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« What's Next? - Progress Report #5 | Main | What's Next? - Progress Report #4 »

SF Tips - #4: Make Good Use of Column 2

The rules about Column 2 are the most obvious difference between this version of SuperFocus and all preceeding systems of mine. Column 2 is in fact what gives this system its power, so it’s important to understand how to use it.

The rules introduce two new elements:

1) Compulsion. Anything that goes into Column 2 has to be done. It has to continue to be worked on until it is finished. This means it is important to be clear what “finished” means in relation to the task in question. Since all the tasks in Column 2 have to be worked on every time a page is started, it’s imporant that there aren’t too many - otherwise the system will become rigid instead of flexible.

2) A limit. The use of Column 2 is limited by the length of the page. This means that overuse of Column 2 will result in the system seizing up. Hopefully when this happens (or is seen to be likely to happen) it will encourage a good look at how much one is putting in Column 2. The limit is there for a purpose, and problems with it should be seen as a sign to take corrective action.

In the next two Tips I am going to take a look at each of the two components of Column 2: unfinished tasks and urgent tasks.

Reader Comments (15)

Mark wrote:
<< This means it is important to be clear what “finished” means in relation to the task in question. >>

Autofocus allowed things to percolate and flex over time as you worked on things. Is it true that in Superfocus, you can still use Column 1 to explore and to let things percolate and develop, but these kinds of things are really not appropriate for Column 2? That you should only let something get into Column 2 when you have a very clear idea of what "done" means?

I suppose you could write "Explore XXX" and allow that task to make its way into Column 2, and keep working it till your "exploration" is complete -- but you might not know ahead of time exactly what "complete" means.
February 26, 2011 at 18:39 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I've been reading posts and this is what I've seen mentioned for Col 2.

items cannot be dismissed
use if consistency is required like dishes/leitner cards
Have a regular daily report? re-enter daily into col 2
Examples of col 2 activities that are urgent include those things that require regularity and reliability: do dishes, daily article, exercise.
The goal of Col. 2 is to "get a move on with it until it is finished.

Problems with col. 2: how are days delineated? what is completion/finished? What happens to item if "finished", does it stay in col. 2 or is it moved to col. 1?

just thoughts.

February 26, 2011 at 18:41 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
This topic hits the nail on the head: exactly the issue I am wrestling with right now, and probably the only thing that I am finding difficult about SuperFocus.

In my brief stint with AF (just before SF came out), I loved the "percolate and flex" feature Seraphim describes. It suited me infinitely better than GTD's massive weekly review, which overkilled most of my projects in a hellish "forced march" session.

I want SuperFocus to percolate and flex too, but I keep messing up Column Two.

I will be waiting with bated breath for more of Mark's wisdom on this!
February 26, 2011 at 20:57 | Unregistered CommenterBernie

<< Is it true that in Superfocus, you can still use Column 1 to explore and to let things percolate and develop, but these kinds of things are really not appropriate for Column 2? >>

Generally speaking, yes.
February 26, 2011 at 21:10 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< how are days delineated? >>

They're not.

<< what is completion/finished? >>

Entirely up to you to define.

<< What happens to item if "finished", does it stay in col. 2 or is it moved to col. 1? >>

It depends. In theory if it's finished, then it doesn't need re-entering. But if it's something that will need action again almost immediately (e.g. email), then you can re-enter it in Column 1. If it's a daily task like "piano practice", then re-enter it when you are ready to do it in Column 2 (as an urgent task).
February 26, 2011 at 21:13 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
How about, "It goes in column 2 on this page if you need (or want) to do it before leaving this page. It goes in column 2 on the next page if you need to do it before leaving that page."

Or "It goes in column 2 (and stays there) if you want to work on it more often than once each pass through the entire book."

Both of those need me to know how often I cycle through a typical page and through the entire book.

What if the task should be done at a middle speed? Once per book (c1) is too slow, but once per page (c2) is too often? It's tempting to say "c2 so I don't forget it", but that fills c2.
February 27, 2011 at 0:41 | Registered CommenterCricket
I think I'm going to love Superfocus. It's simple and streamlined. But I'm still finding Column 2 slightly problematic.

Having just transferred my old task list to Superfocus Column 1 I'm keen to use Superfocus to get moving on it. There are 6 pages of Column 1. Yes, it's rather long, but at least I know that everything I might want to do is there for consideration.

Let's say, I'm starting on Page 1. There are a few Column 2 activities on page 1. Some of these are urgent and will be completed at first go.

Others can still be described as urgent but will need a few sessions to complete. A couple are daily recurring tasks. If I've just worked on one of these - and done enough for the day (or if it's a daily recurring task) I will re-enter it on the NEXT page Col. 2.

So, I then tackle a few of the tasks of the first page Column 1, and decide to move on to Page 2. I'm then faced with my Column 2 activities which MUST be actioned. But I don't WANT to tackle them again until tomorrow. Yet they are URGENT or RECURRING and surely should go into Column 2.

This could be resolved by not entering them in Column 2 until they're ready to be done, but I don't like the idea of them just floating around somewhere.

I'm wondering whether I should create a little symbol to distinguish these tasks? Yet I hate the idea of messing up the system unnecessarily or diminishing the power of Column 2.

Perhaps I've misunderstood - or missed something? But I think some of the comments on this page are touching on the same idea.
February 27, 2011 at 8:49 | Unregistered CommenterKatreya

How do you deal with entertainment tasks? For example, I like to play games. If I do not add task Play a Game to my list I will avoid looking in to the list. If i add such task to the list then I will play and avoid doing other tasks.

Anyway thank you for your work. It is really great system.
February 27, 2011 at 12:18 | Unregistered CommenterGregory

Daily repeating tasks don't stay in column 2. You only have to put them in column 2 if:

1) you would forget to do them if they weren't on your list
2) you really need to do it before you leave this page

So how do you remember to do a daily task (and/or put it in column 2)? A few ideas have been mentioned:

1) you don't have any problem remembering it and you just put it in column 2 when the time comes. Example: Mark finishes a meal and writes "wash dishes."
2) here's what I do for weekly reminders: put in a reminder in Outlook so it pops up a the right time on the right day. I then write it down in column 2 and dismiss the popup reminder.
3) for things I work on a little bit every day (clearing a backlog of emails going back several years) I want to spend about 15-30 minutes per day or 100 emails deleted. I just keep adding it to column 1 with a date on it. If I miss a day it's no big deal. If I absolutely had to do it every day, I'd probably put it in outlook (as a reminder to either do it right away or to put it in column2) just to be sure.
4) Alan mentioned an idea of using watch alarms and post it notes. I have an alarm that goes off at a certain time on weekdays so I won't forget to pick up my son from school.
5) here's an idea I just had. You could have appointments to do certain daily responsibilities blocked out on your calendar. Do them at the appointed times. This has the disadvantage of not having as much freedom as choosing from the SF list.
February 27, 2011 at 13:36 | Registered CommenterDon R
Gregory, add gaming to the list, but not on every page. Make yourself acutely aware of the important stuff that needs doing. Make sure you get through the list regularly and when you see something important, pick it up and start it. When you see gaming, have a presetctime limit before you start. Stop immediately when the time is up, and reenter it end of the list. Let it be a reward for getting through the list, and don't accept a reward without having done A little work.
February 27, 2011 at 13:47 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Katreya / Don R -

<<< I'm then faced with my Column 2 activities which MUST be actioned. But I don't WANT to tackle them again until tomorrow. ... This could be resolved by not entering them in Column 2 until they're ready to be done, but I don't like the idea of them just floating around somewhere. >>>

I use daily Outlook reminders for things like this. Two or three reminders pop up every morning: "Add XXX to SF c2". Works great.

Another idea I have considered is to keep a "Add Daily to C2" list, on a page in the back of my notebook. And then, every day, first thing I'd do is add those items to C2.

Both of these approaches give you a specific place to keep those items (so they are not "floating around somewhere") but keeps them off your SF list till they are actionable.
February 28, 2011 at 0:52 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

Here is how I handle things that I find myself spending too much time on:

+ Add it to Column 1 like any other task

+ If you can't wait till the item comes up in the normal course of things, then add it to Column 2 and take action right away

+ When done, re-enter the item in Column 1 on the last page

+ Start a timer whenever this item "stands out" and you decide to take action. When you finish up, make note of how much time you spent. Write that down next to the task in your book, before you cross it out as "done"

+ Periodically review how much time you are spending there

Seeing how much time I spend on tasks like those is a serious deterrent and prevents the task from standing out so easily. It's not a foolproof deterrent, but it does help. Maybe it won't be as effective for you. But maybe it will give you some other ideas. For example, if your gaming causes you to miss an appointment, miss some special event you could have attended instead, etc., you can write that down in the SF book when you cross it out. Whatever works to help provide you with a sense of balance and sanity...
February 28, 2011 at 1:04 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Don R/ Seraphim

Thank you both for your useful suggestions. Now I understand that this is a necessary part of the system, I'm going to experiment with both Outlook reminders, and a Daily List to be added to C2.

With Mark's 'intuitive' systems, there's always a point of tension between trying to follow the rules exactly, and adapting the system to one's own specific needs.

But I accept the need to experiment. Once I've got over that I feel this system will be a winner!
February 28, 2011 at 7:45 | Unregistered CommenterKatreya
Alan and Seraphim,

Thank you both for tips. I will think of gaming as reward for doing some work. Also I will start putting in the list how much time I spent on the task.
February 28, 2011 at 11:48 | Unregistered CommenterGregory

I finally integrated those not-quite-ready-for-Col.-Two items into a single daily page that tells me everything I need to know about the day:

- scheduled appointments, including when I need to drive the kids places (quite complex)
- my Morning List of daily routine things (I will actually forget many of these otherwise)
- Evening List, like the Morning List
- "Sometime Today," a section where I list items that will need to enter Column Two
- other sections allowing for shopping lists, currently relevant phone numbers, taking notes with a pen, etc.

I prepare this on the computer, print it in landscape format, and fold it into a four-page booklet. It is my portable "PDA" (Paper Detail Assistant), and it is the only thing I need in addition to the SF notebook. I connect it to SF by writing "Today—Keep Current" in Column Two. Any time that item is the last thing left in Column Two, I can turn the page as long as I'm current with the day so far. Then I copy "Today—Keep Current" into next page's Column Two until everything on those other lists is done.

So far, I like it! It is just a bit of a chore making it up each night, but hopefully it will prove so useful that I will want to keep making it up. Once you have a full week of these pages saved on the computer, you can make the next week pretty easily from last week's file of the same weekday.
March 1, 2011 at 7:37 | Unregistered CommenterBernie

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