on my DWM2 list, a recurring task to review every item on my Maybe Someday list. That way I don't completely forget about my Maybe Someday tasks, and I have the opportunity to get back to them later, yet they don't bog down my active DTM2 list either. In this way, the Oil Change Task will sit in "Suspended Animation" until I review the Maybe Someday list at a later date and decide that it's time to put it back on my DWM2 list.

For items like in question 2 like renewing your license, that DO have a specified point in the future by which it needs to be handled, I follow the same steps as above. First I enter it into my DWM2, it stays there until I review it, and then I would put it on my calendar for the day on which I would like to START WORK on that task. Say on June 1st, 2013 I would write "Professional License Renewed by April 4th 2014." On June 1st 2013, I would enter that task back onto my DWM2 list, and begin working it as normal. In this way the License Renewal Task would sit in Suspended Animation until a specified calendar date came - at which point I would re-animate the Task.

This seems to add complexity to Mark's otherwise elegant systems, I know. But that's the full expanse of my own system with the exception of my contacts. So my entire system consists of Calendar, Maybe Someday List, Contacts Pages (or Address Book if you will), and DWM2 List at the core.

Hope that helps!
October 12, 2011 at 19:55 | Unregistered CommenterNate Miracle

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