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« 2nd Day Report on No-List Autofocus | Main | Preview of Tomorrow's Article »
Tuesday
Mar292016

No-List and Autofocus

I have been pondering the results of my recent test with Autofocus. Autofocus (AF1) is one of my favourite systems and I’ve wanted to see how it can be improved without making it unrecognisable.

I realised that Autofocus can be combined with no-list to make (I hope) a fast, tight and highly-focused system. So here is how it works:

  1. It uses the simplest form of no-list, where a task is written down and then immediately done. This is the only way that a new task can be entered onto the list. New tasks can only be entered when you are on the last page of the list.
  2. If it is a recurrent task or one that needs more work it can be crossed out once it has been worked on and then re-entered at the end of the list.
  3. The list is worked in the normal Autofocus fashion, that is to say you circulate through one page at a time doing as much work as you want to on the tasks on the page. Once you have worked on a task it is crossed out and re-entered as in rule 2.
  4. Once a task has been put on the list it remains there until it is no longer relevant or until it is removed by the dismissal process.
  5. The dismissal process is different from Autofocus. There is no obligation to do any tasks when you circulate to a page, but if no tasks are done on a page during the course of a day then the whole page is dismissed. This is controlled by writing at the top of each page (except the last page) at the beginning of the day the number of active tasks on that page, and checking whether the same number of tasks remain at the end of the day. In practice this only needs to be done for pages that stand some chance of  being dismissed.
  6. A page is dismissed by drawing a single line through the page. If there are no active tasks on earlier pages, then I cross out the page with a double line. Dismissed pages are not included when you circulate through the pages of the list.
  7. A dismissed task can only be re-instated by treating it as a new task as in rule 1.

I’m hoping that these rules will produce an active list of tasks and projects which I am actually working on. This should result in the building up of good systems and routines, while keeping action focused and moving and making the entry of new tasks a matter of more consideration. The list will be no longer than it needs to be and will be kept trimmed automatically by the dismissal process. I’m hoping to that it will shine a spotlight on projects which are not receiving enough attention.

Please note that I have only been using this for one day myself, which is far too short a period to have any idea how well it works. So I am only publishing it at this stage in case anyone wants to try it out for themselves at the same time as I am working with it.

Reader Comments (40)

I'm giving it a go Mark. Started at 8.15am.
March 29, 2016 at 9:30 | Registered CommenterCaibre65
Caibre65:

Great. Good luck!
March 29, 2016 at 9:39 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<<... where a task is written down and then immediately done.>>

Why write it down, when you have to Do it immediately?
March 29, 2016 at 10:11 | Unregistered Commenterjens
jens:

Reasons for writing the task down that spring to my mind:

1. Committing on the task by putting it in writing
2. Reminder/Focus
3. Creating a log of what you have done
4. You build the Autofocus list that way.
March 29, 2016 at 10:25 | Unregistered CommenterAndreas Maurer
An alternative to the task count from Rule 5 is to use a forward slash in its place.

At the start of each day, mark the top of each page (except the last page) with a little forward slash: /

When you come to a page and start any task by dotting it, glance at the top of the page and back slash through any slash marks to form a little X.

It's nice to be able to flip through the pages quickly and see which pages have not been activated today.
March 29, 2016 at 10:30 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
Andreas:
Thanks. Especially point 2 (focus) is neccessary for my kind of processing stuff ;-)
March 29, 2016 at 10:49 | Unregistered Commenterjens
I'm wondering about crossing out new tasks after working on them but not completing them. It seems like a trivial point, but it makes a big difference to the number of lines you get on a page.
March 29, 2016 at 13:02 | Registered CommenterWill
Thanks, Mark. I'm giving it a go too. I don't understand very well how works the rule 1. How hoy build a list if you take immediate action over the task written? Can you vive an example?
March 29, 2016 at 13:15 | Unregistered CommenterPablo
I'm going to give it a shot as well. This system sounds like simplicity itself - AF1 with the no list philosophy attached to it in a meaningful way. Unfinished tasks and commitments are still tracked, but perhaps not in a way that slows down productivity. I don't know, thinking about it, I might still work the list randomly rather than AF1.
March 29, 2016 at 14:18 | Unregistered CommenterPaul MacNeil
Will:

<< I'm wondering about crossing out new tasks after working on them but not completing them. It seems like a trivial point, but it makes a big difference to the number of lines you get on a page. >>

Try it out and see what happens.

I haven't tried it personally, but since an uncompleted task would remain on the same page you would only be able to move onto a new page by completing, or leaving until the next round, all the incomplete tasks.
March 29, 2016 at 14:20 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Pablo:

<< I don't understand very well how works the rule 1. How hoy build a list if you take immediate action over the task written? >>

1. Decide you want to do your email.
2. Write "Email" on a piece of paper.
3. Do email.
4. Cross out "Email".
5. Since "Email" is a recurring task re-enter it immediately.
6. Decide you now want to check your cash.
7. Write "Check Cash" after "Email".
8. Check your Cash.
9. Since "Check Cash" is a recurring task re-enter it immediately.
10. Decide you want to call John.
11. Write "Call John" after "Check Cash".
12. Call John
13. Cross out "Call John". As this is not a recurring task do not re-enter it.

You should now have a list which reads:

Email (crossed out)
Email
Check Cash (crossed out)
Check Cash
Call John (crossed out)
March 29, 2016 at 14:29 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
jens:

<< Why write it down, when you have to Do it immediately? >>

Andreas has given an excellent answer, but in addition the main reason is to make you think about what you are going to do next rather than just drifting into it.
March 29, 2016 at 14:42 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks you very much, Mark! I think it's a great system. Testing now.
March 29, 2016 at 14:44 | Unregistered CommenterPablo
Pablo:

Good luck!
March 29, 2016 at 14:45 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Sounds intriguing! Thanks for sharing your early experimentation with us!! :-)

As usual, I have some clarifying questions... :-)


Mark Forster wrote:
<<
1. Decide you want to do your email.
2. Write "Email" on a piece of paper.
3. Do email.
...
>>

And then, if new tasks don't come to mind, you just circulate back to the beginning of the list and scan for items that "stand out"?

And once you've found an item that "stands out", you work on it. If you don't finish it, you cross it off and re-enter at the end. If you finished it, then you simply cross it out. Then continue scanning from the item you just crossed out.

If, while scanning, a new task comes to mind, and you decide it is worthy of action, you should stop scanning, enter the new task at the end of the list, and immediately begin working on that task.

If, while working on a task, a new task comes to mind, and you decide it is worthy of action, you should cross off your current task, re-enter it at the end of the list (assuming it's not done), enter your new task, and immediately begin working on the new task.

Is this correct?
March 29, 2016 at 17:01 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Another question - what do you do when several action-worthy tasks come to mind simultaneously?
March 29, 2016 at 17:02 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim,

My take is that you only write down new tasks on the focus list when you are about to do them, and then you only write down the one you are about to do.

You might add them to a relevant accumulating list at any time.
March 29, 2016 at 17:29 | Registered CommenterWill
Um, I might have missed something, but if you write down the task you are about to do and immediately do it, when do you process the rest of the list, and where do you start from?
March 29, 2016 at 17:36 | Registered CommenterWooba
Wooba, that's essentially the same question I had also (above at 17:02):
http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2016/3/29/no-list-and-autofocus.html#comment21544804

But you asked it much more succinctly than I did! :-)
March 29, 2016 at 19:12 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I am very intrigued by this system for several reasons. I know Mark has only been using the system for a day, but if it turns out to be a worthy system, then it would be a great help to have the instructions written out without having to refer to the older autofocus system. The great thing about this new system is the record of what one accomplishes in a day. I used FV for quite awhile, but the majority of completed tasks were spur of the moment ones that I added at the end of the list and completed. This new system seems to place more emphasis on this step, and it seems to be incorporated into the whole process better. Very intrigued to see how Mark and others use this system!
March 29, 2016 at 21:03 | Unregistered CommenterSobertruth
Seraphim:

<< And then, if new tasks don't come to mind, you just circulate back to the beginning of the list and scan for items that "stand out"? >>

No, you circulate back to the beginning of the page. See Rule 3.

<< And once you've found an item that "stands out", you work on it. If you don't finish it, you cross it off and re-enter at the end. If you finished it, then you simply cross it out. >>

No, see Rules 2 and 4.

<< Then continue scanning from the item you just crossed out. >>

Correct.

<< If, while scanning, a new task comes to mind, and you decide it is worthy of action, you should stop scanning, enter the new task at the end of the list, and immediately begin working on that task, If while working on a task, a new task comes to mind, and you decide it is worthy of action, you should cross off your current task, re-enter it at the end of the list (assuming it's not done), enter your new task, and immediately begin working on the new task. >>

No, see Rule 1, final sentence.

<< Is this correct? >>

One out of four ain't bad!
March 29, 2016 at 21:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Seraphim:

<< Another question - what do you do when several action-worthy tasks come to mind simultaneously? >>

Nothing. See Rule 1.
March 29, 2016 at 21:09 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Will:

<< My take is that you only write down new tasks on the focus list when you are about to do them, and then you only write down the one you are about to do. >>

Correct!
March 29, 2016 at 21:10 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Wooba:

<< Um, I might have missed something, but if you write down the task you are about to do and immediately do it, when do you process the rest of the list, and where do you start from? >>

See Rules 1 and 3.
March 29, 2016 at 21:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Sobertruth:

<< it would be a great help to have the instructions written out without having to refer to the older autofocus system >>

There's no need to refer to the Autofocus system. The only place in the rules where Autofocus is referred to is Rule 3, and there is an immediate explanation of what is meant.
March 29, 2016 at 21:15 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Maybe I'm misunderstanding or overlooked something. What about tasks that come up and need done, but no action can be taken at the time? For example, after a meeting, I have four different tasks that have to be taken care of in the near future. I have no time to start on any of them after the meeting. So, these tasks would not be written down, since I am unable to do anything at the time. Would they be placed on a "different list" or scheduled with a reminder or would I just assume if they are important I will eventually remember them. (I'm assuming these are one-off tasks that are not repeated.)
March 29, 2016 at 21:46 | Unregistered CommenterSobertruth
Sobertruth:

<< For example, after a meeting, I have four different tasks that have to be taken care of in the near future. >>

If you _were_ going to write them down on a list, how would you remember what they are? I assume you would refer to the notes you took during the meeting or the official minutes. That's all you need, plus a recurrent task "Action from meetings" which would automatically hoover up any tasks resulting from meetings you attend. Or you could schedule "Action Tuesday's meeting" in your calendar.
March 29, 2016 at 21:53 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark,

>>See Rules 1 and 3.

Sorry, I think it needs another rule. What is the trigger for getting from Rule 1 to Rule 3?

If I do task 1 but don't finish it, I cross it off and rewrite it. Then I do task 2 and finish it and cross it off. Then I do task 3 and it is a recurring task so I cross it off and rewrite it. Then I do task 4 and finish it. What is the trigger for getting back to task 1?

I am assuming that I am the problem here, not your rules.
March 29, 2016 at 21:55 | Registered CommenterWooba
Wooba:

<< What is the trigger for getting back to task 1? >>

There is no trigger. You circulate round a page as detailed in Rule 3 until there are no more tasks you want to do on it. Then you move to the next page.

If you are on the last page, you can also add new tasks as detailed in Rule 1.
March 29, 2016 at 22:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark/Serphim/Sobertruth

In my 5T system I have divided my page in two.

One side is pure 5T system and the other is an accumulation list of these small interruptions or things I am not sure where to put.

These include tasks to be scheduled, people to get back to, small stuff to do, notes, etc. It is almost like an "inbox for life*". I also aim to clean this inbox regularly through the day by either doing** them, scheduling them, adding them to my project notes, adding them to my minutes notes, etc.

I assume this will work just fine in this amended system.

* Not sure what to call this, but it entails an inbox for stuff that does not come through your formalized inboxes like mail, email, voice mail, etc. But it is still an inbox and must be processed regularly.
** I will do the task if it can be quickly action-ed in one go.
March 29, 2016 at 22:18 | Unregistered CommenterNico
Of course, I hadn't considered a long list over several pages. I was playing with the idea with a short list of tasks that fitted on less than a single page. Also, I had forgotten how Autofocus worked (it is so long since I used it).

As my work doesn't currently require me to keep a long catch-all list of tasks, and I have been seduced by the idea of no-list, I probably won't find a use for this new system, but I hope it works out for everyone who needs it.
March 29, 2016 at 22:53 | Registered CommenterWooba
Wooba:

<< As my work doesn't currently require me to keep a long catch-all list of tasks, and I have been seduced by the idea of no-list, I probably won't find a use for this new system >>

This isn't a catch-all system and it is a no-list system. Basically it consists of a list of the tasks which you are currently engaged on. Nothing gets on it without being worked on, and nothing stays on it if it doesn't continue to be worked on.
March 29, 2016 at 23:07 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
At first I thought this was bonkers, but by the end of the day, I was really liking what this was forcing me to do. Some observations on what each rule seems to accomplish for me.

Rule 1 forces me to trust my gut of what it important right now rather than get lost in the overwhelm of a long wish list of what I could do.

Rule 2 ensures that I am only putting on my list what I am willing to actually work on because I had to actually at least work on it some before it makes the cut

Rule 3 really forces me to return to the tasks I've started recently and encourages me to finish them as well as encourages routines I'm trying to build

Rules 4, 5, 6 scared me a little at first but I think I'm seeing that dismiss can mean "archive" I don't actually have to throw away dismissed pages I simply just stop cycling through them on a daily basis. If I'm not willing to finish an item or work on it daily then of course it should go to a long term list of someday/maybe to be reviewed when my gut tells me.(rule 1)

I see that this workflow isn't for necessarily for capturing but it works quite well for doing.

Brent
March 30, 2016 at 0:30 | Unregistered CommenterBrent
Mark Forster wrote:
<< One out of four ain't bad! >>

LOL! I will have to read the rules more closely. I actually thought I *had* read them closely, but I completely missed several key points. Thanks!
March 30, 2016 at 1:31 | Unregistered CommenterSeraphim
Interesting!! Experimented with this as a replacement for the 5T part of my system. Started with my very familiar evening & morning routines. Then tried during the day at work. Enjoyed sense of things held, and way it provides to deal with interruptions.

Pondering on what is definition of recurrent, and what can be crossed off and added again later and what needs to be held. E.g I have a scedule for checking emails. Found that I kept rewriting this on the list for a particular scheduled time until that batch was completed, but then found it seemed fine to cross it off the list completely until the next scheduled time.

Overall found I had a sense of focus and spaciousness. I was thinking very carefully about what was most important for that time, but also responsive to necessary interruptions or short-term changes of direction. Had a very natural filtering quality of what was important. Did still need my systems around this, e.g. scheduling & recording notebooks and project folders.
March 30, 2016 at 8:04 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Jane
"<< And once you've found an item that "stands out", you work on it. If you don't finish it, you cross it off and re-enter at the end. If you finished it, then you simply cross it out. >>

No, see Rules 2 and 4."
I don't understand where is the mistake here :-( For me, it looks like following the rules... Maybe somebody can explain?
March 30, 2016 at 10:54 | Unregistered CommenterAlex.Muraviev
Alex.Muraviev:

<< I don't understand where is the mistake here >>

Seraphim missed out the fact that recurrent tasks remain on the list.
March 30, 2016 at 11:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, thanks for your answer. May I ask another couple of questions?
1) Where to start the new day: on the first page or where you have finished yesterday?
2) For example, I can walk through the first page, do nothing (nothing stands out or I don't want to do difficult tasks) and go to the next page, and do in such manner till the final page, and then I decide to go to the first page and start from the beggining again. So in this case it's like one long list for me, not divided into pages-units. Is there a rule to avoid this? Like you cannot return to the page twice a day?
March 30, 2016 at 22:15 | Unregistered CommenterAlex.Muraviev
<< So in this case it's like one long list for me, not divided into pages-units. Is there a rule to avoid this? Like you cannot return to the page twice a day? >>

My understanding is that this would be fine. Go through the page as often as you need until something does stand out. The fact that if you do not do anything at all from a page then everything gets dismissed is sufficient that you will probably look closer for something to do. If you genuinely cannot find anything at that stage, then it should force you to wonder how much a priority those tasks really are to you right now.
March 31, 2016 at 0:03 | Unregistered CommenterEiron Page
Alex.Muraviev:

<< 1) Where to start the new day: on the first page or where you have finished yesterday? >>

I'll be writing about this in tomorrow's blog post.

<< 2) For example, I can walk through the first page, do nothing (nothing stands out or I don't want to do difficult tasks) and go to the next page, and do in such manner till the final page, and then I decide to go to the first page and start from the beggining again. So in this case it's like one long list for me, not divided into pages-units. Is there a rule to avoid this? Like you cannot return to the page twice a day? >>

If that's what you want to do, it's fine. I shall also be writing more about dismissal in tomorrow's blog post.
March 31, 2016 at 0:11 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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