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« Rules for "Do It Tomorrow": Russian Translation | Main | Many Thanks »
Monday
Feb072011

SuperFocus Instructions (Third Revision)

As I have previously mentioned, I have been experimenting with some further changes to the SuperFocus rules. These have been performing extremely well, so I am releasing them now. Please note these do make some considerable changes to the system as follows:

1) Unfinished tasks are now re-entered in Column 2 of the following page and not the same page.

2) Column 2 must always be cleared before moving on to the next page.

3) Once Column 2 of a page is filled, everything remaining on that page must be cleared the next time it is worked on.

 

THE NEW RULES:


Normal AF1 rules, except:

1. There is a second column (Column 2) on each page. This is used for adding additional tasks to pages as follows:

  a. Re-entering unfinished tasks. These are entered in Column 2 of the following page. If you are currently on the last page, then the following page is the first active page of the list.

  b. Entering tasks which you want to do urgently. These are entered on the current page.

2. Column 2 is treated as a part of the page along with Column 1, with the difference that all tasks in Column 2 must be actioned before moving on to the next page. No unactioned tasks may be left in Column 2.

3. Unfinished tasks are always re-entered in Column 2, even on the last page.

4. Once Column 2 is full, no further tasks may be entered on that page.

5. The following page for re-entry purposes means the next page which has any room left in Column 2. When you are currently on the last page, the following page is the first active page of the list. Similarly when entering urgent tasks, if column 2 of the current page is full the tasks are entered on the next page with room.

6. If no tasks are done in Column 1 during a visit to a page, all remaining tasks in Column 1 are dismissed. This rule does not apply to the last page of the list.

7. When you visit a page which is full (i.e. has no space left in Column 2), all tasks on that page must be actioned or dismissed.

Signs and symbols

a. When a task has been actioned, it is crossed out with a horizontal line.

b. When a task is dismissed it is highlighted.

c. When a dismissed task is reviewed and either reinstated or removed altogether, it is crossed out as it is no longer subject to review.

d. A page which has no active tasks left on it is marked with a cross in the outside upper corner.

e. When there are no active tasks left on any previous pages, the cross is surrounded with a circle.

f. When there are no dismissed tasks still subject to review on any previous pages, the circle is highlighted.

 

Conclusion:

The aim of these rule changes is to increase the flow of the system by no longer re-entering unfinished tasks on the same page. At the same time additional pressure is brought to bear to keep working on unfinished tasks. Once a task has been entered in Column 2 it must remain in Column 2 on every page until it is finished.

The new rule about what happens when the page is full is intended to encourage sensible use of Column 2. It is vital to the whole procedure, that one is clear in one’s own mind when a task is finished, and this needs to be defined carefully.

I will be publishing consolidated rules for those not acquainted with previous versions shortly.

French Version (pdf)

Reader Comments (109)

Thanks for the updated information. An observation and then some questions:

First, in your rules, you have no rule 3 and two rule 6. [Thanks, David, corrected! - mf]

When you say "When you visit a page which is full (i.e. has no space left in Column 2), all tasks on that page must be actioned or dismissed.", I see this as a fairly major change to AF1 rules which specify you must do something on at least one task on a page, even if it's full, in order to prevent the remaining tasks from being dismissed. It appears that now you must finish all tasks on a full page in order to prevent those tasks from being dismissed. Am I reading that correctly?
February 7, 2011 at 15:35 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Coyer
Wow, finally the wait is over!

It sounds very ingenious - thanks Mark! :)
February 7, 2011 at 16:17 | Unregistered CommenterKudos
Hurray !!!! Thanks for releasing the rules. I thought you were attending finishing war and peace so even you read quiet quickly i imagined this in the fifteen next days !!!!!!
So thank you very much indeed. I apply it immediately and will give you the result asap

Best regards

Jupiter.
February 7, 2011 at 16:21 | Registered CommenterJupiter
Haha, you cheater... Posting the instructions before you finished War & Peace ;). Nah, just kidding. I'm sure many people will be happy you posted them, especially after Marcus already gave an important part of the new rules away in his own little variation.

I take it that recurring tasks are just added like any other new task (i.e. in column 1 of the last page)?
February 7, 2011 at 16:22 | Registered CommenterTijl Kindt
Haha, you cheater... Posting the instructions before you finished War & Peace ;). Nah, just kidding. I'm sure many people will be happy you posted them, especially after Marcus already gave an important part of the new rules away in his own little variation.

I take it that recurring tasks are just added like any other new task (i.e. in column 1 of the last page)?
February 7, 2011 at 16:22 | Registered CommenterTijl Kindt
Mark - so if I understand this correctly, these revisions to SuperFocus dismisses reoccurring tasks until it is time to take action on them once again, correct? For example, if I have a weekly reoccurring task "clean bathroom", it would be actioned to completion, re-entered into the second column of the following page, and 'dismissed' when that second page was actioned.
February 7, 2011 at 16:24 | Unregistered CommenterUMOarsman
"all tasks in Column 2 must be actioned before moving on to the next page. No unactioned tasks may be left in Column 2."

If I understand correctly, once you start something, you are not allowed to leave it behind, so every page you must work on it. So if "Read War and Peace" is your written task, you must each SF page actually read some more War and Peace. Is this correct?

Based on the above, I expect you actually enter "Read one chapter" so you can occasionally escape the book.
February 7, 2011 at 16:38 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
David:

<< Am I reading that correctly? >>

Yes, you are.
February 7, 2011 at 17:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Tijl:

<< I take it that recurring tasks are just added like any other new task (i.e. in column 1 of the last page)? >>

Yes, that's correct. As long as they've been finished of course.
February 7, 2011 at 17:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
UMOarsman:

<< if I have a weekly reoccurring task "clean bathroom", it would be actioned to completion, re-entered into the second column of the following page, and 'dismissed' when that second page was actioned. >>

No, recurring tasks are treated like any other tasks, i.e. entered at the end of the list in Column 1. Only unfinished or urgent tasks are entered in Column 2.

In the case of a weekly recurring task, you would probably not want to re-enter it immediately anyway.

I'll be writing some more detailed guidance (not rules!) on how to treat different types of task.
February 7, 2011 at 17:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thank you Mark.
February 7, 2011 at 17:13 | Registered CommenterAlison Reeves
Alan:

<< If I understand correctly, once you start something, you are not allowed to leave it behind>>

Yes, you understand this correctly. In the case of War and Peace I did treat it as one long task, so I've been reading some every page of the list. This was the only task I've treated this way, otherwise I'd have slowed progress on other things too much (and fallen very quickly foul of Rule 7).

You are also correct in saying that I could have phrased the task by chapter, or by number of pages read, or even "Read a bit of W&P". Careful definition of tasks is important.
February 7, 2011 at 17:16 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
+Ad Jesum Per Mariam+

Thank you Mark for releasing SFv.3 early ^__^ I'm implementing it immediately.

Aside from the changing of the rules, I think what you posted last is a big change: "Careful definition of tasks is important."

In the original AF1 instructions, you posted: "DO include plenty of creative tasks such as “Think about…”, “Investigate…”; “Discuss…”; “Review…”" By their nature, these action verbs are very vague. So now in SFv.3 do you discourage these?

Also, if I understand your instructions correctly, now in even the last page Column 2 can and should be used?

God bless!
February 7, 2011 at 17:29 | Registered Commenternuntym
Thanks for the quick reply and early release of the rules, Mark! I'm exited to try this out.
February 7, 2011 at 17:32 | Unregistered CommenterUMOarsman
Hi,

I've been using SAF for a while now and really liking it. My only problem has that I did not get through the pages quickly as I was always adding unfinished (and important) work to column 2. The new rule of putting these tasks on column 2 of the following page should really make a difference!
February 7, 2011 at 18:10 | Unregistered Commentervegheadjones
"If you are currently on the last page, then the following page is the first active page of the list"

Isn't it the last active page? Isn't the first page always the first page without a cross in the upper left hand corner?
February 7, 2011 at 18:13 | Unregistered CommenterEphi
Mark, it seems like the way you've treated War and Peace could be the equivalent of the DITA "current initiative".
February 7, 2011 at 18:25 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
+Ad Jesum Per Mariam+

@Ephi

<<Isn't it the last active page? Isn't the first page always the first page without a cross in the upper left hand corner? >>

This refers to the re-entering of unfinished items. Rule 5 states that the re-entering of unfinished tasks is in Column 2 of the following page. If you are already working on the last page of your list, then you re-enter your unfinished tasks on the FIRST active page of your list.

God bless!
February 7, 2011 at 18:39 | Registered Commenternuntym
This is nice! I've got a page staring at me, with a few tasks that I've put off for quite a while. And according to the rules, I can't turn the page! And by gum, I'm doing the tasks!

I know previous AF's have had some of this prodding built-in, but the "can't turn the page" rule really makes you work!
February 7, 2011 at 18:47 | Registered CommenterDS
I've been away from the AF/SF scene for a while, but have been looking for this new revised system for a while. AF1 was good, and not too difficult to implement electronically (on my Android phone), but I'd love to hear some suggestions for implementing Superfocus on a smartphone. I'm specifically interested in the part concerning the second column. Otherwise I'd have to "experiment" with paper again ;)
February 7, 2011 at 19:08 | Unregistered CommenterChristian
Scenario:
On my last page (say page #12) I have column 1 not full.
I have column 2 full.
I need to reenter an unfinished task so I turn to the next page (page #13) and put it in column 2.
I think of a new task.
Do I put it in coulmn 1 of page #12 or page #13?
February 7, 2011 at 19:15 | Unregistered CommenterEphi
Ephi:

The answer is that if you've got column 2 full before column 1 is full, you have a serious problem.
February 7, 2011 at 19:22 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Could you elaborate on Rule 6: "If no tasks are done in Column 1 during a visit to a page, all remaining tasks in Column 1 are dismissed."?

Does that mean if I complete all the tasks in column 2 of a page and not work on any from column one, I should dismiss the tasks in column one?
February 7, 2011 at 19:25 | Unregistered CommenterRyan
Ok,
I'm going to give this a whirl. I have a moleskine pocket notebook (24 lines/page)
I'll use the facing page as "column 2"
All lines are currently full with tasks on my first page.
February 7, 2011 at 19:32 | Unregistered CommenterEphi
<< 6. If no tasks are done in Column 1 during a visit to a page, all remaining tasks in Column 1 are dismissed. >>

Does this apply to the last page (the page you are currently writing tasks on) ? According to AF1 rules, this rule would not apply.

Thank you for posting the SFv3 system!
February 7, 2011 at 19:49 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina
Ryan:

<< Does that mean if I complete all the tasks in column 2 of a page and not work on any from column one, I should dismiss the tasks in column one? >>

Yes, that's exactly what it means.
February 7, 2011 at 22:15 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Sabrina:

<< Does this apply to the last page (the page you are currently writing tasks on) ? According to AF1 rules, this rule would not apply. >>

You are right. It does not apply to the last page. I've amended the rule to make this clear. Thanks for bringing this up.
February 7, 2011 at 22:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
You said this was working very well for goals like fitness. Do you treat "go for walk" as a recurrent task or a finished task when it's done? (Meaning, if a 30 minute walk is "finished" for you, do you then enter it in the first column when you're done walking?)

Thank you so much for trying these systems out in your own life!
February 7, 2011 at 22:28 | Unregistered CommenterJen
Mark,

One piece of info is missing AFAIAC.

You come to the new page. Which column do you start first?

I reckon the URGENT i.e. second one, but I can see no specific wording of this rule.

Or am I missing anything?

Regards

Lech
February 7, 2011 at 22:30 | Unregistered CommenterLech
Ryan:

<< Does that mean if I complete all the tasks in column 2 of a page and not work on any from column one, I should dismiss the tasks in column one? >>

Yes.
February 7, 2011 at 22:53 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Lech:

<< Which column do you start first? >

You start the page always with column 1.

Until at least one task is added to column 1 in the new page, urgent tasks would continue to be added to column 2 of the old page. Unfinished tasks would be re-entered on the first active page of the list.
February 7, 2011 at 22:54 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Jen:

<< Do you treat "go for walk" as a recurrent task or a finished task when it's done? >>

I'll be posting an article soon on various ways of dealing with tasks. But the way I actually dealt with my walking goal of at least three times a week was not to re-enter it at all, but to put it directly into Column 2 on those days on which I intended to take a walk. That way it had to get done!
February 7, 2011 at 23:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark,
I am interested in how the testing process might have affected the outcome.

in the testing phase, did the fact that it was a test affect the rate at which you read War and Peace - did you read more at each sitting than you would otherwise have done, because you had made the success or failure of the whole process rest on your completing it, and declared that publicly in this forum?
For example you could read just one page of it for each notebook page, and take three years or so to complete it.

In general I don't usually have external pressure for book reading and some other tasks, and these are the ones I struggle with. Or is it a case of once you get started doing it, you find you want to do it for longer anyway, and it completes therefore in a more reasonable time? I keep looking at that copy of Atlas Shrugged (645k words) that I was given as a ( tongue in cheek) Christmas present..

Anyway thanks for publishing the details of new programme, I'll definitely be trying it.
February 7, 2011 at 23:43 | Registered CommenterMike C
Mike C:

I'm sure the testing process did affect the result to some extent. On the other hand I don't think any other system would have worked so well - and some would have failed completely.
February 7, 2011 at 23:53 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
So, if there is something you know you need to do next Monday (or at least not before then), would you put it on your calendar and then transfer to SAF when you reach that day?
February 8, 2011 at 1:37 | Registered CommenterScott Hutchins
Just found the answer to my question in another post.
February 8, 2011 at 2:27 | Registered CommenterScott Hutchins
I wonder, imagine you Have 2 pages.

Question about urgent and unfinished :
- I have a new urgent task even if i am on page 2 it goes on column 2 page 1 right ?

[No, urgent tasks go on the CURRENT page. If you are on page 2, it would therefore go in column 2 of page 2, Though unless it is very urgent you would probably put it in column 1 as there is still space]

SO i do it but it is unfinished (ie finish doing something on project X) Then it goes on page 2 column 2 right ?

[No, unfinished tasks go on the FOLLOWING page. Page 1 is the following page of the last page, so if it's unfinished it will go in page 1, column 2.]

- Now if this unfinished task becomes again urgent, I understand it is crossed on page 2 column 2 and goes again on column 2 page one. This is what I would naturally do. Am I right ? OR do I have to let it on column 2 p2 as urgent but unfinished ?

[If it's become urgent again it will go in Column 2 of the CURRENT page, i.e. the page you are currently working on, whatever that is]

Thanks for this new system. I just finished to report my list and work an hour on it. I notice the system encourage dismissing things, working on urgent and do it but i dont see the effect about unfinished task which are most of the time important but not urgent.

[Make sure you are doing it properly. Your example leads me to believe you may not be. Make sure you read the rules again and are clear about the difference between the ways urgent and unfinished tasks are treated]

But what is urgent ? Some thing I must do in the day or the week ? If it is a real urgency then it must be done for yesterday (LOL) or the very soon as possible which would be for me within the 3 next days. ? Mark what is urgent for you ?

[Anything which I either can't or don't want to leave until it is reached in the normal course of working column 1]

Last question I love the parenthesis you use at the beginning of task to group task which are finished or reported. Do you still use this system ? I guess yes...

[Yes, it appeared in the picture I put of my SF notebook a few days ago.]
February 8, 2011 at 4:07 | Registered CommenterJupiter
Jupiter:

"Now if this unfinished task becomes again urgent, I understand it is crossed on page 2 column 2 and goes again on column 2 page one. "

From my understanding of the rules, yes, anytime you feel a task is urgent, you can write it in column2 of the current page (I suppose crossing it out in column 2 of the next page is your choice, I would also do that).
February 8, 2011 at 4:30 | Registered CommenterOhNiners
Other question let say I am attending an answer of someone it must be followed ie i made a call or i sent a proposal does it go on the unfinished task ie in my previous exemple in page 2 column 2 as UNFINISHED ? or does it go on colum 1 where there is some place P1 or 2 ?
February 8, 2011 at 4:30 | Registered CommenterJupiter
So basically Column 2's purpose is to address the 2 longstanding issues with AF1:

1. More emphasis on finishing tasks that need more than one pass to complete.
(Previously you would have to re-write your unfinished task all the way at the end and go through page after page to get to it. In my opinion this was the single flaw of AF1).

2. Allowance for urgent tasks.
(Though for me, the "common sense" rule was sufficient in AF1).

Awesome. These changes should indeed make AF1 "complete".
February 8, 2011 at 4:35 | Registered CommenterOhNiners
Lets say now I have 3 pages
Column 1 is full on page 1, and half full on page 2 (urgent)
Column 2 is half full on page 1 but full on page 2 (unfinished
then a new task happen it is again an unfinished does it go on page 3 column 2 as unfinished
A m I right ?
February 8, 2011 at 4:58 | Registered CommenterJupiter
Until the process becomes a habit, this could be a list of the "must-do's" or best practices when visiting a page:

1. Must action all items in Column 2;
2. Must action at least one item in Column 1 or risk dismissal (except if you're on last page);
3. If column 2 is full, must action all or dismiss all items.
February 8, 2011 at 5:14 | Registered CommenterJD
Actually, what I just said is simply restating Mark's opening paragraphs to the new rules.. :) I have them next to my AF list till the process becomes automatic. Thanks Mark for this! The early release was a real bonus.
February 8, 2011 at 6:25 | Unregistered CommenterJD
First, many thanks Mark for posting.

Probably still have a number of questions but one that i havent seen addressed yet is th treatment of 'waiting for' items. How do you deal with these? Presumably as a new item, rather than as an unfinished item?
February 8, 2011 at 8:01 | Unregistered CommenterAndyc
Jupiter:

<< I wonder, imagine you Have 2 pages. >>

To avoid having to copy your entire post, I've put my answers in square brackets on the original post above.
February 8, 2011 at 9:55 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Jupiter:

<< Other question let say I am attending an answer of someone it must be followed ie i made a call or i sent a proposal does it go on the unfinished task ie in my previous exemple in page 2 column 2 as UNFINISHED ? or does it go on colum 1 where there is some place P1 or 2 ? >>

You've taken all the action possible for the time being, so the task is finished as far as the system is concerned. Follow-ups are treated as new tasks.
February 8, 2011 at 10:10 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
OhNiners:

<< More emphasis on finishing tasks that need more than one pass to complete. >>

It's a bit more than just emphasis. The system forces you to finish tasks once you've started them.
February 8, 2011 at 10:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Jupiter:

<<Lets say now I have 3 pages
Column 1 is full on page 1, and half full on page 2 (urgent)
Column 2 is half full on page 1 but full on page 2 (unfinished
then a new task happen it is again an unfinished does it go on page 3 column 2 as unfinished
A m I right ? >>

No.

The new task would be initially entered on the last page, which in this case is page 3. If it's then worked on but not finished it will be re-entered on the following page, which in the case of the last page is page 1. So it goes in column 2 of page 1.

Jupiter, please read the rules again carefully.
February 8, 2011 at 10:18 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Andyc:

<< one that i havent seen addressed yet is th treatment of 'waiting for' items. How do you deal with these? >>

See my answer to Jupiter, three above.
February 8, 2011 at 10:20 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Ok I did not catch the rules. So I gona work on it, learn the rules, and do it again still it is ok
Thanks again for the answers Mark.
February 8, 2011 at 11:16 | Registered CommenterJupiter

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