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« All in the Mind? | Main | Does Using SuperFocus Increase Your Brain Power? - My Answer »

Sarah's Day - A Demo of SuperFocus

Sarah, one of the Discussion Group members, has produced a demonstration of a day with SuperFocus. You can access it by clicking here.

Size it so that the page fits your screen, and then page through it so you get an animation effect.

Thank you, Sarah. I know it takes a huge amount of work to produce something like this.

Reader Comments (30)

A big thank you to Sarah (and Mark of course). Seeing a demo like this I find is the best way to confirm that I am using the system correctly; just yesterday I modified my notebook from Autofocus to Superfocus layout.
March 18, 2011 at 13:35 | Unregistered CommenterTaragh
This kind of walkthrough is AMAZINGLY useful for me. I somehow can't seem to get the "jist" of how these systems work without seeing them in action similar to this.

Thank you Sarah so much for sharing this with all of us!
March 18, 2011 at 13:48 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Janssen
Many thanks! This clarified some of the points I still struggle with, especially how to handle the "once a day" tasks.
March 18, 2011 at 13:50 | Registered CommenterCricket
Thanks a lot to Sarah for this demo. It was very helpful and clarifying for me to get an insight how she uses the system.
March 18, 2011 at 16:05 | Unregistered CommenterHolger Moller
Thanks, Sarah for the SF demo!

I have a question for Mark about dismissal. The SF rule is:

"1. 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."

It seems like Sarah went through a couple of page-visits where she did not do any of the remaining Col 1 tasks on the page, but also did not dismiss them before moving on to the next page. Examples are at screens 42-43 and screens 82-83 of the demo. At the end, she had dismissed no tasks. Is this consistent with the rule?

Perhaps I have misunderstood the dismissal rule. Any clarification would be very helpful.
March 19, 2011 at 15:34 | Unregistered CommenterRob in Annapolis, Maryland

I don't think you are right.

In the first example she did the Column 1 task "IR12 review assignments" so she was correct in not dismissing any tasks.

In the second one, she had done the Column 1 task "Email B at P", so she was again correct in not dismissing.
March 19, 2011 at 16:15 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Ah ... I think I see my error. I was interpreting the instruction "during a visit to the page" as meaning that any time you pass through a page without doing anything, even when it is a continuation of having done a task during the previous pass, and now are circulating through the same page a second time, as an occasion for dismissing the remaining tasks. What I now understand is that this happens only when you have made it to the end of the last page and then traveled back to the first active page. Am I right about that?

If so, then I have Sarah to thank because I just was a little too dense to grasp this nuance before her demonstration. If I am still off-target Mark, then if you wouldn't mind correcting me I will be most in your debt. (Good thing you put up a Donate button so I can contribute to the cause.)

Thanks again.
March 19, 2011 at 18:25 | Unregistered CommenterRob
Thanks for the demo, Sarah -- great job!! You demo has clarified a great deal for me.
March 20, 2011 at 2:41 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Fielding

You've got it right now!
March 20, 2011 at 12:52 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks for the feedback everyone! My dirty little secret is that I enjoy making these kinds of little multimedia tidbits, so while it takes time it's being spent doing something fun.
March 21, 2011 at 11:34 | Registered CommenterSarah
this was really, really helpful. I have watched it several times as I am still working out using C2. One thing that confused me was that toward the end you had a couple of items in C2 that you decided could not be done, so you crossed them out and then put a reminder in your computer to add them to the list the next day. I am not understanding that step, I know you can't leave the page if it still has c2 items (correct?) but why not just move them directly to the next page c2 or even c1 as the urgency changed? I feel like I am missing something essential here...thanks so much for the help.
March 21, 2011 at 16:12 | Unregistered CommenterKerry
Kerry, with those two tasks I couldn't work on them at the time because it was evening and it's kind of hard to make medical appointments after 7 pm. I didn't just push them to C2 of the next page because that would have just recreated the problem - I was pretty sure that I would be looking at the next page before it was possible to make the calls. I could have just moved them back to C1 but I just wanted to get them off the list, even if it was only for the evening. When the reminder popped up the next day, they went into C1 (and actually... I just did them today, so they hung around there for a bit anyway).
March 21, 2011 at 20:26 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
Sarah: Thanks for explaining your process and especially to my very detailed question. I was afraid I had missed something in the dismissing rules, but I now see that there are going to be some ways that we must personalize our best way of working. I tend to be very much a "rule follower" kind of person when rules are presented (especially when learning a new system), and sometimes I might get a bit too caught up in that as well.

Thank you again for doing this demo, so helpful!!!!
March 22, 2011 at 1:30 | Unregistered CommenterKerry
This is fantastic and immensely helpful!!! Thank you, Sarah, for all the hard work you put into this. Great job.
March 25, 2011 at 20:46 | Unregistered CommenterBryanR
I found the demo to be completely bewildering, but maybe its because I dont get the system to begin with. I know this makes me sound like a moron, but really dont get it.

My confusion begins with the instructions here: "■if the task is not finished, delete it in the same way. Re-enter it in Column 2 on the next page. If you are on the last page, then go back to the beginning of the list and re-enter the task in Column 2 of the first active page. If there is no room in Column 2, then re-enter it on the first page on which there is room."

When it says re-enter it on Column 2 of the next page. If you are on the last page..." What is meant by the "last page"? Is it the current page? When it says "go back to the beginning of the list and re-enter the task in Column 2 of the first active page." I dont get it. Is there more than one active page? Could I be flipping back and forth between bunches of active pages?

"re-enter it on the first page on which there is room" Does that mean I could be working on todays page and have task thats not done, I might flip back 2 pages to enter it?

I must need
March 28, 2011 at 4:29 | Unregistered CommenterMark in Texas
Mark in Texas:

The last page is the last page of the list, i.e. the last page on which any tasks are written.

An active page is one on which there are still tasks to be actioned, as opposed to inactive pages on which all the tasks have either been actioned or dismissed.

The current page is the one you are currently working on.

What the passage you quote means is that when you have reached the end of the list you go back to the beginning of the list.
March 28, 2011 at 11:21 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark in Texas:

Think of the pages as running in a loop and it should become clearer. The "next page" means the next one in the loop. I start with page 1 and add to column 1. Eventually col 1 on page 1 is full so I turn over and add to col 1 on page 2. Now I have two active pages. If I'm on page 1 the "next page" is 2. If I'm on page 2 the "next page" is 1. Once col 1 on page 2 is full I start with page 3. Now I have 1,2,3,1,2,3... Let's say I complete all the tasks on page 1. Now my active pages are 2,3,2,3,2,3... The "last page" is the one in which you are writing new col 1 stuff - it hasn't yet filled up and so there is nothing after that page (anything 'after' it would have looped back to the earliest active page as above). Some examples:

A single page: 1,1,1,1,1... simple as that

Next page used: 1,2,1,2... last page is 2

And again: 1,2,3,1,2,3... last page is 3

Page 2 is all done: 1,3,1,3... last page is still 3

Page 3 col 1 is full, onto page 4: 1,3,4,1,3,4... last page is now 4

Page 1 is all done: 3,4,3,4... and so on

So "next page" is the next one in the loop. "Active page" is one which still contains tasks to do, ie all the pages in your loop are active. "Current page " is the one you're currently on. "Last page" is the highest numbered one in the loop, ie the one in which column 1 still being filled with new tasks.

I also got very confused by the wording and phrases like "active page" and "next page". As someone who had not seen the system before it took a while for me to work out what the hell was going on. I think the rules could use some simple clarification and simple worked examples given the number of people who get confused by this. Hopefully this thread will help others later on.
March 28, 2011 at 15:59 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Its probably easier to do than it is to explain. Thanks - looks like you've figured out how to do both!

Do you dind it easy to manage projects using SF?

March 28, 2011 at 20:44 | Unregistered Commentermark in tx
Mark in tx,

I keep thin stacks of those wide Post-It Notes stuck in the back of my SF notebook. If I have something which I think is a project I peel off a note and write some actions and ideas on it. I also give it a 'code' of a few letters to help identify its tasks in my SF columns.

So for example if I'm organising a party and I decide to pull some ideas together I write a brief 'mission statement', like "Organise Party (PTY)" on the note and jot down some ideas on how to move it forward, things I must not forget and so on. Then I decide on the next moves and enter them in SF column 1 as normal with PTY circled at the end of the line to remind me there's a note in the back of the book.

Once I've done those actions I immediately turn to the note in the back and work out more next actions, and they go into column 1 with PTY at the end as before. This keeps SF nice and flexible, allows projects to be planned as loosely or tightly as needed, and keeps actions immediately identifiable as part of a project so you can move it along. If needed you can put an action in column 2 if it's urgent - the note at the back is just a focus point for generating next actions and remembering things.

If you fill up the book it's no problem - just peel them off and stick into the rear of your next book. That's why I use Post-Its instead of using the pages for project notes. It also helps to focus thinking so you can keep things simple and not waffle.

Similarly I have a Waiting For note which I stick to the page after the last page. If I complete an action which is now waiting for someone else, I cross out the action as normal then jot a quick entry on that note. For example if I have an action which says "Send Phil year-end report" and I know he needs to give me some feedback, I'll send the report, cross that out and on my Waiting For note I write something like "Report feedback from Phil".

I prefer this to the commonly used method of putting a W at the end of the line because otherwise I find myself distracted trying to work out what needs to be done - "Send Phil year-end report W" - does that mean I'm waiting for Phil, am I waiting for the year-end data, is Phil sending me something I need first... I find it just causes a glitch in my thinking which throws out my flow, so I prefer the note method and the action is done, crossed off and out my face. I review the note now and again, usually once I get to the end of the last page. As the pages grow I can just peel it off and move it along. If the waiting note is part of a project I add the little code at the end to remind me.

Eg, "Phone Tracy re tables (PTY)". I call Tracy and get voicemail, so leave a message with all the details. That gets crossed out and on my Post-It I write "Tracy calling back re tables (PTY)" and I will then be reminded periodically. If she calls back I either turn to the back and cross it off the note, or else just do that when I next get to it, whichever comes to pass at the time.

I come from a GTD background. GTD states that a project is anything which requires 2 or more actions. I personally found that to be a big blocker in GTD as I prefer a project to be whatever I think it should be intuitively. In GTD I fell off the wagon so many times because I was forcing myself to think up unrealistic next actions which then sat there because they didn't make sense later on and glitched my train of thought. With SF and making notes, I can move a project forward intuitively by working out some next actions which stand out as I go along, just the way the actions in the columns themselves are processed.

I find SF works very well in this respect. I was initially concerned about not being able to keep related actions grouped as projects but I quickly found a) I didn't always need to, b) when I did it with GTD it was often forced and counter-productive and c) keeping simple Post-Its allows me to group ideas which generate actions, as well as letting me physically move the notes around and encouraging me to keep things simple so they fit within a note where possible.

I hope this helps you and anyone else thinking about ways to manage projects in SuperFocus.

April 3, 2011 at 4:52 | Unregistered CommenterChris

I very much appreciate your kind and thoughtful responses. I too came from the GTD mindset and find some of the same advantages you do in SAF. This Projects piece may be a problem though. I usually have 40 to 60 projects at a time and can't imagine using the post-it note method to track them.

I am in sales, so I make lots of visits, and take notes in the front half of a moleskine and track actions in the back half. It looks like I'll need yet another place to track projects and that's going to get clunky I'm afraid.

GTD was nice and tidy - I had all my list sync'd on the computer and the blackberry and projects was just another such list. Problem was I never wanted to look at the list!

I know from experience that I do better when I write down actions, which is a big part of what draws me to SAF.

Still curious if others have found a way to track projects within the existing SAF process and not as a separate piece.

Thanks again Chris!
April 3, 2011 at 12:40 | Unregistered Commentermark in tx
Wow, thank you. What a simple perfectly for me. I use the back of the book (turned upside down) for meeting notes, etc. I pull actions out of there later and cross off the back off the page when I am done with doing whatever I need to do with those notes. I've been trying to keep project lists electronically in Springpad, but they just don't get entered fast enough. Your idea is just perfect for me.
April 4, 2011 at 0:17 | Unregistered CommenterKerry
Mark in tx,

I too work in sales and visit customers and vendors. I also look after some of the vendor programmes which can get quite involved with lots of detail, lots of tasks. I would often have 50+ projects on the go in GTD and used ThinkingRock to manage them. This was (and is) great for project management as it allowed me to see where the projects were up to, who I was waiting on and so on. So I understand your environment.

Here's the crunch. A lot of those projects just hung around and didn't really go anywhere despite almost daily tweaking and prodding. When I looked at them in detail I would find them full of inactive tasks which seemed like they would be the next steps but in fact no longer were because the situation had moved on. So I would actually spend a lot of time entering tasks, shuffling them around then deleting them later on in the quarter. What a waste of time!

I found that by being totally honest and brutal about projects in SF I was able to massively simplify things with no loss of organisation, and a resulting boost in productivity. Projects are getting done and diappearing as they should, not hanging around trying to find some identity.

Some projects were initial templates of how I believed something should develop (using inactive tasks in ThinkingRock). They made absolute sense at the time they were entered but not later on when it came to the actual doing, because the project had developed, there was fresh data, new goals and so on.

I replaced these with either the Post-It note system for much looser planning, using those as a focal point for generating next actions, always asking myself what the next thing is to move it along. Or, if it's more of a process driven project (such as a vendor process), I might use a spreadsheet. That way I can mark off discreet actions and put in notes for things like waiting for. Yes it involves the computer, but by definition for me all those kind of projects revolve around the computer so I have this tool in front of me all day, I might as well use it for this. It also means I can fire off a quick status update to the bosses by just attaching the spreadsheet (previously I would run a report in TR).

Conversely some actions would be grouped as projects in GTD but in SF they don't need to be. Overcoming the fear of loss of control is the key here. I have maybe 15 actions scattered through the columns of my SF work book which previously I would have pre-written into a project in TR. I felt some anxiety over allowing them to be scattered around like this but in fact it works much better because they actually get done. Little and often is one of the SF key mantras and this allows it to happen. Previously I would look at my TR projects and feel paralysed by not knowing where to start - and so wouldn't start. If any kind of grouping is needed I write up a Post-It with some brief notes and use the short 'code' to identify linked actions scattered throughout my columns.

Finally, some projects were only projects in the GTD sense. Again the stress of having to organise them as such led to needless energy being wasted managing them that way. They are now gone, replaced with actions which occur to me in a more intutive way, perhaps grouped using a note as above.

In summary - I found many projects in GTD could be nuked as pointless, others could be disbanded as not needed, and others could be replaced with a loose organisation on a note. For more process or step driven things a spreadsheet works fine without the need to transcribe it all into a GTD system and then having to worry about contexts, energies, resources, and trying to nurse it through.

GTD has taught me a number of useful techniques but the most useful one is showing me how I tend to hide tasks away in a system and use it to fiddle and procrastinate. I like SF because it shines a light into the cracks and crevices and exposes all these tasks. They either get moving or get dismissed. They can't hide forever in a complex project heirarchy or languish on a someday/maybe list because there isn't one.

In that respect GTD is a great tool for delivering really well organised procrastination. When this happens people say "I fell off the GTD wagon" and then have to take stock and have a mega-review to get everything straight, which is actually quite difficult because you have to reconstruct a whole load of new tasks which will just do the same thing again later on. Meanwhile nothing is actually getting DONE. In SF you don't need to do a review because column 1 is essentially the inbox and list all in one and it's reviewed constantly.

Maybe try running SF with some loose project planning and perhaps a minimum of spreadsheets alongside your normal system and see how it works out. I'd be curious to know how you get on if you do. I tried it and after a couple of weeks wound down my GTD system and uninstalled ThinkingRock. I now use SF exclusively using a work book, a home book and my Sunbird Portable Apps calendar which runs off an IronKey encrypted USB stick. And I use a Pentel P207 drafting pencil for everything. Having a nice writing implement seems to make it a very tactile, pleasurable experience compared with filtering online lists! I think it actually helps make a connection with the tasks and pull them together in some way.

April 4, 2011 at 0:49 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Chris - I've taken to using Post-Its in the back of my SF book also. I use them mostly for errand lists, but the other uses you mention make a lot of sense, if the projects are small enough for this kind of thing.

Mark in Tx - When I was doing DWM in MS Outlook Tasks, it was easy to use Categories to track projects and tasks all in one list. Each Category would correspond to a project. To get a Project view, I would filter on the Category. Reference items (not immediately actionable) would have No Due Date. Actionable items would have a Due Date (which would correspond to the Expiry Date in DWM terms). I'd sort by Due Date Ascending, which put all the dateless entries at the top, and all the dated items next. If I wanted my normal DWM view (all projects and all tasks), I would switch to a different view that did NOT filter on category (it showed them all), showed ONLY items with a Due Date, and showed them grouped by Due Date in ascending order. Each group corresponded to a "page" in DWM. This worked pretty well and gave you a way to have a single list view, and separate project views, but all one system that would hang together.

DWM was easy to model in Outlook Tasks -- it's much harder to model SF. I went back to paper, and find it's more effective for me anyway. It was fun to use categories but ultimately added a complex layer of overhead. And it tied me down to the PC for even the simplest tasks. Now I really enjoy having my single SF notebook for everything, and project files totally separate (either stickies in the back of the SF book, or separate paper files, or separate files on my PC, or whatever serves the purpose best). For one thing, it allows me to apply whatever project management is really the most appropriate -- with my DWM model, it was "one size fits all", and I often felt hobbled by that, especially for the more complex projects where I really needed to map out dependencies and other complexities that were beyond the capabilities of a simple dated list.

It almost sounds like what you're looking for is a "" application with the ability to track tasks in SF. This reminds me of an idea I had for the software-based Holy Grail of Time Management -- a single universal task model API that can be built into all applications, so when you tag a "thing" in the application as a "task", it exports that somehow and a TM software product could then access and conglomerate all those tasks into a single view. For example, a -type program for tracking sales contacts, and you can set any number of tasks on each contact, "call lead NNN", "follow up on RFQ with MMM", etc., and then those tasks would get exported through an API to the task-management program, which could also receive tasks from MS Outlook, Gmail, OneNote, Word (e.g., for document reviews), Acrobat (same), etc. You could also have a writeable pad on your smartphone which would serve as another way to input tasks; maybe a Voice Task application which allows you to push a button on your phone and record a voice memo, which automatically gets converted to text and added to your task list. You could then access all these tasks in a SuperFocus application, which captures and orders all these tasks in accordance with the SF rules, and automatically syncs task completions and deletions with the source application. Of course it would never work; the APIs would all break; there might even be competing API standards; the synchronizations wouldn't work; it might be lucrative for programmers, and a delight for procrastinators, but everyone eles would just be frustrated.

That's why I like paper. :-) If there's some application that works great for tracking your main work -- like a program for salespeople, or a Microsoft Project for professional program- or project-managers, or a Kanban board for Agile-ish developers -- they can all be easily integrated into your main SF notebook. I know this works, because it works GREAT with NEO (which I use for email), with MS OneNote (which I use for many projects), SharePoint (for other projects), and paper files (still other projects). If I get an email with a one-off task, I can write "answer Steve *NEO*" into SF, which means I have an email from Steve that I need to answer; I can easily find it again with NEO. If I get a call RE some project in OneNote, I can easily write "Update Project XXX: NNN called about GGG" into SF, and I know exactly what needs to be done. If I forget what it means, just looking at the OneNote project will help me remember. If I get a developer asking me about a bug we filed in our Sharepoint system, I can say "Find answer for NNN about Sharepoint #337" or whatever. The details all stay in Sharepoint, which is a system DESIGNED for tracking those details.

I don't want SF to replace my email program; nor my OneNote files with all their outlines, notes, and attachments; nor my Sharepoint-based bug-tracking system. Those are all specially-designed systems that do their jobs really well. And because SF is so simple, it's easy to integrate with all of them, by thinking through the best way to refer to each system in regard to a particular task.

So, when you say, "I want to track all my projects in SF", if you mean you want a single place to track all your actionable tasks, then that's great, SF works fine. But if you mean, you want SF to do everything that can do -- well, I don't think it can do that, nor was it designed to do that. But SF *can* do a great job getting you to remember and take and take action on a task whose details are located in

Mark Forster has written extensively on developing and using the right systems for one's work. SF isn't intended to replace those systems.
April 4, 2011 at 6:36 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I'm not a fan of xkcd but I stumbled across this by chance and it's quite appropriate to this thread!

April 4, 2011 at 14:41 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Chris -- That last post was great!!
April 4, 2011 at 15:16 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

Thanks very much for your response. Forgive me, but I have no clue what DWM is!

April 4, 2011 at 16:11 | Unregistered CommenterMark in Tx
Mark - DWM is one of Mark Forster's time management systems, described here:

I used it for a year after I couldn't get Autofocus to work for me.

I'm now using SuperFocus.
April 4, 2011 at 17:47 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I remember it now. I think I tried and failed at that one too! You can make a full time job of just trying out task management systems!

Anyway, I'm gettign a clearer picture now. I think I need to really dive in now and give SF a go.

Thanks again for the helpful responses!
April 5, 2011 at 0:17 | Unregistered CommenterMark in Tx
Well, I thought I'd follow up here.and let you know I've given up on Superfocus, GTD, DWM, TWC, etc. I can't keep all the moving pieces moving on these systems. I think of the 5 things I most need to get done the next day and focus on those. It works as well as my varied attempts at the various methods and I don't have all the maintenance. Are there open loops? Yes, but as far as I'm concerned, life is an open loop!
October 22, 2011 at 1:19 | Unregistered CommenterMark in Texas
Mark in Texas:

<< I think of the 5 things I most need to get done the next day and focus on those. >>

How long have you been doing this for?
October 23, 2011 at 20:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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