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« The rules by which I ran the demo | Main | Live Demo Tomorrow (November 5) »

Live Demo - 3 Task Method

I’ll be kicking off the live demo somewhere around 8.30 a.m. GMT on this post.

I will only be showing those tasks which are actually being worked on in the 3-Task system. The system is being fed by an AF4 list which will not be shown.

The two things I particularly want to achieve tomorrow are to go for a long walk and to write a plan for our church fund raising campaign. I would also like to remain on top of all routine matters (email, paper, housekeeping, etc) and to watch a movie on DVD at some stage. If I can, I would also like to plan the workshop I am giving in Leuven in two weeks time, and make progress on my income tax return.

All tasks contain three stages: Preparation, the Task itself, and Clearing Up. A task is not complete until all three of those stages have been carried out.

I’ll be starting the day with only two items on my list as one was completed yesterday.

Key: Bold type shows when a task is first introduced onto the 3-Task list. When a task is shown in strikeout it has been completed. Therefore if a task is in both bold and strikeout then it was completed in one go. If a task has been worked on but not struck out, it remains on the 3-Task list. My comments are in [square brackets]

0800 Re-number bins

0802 Computer housekeeping

0809 Re-number bins

0818 Email [bit of a delay here as Outlook has decided not to start properly]


0838 Email

0841 Breakfast

0901 Check investments [after yesterday’s big rise in the stock market]

0910  Email [Outlook fixed at last]

0921  Breakfast [remember clearing up after a task is part of the task]

0933  Comments [note this is a recurring task - high level of comments expected today]

0943  Cash Flow Forecast

0948   Breakfast

0958   Check Diary

[I think some people are having difficulty in following what is happening, so to make it easier to follow I am changing the way the list is presented. Tasks will only be struck through when they are completed. I hope that will make it easier to see what tasks are on the list at any one time. I’ll also put tasks in bold when they come onto the 3-Task list for the first time]

1008  Download Camera

1023  Email


1056  TweetDeck 

1102  Paper

[I have now got to the end of the open list in AF4. So there should be weightier matters ahead!]

[A couple of general observations so far: 1) There is quite a considerable overhead involved in putting this all on the blog - so things are moving slower than normal; 2) The dynamic of AF4 is changed by using it with the 3-Task system because all re-entries onto the open list are “empty”, i.e. there is no outstanding work on them.]

1112  Walk

1119  Weed Handbooks File

1129  Walk [This is the bit of the task where I actually do the walking (and it will probably include a pub lunch too). So it’ll be several hours before I post again.]

1619 Leuven Presentation (first draft)

1631 Newsletter (first draft)

1658 Walk

1728 Leuven Presentation (first draft)

1738 Newsletter (first draft)

1812  Fundraising Plan (first draft)

1843 Income Tax Return (next section)

[Here I go back on the open list]

1853 Back Up Computer

1857 “Downton Abbey” [for the non-Brits among you, this is a TV series that has been enthralling the nation]

        Income Tax Return (next section)

I ended after watching Downton Abbey. So how did I do? Looking back on what I said I would like to do during the day, I see I did all of it. The only thing I could have working on further was my income tax return, and I will carry on with that tomorrow.

I mentioned in one of my comments in square brackets that the 3-Task method changes the dynamics of AF4.  If you look at my list of tasks above you will see that the unfinished tasks which I had more than one go at were:

Re-number bins
Leuven Presentation
Income Tax Return

In ordinary AF4 all these would all have been moved to the open list and the concentration which I brought to them would have been dissipated. So all in all I am extremely pleased with my efforts today and convinced of the benefits of using the 3-Task method with AF4.

Reader Comments (51)


Another "Test Match Special" of task management kicks off. With you in spirit.

I'll be interested to see how things like "lunch" and "washing up" from the AF4 list fit in.
November 5, 2010 at 8:15 | Unregistered CommenterWill
We'll see - breakfast coming up!

Of course a meal includes doing the dishes afterwards.
November 5, 2010 at 8:33 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
At the moment I think it would be better for understanding to see the AF4 list, but I guess it'll become clear in time.
November 5, 2010 at 8:43 | Unregistered CommenterAndreas Hofmann
Hi Mark - I remember a post where you say only recurring items are re-entered. An item like 'Project X' for example is not re-entered, just done to completion.

Is that right? I'd imagine that a Project that takes a lot time to complete would remain the odd one out in the closed part of the list, so it is best to re-enter it.
November 5, 2010 at 8:49 | Unregistered CommenterJD
Well, that seems straightforward!
November 5, 2010 at 8:52 | Unregistered CommenterWill
*please* tell me we've not reached the level of writing meals down as a task to do (even if it involves prep and clean up).
November 5, 2010 at 9:06 | Unregistered Commenterleon

Haven't you seen the original AF4 live demo?

I actually find this surprisingly useful in quelling the "just a quick coffee" displacement activity. Though I'm not sure that'll work with the 3-task method.

Speaking of which, this is not on my 3-task list, so... bye for now
November 5, 2010 at 9:14 | Unregistered CommenterWill

Meals take time, so they need managing. How you do that is up to you.
November 5, 2010 at 9:35 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< At the moment I think it would be better for understanding to see the AF4 list >>

Not really. This is a demo of the 3-Task Method. It can be fed tasks by any time management system (or none).
November 5, 2010 at 9:37 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< I remember a post where you say only recurring items are re-entered. An item like 'Project X' for example is not re-entered, just done to completion. >>

What I also said was that it is important to define completion. I gave the example of reading a book. Is your task to read the whole book, which will obviously take quite a while, or to read one chapter? You need to decide that before commencing the task.

So there is a difference between:

Read "Pride and Prejudice"

Read "Pride and Prejudice" chapter 12
November 5, 2010 at 9:41 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
9:33 Comments (recurring)

Did this go onto the AF4 list and get picked up from there, or straight onto the 3-T?

I'm struggling to track when tasks are being closed and added, which seems to be fairly central to understanding .
November 5, 2010 at 9:49 | Unregistered CommenterWill

No tasks go straight into 3-T. They all come from the AF4 list.

So what happened here is that I finished all the comments I intended to make, and crossed the item off the list. The task then re-occurred and I did all outstanding comments again. Each time all outstanding action on Comments was completed.

You can tell when a task is completed because I put it in italics. Those which are struck out but not in italics are not completed and remain on the 3-Items list.
November 5, 2010 at 9:56 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks, Mark.

It seems to make perfect sense as I watch it, but I'm struggling to recreate what was on the 3 list at any time.

For example, I simply take the first three tasks you worked on as the starting list, your would have started with Renumber bins, Computer housekeeping and Email
by 0809 you would have been on Renumber bins and Email
by 0818 you were down to Email and refilled with Comments and breakfast
by 0838 you were on breakfast and email
which stayed in progress until 0910 when Outlook was finally brought to order
But at 0901 you checked investments.

I should be able to come up with some alternative 3-T scheme, but it is trickier than you would think.
November 5, 2010 at 10:18 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Thanks for the reformat.

How did "Check investments" get onto the 3tasks? So far as I can see, Email and Breakfast were already in play, and we only enter new tasks when we are down to one.
November 5, 2010 at 10:39 | Unregistered CommenterWill

I've re-done the presentation of tasks to make it clearer.

The key to your problem is that you missed the fact that I only started with two tasks as I said in the intro.

So after completing Computer Housekeeping (0802), I refilled with Email and Comments.

I completed Renumber Bins (0809) and (0831) and refilled with Breakfast and Check Investments.

I completed Comments (0831) and Check Investments (0901) and refilled with Comments and Cash Flow Forecast.
November 5, 2010 at 10:51 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Rather than calling it "The next 3 tasks I have to work on" try "The next 3 things I spend time on" - this way you might remove psychological barriers (works for me at last)
November 5, 2010 at 10:54 | Unregistered CommenterAstrid
I think a 3 column format could work well on paper though it may be tricky in HTML
615 Breakfast. comments. Get stuff for work.
630------------------ x Comments.------------------
645 x breakfast.------------------ ------------------
650 x shower------------------ ------------------
700.------------------ ----------- x Get stuff for work
November 5, 2010 at 10:58 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Just a short line to say how much I'm enjoying this demonstration Mark. I like the fact that it can work with other time management systems so the focus is on 3 tasks, as although I'm familiar with Autofocus, I haven't closely followed the development of it and have mainly stuck with an amended version of DIT for my own system, using 'Things' software. Today I'm working with pen and paper in a couple of small Moleskines and have put a list of 'Autofocus tasks' in one and am using the other for the three tasks lists. Fascinating stuff, thanks for sharing and I enjoyed Mark McGuinness's post you linked to about tasks on post-it notes too. Will continue following this post closely over the day.
November 5, 2010 at 11:05 | Unregistered CommenterJacqui Lofthouse
Quite right, Mark.

I think I've got it now. Here's my summary up to elevenses (which I notice you disdain):

(shows what I think you have on the list at each timestamp, with active task in red and closure italic underlined)
November 5, 2010 at 11:43 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Hm, did you take paper on your walk to the pub to work the presentation and newsletter?
November 5, 2010 at 12:53 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
I think I'm doing this in the AF1, by moving to the last page (after I done some work on a task on every page) and from there just rotate between two or three task.
November 5, 2010 at 14:50 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

"Hm, did you take paper on your walk to the pub to work the presentation and newsletter?"

November 5, 2010 at 18:06 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Alan's 3 column format seems to work pretty well. I've updated to 1738 and think this gave me a good feel for the process.
November 5, 2010 at 18:13 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Looking back, it's interesting that the comments stopped, as predicted, when Mark hit the closed list.

Mark, I remember with the original AF4 demo, you went through the list several times. How did today compare?
November 5, 2010 at 18:15 | Unregistered CommenterWill
Hi Mark:

going back to my comment early about meal times (sorry for the air of sarcasm): actually by writing comments in brackets there is the opportunity for continuous improvement.

Although i'm not sure if it is the intention to just add comments for the benefit of this demo.

still, even something as 'everyday' like making a meal offers opportunity for improvement. i noticed today, for example that i have one too many chopping boards to i've stored one way!

Keep up the good demo!
November 5, 2010 at 18:16 | Registered Commenterleon

<< Mark, I remember with the original AF4 demo, you went through the list several times. How did today compare? >>

See my comments at the end of the demo about how 3-Tasks changes the dynamics of AF4.
November 5, 2010 at 21:27 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< Although i'm not sure if it is the intention to just add comments for the benefit of this demo. >>

The comments were intended purely for the benefit of those watching the demo. But I do write the occasional comment on my list for my own benefit!
November 5, 2010 at 21:28 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<< In ordinary AF4 all these would all have been moved to the open list and the concentration which I brought to them would have been dissipated.>>

I suppose though when you finish Income Tax section 1 then you immediately write Income Tax section 2 into the AF4 open list. right?
November 5, 2010 at 23:10 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu

Yes, I would. That's why it's important to define what finishing means for each task.
November 6, 2010 at 0:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Referring to the "French" example (see comments under previous blog post) --

Could you write "French" on your main AF4 list? And then, when you move it to 3T, decide at that time what you want to accomplish, and enter "French Exercise p. 89" on 3T? Then, when "French Exercise p. 89" is completed, re-enter as "French" on the AF4 list?

Or would you always enter the "next thing to complete" on your AF4 list: "French Exercise p. 89". Then transfer it, exactly as written, to 3T. Then, when it's finished, think about the next action very precisely, and write that down on the AF4 open list.

The former way seems more in the spirit of AF -- you can enter things onto the AF4 list without having to think through exactly what the "next action" will be. The latter way seems more GTD-like, requiring you to define the next action very precisely before you even right it on the list.

I suppose you could do it either way, depending on the circumstances. Would you recommend one approach over the other?
November 6, 2010 at 14:38 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

I've always said that one of the advantages of Autofocus is that tasks can be entered in the way that is most helpful to you. I think that applies here too.

The only proviso is that I don't have a separate 3-T list. I do it in situ on the AF4 list. But there's no reason why one can't write in a bit more detail before one starts the task.
November 7, 2010 at 0:15 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
All of this sounds a bit like WIP (work in progress limiting) from Kanban...
There is no question it must help a great deal with staying focussed and alleviating procrastination.

Just curious, where did you think of defining a task as completed when all 3 steps are done (prep, doing and clear-up)?
November 7, 2010 at 14:57 | Registered CommenterErik

That's not something I invented. I can remember being taught it at school!
November 7, 2010 at 15:20 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

Obviously ;)
But often, people forget about it and don't take it into account when they... "evaluate" the time it will take to do something. I think it was a good thing to make a point of saying it!
November 8, 2010 at 4:07 | Unregistered CommenterErik
Laurence: DWM has consistely worked for me as well. The dismissal rules are what sets it apart for me; although AF4 is just almost as good to my work style --- but not quite there now I have tried both systems extensively.

[ In reply to comment: ]

I have started trying the 3-task method with DWM (in fact DWM2, which is just a change in the format, but not in the rules). That is something I had noticed: although everything is running smoother than ever (no paper or e-mail backlogs, no burning the midnight oil to chase looming deadlines), I have not tackled everything that I should have.

For instance, my computer files. Although I have multiple backups in place, a server, good and running work directories, some of my personal files are running wild. My personal laptop is running out of space. Everything I have done was palliative, as I work very, very little on this task in any form of DIT--AF--DWM. What to do? I need a plan to *finish* a lot of things like this.

Most of such tasks are just dismissed with time, but once in a while something runs out of control (no more disk space!) and I put them on my list again, do some small thing to keep everything from breaking apart; but eventually task gets dismissed again because I just do not properly finish it.

So far (well, 1.5 day after processing my list with the 3-task method), I see how I focused more on finishing things. Now I have a plan for those projects that come and go and come back to the list and *have* to be dealt with.

Mark: When you commit to a task and something prevents it from being acted upon (as your "Email" above), how should one deal with it? Imagine your e-mail server is down for a whole day --- do you still keep that task on your 3-task list, occupying one of the slots? I am having trouble finding some of sort of rule or guidance that both allows me to deal with this type of situation and does not weaken my commitment to finish a chosen task.
November 9, 2010 at 16:15 | Registered CommenterNatalia

If I knew my email was definitely down for a long period and there was nothing I could do about it except wait, then no, I wouldn't keep it on my 3-Task list.

If on the other hand there was something I could do about it (which was the case when my email went down at the start of the demo) then I would keep it on my list and my action to remedy the problem would fall under that heading.
November 9, 2010 at 16:26 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark: So, in the case where you can do something about the e-mail, do you change your "finished" goal? For instance, all you could do was call your e-mail provider; you did that and they said your e-mail would be back in 30 minutes. Would you cross that task out? Would that depend on how much time it would take it to come back?

Thanks for your answer! I am sure I will be able to gauge these situations myself in time, but I came across some of them yesterday and I am still afraid things will not work if I am not stricter with my 3-task list.
November 9, 2010 at 17:09 | Registered CommenterNatalia
Natalia: Glad someone else has had the same good experience with DWM.

Re emails, same here, but life is a balance and I think the other things I have done instead have been more important, I just deal with the key correspondence. But I am working on strategies to ease the constant barrage of email I think we all get nowadays - Gmail's priority inbox, automatic filtering and so on.

Likewise re disk space etc, sometimes the right thing to do is work on infrastructure ("get and install new laptop", or "set up 25GB Skydrive account").
November 9, 2010 at 18:23 | Registered CommenterLaurence

Dismissal rules, yes crucial, and DWM gives me a steady list size, more or less.

With all the AF systems, the list got inexorably longer and longer, and I don't see why things would be different with the triple task adaptation.
November 9, 2010 at 18:39 | Registered CommenterLaurence

<< Would that depend on how much time it would take it to come back? >>

Yes, I think the basic question here is whether keeping it on your list is helping you get your work done or getting in its way.
November 10, 2010 at 0:22 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< I don't see why things would be different with the triple task adaptation. >>

One reason could be that 3-T helps you to tackle the more difficult tasks. That reduces the need to find displacement activities.
November 10, 2010 at 0:24 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<One reason could be that 3-T helps you to tackle the more difficult tasks. That reduces the need to find displacement activities.>

Ah but who decides what is a "displacement activity"? If you leave that to the conscious mind, you reject the whimsical idea that would change your life. So I think the strong dismissal of DWM, and its link to the calendar, was inspired as a way to deal with the ever-growing list, and I follow (and applaud!!) your original idea of throwing everything at the list, which you still refer to at where the full instructions for Autofocus 1 begin thus:

Full Instructions


As you think of new items, add them to the end of the list.

One of the characteristics of this system is that you can chuck anything at it. I recommend that you enter everything that comes to mind without trying to evaluate. The system itself will do the evaluation.
November 10, 2010 at 12:18 | Registered CommenterLaurence

I think one gets into a different mindset when using 3-T or a similar system. I'm finding with my new version of AF1 that, although I haven't changed the rule about throwing everything at the list, nevertheless it is growing far more slowly than it did with the original AF1. I am not consciously rejecting displacement activities.
November 10, 2010 at 14:37 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I think this explains it:
With AF1, thinking of things to do is usually far displaced from doing things. Also, doing things is very easy because you do a little bit, and the item disappears for a long time. Also, because you are doing such a variety of things, a similar variety of new ideas come up. So adding to the list is easy and fun, and there's no immediate negative consequence, so it happens lots.

The one thing that really curtails new ideas is to be narrowly preoccupied with one big thing.
November 10, 2010 at 15:32 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
I'm looking forward to seeing details of the new AF1 methodology soon.
November 10, 2010 at 16:29 | Registered CommenterLaurence

It's worked very well today so far, but AF1 always requires a bit of time for the list to evolve.
November 10, 2010 at 18:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
With each AF or DWM system, I've always learned new ways of thinking and developed new habits. The systems themselves taught these habits just by working the system.

So, while I'm pretty happy with DWM, I am watching enviously as all you 3T'ers are developing a compulsion to bring things to completion. I'm waiting for Mark's new idea to see if I can give it a try without disrupting my DWM lists too much, in case I need to fall back to them.
November 11, 2010 at 23:48 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Still working well, but I have been away for much of today. A full day tomorrow with nothing scheduled should allow me to get a good idea of how well it stands up to continued use.
November 12, 2010 at 0:00 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I think that a great tool for this kind of demo would be a livescribe pen. A pencast would be easy to follow when hearing a comment about each action.
November 27, 2010 at 5:30 | Unregistered CommenterRikard Nordberg
Not to take away from pencast, which I think is a great concept (never heard of it before), I think Twitter is an ideal medium for this. Easy to enter stuff, it will capture your time, no editing needed, everyone gets a live feed of what you're doing, and can chatter back.
November 27, 2010 at 18:07 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

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