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« Review of the Systems | Main | The rules by which I ran the demo »

Life Hacker Article on Autofocus

There’s a big article on Autofocus and its latest variants on Life Hacker today.

Reader Comments (22)

Hey, I thought you were supposed to be retired. :-)

Great article, Mark.
December 3, 2010 at 21:36 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
That LifeHacket article talks about ...
<< Start by heading three successive pages of your notebook "New", "Recurring" and "Unfinished" respectively. >>
... I don't recall this step in AF/DWM/SF ... mmm.
December 3, 2010 at 23:49 | Registered Commentersabre23t
Hi Mark,

You've finally convinced me to (almost) abandon paper (except for those things that HAVE to be done electronically: email and both creating and editing files on my computer).

I JUST came up with a modification of your Triple Task / Autofocus 4 system.

One of my goals was to integrate both paper-based and electronic work into the system without creating extra overhead (beyond setting up some trays, electronic folders, and one email "saved search").

I think I've managed to do exactly that.

The other thing, is I had read reviews of Autofocus on several blogs where the owners simply loved the system, but felt it did **not** allow them to handle recurring tasks such as exercise well.

I believe I've tweaked the system to fix that too, by adding rule 10.1 and 10.2 after your rule 10. I've also made 5-additional notes over and above your 4, explaining how I've set this up.

Now that that is done, I think this will be both low overhead and will allow me to focus WITHOUT tweaking like never before.

Thanks for your work. You rock and your readers know it.

Here's my modification of your newest simple time management system: This is designed to combine the best of paper **and** digital work and to use Autofocus to easily handle **recurring tasks** at last.

Kind regards,

Christoph Dollis

P.S. I'm beginning freelance work in the extremely near future and my website itself is based more on direct person-to-person selling, so I haven't posted this as a blog post. I've made a standalone static html page for it here: and I invite you and your readers to critique it, pull it apart, and tell me where I've gone wrong --- and right, hopefully.

P.P.S. Congratulations on receiving a fantastic write-up on Lifehacker! The pendulum is swinging from really complex to deceptively simple time management systems, thanks in considerable part to the work you're doing.
December 4, 2010 at 7:08 | Unregistered CommenterChristoph Dollis
Correction: I added 6 notes on top of your 3.
December 4, 2010 at 7:15 | Unregistered CommenterChristoph Dollis
Thank you, Christoph. One think I'm not clear about is in your Rule 10.1 what happens to the existing closed list tasks? Are they amalgamated with the new closed list?
December 4, 2010 at 12:36 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark,

As a rule, to keep it simple, they would be amalgamated. I would just use this as another reason to close the list, then continue adding new tasks below the line. So my way of doing it would close the list at the beginning of the week and/or month.

Otherwise, my rule for closing the list is exactly the same as the rules by which you ran the demo.

My thinking is that my recurring tasks include some important ones -- like exercise -- so might as well give myself the option of getting a jump on them Monday morning.
December 4, 2010 at 17:14 | Unregistered CommenterChristoph Dollis
Mark wrote:
<< >>
That should teach me not to skim Mark's new posts such as that "Promised AF4 Revision".
Wow, I'm really spoiled for choices on new AF/DWM/SF variants to try. For now I'm sticking with DWM.xls while continuing to see how other more adventurous souls fare with the new variants. ;-)
December 4, 2010 at 17:47 | Registered Commentersabre23t
I reworded 10.1 and 10.2 so hopefully they're little clearer.
December 4, 2010 at 18:01 | Unregistered CommenterChristoph Dollis

how does that amalgamation look like? Do you strike out the now superfluous horizontal line ? Or do you simply ignore it?
December 5, 2010 at 12:16 | Unregistered CommenterRainer
Christoph -I am not sure how this can be considered simple when one has to remember rules 1 through 10.2.
December 5, 2010 at 15:35 | Unregistered CommenterMike
Hi Mike,

Rules 1-10 are Mark's rules. Yes, to explain them takes a bit of writing, but to do them is really simple, I think, compared to say GTD.

Rules 10.1 and 10.2 are almost the exact same as rule 10. The only thing is I'm doing this at the beginning of every week and month to feed these recurring tasks into the system.

Even if I didn't add 10.1 and 10.2 I'd STILL have to feed these tasks into the system -- I just wouldn't have a discreet time to do it.

Since these are the tasks I want to do every week/month, it makes sense to me to add them at the beginning of same.

Possibly this system has too many rules, but I don't agree. Even the original, simple Autofocus 1 system had 8 rules.

This new ammended system of mine has 10 rules (plus 2 more that are basically identical to the last rule).

So anyway, that was one half of my addition to the system (recurring tasks handling in this manner). The other thing I'm doing is to set up my trays and folders and such with the same "above the line" / "below the line" philosophy, to let new tasks percolate a bit.

Hey Rainer,

That's a good question. I'd ask Mark how he does it.

Personally, I let my horizontal line take up a whole line on its own to give a bit of space on the top and bottom of it (this makes it stand out). Then, I draw a horizontal squiggly line through it after drawing a new horizontal line. This horizontal squiggly line through reduces the gab a bit and so makes the old line blend in a bit more.

Plus drawing squiggly lines on paper is always fun (reminds of school days), so why not?
December 5, 2010 at 18:45 | Unregistered CommenterChristoph Dollis
Oh, and Mike, I probably should have explained. I don't actually "remember" to do 10.1 and 10.2. I put an event in my calendar to add recurring tasks to my Paper list at the beginning of every week and month. So no additional remembering required!

Just Mark's 10 rules, plus a reminder in my calendar of when to add my recurring tasks.
December 5, 2010 at 18:48 | Unregistered CommenterChristoph Dollis
Due to your excellent feedback, Mike, I combined rules 10.1 and 10.2 into a single rule, appropriately named rule 11.

Rule 11 is optional of course. If you left it out, you'd have Mark's Triple-Task/Autofocus4 system.

But I added 11 because it seems to me a good way of efficiently introducing recurring tasks into the main AF list.
December 5, 2010 at 20:51 | Unregistered CommenterChristoph Dollis
There's different kinds of simple. Here's a system with simple rules but hard to use effectively:
1. Write stuff down as you think of them.
2. Repeatedly pick something on the list and do it.

Autofocus is different: the rules are slightly more involved, but once grasped it takes almost no effort to use effectively.
December 6, 2010 at 1:17 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan - It seems to me one can follow the simple two "rule" system or you can waste time with 10 to 11 rules and incessant changes from AF1 to AF?.

If you know your priorities and what needs to be done just do it.
December 7, 2010 at 12:21 | Unregistered CommenterMike
It depends on the volume and complexity of work, Mike. I know I was utterly lost with a straight list.
December 7, 2010 at 15:45 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Mike: If you know your priorities and what needs to be done just do it.
Me: Knowledge by itself does not lead to action. Knowledge+willpower=action. AF helps me with the willpower aspect.
December 7, 2010 at 19:03 | Unregistered Commentervegheadjones
I see why Mark tweaks things.

Now that I've actually used this system for a week, two observations.

The 3-Task/AF combination is pure genius. This is the most relaxed I have ever felt in regard to an attention focus (a.k.a. time management) system which is so easy to maintain and do without forgetting anything important.

I see now that the list is really a big circle and time itself can be viewed that way.

I made some changes based on what it was like to actually work with this system and the changes, small that they may be, seemed to have really helped me.

Most importantly, I've added a method for keeping on top of in- and out- sourced tasks within the AF list itself. It's simple, stretches the limitis of my miniscule drawing talent, and I believe it suffices for most occasions. Anything requiring much more advanced tracking can be managed through separate software and systems, but you could still put a note to yourself to check such systems in your AF list.

I've also broken down my system for handling recurring tasks into smaller, easier to understand rules. It was too much to explain it in one rule.

That said, doing the rules is extraordinarily simple.

I also stopped adding recurring tasks monthly. It appeared unnecessary and redundant. Instead, I'll add recurring tasks only one day per week. This only takes a few minutes, but makes the system work well for exercise, cleaning, and regular maintenance chores, and the like.

The latter two of which can be outsourced! ... as the system now covers.

Thank you so much, Mark. This is light years better than "Getting Things Done", even though I realize you speak highly of David Allen's book of the same name. People "fall off the wagon" a lot with GTD, as Allen himself acknowledges. Allen's system logically makes sense, but doesn't work that well with the non-linear nature of the human mind, I feel.

Your system does.

85-90 percent of my amended system came directly from your work and I am humbly grateful.
December 15, 2010 at 3:12 | Unregistered CommenterChristoph Dollis
Glad to be of help, Christoph.
December 16, 2010 at 11:18 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Wow Christoph! There's a lot of good stuff in that page. Too much in fact to take in at once. It might be good if you open a new topic on the forum. One idea I found interesting:

"13. Draw up lists of recurring tasks (see Note 6) you would like to get done repeatedly with a certain approximate frequency: every week, every fortnight, every four weeks, every year, etc. (see Note 7), but that don’t necessarily have to be done on a specific day (See Note 8).

14. If it is time to add a new recurring task again and you haven’t completed the old one, dismiss the old task by highlighting it in order to help you get a sense of whether you are being reasonable with both the number and type of recurring tasks you’re biting off and also with the timeframe you’re giving yourself to do them."
December 16, 2010 at 12:37 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Hi Alan, and thanks for your suggestion. I opened a new top on the forum as a result:
December 27, 2010 at 6:37 | Unregistered CommenterChristoph Dollis

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