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« Life Hacker Article on Autofocus | Main | Live Demo - 3 Task Method »
Sunday
Nov072010

The rules by which I ran the demo

From my point of view the demo on Friday was a great success. I not only achieved my definite aims for the day, but I also did all those things which I said I would like to do if I had the time. The only thing I didn’t succeed in doing was to watch a movie - but that was because the DVD I was expecting didn’t arrive - so instead I watched an episode of “Downton Abbey”.

What most impressed me about the day was that I finished it feeling that I had achieved some really substantial progress, rather than just processing a load of trivial stuff.

This has continued to be the case yesterday and today. Because the emphasis is on FINISHING, I’m beginning to really hate seeing unfinished work.

Although I said in the demo that the 3-Tasks method was being fed by an AF4 list, I didn’t spell out exactly how that was done. So here are the full rules I was working by:

1. To begin, draw up a list of tasks. Draw a line at the end of the list.

2. As new tasks come up, add them below the line.

3. The part of the list above the line is known as the “closed list”. The part below the line is known as the “open list”.

4. Select three tasks from the closed list. Mark them by putting a dot beside each task in the left-hand margin).

5. Work on each of the three tasks in turn for as long as you feel like.

6. Continue circulating round the three tasks. When you finish each task, cross it out.

7. When you have finished two of the three tasks, you select another two from the closed list and work on all three tasks in turn as before (See Note 1).

8. When you have selected as many tasks from the closed list as you want to do for the time being you may then start to replenish the 3-Tasks from the open list. You may do one pass through the open list in one direction only before returning to the closed list, and continue as before (See Note 2).

9. Whenever you return to the closed list, you must select at least one task from it. If you do not select at least one task, then all the remaining tasks in the closed list are dismissed (see Note 3) by being marked with a highlighter rather than being crossed out.

10. When all tasks on the closed list have been either selected or dismissed, draw another line at the end of the open list. The open list now becomes the closed list, and a new open list is begun.

Notes:

1) After you have selected the two new tasks you start work on the task which was already on the list, not one of the new tasks.

2) It can be difficult sometimes to remember where one has got to in moving through the closed and open lists to select tasks. To make this easier, the rule is that one starts selecting new tasks from the position of the task you have just crossed out.

3) Dismissed tasks should not be allowed back onto the list without being reviewed carefully as to the reasons for their not having been done. It is a good idea to have a task “Review Dismissed Tasks” on the list.

Reader Comments (30)

Praise God; this is a marvelous blessing to be able to do so much and enjoy it. As Solomon wrote, "Every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labour — it is the gift of God."

Question: the goals you set yesterday, do you often do such? Is this a DIT habit, or is this only a benchmark for the purpose of testing and demonstration?
November 7, 2010 at 12:39 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan:

No, I don't normally do it. It was just to give a before and after review for the demo. However it might be useful for anyone who wants to give some additional focus to their day.
November 7, 2010 at 13:34 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I think with this, you've got the two elements of "Auto" & "Focus" in the system down to a fine and even balance.

I am finding my pace to be measured and thoughtful, especially if the task completion is well defined. If it isn't that's not a big drawback, because it can be more detailed at its next iteration. Usually, an ill-defined task is one where I am trying to bite too much off.

I can speed things up by defining smaller completions, or peppering the list with some rewards that move me along.

All in all, a superb effort Mark and thank you for bringing us along for the ride from the inception. It was a little surprising, if I may say so, because you usually subject your systems to tests before rolling it out. I suppose for this one, it may have felt intuitively ready-to-go.
November 7, 2010 at 14:23 | Unregistered CommenterJD
+Ad Jesum Per Mariam+

So Mark, do you have a new favorite system now? ^___^

Congrats on the success! I am using the 3 task system for the past few days on my DWM2, but for a number of reasons it seems to be a bit harder than with AF4.

God bless.
November 7, 2010 at 14:27 | Registered Commenternuntym
Looking at it now, I really like to FINISH my tasks.
That's maybe one of the reasons why I resisted AF...
November 7, 2010 at 15:01 | Registered CommenterErik
thanks for the very clear explanation of the rules, excellent stuff!
November 7, 2010 at 15:06 | Registered Commenterleon
Thanks for this illustration, Mark, and the contributions by the other respondents, especially JD's feedback which resonates with me.

I had tweaked my manual system already before reading the rules above, however, I do feel that at least one of the FIRST three tasks of the day at the coal face (ie after breakfast!)should be focused towards the MIT-type of task (Most Important Thing). But I guess one has to acknowledge that resistance can overcome many desires. The road to hell etc . . . ?
November 7, 2010 at 18:40 | Registered CommenterRoger J
I tested the 3 task system today in combination with my SGTM-inspired system - works perfectly on a rainy sunday :-)

For the task selection I used the same system I always use: just browse through the pages and pick anything that stands out. Today I picked two tasks instead of just one and copied them to a post-it note instead of doing it immediately.

One nice thing about the 3 task system: it works well with stuff that can't be done in one go (such as doing laundry).
November 7, 2010 at 18:50 | Unregistered CommenterLazy Cat
While I'm in the mood, here are a few of my tweaks, minor and personal.

However, I'd like to know from others if they leave the task in situ on the AF4 list as Mark describes ('put a dot beside each task in the left-hand margin') or if they re-write the task on another page which consists ONLY of 'Three Tasks' through the day?

I admit I have not tried Mark's approach of working only from the list because for the last few weeks, I have been culling three or four major tasks from AF4 and writing them in a Moleskine Pocket Notebook. It's been my attempt to get some of that 'additional focus' Mark mentioned in his reply to Alan. However, it has come at a cost of sometimes drifting and not diving into the AF4 list to keep things going.
I have tried to limit this drifting tendency by having a review of the AF4 list at set times during the day.

Thanks to these rules and the feedback, I think should try it a la Mark's method of marking the three tasks within the list. So I will have a go and incorporate the following:

(a) Since the very early days of the AF trial at the end of 2008, I have entered all my tasks with a horizontal dash first, then striking through finished items and adding a vertical line through the dash. Now with this new incarnation, I can turn the dash into a + which should make it stand out. I shall see.

(b) Completed tasks are struck through as per (a) and highlighted in green.

(c) Abandoned tasks have a wavy line and also highlighted green. This is a kind of dismissal on the fly.

(d) Deferred tasks are highlighted in yellow at their original location and re-entered on the open list, sometimes with a date reminder in square brackets at the end of the line. I often defer tasks due to physical context eg availability of a decent Internet connection, or not.

(e) Dismissed tasks ie those not deemed worthy of being re-entered as per Mark's rule # 9 and note 3, are highlighted in orange.

Like JD wrote, and along with several other mentions on the forum, the importance of defining or writing the task so one can identify completion and progress is a key ingredient.

Time for this development to migrate to the forum, or has it done so while I've been droning on?

God Bless Everyone on this forum, and those dear to each of us.
November 7, 2010 at 19:40 | Registered CommenterRoger J
Hi Roger - at least for the moment, I am leaving the tasks as they are in AF4 and following the rules.

I was using the 3-T system as a standalone product ever since Mark's mention in the forum. I shouldn't have been surprised with the level of focus I achieved, especially after so many others like Nuntym, Alan Baljeu and Gerry reported great results with their own systems that had similar focus tasks. I remember reading about your MIT's some time ago too.

But surprised I was, and here I am as happy as I can be with Mark's brand new system ready to tackle that huge project and the smaller items on their respective scales.
November 8, 2010 at 0:19 | Unregistered CommenterJD
Typical, less than 12 hours after I submitted my tweaks, a fellow forum member comes up with yet another simple and practical one!

Thanks, Lazy Cat, that Post-It note is a really neat idea, keeps the focus 'in focus' until 2/3 done, then back to the AF4 list. I'll experiment with it in less than an hour when I get to the project office here in Damascus, I can already 'see' the note hanging off my notebook screen, or AF4 notebook, or . . . .
November 8, 2010 at 5:44 | Registered CommenterRoger J
Feeddback after one hour: so far, bears out what JD and others have said, this is truly a balanced and refined Auto + Focus. Maybe forum members appreciate it more than absolute newbies, will be interesting see how newcomers react.

1/3 completed, deep into 2/3, just making tea at the office, can see that distaste for unfinished tasks rising! This refinement is an answer for some procrastinators and/or AADD types (I think I'm both, but better than I was since around December 2008!).

Thanks, Mark.
November 8, 2010 at 8:04 | Registered CommenterRoger J
Mark,

I am confused by a few things.

1. When you work the three task system, do you only work groups of three tasks all the time? In other words, do you ever just go back to working the regular list, going through it one item at a time? If so, doesn't the three task system undermine one powerful aspect of AF--the early and often principle? If you are going to effectively work items until they are done, don't you lose the ability to just start on something, cross it out, re-write it at the end of the list, and then come back to it later--maybe days later?

2. On a related note, one part of all the AF systems I loved was that I controlled task "turn over." I could control how slow or fast I moved through the list. As long as I followed the dismissal rules I could work one or twenty items in any closed list and get to any part of the list as quickly or slowly as I needed. If I choose the three tasks in this new system unwisely, then I could get stuck with two tasks that might take a long time to finish and not be able to get to any other items without stepping outside the system.

3. Since you are selecting three items (or at times two items) to be on the three task "list", what would be the problem of just drawing from just one big list? Why even bother with a closed list at all (a la AF4), since the three tasks form their own closed list?

4. In your demo, you complete and reenter some repeating items over and over (forum comments, for example). Presumably, these are reentered, when finished, into the AF 4 open list. This implies that you are making it into the open list quite often throughout the day in order to draw these items back onto the three task list. This also implies that you are choosing many shorter and more manageable tasks for the three-task system which would eliminate some of the concerns I have up above. So, the three task system seems designed for those who are working many short projects but still not finishing them. If you stick even two longer projects onto the list, especially ones that are not urgently due today, you could run into the same problem I mention above--getting stuck with two items that you can't finish for a number of hours, or days and unable to add new items to the three task list until one is finished.

In other words, is this new system designed for the type of person who would come to "Clean Kitchen" on their AF list, go out into the kitchen, clean for five minutes, cross it off their list, re-enter it at the end, and go onto something else, but never quite "finish" the cleaning of the kitchen?

I have used various AF systems for a couple of years, so I am quite familiar with your systems in general

Thanks
November 8, 2010 at 12:24 | Unregistered CommenterChris
i seem to find AF1 the easiest in terms of adhering to the rules...it would seem to me that the 3 task method should work ok with AF1. Any observations from others appreciated!
November 8, 2010 at 12:57 | Registered Commenterleon
Chris:

<< When you work the three task system, do you only work groups of three tasks all the time? >>

Yes.

<< In other words, do you ever just go back to working the regular list, going through it one item at a time? >>

No

<< If you are going to effectively work items until they are done, don't you lose the ability to just start on something, cross it out, re-write it at the end of the list, and then come back to it later--maybe days later? >>

You can still split major tasks up. But you do need to define what "finish" means at each stage. For example "Read War and Peace" means read the whole of War and Peace, while "Read War and Peace Chapter One" means read a defined bit of War and Peace.

<< If I choose the three tasks in this new system unwisely... >>

The obvious answer is don't choose them unwisely!

<< ... then I could get stuck with two tasks that might take a long time to finish and not be able to get to any other items without stepping outside the system. >>

It's important as I said above to define the length of your tasks sufficiently. If you have two tasks "Read War and Peace" and "Write War and Peace length novel" then of course you are going to get stuck for a (very) long time. But "Read War and Peace Chapter 1" and "Rough out plot for novel" probably won't hold you up too long.

<< Since you are selecting three items (or at times two items)...>>

It's always two items, with the single exception of the choice of the initial three items.

<<...what would be the problem of just drawing from just one big list? >>

You might be tempted always to go for the easy tasks, and even worse multiply easy tasks so that you never got to the more difficult ones.

<< In your demo, you complete and reenter some repeating items over and over (forum comments, for example). Presumably, these are reentered, when finished, into the AF 4 open list. This implies that you are making it into the open list quite often throughout the day in order to draw these items back onto the three task list. >>

It may look that way, but in fact if these tasks are re-entered at the end of the list they can make it to the 3-Task list several times during one pass through the open list. This is what actually happened during the demo.

<< So, the three task system seems designed for those who are working many short projects but still not finishing them. If you stick even two longer projects onto the list, especially ones that are not urgently due today, you could run into the same problem I mention above--getting stuck with two items that you can't finish for a number of hours, or days and unable to add new items to the three task list until one is finished.>>

See what I have said above.

<< In other words, is this new system designed for the type of person who would come to "Clean Kitchen" on their AF list, go out into the kitchen, clean for five minutes, cross it off their list, re-enter it at the end, and go onto something else, but never quite "finish" the cleaning of the kitchen? >>

It's designed for all types of people *including* the type you've mentioned. Please note that you have not defined "Clean kitchen". Are you talking about giving surfaces a quick wipe, or about a major spring clean? If the latter, then there are several strategies you can adopt. One is to take the entire project in one go, and make sure that you don't put any other large projects on the 3-T list until it's finished. That's how I recently did a complete spring clean of my office. Or you can split the project up into defined parts "Clean inside of cooker", "Sort broom cupboard", etc.
November 8, 2010 at 15:20 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Leon:

<< it would seem to me that the 3 task method should work ok with AF1 >>

I don't think there's any reason why the 3-T method shouldn't work with AF1. But my own feeling is that the characteristics of AF4 and 3-T make them particularly well suited to each other.
November 8, 2010 at 15:25 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Lazycat,

Can you elaborate on how you are using the SGTM and is it the simple guide or ultra simple guide. Thanks.

I have been using a version of the three task system with just a few rules and think it is great, I am finding the key is the three task system and not the other part, which for me a just a capture or catch all section so I do not have to worry something will not ultimately get lost. The focus on three item has always made sense to me and has a nice simplicity to it.

Gerry
November 8, 2010 at 16:06 | Registered CommenterGerry
Gerry,
I have been blown away by this new incarnation of Mark's, even though I've been around the forum since late December 2008.
Within one day, I have overcome previous obstacles and Got Stuff Done (let's forget why I haven't been more successful previously, but then AF/DWM/DIT whatever is not a static beast, it's evolving all the time, thanks mainly to Mark, but also to Erik, Alan, Nuntym et al.
I've adapted the new approach by adding your RAW + E (Errands) tags to the list, working for me.

Roger J
November 8, 2010 at 18:10 | Registered CommenterRoger J
Gerry: I took the principle of writing only in one place, the RAW markers (even though I seldom use R, as I don't make project pages, but have all notes mixed up, which means that an A is usually far away from its corresponding R - I know you don't recommend that, but it works for me) and portability (a DIN A6 ring binder) and use the Tao method. I've read both the SGTM and the USGTM more than once and after months of using my system, it's difficult to tell which one had more influence ;-)

Conscious tweaks: ring binder instead of a pad or notebook, colour coded shapes for RAW (green triangle, blue box, yellow circle - drawn with a pen and coloured with a highlighter), some few printed reference pages
November 8, 2010 at 18:31 | Unregistered CommenterLazy Cat
+Ad Jesum Per Mariam+

*sigh* I think Mark is right: DWM (original or new) is not a good time management system to pair the 3-task system with. The observations are:

1) It is very hard to do it "in situ" as Mark terms it (hat is, to mark the three tasks selected and leave them in the DWM list), because of the numerous pages a DWM system will inevitably accumulate. Either writing them in a separate place or writing them at the end of the list and marking them I found to be quite satisfactory, however there is the added (though minor) labor of rewriting.

2) The more serious problem, however, is the conflict with the DWM treatment itself of re-entered items. Mark already had predicted that problem, and I thought I can manage it, but unfortunately I cannot find a satisfactory solution to it. My solution was to go back to my original concept of marking only unfinished items as "re-entered", but this time only long projects, as by using the 3-task system all re-entered tasks would already be "finished." But no cigar: resistance to USING the system was actually increasing. So I just came back to how I was using the DWM2 before, and it all became better.

However, I am very intrigued by the reportedly spectacular success of 3TS by Mark, Roger J, and others, so I am willing to suspend my use of DWM2 for one week to try it as Mark originally envisioned it. I am very confident that I can return to my original DWM2 when I find that the AF4+3TS does not work for me.

God bless.
November 9, 2010 at 1:34 | Registered Commenternuntym
nuntym:

<< I am very confident that I can return to my original DWM2 WHEN I find that the AF4+3TS does not work for me. >>

I hope you mean "IF I find... "
November 9, 2010 at 8:23 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I seem to be the one person here for whom DWM has consistently worked over nearly a year. I have added extra flag fields to my ListPro file to try out the triple task method. It is true that it makes me more inclined to think through tasks and complete them better, but the other side of that coin is that is slows down the flow. It also adds complexity to a simple system. I will try it for a little longer, to assess the significance of the benefits.
November 9, 2010 at 10:18 | Registered CommenterLaurence
In a way DWM already emphasizes completion because those active tasks are always just a week out from demanding more work be done. It's just not as sharp a focus as looking at only 3 tasks at a time.

Imagine instead a system called HDW (Hour day week), and you'd see how much quicker things would move. Of course rescaling DWM like that without rule changes would probably drive you bonkers, but AF7 (4+3) TS isn't quite so persistent.
November 9, 2010 at 13:27 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
+Ad Jesum Per Mariam+

<<I hope you mean "IF I find... " >>

OOPS! Yes that's what I meant...sorry was working then on a laptop with busted LCD monitor backlights =(

Anyways Mark, I do not think I will try this, but I had an idea of always keeping the 3TS at three tasks; that is, upon finishing one task, you immediately add one more. Would that (theoretically) positively or negatively affect the system? I am curious about how the 3TS theoretically works....

God bless.
November 9, 2010 at 17:01 | Registered Commenternuntym
@Alan, I see what you mean.

Upon reflection I am going to delete my extra filter columns and return to the original DWM. Sure, three tasks is a stronger focus, but it is only the horse in captivity that wears blinkers. The magic of the original autofocus and DWM systems is having the whole vista of the list spread out, and allowing intuition to feel the one which stands out - and when I say magic, I mean it. In the three task versions this does not happen, as it is always two tasks which are to be selected, rather than one, and I experience this as interfering in the noumenous way the older systems give voice to the subconscious.
November 9, 2010 at 18:04 | Unregistered CommenterLaurence
@Alan, I see what you mean.

Upon reflection I am going to delete my extra filter columns and return to the original DWM. Sure, three tasks is a stronger focus, but it is only the horse in captivity that wears blinkers. The magic of the original autofocus and DWM systems is having the whole vista of the list spread out, and allowing intuition to feel the one which stands out - and when I say magic, I mean it. In the three task versions this does not happen, as it is always two tasks which are to be selected, rather than one, and I experience this as interfering in the noumenous way the older systems give voice to the subconscious.
November 9, 2010 at 18:06 | Registered CommenterLaurence
nuntym:

<< I had an idea of always keeping the 3TS at three tasks >>

I can't see any reason why that wouldn't work ok. But my feeling when I wrote 3-T was that not replenishing until two tasks were needed would give a greater focus. My new amendment to AF1 doesn't in fact use 3-T, though it aims to give a similar degree of focus.
November 10, 2010 at 0:30 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I see a trick in 3-T as written. If we followed nuntym's suggestion, you might lock into a pattern of 1-2-3-2-3-2X-3-4-3-4-3-4-3X-4-5-4-5-4-5X-4-6-4-6-4X-7-6.

See that task 1? Always on the list, never acted on. 3-T forbids that pattern by going down to 1 task left.
November 10, 2010 at 13:36 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Headline: It's All in the Cards or Giving Digital the Finger.

This forum may be interested in a Japanese method of organising records, ideas, will-do's and references.

Ironically, though it's pen and paper system, it was designed by a software engineer. What does that tell you?

It's simply brilliant by being brilliantly simple:
http://pileofindexcards.org/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page
November 11, 2010 at 17:07 | Unregistered CommenterPolish Cipher Bureau
I think that's a great measure of the day ... how you feel.
November 21, 2010 at 8:10 | Unregistered CommenterJ.D. Meier

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