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« Review of the Systems: Autofocus 2 | Main | Review of the Systems: Do It Tomorrow »

Review of the Systems: Autofocus 1

The rules for this system can be found by clicking here.

Brief Summary

The idea behind Autofocus (as it was originally called) was to provide a system which was much more effective and intuitive than Do It Tomorrow. The aim was to be able to enter all the tasks which arose or occurred to one without any form of pre-selection into a single list and to let the system do the sorting - or more precisely for the system to provide a framework which would enable one’s intuition to do the sorting. The list was written in a notebook, with each page of the notebook forming a closed list. Each page would be worked on in turn until no further tasks felt ready to be done. The important concept of dismissal was introduced which happened when one was no longer willing to do any of the tasks on a page.


The system was extremely simple, and was very conducive to working little and often. It reduced resistance considerably and could produce an almost addictive feeling.


There was a strong tendency for easy tasks to be done at the expense of more difficult ones. It was also poor at handling urgent tasks and tasks which needed to be done in a particular order.


I and many others love the ease of use of AF1. Most of the following systems have been attempts to keep this while improving the focus on important and/or urgent tasks.

Reader Comments (10)


>There was a strong tendency for easy tasks to be done at the expense of more difficult ones.<

I'm not sure this is a legitimate disadvantage attributable to AF1 specifically. Isn't this true about all systems? Isn't this human nature? If anything, it is more of a failure to follow the AF1 rules of little-and-often, than it is a disadvantage of the system itself.

>It was also poor at handling urgent tasks and tasks which needed to be done in a particular order.<

I'm in total agreement with you on this one. Flagging cured this disadvantage to my satisfaction.

January 25, 2011 at 5:18 | Registered Commenter2mc
AF1 is for me the best system invented about tasking. It's easy, fast, efficient, can be adapted (flags, tags or contexts) can be either digital nor on paper, can be on a notebook or on a simple sheet of paper placed into a binder or a folder. Urgent things can be treated going backward, (af2)

For me it has only one disadvantage i can't see all relatives tasks about a projects except on a digital solution like taskpaper or it I trick. There is another one as said before, extracting the most important things to do, because it can easely become a mess ! ; but it's cured by flags...

Anyway, even if my own system is nearest GTD for this reason and because I indeed need following my projects, I still love it. I Often rewrite tasks coming from my gtd software to be able to do things.

Using AF1 is a real pleasure, when I use it I feel intuitive and rational. I feel happy and quiet.
Then yes indeed Mark, AF is not perfect but it is great. For me it's the best system never invented (with GTD) and you did it !.
January 25, 2011 at 5:55 | Registered CommenterJupiter
I'd disagree that Autofocus's system 'sorts' tasks. It provides a capture mechanism, limits the range of tasks available to choose from (using closed lists), then helps a lot with task selection.

A major strength of this approach is that the user uses intuition to pick out tasks to work on, not just the conscious mind. This reduces Resistance at the point of selection & thus procrastination, so tasks get started. And because a 'little & often approach' is used, the task can be suspended; again something the Resistant Unconscious Mind finds less threatening, but once you've started a task, focus & flow usually kick in, so it gets often done anyhow. Result: improved throughput & execution.

However, the tasks aren't sorted & for me that's sometimes one of Autofocus's weaknesses, both on paper & in the software implementations, because although the capture method works, related & similar items aren't grouped together or sequenced. Being able to move & group tasks helps produce overview & structure & reduces the cognitive load. TMI's Time Manager System, for example, grouped tasks & information into up to 7 "Results Areas".

Autofocus also doesn't use priority codes, of course, in the sequencing, flagging or selection of tasks (unlike, say the Ivy Lee model, Covey et al), but it's interesting to see that abandoning traditional prioritisation & using intuition on the fly instead still makes a very workable system that can handle a large workload, process it quickly & produce focus.
January 25, 2011 at 6:53 | Registered CommenterJames Precious

<< I'm not sure this is a legitimate disadvantage attributable to AF1 specifically. Isn't this true about all systems? >>

It's not true of my new revision of Superfocus, which has solved the problem - at least to my satisfaction!.

<< Flagging cured this disadvantage to my satisfaction.>>

The new revision of Superfocus has also cured this, though in a different way.
January 25, 2011 at 9:56 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< I'd disagree that Autofocus's system 'sorts' tasks. >>

Maybe "filters tasks" would have been a better way of saying what I meant.
January 25, 2011 at 9:59 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Filters, & sifts, maybe?

I'm not being pedantic about semantics here: I'd just argue that sorting is a different sort of activity (which some systems do use, but Autofocus doesn't).
January 25, 2011 at 14:05 | Unregistered CommenterJames Precious

>The new revision of Superfocus has also cured this, though in a different way.<

That's fantastic to hear. I'm looking forward to it.

My only hope is that you've done something to address of the problem of the brain nagging one about what might be on another page. Have you addressed that without a lot of rewriting? My hand cramps easily.


January 25, 2011 at 14:17 | Registered Commenter2mc
>There was a strong tendency for easy tasks to be done at the expense of more difficult ones.<

Sometimes that's necessary permission to do the easy task. I'll stall on everything because I feel guilty doing what my hear tells me. If it's the last thing on the page, I can do it guilt-free. Even if the page is only half-done, I can see progress, and it's clear that doing it will keep me balanced.

I agree that flagging is an important step. Every few days I flag everything that needs to be done before the next review. Those tasks become a single AF1 page which I deal with first. I make sure that everything on that page is stable before working on anything else. Stable can be "I can leave it for an hour," or "All is good for a week."
January 25, 2011 at 14:39 | Registered CommenterCricket
so do I as cricket i flag. i put a dash in front of each task i must do very soon and do it first
for me definitivly this system is the best
July 7, 2011 at 4:00 | Registered CommenterJupiter
Hi all,

I've only been using SF for a week now. I was a longtime GTDer and got to the point where, as many others, the complexity was just too darn overwhelming.
I was fiddling with software options, creating more and more contexts, projects to sort my tasks, next action buttons, etc that I was sitting at my desk one day, feeling stressed, and realized I had just spent 15 minutes assigning project tags to my tasks when I could be working.
Anyway, I'm an HR director who CONSTANTLY has urgent items come up during the day. It's a non-stop thing and can't be helped.
My only concern with SF so far is that as I understand the rules you can't move on to the next page until you finish your C2 tasks. For me, while I DO need to get my C2 tasks done, this limits me from going to the next page and perhaps working on a project or task that could be done while I'm waiting to be able to do an urgent task (which while urgent can't always be done at that moment).
I'm wondering if AF1 wouldn't be a better system for me since it would allow me to flag the urgent tasks but yet still be able to scan all of my pages while I wait to be able to do an urgent.
Any thoughts or advice?
July 9, 2011 at 13:23 | Unregistered Commenterbrettypooh

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