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Real Autofocus?

French translation by Fred Mikusek

This method of dealing with a task list is the most effective I have yet found. It is based on simple scanning, that is to say going round and round the list doing tasks as and when they stand out.

This is in itself quite an effective method, but as I said here it suffers from two major related problems:

  1. The list tends to grow uncontrollably
  2. It gets spread over a large number of pages if you are using a notebook and pencil/pen. 

So what one ends up with is a huge backlog of tasks, which one doesn’t have a hope of ever clearing.

What is needed is a way of getting the list to self-limit in such a way that it focuses on what one can actually do within a couple of days or so.

Here’s how it works step-by-step. I’ve assumed you are using paper and pen/pencil, but it is easily adapted to work electronically. 


  1. Start a new list. Don’t use an existing list.This is very important, otherwise you will overwhelm it before you’ve even started.
  2. Add other tasks to the end of the list as needed or as they occur to you throughout the day. Allow the list to build up gradually.
  3. Work the list by scanning it, taking action on those tasks that feel ready to be worked on.
  4. When you’ve worked enough on a task. cross it out. If it’s unfinished, re-write it at the end of the list. Do the same with tasks that will recur the same day or the next day.
  5. When you finish for the day draw a short horizontal line in the margin immediately after the last task on the list.




  1. Starting from the beginning of the list work as in rules 2-5 for the First Day.





  1. Extend the first of the two short line end-of-day markers (see rule 5) so that it goes right across the page.
  2. Start working from that line (i.e. ignore any tasks before it for the time being)
  3. When you reach the end of the list, go back to the beginning of the list.
  4. You now work only on the tasks between the beginning of the active list and the long horizontal line you drew at the beginning of the day:
    1. Scan them and DELETE any you no longer want to do at all
    2. Scan again and DEFER any you don’t want to do now to your schedule/calendar (do not just re-write them at the end of the list without taking any action on them)
    3. DO all the remaining tasks in order
  5. Continue working the rest of the list as in rules 2-5 for the first day.


IN SUMMARY, at the beginning of each day you work on yesterday’s tasks in the normal way, followed by today’s tasks. Then you clear ALL tasks remaining from the day before yesterday (DELETE, DEFER or DO). Once you’ve done that you carry on working yesterday and today’s tasks as normal.

Using this myself I was surprised how few tasks I needed to delete or defer. The list seemed to conform almost automatically to the amount of time I had available. I’ll be interested to know if it works that way for you too.



Reader Comments (157)

My interpretation is the system can handle a really long catch all list with ease.
If you work the system it will just result in a lot of tasks in deferral...
By scanning you should pick out urgent tasks naturally...
July 23, 2017 at 22:00 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
Ubi -

<<I prefer a synced app-based method>>

How long has it been since you used pen & paper? You might try it again for a few weeks. For years I forced myself to be (exclusively) phone/computer-based but caught the old-school bug a year ago and have found that a pen and notebook are not only efficient, but fun and flexible and they help me think. This system works really well with pen/notebook and I'm not having any trouble implementing it. (Deleting and Defering make my brain hurt, almost literally, but the payoff is so great I sort of enjoy doing them.)

<<I have inferred (perhaps incorrectly) that success with this system depends on being judicious about what one adds to the list>>

I would say this system *trains* one to be judicious about what one adds to the list.
July 23, 2017 at 22:42 | Unregistered CommenterZane

<< Based on your last response, I think the answer would be something like this: Start by putting everything that needs to get done. Over time, you will develop a better sense of what really needs to get done, and that's what you will put in the list, and this will happen naturally. So it is still intended to catch everything that needs to get done -- but your attitude toward this will change over the course of using the system.

<< Is that essentially what you mean? >>

Yes, I think that sums it up very well.
July 23, 2017 at 22:49 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< You could tweak this by changing what you designate D-D-D, for example changing it to the day before the day before yesterday instead of the day before yesterday. Have you tried that, Mark? Or would it dilute important tasks too much? >>

No, I haven't tried it. My feeling is that the longer the period, the less effective it would be. In fact if I were going to change the number of days I think I would reduce them, i.e. yesterday and today only.
July 23, 2017 at 22:55 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<< I have inferred (perhaps incorrectly) that success with this system depends on being judicious about what one adds to the list, which seems antithetical to the catch-all nature of the AF systems in general. >>

I think I said somewhere that I was very surprised how this system worked out for me. I wasn't surprised that I got a lot done, nor was I surprised that I was able to clear the DDD list every day. What did surprise me was that I really didn't have to think about what I put on the list, and I was even more surprised how often I didn't have a DDD list to clear.
July 23, 2017 at 23:10 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
FWIW, I have implemented this new method using Things 3 synced across macs, iPad and iPhone. My working list is in the Today section. I'm still using tags and projects, but they don't seem that important at this point. Still early days, but it's going well for me.
July 24, 2017 at 1:02 | Unregistered Commentermcogilvie
Zane asked: "How long has it been since you used pen & paper? You might try it again for a few weeks."

It's been a couple of years, I think. I may take your suggestion. I've been in a bit of a funk lately with various piles (backlogs) accumulating. Sometimes using apps & devices provides an illusion of productivity when it's really just a lot of futzing with tools & toys. I'm old enough to have learned that pencil-on-paper is best for thinking - e.g. in a meeting - and also less distracting than typing.

Has anyone implemented RealAutoFocus inside a FreeForm Notebook or Bullet Journal (i.e., interspersing the main task list with pages or blocks of unrelated content)? If I do convert back to analog, I would be tempted to do RAF that way.
July 24, 2017 at 1:55 | Registered Commenterubi

<<I can see this system could create quite long lists of deferred tasks. A robust system to handle deferred tasks would be great.>>

Earlier this year, I finally found a way to do this. I call it "sequencing," as opposed to "scheduling." For details, see the forum thread I just created:

The (maybe) Incredible "Timeless Calendar"
July 24, 2017 at 3:21 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
Ubi - yes, I'm doing RAF in my bullet journal. I don't list tasks as bullets under each day's page. Instead I dedicate pages to tasks. When I reach the end of a task page I turn to the next empty page and continue there. (I do this with all pages - day, project, calendar, data, etc.) This is one reason I like RAF - the task list is physically short and always close to the page I'm on.
July 24, 2017 at 4:14 | Unregistered CommenterZane
@mcogilvie: how do you implement this in Things-3? I've been working with Things on and off for the past couple of years, upgraded to Things-3 recently, but I find the Today list not flexible enough for most of Mark's systems. How do you distinguish between tasks from today, yesterday, or earlier? You could use due dates for that, but that kind off defeats the purpose of a real due date.
July 24, 2017 at 10:21 | Unregistered CommenterNicole
Nicole, Ubi,

I've been using Remember the Milk, along with IFTTT, for this and it has been working great. I have the list sorted by date added, NEWEST on top. You can certainly do it with OLDEST on top, but I've always preferred NEWEST on top.

Any tasks that I add to my list at night, I like to count as the next day's task. So, each evening, at 7 PM (about when I pretty much stop doing and start relaxing) IFTTT sends a new task to RTM. The task shows as "=== Tasks added before <Date> 7 PM ===". That works as a great separator on my list.

So, the top group of tasks is my Today list. Any tasks I add immediately go to the top of that list.

The next group (below that line) is my Yesterday list.

The last group is my Day Before Yesterday list.

I use a smart list in RTM to include all tasks due today and then all undated tasks. The items due today (usually appointments - OR - tasks I've deferred to this day) show up first. They MUST get done today and show up ABOVE Today's list. I work on those throughout the day, along with Today and Yesterday.

Then, I move into my Day Before Yesterday list. Deleting moves them off the list, of course. Deferring also moves them off the list since they now have a due date and it is later than today. Then I just Do the remaining items on the list.

I've really been enjoying Mark's new system using this method.
July 24, 2017 at 14:09 | Unregistered Commentertomcal
At first do you make one pass through yesterday and today or do you keep on cycling through until you don't see anything else that you want to do at the moment?
July 24, 2017 at 16:12 | Unregistered CommenterMark H
@Nicole: it's pretty simple to implement in Things 3. In addition to things I want to do, I have two marker items "-------" and "--------------------". Things defaults to putting new items at the top of the Today list rather than the bottom, so the list works backwards from the way Mark described it. I started on the first day with the markers at the bottom and my todos above them. The next morning, I moved the short marker to the end of the list. On the morning of the third day, I moved the long marker to the location of the short marker, and then the short marker to the end of the list. You could just do what you would do with paper instead: check off the old long marker, lengthen the short marker, and make a new short marker, but there's no need. I defer todos using the standard "When" feature of Things 3, and they show up at the top of Today list on that day, and of course I then put the long marker below them. Stuff from the Inbox as well as items marked "Today" in the Anytime section will also appear at the top of the list. So far, it's working very well. It's actually a bit scary.
July 24, 2017 at 17:12 | Unregistered Commentermcogilvie
Starting a RealAF trial in a free-form bound pocket notebook (Field Notes Graph grid). Haven't done analog task management in a long time. Keeping a notebook open has an immediate quieting effect on mind. I'm much less tempted to "check" my devices all the time. I scan the notebook and contemplate what needs doing and noting. A slim pocket notebook isn't much of a burden to keep around - fits in the same shirt pocket with my iPhone.

Reading about folks' methods for implementing RealAF (or earlier systems) electronically is stressful; it brings up bad feelings of all the attempts I've made - with Things, Clear, Reminders, etc. - and sync-failure anxiety. Thanks again to Zane for suggesting paper & pencil!
July 24, 2017 at 18:37 | Registered Commenterubi
I'm going back to paper, too. I was generating too many tasks using OneNote. One specific thing I found myself doing was sending moderately difficult emails to the RAF list in OneNote rather than just pushing a little harder and getting the email completed immediately.
July 24, 2017 at 19:58 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I am following it on Outlook, using due date to group and am loving it.
July 24, 2017 at 21:54 | Unregistered Commentervegheadjones

<< At first do you make one pass through yesterday and today or do you keep on cycling through until you don't see anything else that you want to do at the moment? >>

The daily sequence is
1) one pass through yesterday and today treated as one
2) clear the DDD list (day before yesterday)
3) continue circling round yesterday and today (treated as one ) until close of work for the day
July 24, 2017 at 22:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
This new system is brilliant, Mark! I love this algorithm for guiding my workflow. Cheers!
July 24, 2017 at 22:41 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Drake aka Longstreet

Good to hear from you again, David. I hope it continues to work for you.
July 25, 2017 at 0:18 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Wonderful new system, Mark, very powerful. For me its like the focus and flexibility of a no-list system combined with the thoroughness of a catch all system. For me the reason it works so well is DDD. I remember back in the AF1 days you used to emphasize the importance of dismissal. I think your new method represents an amazing enhancement of the dismissal process.
July 25, 2017 at 1:29 | Unregistered CommenterPaul MacNeil
I'm also doing this analog at work (via the ol' marble composition book) and at home (Field Notes, kept in my back pocket).

For work, I had previously invested a lot of time in the Linenberger system where the inbox is customized with an Outlook Tasks window that is customized to show hi/med/lo tasks. Creating tasks from emails is dead easy with this method.

But funny thing...The company upgraded my laptop so they had to take my old laptop away and give me a loaner, so I was without my customized Outlook for a couple days. I had to access my email via the Outlook web interface -- which doesn't support the custom outlook views.

In the interim, I started an RAF list. When I got the new laptop, all of my emails were there, of course -- but none of the Outlook task window customizations.

I chose not to go through the effort of doing all that customizing again. It just proved to me yet again that digital systems, for all their marvels, can be brittle and crumble quickly. (I also set up Linenberger's system for Toodledo, but I don't find the interface appealing and have never gone back to it after setting it up.)

Pen and paper to the rescue! Just pausing for a few beats to write something down offers time for a little reflection, something I never did when dashing off new tasks.

Though my manager threw a task at me after lunch today that basically wiped out my afternoon, such that I never finished a round through yesterday and today and did not get to the DDD. So I will pretend like yesterday did not happen, and start again.
July 25, 2017 at 3:06 | Unregistered CommenterMike Brown
Thanks for the tip on using Things 3, I got it because of the ease of duplicating and reentering tasks.

Thanks as well, I tried doing RAF in my Bullet Journal, but made a mess. A separate task page makes total sense.

I am wobbling between the two right now, but I want to give these two new ideas a chance.
July 26, 2017 at 1:05 | Unregistered CommenterErin
Perhaps I've missed something in the comments and replies, but I still think the weakness in this otherwise intriguing idea lies in the deferral process. It seems to me that one shoves deferrable jobs into arbitrarily-selected calendar slots. There no rule for it. Then there's the possibility that one's calendar get clogged up with tasks that by definition defied doing earlier.

I must admit, moreover, that I always liked David Allen's 'hard-landscape' rule for the calendar.
July 26, 2017 at 2:24 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Williams
Hello! I do not speak English, the translation was done by Google. Please forgive me.

I want to share how I implemented the system with the help of "Remember The Milk"
I created 2 smart lists with the conditions:

1. due:today OR due:yesterday . I named this list "Autofocus"
2. dueBefore:yesterday OR due:never. I named this list "DELETE DEFER DO".

In the settings of the program is the option "Default Due Date - "Today ".
When I look through the "DDD" list, the tasks that need to be postponed I set the "Today" date. They are automatically transferred to the end of the "Autofocus" list.
I'm testing the second day, the system works fine. It only needs 2 lists, which is very good.
July 26, 2017 at 2:55 | Unregistered CommenterVladimir
A concise way to look at RAF at the beginning of the day...

1. draw the line
2. one pass below the line
3. DDD above the line
4. the rest of the day below the line
July 26, 2017 at 4:33 | Unregistered CommenterZane
@Martin Williams

Try following the rules faithfully for a week and I think you'll find your DEFER rule will write itself. Trial and error will teach you not to clog your calendar.
July 26, 2017 at 4:43 | Unregistered CommenterZane

Thanks for the concise 4-step summary. But your Step 4 - "the rest of the day below the line" - is unnecessary since everything above the line was already crossed out in Step 3. ;-]
July 27, 2017 at 1:57 | Registered Commenterubi
Today was DDD day and it was not very pleasant :). I had 6 tasks undone, all urgent and important and none could be subject to DDD treatment. They all had to be done. I had no choice. I rewrote them to the bottom of the list without working on them due to time constraints.
Out of that predicament I realised the following:
a. I was not doing the right tasks in the course of my day; and/or
b. I may have taken on too many tasks;
The system has been a revelation. What I should be doing more of, where I am spending too much time, and how much capacity I have.
I can't ask for anything more in system of task and time management. This simple system provides an incredible level of breath and depth in feedback.
Thank you Mark, this must be your best work yet.
July 27, 2017 at 16:27 | Unregistered CommenterJD
I was wondering if this new system is quite similar to and earlier system Do It Tomorrow?
I remember one comment that the DIT system was too exacting for some.
I can see RAF working fine and dandy when kept up to date and minimal DDD.
But if backlogs or lots of deferral, then it might fall apart - or too difficult to control and keep track of the deferred tasks in the calendar?
I always loved DIT, but I found it just too productive and tired me out all the time. I seemed to work my socks off to keep up with clearing everything that came in!
July 27, 2017 at 17:51 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog

Thank you for your insights on how to implement RAF in Things 3.

I had been trying to figure out how to handle this in Things 3 and I was not seeing how to do it.

What you suggested works very well. I have been using this approach in Things 3 since Monday.

The When function is very fast for the DEFER step. The When functionality and the powerful repeat functionality adds tasks to the above the line Today section without having to look at a Calendar and copy them.

Thanks again.
July 27, 2017 at 21:24 | Unregistered CommenterStuart Tattum
I just noticed that google calendar reminders work really well with this system.
July 29, 2017 at 10:30 | Unregistered CommenterYoyorast
Still working well after 16 days which is very encouraging.

The only wrinkle I have added is to mark "waiting for" items with a capital W and allow those to remain longer than the deadline and then carry them forward once followed up.

This is because I would not always follow up inside 2 / 3 days and scheduling them was awkward.
August 4, 2017 at 16:31 | Unregistered CommenterMike
Hi Mark, thank you for this new system. I've been experimenting it for a while now and I can say it works very well as a processing system.

However, after some experiments, there is a concern I have which I want to share.

This is a bottom-up system, that is it allows to capture stuff that you are going to do over the next two days. Some of these actions may be connected to larger and important projects, but the risk is to 'flood' it with relatively low-important and low-resistance stuff. In other words, this system may become extremely effective at processing trivia. To me this was the main weakness too of all of your previous systems.

The solution would be to have a companion top-down system to keep track of projects in order to make decisions about the scheduling of highly important stuff that will be likely to get processed with the RAF, along with all the rest.

The only method of the kind that I have seen in your blog was the spinning plates. However, it didn't worked for me as a stand alone method. The main difficulty for me was to apply the "little and often" method, as my working days are really quite different from one another.

However, I will try to use both methods together over the next 10 days to see what happens.

in the meantime I was wondering whether you have other ideas in the pipeline regarding the management of projects...

August 9, 2017 at 8:25 | Unregistered CommenterFabio

<< Some of these actions may be connected to larger and important projects, but the risk is to 'flood' it with relatively low-important and low-resistance stuff. >>

The mistake here is to equate "low-importance" with "low-resistance". They are not the same thing. Unfortunately most project management systems tend to reinforce this faulty perception.

In the majority of my systems on the other hand I am aiming to reduce the resistance of high importance tasks so that most of the time you are processing high importance low resistance tasks.

Of course if you fill a task management system with low importance items, then that is what it will process. And if you fill a project management system with low importance projects, you will get exactly the same result.

The secret is not to put low importance stuff on your list in the first place. Or failing that, to weed it out quickly and ruthlessly..
August 9, 2017 at 16:41 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark and Fabio -

I raised similar concerns here

Mark gave some good answers, but I wasn't really satisfied with them, and wasn't sure how to articulate why. I'll try to give it another shot in that thread.
August 9, 2017 at 20:39 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

I'm looking forward to reading your further thoughts.
August 9, 2017 at 22:51 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

<<The secret is not to put low importance stuff on your list in the first place. Or failing that, to weed it out quickly and ruthlessly..>>

Mark, my question is: how will you know that something is low-importance?

To me, I can say something is low-importance only in comparison to something that I believe to be more important in that specific time and space frame of reference.

In other words, importance of a task (or project, or whatever) is never an absolute concept, but a relative one. And the position of a task in this personal "importance scale" relatively to other tasks may also changes relatively to time and space. For instance, something that is very important now, may be absolutely unimportant tomorrow or in a place different from the one I am writing from now.

Therefore, what is still missing to me is a companion system, separate from the processing system, that will help us to reassess, quickly, creatively and on a regular basis, the importance of the stuff that is on our plate at any given moment and place. This system should help us to keep the focus constantly on what is located high in our personal importance scale, making it less vulnerable to external events that may distract us and cause a loss of focus.

Then, to choose what to put in the RAF (that, by the way, I think is the best of your processing system so far) will be very easy. And, at the same time, to have a clear and updated picture in mind of what is important now will reduce the chances that any kind of garbage that comes in along the day (especially the very urgent but low-importance ones) will be put reactively in the system to be processed.

I hope that I managed to speak my mind clearly.
August 10, 2017 at 14:23 | Unregistered CommenterFabio

I use Mark's suggestion of a commitments list to track all the mid to high level commitments I make or that are made for me at work. I phrase these commitments as projects, but sometimes they're more terse.

I keep the list in Evernote and have an automatic reminder set to review it every 2 weeks. At that point, I edit the list by bumping some projects "above the line" and moving lower priority projects "below the line." And reviewing the list may spark ideas for tasks.

I am not sure that this addresses your question. The best I can manage is to list what I think is important and review the list regularly in light of what time and Future Me judge to be still worthwhile.
August 10, 2017 at 15:13 | Unregistered CommenterMike Brown
Seraphim and Mark,
I read Seraphim's post where he was expressing concerns similar to mine.

What Seraphim described is rather known to me. When I am under pressure and there is a lot of new stuff coming in (maybe I am under stress also because of a lot of
stuff coming in), regardless of the system used, I tend to follow the path of least resistance. And I have noted that this is directly proportional to the amount of external pressure. So the higher the external pressure, the higher the tendency to shift away from the important stuff.

Being a Neurologist and being involved in clinical Neuropsychology I couldn't help comparing this kind of temporary behaviour to that of some persons with lesions of the so-called Supplementary Motor Area (SMA) which is located on the inner (mesial) surface of the frontal lobes, which in Humans are the planning and executive centers of the brain.

When there is a lesion of the SMA, there may be an imbalance in favour of another area called Pre-Motor Area (PMA) which is located on the external surfaces of frontal lobes.

PMA seems to be important to initiate actions triggered by external stimuli (like vision, hearing, etc - external drive system), whereas SMA seems more important to initiate actions on the basis of internal stimuli (i.e. visual imagery, thoughts, etc - internal drive system).

Normally the two areas are somehow in balance, so that we can start a course of action on the basis of we have imagined/planned in advance, thus the inner drive system (SMA) is prevailing. However, the plan can be updated-changed on the basis of an analysis of the external situation, so that the external drive system (PMA) can help making the needed adjustments to the original plan. The net result (behaviour) is the outcome of the continuous balancing between the internal
and external drive systems.

Although I have oversimplified the model, this is a very complex system that involves other important areas than the SMA and the PMA within the frontal lobes (by the way, there are two brain hemispheres, so that we all have two SMAs and two PMAs). Indeed the so called executive functions of the brain (including the two drive system described above and other important functions) require other important areas and neuropsychological functions to cooperate, such as working memory (a form of very brief short-term memory), long-term memory, prospectic memory (that form of memory that allow us to remember doing something at a specific time in the future), emotions, and, of course, the various forms of attention. The latter is particularly important as it is the neural foundation of the ability to select (and discard unimportant) information in order to safeguard us from being helplessly immobilised into a standstill because of a flood of competing response demands.

When there is a lesion of the SMA, individuals become enslaved by external stimuli, so that they do not only lose the ability to plan, but they develop an urge to act on external stimuli, actually becoming
dependent on the external environment. They actually have extreme difficulties in inhibiting behaviours triggered by external clues, even if those behaviours are socially inappropriate. For instance, if they see some food they can reach out for it and eat it, not because they are hungry, but just because "the food was there".

By looking at my own behaviour under stress, maybe because of mental tiredness, loss of focus or, maybe, transitory memory malfunctioning or whatever, I have seen that my acting behaviour may be more prone to be influenced by external
demands (even trivial or relatively unimportant ones in comparison to my own pre-planned important goals), probably because stress moves the balance in favour of the external drive system (PMA overactive and/or SMA under active).

I have also noticed, that this happens to a lesser extent when I took the chance to "pre-load" into my own memory the plan for the day or, maybe better, those 3-4 main goals for the day and keep them afresh by recalling them (visually AND verbally) from time to time during the day. This gives me a sense of "calmness" and of being more in control that, probably derives from a better balance between the two drive systems in favour of the
inner one (SMA). It was like the formers would become better able to "filter" the information coming in from the environment, reducing the information "noise", thus allowing to keep the "inner" plan in focus.

This is, for instance, the main reason why, after many years, I have abandoned electronic means in favour of a more traditional pen and paper approach, as the act of writing (and, especially, rewriting) is, in itself, a memory aid.

In summary, in my experience, using only an executive device such as RAF (or its antecedent, like FV, SF, AF and the alike) may not be effective at reducing the risk of a takeover by the external drive system under stress.

On the other hand, the use of an executive device along with a companion system designed to reinforce the internal drive system by keeping the plan (or the projects) under regular (and quick) revision could help, under unfavourable
circumstances (i.e. stress), to keep the external and the internal drive systems in better balance.

Sorry for the length of the post, I hope that I haven't bored you to death too much... :-)
August 11, 2017 at 21:55 | Unregistered CommenterFabio
Hi Mike,
for the reasons explained in the post above, to make a review of the list of commitments (or projects) every two
weeks would be absolutely ineffective, unless you were able (and I am not) to keep that list afresh in your memory day by day. In this case, though, probably you wouldn't need to keep it in writing.

What I am saying is that if we all had, constantly loaded in our own memory, moment after moment, a list of our priorities, we would have less chances to get distracted from the supposed external urgencies and, thus, less prone to loss focus and to procrastinate.

However, for me this is not the case. Mark's previous system "the next hour of our life" for me was a complete disaster simply because I often could not remember the important stuff to be done, but only the external supposed urgencies, in view of the so-called "recency effect" of the memory (we tend to remember better things occurred closer rather than farther in time).

Thus, what I would like to use is a system that can be quickly reviewed several times a day to "refocus" on the priorities and quickly rebalance the external and the internal drive system in favour of the latter.

In this respect, RAF is an important advancement in comparison to the systems based on long catch-all list, because of the built-in two-days dismissal system, which inevitably forces to review what has not been done.
August 11, 2017 at 22:27 | Unregistered CommenterFabio
Hi Fabio - thanks for a fascinating post, very interesting, and relevant to all systems of time and life management. As far as RAF is concerned, you could have a recurring task "Review list of projects/commitments" .
August 12, 2017 at 21:30 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret1
Fabio - how many projects/commitments are you talking about?
August 12, 2017 at 23:13 | Unregistered CommenterZane

Thanks for a very interesting post. As others have said, I've always recommended keeping a list of "authorized projects", but I tend to take such things as read when describing a new system.
August 13, 2017 at 9:53 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Fabio, thanks for these great posts. The neurology is very interesting and it seems to explain a lot of my own experience.
August 27, 2017 at 19:39 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Mark, could you elaborate on how you use the "authorized project list" in actual practice?

You discuss a similar "authorized list of commitments" in the Secrets book (ch. 20, p. 124).

And you wrote about it here last year -

The principles all make sense -- it's the actual practice that I'm wondering about. It's not clear to me how you work this into your routine.
August 27, 2017 at 19:42 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I find that starting the day with an outline of commitments (I use OneNote, but a paper mind map would be as good) sometimes helps. And only takes a few minutes.
September 7, 2017 at 9:12 | Registered CommenterWill

<< On the other hand, the use of an executive device along with a companion system designed to reinforce the internal drive system by keeping the plan (or the projects) under regular (and quick) revision could help, under unfavourable circumstances (i.e. stress), to keep the external and the internal drive systems in better balance. >>

I like Cal Newport's idea of following a "Project Completion-centric" approach, by having an Active Project list. This is a list of your 6-12 of the most important projects in your life, which you review regularly (daily) and focus intensely on completing.

As Cal Newport says, every morning you look at your Active Projects page and ask: "What's the most progress I can make toward completing this list today?"

Then, you can add the tasks generated through this daily process to your RAF list for the day and use Mark's tools for getting the actual day-to-day tasks completed.

This ensures (1) that you are frequently reviewing your most important projects, such that they are always in front-row during your planning, ensuring they are completed timely and (2) you are getting the actions necessary to complete them done, through a proven method, avoiding procrastination etc.

More details about the "Active Projects" list:

A key element of this approach is to have few select "Active Projects" and focusing intensely on completing them, before taking on more.

More about this idea here:

September 7, 2017 at 9:19 | Unregistered CommenterLoukas
In a similar vein to what @Loukas wrote, you can also control the RAF task list length by having a set number of roles (Steven Covey, 7 Habits) or a six-box to-do list (Peter Bregman, 18 Minutes) and making sure that the RAF task list is populated only by 1-3 tasks from each role/box. Using the Bregman-based approach has helped (?forced?) me keep the task list to a manageable length, on a daily basis.

Otherwise, the RAF approach has been a massive gamechanger for me - thank you Mark!
September 12, 2017 at 13:36 | Unregistered CommenterBernard
Crunch time. Got some actions in DDD which aren't standing out for me. Partly because I dragged them from my inbox in my customised outlook setup. Partly because I use a humorous scary script for the DDD (8 pt Showcard Gothic, since you ask). Partly because I'm swamped.

So, is this the moment to go back to the beloved Moleskine?

On reflection, no: it is exactly NOT the moment to change the system. Though I might change the font.

September 13, 2017 at 10:00 | Registered CommenterWill
It's funny how sometimes tiny details make a big difference, like your choice of font, or my choice of notebook shape and pen. The right one feels good to use, and the wrong one feels a pain to use. (For me, right is Mead Cambridge 80 sheets 20x12cm, with a dualcoil binding and a pen that slips neatly into that coil.)
September 16, 2017 at 18:49 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

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