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Discussion Forum > Focus/Whenever Lists

I wanted to make a separate thread for this, but I already posted this idea here:

My idea was to take any Autofocus-style system and split it into two lists, a Focus list and a Whenever list. All urgent tasks and tasks with hard deadlines belong in the Focus list, everything else belongs in the Whenever list -- no matter how important. (e.g. if you can answer "yes" to "Can this slide if necessary?")

However, to provide some focus on task completion, my idea was also to allow a very few (~3 or fewer) other tasks to be in the Focus list. (This could be a "current initiative" task, or a "Top 3" selection of tasks, for example.) Having too many of these would defeat the purpose of the Focus list.

To process the two lists, you alternate between them (starting each day on the Whenever list), following the rules of the underlying Autofocus-style system on each list independently. After each task actioned on the Whenever list, switch to the Focus list, where you stay until nothing "stands out", then switch back to the Whenever list again. However, each time you switch lists, you have to action at least one task before switching back. If nothing "stands out" on the first pass, then search for the task with the most resistance and work on that before switching back.

Thoughts? Good approach or not?
July 29, 2013 at 14:56 | Registered CommenterDeven
Hi Devon
This sounds fairly close to assigning MITs. If an MIT has a lot of resistance, I'll choose "relief" tasks until I'm shored up enough to go back to the highly resistance task. If there is more than one MIT that creates high resistance, I'll simply focus on finishing one using relief tasks or chipping away at the other resistance laden MITs but my focus is to finish one at a time. This gives me enough leeway so that I don't get too frustrated or bound by rules. Sometimes when I have completed my one focus MIT, I'll discover that I've also chipped away at other MITs as relief. I keep doing that until my MITs are done. After that I can choose other work or not. Once the MITs are done, it's my choice whether to continue working or not.

Maybe it's me, but I like flexibility and also focus. Once I've chosen my MITs for the day, I find that I'm more successful if I'm not constrained by rules of what to do in what order.

Also I don't like the rule of "Must be done today" or a hard deadline to allow it into the focus list. RARELY do I have work I MUST do today. I feel more calm when I can stay ahead or at least current. I don't trust myself to wait until the due date to do my work. I prefer the flexibility of using my time to prevent having to do it today. If it gets put on me then I have no choice. If I do have a choice, I'd prefer to do it leisurely ahead of time.

Also some of the most important work does not have a true deadline. I flexibly make them up as in a timeline. I also do this with recurring work. I don't have to have inbox zero, all mail processed everyday. I just review it to make sure no bombs are going to detonate if left neglected. I'll add it to my MIT list when it's timely to do so in relation to it's relative importance. Rules just seem to get in the way. It's far easier to decide what's important and do it. Add to it if somebody puts something on you or adjust it as you do your work. Some projects need to be put aside while my mind catches up to it's progress to continue the plan or adjust itor figuring out the reason for it's failure.

I like your ideas. Unfortunately my mind needs more flexibility to decide how to approach my important work. Rigid, stagnant rules just bungle up it up for me. Only I know how to approach my high resistance work and keep at it. Only I know when I need to switch gears for awhile. For me, if I put too much on myself or not enough, it'll cause me to scrap the plan. Sometimes I need to adjust the plan midstream if my brain or body fights against me. Sometimes my poor attitude needs a different workaround. I envy you guys who can easily work a plan within rules. LOL!
July 29, 2013 at 16:44 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Sounds promising. It feels like a more formal version of Learning's MIT / Relief Task method, without the "MIT's all done, day's work is done" feature. Maybe it's a matter of timing, but this feels better than Mark's variations on the same theme. Maybe it's because there's more flexibility while in the Focus list.

I predict a temptation to give important things dates just so they can go on the Focus list, rather than admit they're Whenevers. Probable Result: Bloated Focus list and mix of hard and soft deadlines. Confusion.

Allowing a few Whenevers onto the list will probably work much better.

Part of it might be the title Whenever. It sounds like Someday/Maybe (or Dismissed or Hibernating). Maybe something with a bit more ooph, like "Next Best Use of Time". Learning's phrase "Relief Tasks" might work. They need to be things that, while not as important as the Focus tasks, are still good uses of my time, and don't risk re-activating projects that should stay in hibernation.

I like that you can only do one task on the Whenever list before returning to the Focus list. Discipline! It sounds like a good balance between the two.

I'm going to give it a try. I'll start small, with today's list (which happens to have 12 items left, all somewhat important but only some with firm deadlines), and let you know.
July 29, 2013 at 17:29 | Registered CommenterCricket
learning as I go:

This idea isn't based around planning for a particular day, but rather a way to adapt any Autofocus-style system to maintain focus on tasks which might otherwise get lost in the master list. The rule is "urgent", not "must be done today". That might mean something that needs to be done ASAP, but will take a week.

The other automatic focus category was tasks with hard deadlines -- this was meant to keep them "on the radar" so the deadline isn't neglected. Tasks with soft deadlines (a goal date that can slip without consequence) belong in the Whenever list, unless it's one of the "very few" that you want to promote as focus tasks for the sake of completion.

The idea behind the Focus list is for it to contain the tasks which MUST be done -- and if the Focus list is empty, that's a good thing. That means you have flexibility to work on anything using the underlying Autofocus system's usual rules.

As far as resistance goes, the idea behind that rule was to try to break the "motivational surface tension" of high-resistance tasks by making a point of working on the one with the highest resistance (even if it's just to "get out the folder") if you come to a point where you have a list of actionable tasks where nothing "stands out" to work on. The assumption behind that rule is that you're probably procrastinating on one or more tasks and need to force some progress, no matter how slight.
July 29, 2013 at 18:34 | Registered CommenterDeven
Hi Cricket
When I'm choosing a relief task, my head simply thinks of it as giving my brain a break from the highly resistant MIT. It might even be another MIT that's easier. If I don't choose to work on another MIT as a relief task, it's usually safe for me to choose recurring tasks that need to get done but don't blow up in my face if I let them lay dormant for a day or three. Also, sometimes I'll push myself too hard to get a high resistance task done and I'm almost at the point of throwing something against a wall. Then I might need about 10-20 minutes of worthy relief tasks to wait until my frustration has quieted down. In 10-20 minutes it could be one task or 5. I don't see the point of counting tasks when I'm simply biding my time until I'm ready to belly up to the dreaded task again! If I'm really vexed (especially if I can't see what's causing it to fail), I might do an hour or so or easier one offs and recurring work until I'm ready to go back to that MIT. Sometimes it only takes 2 or 3 minutes. I never know. I just work on easier stuff of take a break until my mind and body is ready to go into attack mode again! LOL! My only rule is to stay current or slightly ahead whenever possible. It's easy to choose daily MITs so I have focus. As long I successfully complete them, I don't care how I did it. LOL!
July 29, 2013 at 18:49 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go

I'm not sure how this relates to the MIT/Relief Task idea. I wasn't familiar with it. It took a bit of searching to find that MIT means "Most Important Thing". I guess there's some similarity, but it feels mostly different to me at first glance. The goal here is to maintain focus on a few tasks and retain flexibility with just enough compulsion to be helpful.

Adding tasks to the Focus list indiscriminately will defeat the purpose, as you surmise. That's why soft deadlines go into the Whenever list, no matter how important. (In my current system, AF2NDP5, those tasks can still be prioritized within the Whenever list.)

Pretending to have hard deadlines on tasks in order to put them in the Focus list is subverting the system. Instead, the idea is to use the "very few other tasks" rule to select maybe one (a "current initiative") or three (the "Top 3") tasks to the list, give or take.

Note that tasks on the Whenever list might be MORE important than tasks on the Focus list, though obviously those would be good candidates for the "very few" rule.

As for the name, that's just what came to mind. Perhaps it would be better to call the list "Main" or "Master" or "Everything" or "Everything Else" or something along those lines, if the "Whenever" name has negative connotations. It is NOT meant to be a "Someday/Maybe" list to set aside and forget; that's exactly the reason for the rule to start every day on the Whenever list.

I'm leaning toward renaming the "Whenever" list to the "Main" list, since I think that captures the intent I had better...

Anyway, if you're giving it a try, what are you using as the underlying system to process each list?
July 29, 2013 at 18:56 | Registered CommenterDeven
Hi Devon
WOW! Thanks for the explanation. That sounds like it would very closely fit my needs except for the rule about only one whenever task at a time. Sometimes the structured procrastination phenomenon works wonders. As a relief task I might make progress on a task which would ordinarily cause resistance if it wasn't up against an even worse task! LOL!

We do seem to think alike in that we feel compelled to make sure the important work is in our focus. It's also useful to have relief tasks so that ultimately I can accomplish more in a day rather than throw my hands in the air and give up if an MIT hits stalemate status! LOL!

You did an excellent job creating your system. Kudos to you!
July 29, 2013 at 18:57 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Freedom to work on anything, rather than the next most important thing? It makes sense. The next most important thing might be another complex task, when what's really needed is a break before going back to the main task.

My first attempt at sorting today's list into two categories came to a screeching halt. 11 of 12 went to Focus. Half of them were things I'd like to do daily (e.g., exercise) -- deadline of today. A few were things I've put off for way too long, but can slide another week with no consequences. I'm going to try it again another day.
July 29, 2013 at 18:58 | Registered CommenterCricket
learning as I go:

Based on Cricket's feedback, I've decided to rename the "Whenever" list to the "Main" list to better capture the intent, so I'll use that terminology from now on.

The idea behind only allowing one Main list task at a time is to prevent a slew of low-priority tasks to be used as tools for procrastination, if you might be wanting to avoid something on the Focus list. But you're allowed to stay on the Focus list as long as you want, since it theoretically contains the tasks you should be focused on.

Note that the rule on having to take action before switching lists only applies if there ARE any actionable tasks on the list. If everything on the Focus list is something that you can't reasonably be taking action on, then you can go right back to the Main list. But if there's something actionable and you're just avoiding it, that's when the "most resistance" rule applies. But you can still just "get out the folder", or write down a GTD-style "next action" perhaps. (With a time estimate for that next action, I'd suggest.) Even if it's a token action, it's better than nothing, right?

Thanks for the kudos, I really like AF2NDP5 and hope that others will too. Time will tell if anyone will give it a try, but so far one person has agreed to. (Yes, I know the name sucks, but I'd rather let the system evolve first, then come up with a name for the final system.)
July 29, 2013 at 19:15 | Registered CommenterDeven

If you've been working on a Focus task and need a break, you're not required to stay on the Focus list for the next task -- after looking through it, if nothing stands out, then you switch back to the Main list and select something. If what you need is a "relief task", that's where you're likely to find one.

As for sorting your list, if you have tasks that you want to do today but don't HAVE to do (such as exercise), put those on your Main list. The Focus list isn't for self-imposed deadlines, but for hard deadlines you have no control over, such as filing your taxes by April 15. And for things that are truly urgent, drop-everything must-do tasks. Not for everything you're behind schedule on.

How many of your 12 tasks are truly urgent? How many have a hard deadline you can't control with consequences you need to avoid?
July 29, 2013 at 19:21 | Registered CommenterDeven
Hi Devon
If I didn't already have my system, I'd certainly give it a go. In fact, much of your system embraces the same principles. We just want to make sure that we are current with our important work and free enough to choose work we like. For my mind, I like choosing MITs and get the option of quitting for the day (or an early week) if I get all my MITs done. That's my carrot....freedom to do what I like along with being responsible. When I'm able, I've gone into overdrive just to end the week early guilt free or even a couple of weeks (surgery). I just want to keep that nagging out of my brain. It interferes with my higher thinking....or lower thinking when I want that! LOL!
July 29, 2013 at 19:37 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Oops, you're right - Learning's version is just a few MITs. Your Focus list can be longer -- as long or as short as it ends up when you sort the tasks.

Of my 12 tasks, none are urgent today. The family would suffer if I put off 5 of more than a few days. Others would suffer if I put off 2 for too long. And I'd not meet my personal goals if I put off 5. Looking at them like that, maybe I have too many personal goals. Something to consider.

Your Focus list is much shorter than I'd thought at first.

I'm going to play around with up to four lists and see what happens. First attempt:

1. Focus. Has a firm deadline.

2. Milestone. Intermediate deadlines for a project with a hard deadline. (Hmm, those are already on the Focus list.) Also for personal goals, such as exercise and studying.

3. Whenever. (Mostly reading and hobbies I can pick up or drop easily. There isn't much between "really should do" and "project that will suck me in".

4. Hibernation (my version of Someday/Maybe or Dismissed. Projects that will suck me in.)
July 29, 2013 at 23:06 | Registered CommenterCricket
Hi Cricket
You must have an iron will. If I had exercise, reading, hobbies et al on my work list, I'd surely resent my work far more or I'd surely cave in and do them instead. LOL! I intentionally choose more lukewarm breaks such as visiting a few allowable internet visits, walk my dog, listen to music while I work and music that doesn't cause me to want to pick up an instrument, etc...I know what activities can put me into a trance. For the sake of my work, it's best for me to keep them separate from my work hours. LOL!
July 30, 2013 at 0:37 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Exercise needs to be on the list, or I won't do it. I have goals for several of my hobbies, to keep my mind stretching, but those often slide. In theory, working on them will keep up my stamina for when I return to work. In practice, though, they often slide and I wonder where my day went. My problem isn't too much that I have to do for others, but the inability to get done what I choose. Fingers crossed that, when a paycheque rides on my ability to focus, it will be easier.
July 30, 2013 at 3:31 | Registered CommenterCricket
Hi Cricket
Now I see why you might have better willpower than I have. Our "problems" are the exact opposite. I can always do what I choose to do unless my disabilities make it absolutely impossible. If the work is heavy with resistance, it's much harder but I can still do it. My greatest problem is what I have to do for others. They are the only work on my list that causes resistance. I would never choose high resistance work for own projects. If I chose the project, even if I fail several times before successfully completing it, that doesn't cause long term resistance. When I get overwhelmed or stalemated temporarily, I want to go back and try again even when it vexes me. I chose the challenge. OTOH, meeting responsibilities that are totally inimical to my thinking process (think boredom and tedium) are NEVER chosen my me. These are invariably responsibilities I must meet. Over 90% of all my mental resistance would disappear if I no longer had to do required work. LOL! If I decide it's an MIT, I'll do it but it's sometimes an arduous, uphill battle to the end. I'm always glad when my responsibilities are finished for the day. Phew!
July 30, 2013 at 5:20 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
I can attest to the fact that good pay for work can be a fabulous incentive. When I was in the workforce, sometimes I'd work 17 hour shifts Friday, Saturday and Sunday on top of my 40 hour workweek. At that point, exhausting myself like that was almost always for the money. Sometimes I'd put extra work on my back when I opened doors for me. In fact, when I was crunching through mountains of work during those 17 hour crunches, I'd mentally attach what the payoff way. It usually related to a great vacation afterwards or a new car or a better house. Visualizing the WHY got me to stay the course (with the help of lots of coffee!) After that, I'd sleep about 9-10 hours. It was hard, blissful sleep...just to start at my day job. But it was worth it. In my job, the money was mostly in side jobs, not the salary.

Good luck with your new job. I hope you enjoy it!
July 30, 2013 at 5:38 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go

I'm not suggesting that exercise shouldn't be on your list, only that it doesn't need to be on the Focus list that I'm suggesting. The criteria was urgency or hard deadlines, not importance. (Of course, that's just my current theory -- maybe there's a better way!)

I'll be curious how your experiment with four lists turns out, though you could just as easily name them (1) Must, (2) Should, (3) Can and (4) Won't. :)

In my experience, every time I try to make a separate Someday/Maybe list, everything on it gets forgotten forever. Therefore, I've tried to avoid it with AF2NDP5.
July 30, 2013 at 14:35 | Registered CommenterDeven
Hi Devon
I disagree with your assertion that exercise shouldn't be on Cricket's Focus List. In most cases, Importance trumps urgency. If you allow urgency to always rule your prioritization, you can get mired in busywork. Cricket stated that she needs for it to appear on her list. Otherwise, she won't do it. I'm surmising that since she put it on her focus list, it's a habit that has much importance for her. Many times, I've used my CI to fine-tune habits or learn something new. I admire Cricket for prioritizing learning a habit that's obviously so beneficial to her well-being. I'd rather have good fitness habits than being led by the nose by all and sundry urgencies. She's appealing to higher principles and quality of life issues. I find her efforts to be laudable.
July 30, 2013 at 15:11 | Unregistered CommenterLearning As I go
I was giving Cricket feedback on how THIS idea works, and for this idea, exercise doesn't meet the criteria I was suggesting for a Focus list, since it isn't urgent and doesn't have a hard deadline.

As I recall, Mark's recommendation for things like exercise is to block out regular times on your calendar for regular commitments (such as exercise), rather than treating it as a to-do task.

Also consider that my system (AF2NDP5) already has prioritization, and if she uses that system, she could certainly mark exercise at a top priority level. I'm just saying it belongs in the Main list, not the Focus list. (Unless she wants to include it as one of the "very few" other tasks to promote from the Main list.)

Mind you, I'm not claiming this Focus/Main list idea is the best approach to take -- it's an idea that I only just thought of the other day, and it may not pan out well, for all I know. For now, I'm giving it a chance before considering more tweaks to the system.

This idea isn't about ignoring importance, nor about letting urgency trump importance. It's about recognizing that you can only focus on a short list, not a long one. You can have a lot of critically-important tasks on your Main list, but if you automatically put them all on your Focus list, it defeats the purpose entirely. (Cricket said she assigned 11 of 12 to the Focus list when she tried sorting her tasks!)

The idea behind the "very few" rule was to allow 1-3 of the MOST important tasks (whatever they may be) to occupy the Focus list, because that's few enough to actually focus on! You can always promote another important task from the Main list every time you finish one of those "very few" tasks on the Focus list.

I also admire Cricket for prioritizing exercise in her life; I haven't managed to do that. I'm just saying that by default, it belongs in the Main list, according to THIS particular idea. If she doesn't care for this idea, she can always take another approach. I may end up discarding this approach and come up with something different for AF2NDP6, but for now it seems workable.
July 30, 2013 at 19:36 | Registered CommenterDeven
Arghhh! Two hours ago I wrote a long reply, and it didn't go through! Sigh.

Reading later posts, I see a difference in the way we work. You work from your main list. I work from a day list which I create from the master list (or from a week list). The day list usually includes a mix of priorities. It's intentionally optimistic.

It's your system, so it applies to the way you work. I'm just playing at the margins.

How long is your Focus list? What time-frame does it cover? I have room in my life for several mid- and low-importance projects, although some weeks I have to focus on only the high-importance ones. Your life is probably different.

I try to block out routine times for routine tasks. Some things work best done at set times and in a set order. Even then, I like having those tasks on the day's list. It gives me flexibility if I don't finish the routine tasks in the block, or if I need to use the block for something else. Also, blocking out time for routine tasks can, if done blindly, lead to doing unimportant things just because it's the right time.

As for exercise, it's important, urgent, and has a firm (but unknown) deadline. I have middle-age creep, which increases the chance of permanent problems. I have time now to work through the "takes more energy than it gives" stage, but might not have the time later. So, it goes on my Focus list. (I don't expect it to go on yours, just saying why it goes on mine.)

I started today with an intentionally optimistic list, sorted by Daily, Focus and Other. Kept to schedule very well in the morning, but lost ground at lunch and when shopping with the kids.

I like Must, Should, Could, Won't. MSCW.

Must is urgent and important, usually but not always things for other people. Includes new routines (in moderation). Urgent means staying on schedule, not just final deadline.

Should is maintenance that can slide a bit and studying. I was going to include getting ahead of schedule here, but this category usually bloats. I'm comfortable leaving pulling ahead of schedule for the next category, since my schedules are usually conservative.

Could is getting ahead of schedule. I'm rarely in this section, so it cannot include projects that benefit from consistent effort. Those projects are either On (M or S) or Off (W).

Won't is those things I'm sacrificing now so I can finish other things more efficiently.

And now I'm thinking of Covey's four quadrants. Must is Q1. Should and Could are both Q2 (important not-urgent). Q3 doesn't exist for me -- if it's not important, it cannot be urgent. Won't is Q4 -- not urgent, and not worth doing, but might get promoted when I have time to do them right.
July 30, 2013 at 22:01 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
It's your system. I admire the operating principles but I'll leave the rules to those why do better following rules.

When I hear a recommendation, I'll process it. Mark recommends scheduling exercise. That's a good recommendation but some people prefer to exercise at different times in the day. That's the way it is with rules and recommendations. They work for some but not others. OTOH, principles can be applied in many ways. Example: "Vickie when I wake up I'll call you to go water skiing. It'll be about 2ish." If what I already planned for 2-6pm isn't as enjoyable as water skiing, then I'll say, "Heck, yeah! thanks!" When everybody is done skking, somebody says, "Let's go dancing tonight. Who's in?" These are not scheduled exercise. It's lifestyle.

Cricket makes her list to suit her lifestyle needs. I think she was keeping to the principles behind your rules. She simply made them work for how she best operates. OTOH, you want people to test your system. When Mark presented AF1, I honestly tried it and failed miserably with it. He was gracious and said thanks for giving it a go. I love his DIT. I've been using it for years. I changed it to suit me. He never gave me grief for now following the rules. He said he was glad it helps me. All I'm saying is that some people will be able to follow the rules. Maybe many more will be helped by just applying the principles. You did a fine job with both the principles and the rules.....but I think the true power is in the great principles you employed to create your promising system. I hope it goes well for you and whoever can benefit from it. Nothing personal, I've always been led by principles vs rules unless I was in a situation where I was forced to follow the rules. LOL!
July 31, 2013 at 5:50 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go

To give you a snapshot of my current list (at work), my Main list contains 1 triple-starred task, 13 double-starred tasks, 12 single-starred tasks and 46 unstarred (low-priority) tasks. My Focus list currently contains 1 quadruple-starred task (a long-delayed task for someone that I just elevated to a top priority), 3 triple-starred tasks (monthly report due today, a very important task that's relatively urgent which I want to focus on completing ASAP, and another important task that I'm supposed to work on before I go on vacation next week),and 1 double-starred task (an easy task which is neither important nor urgent, but seems like it should have been done long ago, so I elevated it as one of the "very few" tasks to focus on). There are currently no unstarred or single-starred tasks on my Focus list.

So I have 72 tasks on my Main list (of varying priorities) and 5 tasks on my Focus list (almost all high-priority). My intent is not to work exclusively from the Focus list, but simply to make sure those tasks are guaranteed more attention in the task selection process and are therefore more likely to be selected. I would rather if the Focus list were shorter, but at the moment I have to juggle some high priorities.

As for the time-frame of my Focus list, the concept doesn't really apply. There is no time frame for the Focus list except perhaps ASAP. It's not "today's list" as yours appears to be.

I see your point about blocking out time for flexible routine tasks, and I tend to agree it might be problematic. I was just passing along what I had seen Mark say about such things. (I think the example he used was learning a foreign language?) Do you think the Focus rule should be modified to account for this? My concern is that this could cause the list to become unfocused as too many tasks end up on it. Having a third list is clearly an option, but is that needed complexity? I'm not sure about this.

Your mention of "rarely" being in the Could section reminds me of the neglected "Someday/Maybe" list again. That's part of what worries me about separating Should from Could. Using AF2NDP5, I can use prioritization within the main list to give the shoulds more attention without completely neglecting the coulds (and even the won'ts)...
July 31, 2013 at 15:46 | Registered CommenterDeven
learning as I go:

Rules worry me somewhat, as I don't want to feel like the rules of a system are attempting to put me into a straitjacket, especially rules which say you MUST do something. It doesn't take much compulsion for me to resist the system itself.

I completely agree that what works for one person won't necessarily work for the next, and several of Mark's systems don't work for me at all. Of all of Mark's systems, AF1 seems to have the most staying power, and if it just dealt with urgent tasks better, it would be ideal for many people. A number of systems since then have attempted to keep what's good about AF1 while improving on it, usually finding that's easier said than done. AF2NDP5 is my latest attempt, following up on several attempts by Mark and nuntym. I'm happy with it so far, but I'm always open to ideas for improvement, so AF2NDP6 is quite foreseeable, even though I have no idea what I might want to change.

I'm sorry if you feel like I was giving Cricket grief for not following the rules. I wasn't -- I was trying to clarify that what she was doing was something different than what I was suggesting, and therefore she might get different results. If she finds a way that works better for her, more power to her! I'd like to hear what she does and maybe try it myself. She and I seem to think alike and have similar needs from a system, so if she comes up with a beneficial tweak, I'm quite interested. I consider all of these systems to be works in progress, open to improvement.

I absolutely agree that principles are more important than rules, and the principle behind the rule I was discussing with Cricket is that you can only focus on a few things, and allowing too many items into the Focus list runs the risk of turning it into an Unfocused list, at which point you might as well not even bother with having the separate Focus list in the first place...
July 31, 2013 at 16:00 | Registered CommenterDeven
Hi Devon
Firstly, I apologize for misinterpreting your words and intentions.

Secondly, I'm not saying that rules don't have their benefits in certain contexts. I only wish that I was better at following rules made by others. Unfortunately, I'm fairly independent so I usually just quietly follow my own rules after I've given the rules a try. If my actions are under somebody else's watch, (i.e. a salaried job, driving on roads, paying taxes in a timely manner, etc.) I can follow rules where it's smart to do so. LOL!

Maybe my brain is too quirky to blend in with rule following folks. I'm sure that following the rules makes their life easier for them to function. Although I got top grades in school, I was banished from the class because I couldn't function and learn like the others. Ergo, I'm used to making up my own rules because I wasn't closely supervised or monitored growing up unless it was something an authority figure wanted me to learn or obey. LOL! I rarely got punished for wrong-doing but I got punished plenty for thinking differently. LOL! Maybe I'm used to governing myself because I am more successful that way. Don't go by me! LOL! I truly think you're on to some great ideas here.
July 31, 2013 at 18:23 | Unregistered CommenterLearning as I go
A few times at my job, my supervisor got admonished by my supervisor for now allowing me to accomplish my work my way. It put me in the hot spot with my bosses, but ultimately, they saw that I accomplished far more with better results when I did things my way and finally left me alone knowing that my crazy methods get great results for me and for them. LOL!

Instead of just drawing, sometimes I'd lay my head on my desk to recreate the surgery I saw and envision what the surgeon wanted to project with my work. I'd play rock and roll or reggae to juice up my thoughts. LOL! True, it looked bad but helped tremendously to get the thing done faster than if I wasted time doing thumbnail sketches. LOL! I'm a hard case. It's not your system.
July 31, 2013 at 18:31 | Unregistered CommenterLearning As I go
learning as I go:

It was a misunderstanding, I just wanted to address it. Sorry for the confusion!

Perhaps your brain doesn't work quite the same as the next person's, but you're certainly not the only one who has trouble following rules laid down by others, especially arbitrary ones!

Frankly, I've always viewed the "rules" of any of these systems to be mere guidelines anyhow. If changing or ignoring the rule works for you, so be it! I've usually had to tweak the systems to fit me. Everyone has different results and no system works well for everyone. I'm trying to find what works well for me, and hoping it will work well for others, but I'm sure some people hate every idea I've tried!

I'm not sure what you're referring to about drawing and surgery? What's that about?
July 31, 2013 at 19:10 | Registered CommenterDeven
Hi Devon
LOL about some rules being a PITA when they don't always work but are still enforced. Government is loaded with reams of rules and regs....most of them people don't follow but they come in handy if they want to harass somebody. LOL! Overall, rules do help maintain a fairly peaceful society. I'm with you about the arbitrary B.S. rules that just get in the way.

I was a Medical Illustrator.
July 31, 2013 at 20:02 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go

After Walt Disney died, there were several bad movies in a row. Finally, yet another leader appeared, and he asked, "Where is the storyboard?" "Walt never used a storyboard, so that's not the way we do it here." When he insisted, the team realized Walt did use a storyboard, but it was in his head.

I suspect you could do in your head faster the same things that other people needed to do in separate steps.
July 31, 2013 at 21:40 | Registered CommenterCricket
Hi Deven,

Don't worry, I didn't hear "grief for not following the rules".

And, after all is said and done, I don't think the system will work for me. However, it's given me better questions to ask before putting each task on my Day list.

I'll put a Focus list in the front of the Master list (from which I create my Day list). This would be a good page to list my Roles. It would force me to pay attention to each one while creating my Day list. Yes, the Focus list will be longer than yours, but covers more parts of my life.

When creating my Day list, I'm going to ask more questions:

Would this project go on an overall Focus list? If it wouldn't, maybe it shouldn't be on the Day list, or maybe it's part of a larger worthy project I haven't consciously identified.

Do I really have time in the next few weeks/months to give it the attention it needs to be worthwhile, or would it be better to focus on already-active projects?

What will happen if I don't work on it today? Will it fall behind? Will I lose momentum on an important project?

Then, when picking what to do in the next hour, use the same questions.

I'm already doing some of that informally.


Why I don't think your system (as I understand it) will work for me:

It opens all the possibilities on the Master list every time I leave the Focus list. This risks reviving too many projects, and going through the Master list takes time. Best done less frequently). Your stars might solve this problem.

It's tempting to spend time reprioritizing tasks that have no chance of making the Focus list in the near future, and even more time fine-tuning the stars on tasks that are close to being added. A long list might be worth dividing into "likely to go on Focus list soon" and "won't go on the Focus list until after year end." Beyond that, though, it's re-organizing with no benefit.

It doesn't look ahead to see if the day (and week) will be balanced, and doesn't tell me in advance if I'll have enough time to finish what I plan.

Without a time-frame, it feels like as I finish the Focus list I'll find more things to put on it, and the list will never end. (An open list.) I'll be stuck doing things on the Focus list and then burn out, meanwhile ignoring things that are "almost" on the list. The feeling is partly inaccurate because Sharpening the Saw (Covey's phrase) is important enough to go on the Focus list fairly often. It's partly accurate because declaring something "important enough for the Focus list" turns it into a chore.


"Could" is things that, while I'm happy to let them sit, don't need long-term commitment to be worth reactivating. Thinking about it, I do spend a fair amount of time in Could. Most reading is in this category. I keep my Hibernating page tidy, so I'm not afraid of losing things on it.


Yes, your Focus list is much shorter than my Day list. Am I right in saying urgent tasks stay on it until done, and new urgent tasks can be added any time. Non-urgent but important tasks stay on it until done, and can only be added when you expect to have time to make significant progress. ?


I'm mixed about using a time frame when creating the Focus list. A time frame keeps the list smaller. It can have less-important items that will be of most benefit done early. On the other hand, it makes it easier to say, "Yes, that's an important project, but not today," repeatedly.

Nothing's perfect.
July 31, 2013 at 21:44 | Registered CommenterCricket
Hi Cricket
Thank you so much for articulating it for me. Sometimes it's even more bizarre than that. There's a part of my brain that I'm not privy to. When it finally has it's eureka moment, it gives a feeling that somewhere in my head I know what to do. I just get the supplies and go to my desk or my easel and pick up an implement. It's like I'm in a trance with this hidden part of my brain directing me. The real me is just passively enjoying the ride. It's almost like watching another artist painting or drawing. You don't know what they're thinking. You're just watching them produce. LOL! I can't explain it but I live for those times. I can't do anything to make it happen. The best that I can do is gather information, doodle, research, whatever. When it clicks, I know it. I turn off my active mind and let it do it's thing. LOL! During the early stages it does in fact feel like I'm watching a film and I'm the narrator. Spontaneously that hidden part of my brain will stop the flick and saturate my consciousness with the answer. Of course, I don't always know what the answer is but when all thought abruptly stops, I know that the answer is there. I just have to abdicate my active control and allow it to happen. LOL! When that would happen, I'd feel VERY GUILTY because I was getting credit for something I didn't really have control over. But it was futile to try to explain the phenomenon to anybody. I didn't want them to think I was crazy. LOL!
August 1, 2013 at 1:34 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Learning, no need to feel guilty! You did a lot of work so that part of your brain had all the tools, information, and space it needed. You did a lot more than your coworkers to learn anatomy and find out up front what the authors wanted to show.

(In the middle ages, they taught anatomy by having a servant dissect the cadaver while the instructor read from Aristotle. Anything that didn't match Aristotle's words was called an abnormality or worse -- even things that were in every single cadaver.)

I can see, though, why your boss's boss would be worried. You didn't use the method that most people find works best to unleash their creativity. You had a blank page for much of the time. Your boss didn't get a chance to help you pick the best view.

Some people are stuck on thumbnails because That's The Way It's Done. Others (like me) find they open the door. Blank page to final product is intimidating. What if I spend hours on something, only to realize I missed a key concept? What if I don't understand the assignment or know what the author is trying to show? (A valid concern, especially for their boss) What if I think of a better solution after investing all that time? A dozen thumbnails are quick and solve all those problems.
August 1, 2013 at 17:47 | Registered CommenterCricket
Hi Cricket
Thank you for assuaging some of my guilt. I went the extra mile to learn the anatomy of some of the animals while the others depended mostly on either the medical photographs taken by their department or by what they saw in the operating room theater. My beef was that you couldn't see it all or understand just by watching it. They had MSMI (master of science medical illustration. Many took premed for their undergraduate b.s. Some of the courses are shared by 1st and 2nd year medical students. That includes cadaver dissection....but only a human or a pig usually. But this is all related to human beings. Because of my quirky brain, I had to UNDERSTAND what I was drawing, especially animals whose anatomy is different (especially if the physiology was different as well.) Trust me, their education is grueling, expensive and hard to get admitted. There are few universities offering an accredited MSMI. One of the ladies got her MSMI at Johns Hopkins no less plus she had a Ph.D. in something to do with oral biology. (She was head of the Dental Research Medical Illustration Department.) My boss's formal medical illustration education was supplanted with 2 tours of duty as a Naval Corpsman attached to the Marines Recon Unit in the Viet Nam War (Most dangerous war duty) Sometimes he was the only guy who could do any surgery in the field after he was transported down from a chopper. He knew surgery first hand! Naaaa, I just wanted to understand the animals' anatomy first hand so it would be easier to understand and be able to do what the surgeon wanted of me (in case some of what he wanted in his drawings were hidden by blood or other organs.) I had total respect for all the artists and photographers in that department. Both of the medical photographers were also trained for medical visual arts plus they were corpsmen in the Viet Nam war also. Truth be told, I was forced to make a choice by the dean. Either drop out and take my courses again or get expelled. It was punishment because they had some film of me on campus during the Protest strikes. Eh...they did it on purpose. I was carrying a 3.9 and they waited until final exam week to do this to me even though the protests were months before. I was NOT going to pay another 20 plus K to take the same semester again. (This was the early 70's. Now it's about 50-60K. I wasn't that rich! LOL....I didn't care. I like the challenge of studying extra to learn my assignments. The doctors appreciated it also. My boss also did lots of extra beyond the 8-4:30 day. That's why we made so much extra money. Plus I LOVED the experience of combining science with art. If there was such a thing as an art position coupled with mathematics, I would have loved that even more! LOL! (I minored in mathematics) Doctors from other departments came to us because their artists weren't very ambitious. Government workers....pfffft! LOL!
Even though they weren't particularly ambitious, I still respected all of them. It's a difficult job. I don't blame them for not wanting to get immersed in it. LOL! I ended up quitting. It was too much because I couldn't ever do 8-4:30 and leave the docs hanging. In fact, I'd be humiliated if doctors had to go to artists outside your department because you won't life a finger after 4:30pm. LOL!
August 2, 2013 at 6:18 | Unregistered CommenterLearning as I go
Cricket, are you also a professional artist?
August 2, 2013 at 6:19 | Unregistered CommenterLearning as I go
I was never afraid to shred my work and start again IF my brain clicked and had THE ANSWER. This doesn't include having to do work over again because the docs would approve work and change their minds sometimes ad nauseam! (I made plenty of money off those chronic wafflers! LOL!) I'm talking about just doing a rendering the usual way and then that thing would spontaneously happen in my brain. At first my boss would go ape **it when he saw me do it "What are you doing? You've been working on that for almost a week and it's due at the end of the day!" I'd say, "Trust me, It will be done." Then the trance would get it done. After a few times of seeing this, my boss would sometimes just watch me do it. LOL! He'd shake his head. That's part of the reason I got the nickname the 11th hour artist. I was fast....once I truly felt like I understood it and my brain gave me a picture in my head or just do it for me. Unfortunately, I had no control over making it happen. I had to grind out lots of work the regular way. LOL!

A few times I did non medical outside contracts. It was a crap shoot. Most of the time they had lousy taste but I'd do for the money. I'd NEVER sign my name or my mark to those. I'd do a different signature/mark so nobody would know it was me! LOL! Those most embarrassing one was a psychedelic album cover for an acid rock group. It was horrendous looking but the rockers loved it! That is going with me to my grave! (I did like the couple of parties they had but I never used the damn concert tickets. My friends would have ribbed me for the rest of my life! LOL!) Menu covers and romantic novel covers were also embarrassing....yuck! I tried to steer clear of them. A lot of money can be made if you're willing to please people with bad taste! LOL! Then I did oil and pastel portraits. That's another area I ditched. They want their good features to be realistic and their bad features to be altered, their age and weight decreased also! LOL! Medical art didn't involve all that pandering to peoples' taste. My experience with gallery showings were disastrous! Not my kind of people! LOL!

Did you also get stuck with getting contracts forcing you to use bad taste? I just didn't have the personality for it. *blush*
August 2, 2013 at 7:34 | Unregistered CommenterLearning as I go
I'm a knitter, former amateur author (too many other shiny things), and a storyteller. I hang out with some world-renowned storytellers, so I appreciate the work that goes into good art, but don't have any wish to actually put in the 10,000 hours myself. I'm also a technical writer, very focused on what we want the audience to do. (Currently wondering if I should put photos on a guild FB page rather than a website. I hate FB, but it creates more engagement than a website. Sigh.)

I'm willing to do small websites for pay, but there's not much market between "so cheap I'll do it myself" and "big bucks". As for knitting, minimum wage means $100 socks.
August 2, 2013 at 18:42 | Registered CommenterCricket
Hi Cricket
Wow! You seem to have several engaging and varied interests/passions. I'd surmise that since you have so many areas of interest that you're lifestyle is quite satisfying. That's truly admirable!
August 2, 2013 at 18:56 | Unregistered CommenterLearning as I go
Here's the link where I describe this week's test of this method. I'm calling it Focus & Relief. I will be posting the link to my review on 8/9/13. Thanks for the idea, Deven!
August 7, 2013 at 22:34 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
Here's my review of Deven's method. I really feel like I learned something new about what helps me be productive in doing it. Maybe you will too.
August 10, 2013 at 0:07 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson

Sorry I didn't respond to your review before now; I was on vacation from August 6 through August 15 and have been too busy to get to it...

I'm glad you enjoyed using the system and found it effective. I'd be interested to discuss the issues you had with it; I'm always interested in improving the system!

I have to wonder if calling the Main list a "Relief" list may have changed the feel of the system? It wasn't my intention for that list to contain recreational tasks to provide relief from the Focus list, though it certainly can! My intention was that MOST tasks would be on the Main list, with just a few on the Focus list. My original name of "Whenever" list was to reflect that these tasks -- while potentially important -- didn't necessarily NEED to be focused upon, because they aren't urgent and don't have a hard deadline. However, I realized the name "Whenever" seemed to imply "Who Cares?" a little too much (as "Someday/Maybe" does), so I decided Main list was a better name. Personally, I wouldn't call it a Relief list, but to each his/her own!

You said that this system gave you a true focus list and helped you accomplish non-deadlined tasks. Great! That was the idea, and the intended result of the separate Focus list. Allowing "very few" regular tasks into the Focus list was intended to allow for either a Current Initiative or Top 3 to focus on completion of those tasks, while keeping the Focus list short enough for true focus on those tasks. You also said that it gave you an alternate reward for work. That sounds like a natural outcome of following an Autofocus-style system capturing everything.

As for the things that made you crazy...

(1) "Resisted starting with the Relief list." The idea was to ensure the Main list wasn't entirely starved for attention, which has happened for me before with a "Someday/Maybe" list. However, I'm not sure it's really necessary or helpful, and I've found myself resisting this rule too. I'm inclined to discard this rule, especially considering the value of the "Eat That Frog" idea...

(2) "Resisted the other rules, too." AF2NDP5 -- what you called "Focus & Relief" -- was derived from nuntym's AF2ND (as we discussed before). Thinking about it, I suspect the separate Focus list may obviate the need for AF2ND's approach of rewriting old tasks during the task selection process...

(3) "Difficult to identify the 3 Relief tasks on the Focus list." That's okay, you weren't meant to distinguish or track them.

Right now I'm wondering how well stock AF1 would work with the Focus/Main list idea alone?
August 19, 2013 at 22:20 | Registered CommenterDeven
Deven, thanks so much for your thorough response that had not a hint of defensiveness. I love that.

I honestly was thinking the same thing...that AF would probably function very well with a separate focus list. AF1 fans would do well to try it. I think it eliminates the need to worry about getting to the end of the list where the current/urgent tasks reside. It would also reduce anxiety about the size of the main list. With time, the list will be weeded anyway with your directions to eliminate tasks regularly. It's amazing how many tasks become irrelevant given a little time. Having a focus list also keeps us from tackling those main list tasks that really shouldn't be attended to. Doing AF had me doing things just to do them, even if they were pointless.

I decided to add fun tasks to what I called the Relief list because when I was doing AF1, I sprinkled my list with things that I wanted to do like read or watch a show to keep me motivated to use the list all day long. Now I'm thinking that I would rather have built-in breaks throughout the day. I don't need the reminders for recreational time.

Thanks again for the discussion and feedback, Deven. Hope you had a wonderful vacation.
August 20, 2013 at 20:32 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
I hope that wasn't sarcastic! I don't feel any reason to be defensive about it; nothing is a magic bullet that works for everyone, and I'm always open to ideas for improvement. I'm just hoping to settle on a system that works well for me. If it works well for others, all the better. Certainly I love getting feedback from others because it stimulates thinking about how to refine and improve the system, which I'm always interested in.

If you haven't read Mark's own review of AF1 from a couple years ago, I recommend reading it:

One thing I've noticed over several years of reading these forums is that AF1 seems to be the system with the most "staying power", despite its known limitations. Many people seem to love using it, find it effective and easy to use (even addictive), don't feel resistance to the system, etc. Mark has returned to AF1 over and over again. This suggests to me that AF1 is nearly perfect, and the "perfect" system (if there is such a thing) ought to be very similar to AF1.

Although AF2NDP5 is still rather new, I'm going to try a new system starting today, which I think I'll call AF1NDF1 for now. (Autofocus 1, No Dismissal, Focused, version 1) This is in my tradition of horrible acronyms for experimental systems! :) (Mainly, I don't want to "use up" a good name until the rules are settled. Otherwise I might call this "Stereo Autofocus" or something...)

AF1NDF1 is AF1 (sans dismissal) with a Focus list:

* Keep two lists: a long Main list containing almost everything (universal capture), and a short Focus list containing only urgent tasks, tasks with hard deadlines and up to 3 others that would otherwise belong on the Main list. (This allows focusing on a "Top 3" or a "Current Initiative".)

* Add new items to the end of the appropriate list (usually the Main list).

* Move tasks between lists at will, subject to the limits on the Focus list.

* To select a task to work on, always start at the beginning of the Focus list and consider each task in turn until a task "stands out". (Tasks which are no longer relevant should be deleted from the list as they are considered.)

* If no task on the Focus list "stands out", return to the Main list (at whatever point you last left it) and continue to consider each task from that point forward until you find a task that "stands out".

* Work on the selected task for as long as you feel like doing so.

* Cross the task off the list, and rewrite it at the end of the same list if you haven’t finished it.

* Return to the start of the Focus list and repeat the procedure above to select the next task.

That's it. Almost as simple as AF1 itself, I hope. I'm eager to see how well it works. Personally, I'll use 3x5 index cards (since I like them), but the page size doesn't matter here. I suspect it might work well for the Focus list to be on a Post-It note, which could be moved through the Main list to show the location to return to.

Note that unlike previous systems I've tried, I am NOT including any sort of manual prioritization in these rules, in the hope that the Focus list may obviate the need for it. I will probably still add stars to tasks purely as visual markers to remind me of important tasks, but only to help me find good candidates to "promote" to the Focus list, and I don't think that necessarily needs to be part of the official processing rules.
August 20, 2013 at 22:20 | Registered CommenterDeven
Deven, I use an AF1 variation, based on ideas different, but to certain extent similar, to yours:

1) Focus list: it is restricted to 10 items. I activate each item in strict order. When a big rock enters the focus list it will remain until finished, broken up iteration after iteration. When an item is finished, its place on the focus list is occupied by a new item selected from the Main list (see 2) and I go on working on the Focus List.

2) main list (universal capture): It is used to collect everything and it is used to select items to be moved to the focus list, as of 1). I process the main list selecting one item for the specific page, then moving to the following page the next time a new item is needed to be added to the focus list. This has two advantages:
i) fast circulation of the list (due to the selection of only one item per page, than considering the following page)
ii) as time goes on, also the oldest items get attention, as they remain the few alone on a page, and you have to decide between dismissing or moving it to the focus list.
It’s a few months now I’m following these rules, and they work in a decent way.
August 21, 2013 at 8:58 | Unregistered Commenternick61

<< Doing AF had me doing things just to do them, even if they were pointless. >>

That's why it's important to keep the list well-weeded. If a task becomes pointless it should be removed from the list. I recommend keeping a recurring "Weed List" task on the list.
August 21, 2013 at 10:58 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Nick61, that does sound similar, but how do you deal with urgent tasks? That was always seen as the main weakness of AF1, and what I'm trying to solve here. Also, while I don't have a strict limit on the length of the Focus list, it should hopefully be much less than 10 items, except for people with lots on their plates perhaps.

The idea behind limiting my Focus list to urgent tasks and tasks with hard deadlines was that those are the tasks you really don't want to lose in the middle of a long list. However, because it's helpful to focus on a task or three (Current Initiative or Top 3), I figured it would be good to allow up to three extra tasks that otherwise belong in the Main list. On the other hand, I see nothing wrong with having an empty Focus list, if there is nothing urgent and there are no hard deadlines to worry about. Keeping an extra task or three on the Focus list is entirely optional.
August 21, 2013 at 14:44 | Registered CommenterDeven

<< That's why it's important to keep the list well-weeded. If a task becomes pointless it should be removed from the list. I recommend keeping a recurring "Weed List" task on the list. >>

What's wrong with just deleting such tasks as you encounter them? I've always found routine maintenance tasks burdensome, personally. That's what killed GTD for me; I could never keep up with the weekly review and without that, the system fell apart.
August 21, 2013 at 14:46 | Registered CommenterDeven

<<how do you deal with urgent tasks?>>. I put an urgent task directly on the focus list. I strongly fight to limit these cases to a minimum.

<<while I don't have a strict limit on the length of the Focus list, it should hopefully be much less than 10 items>>. I have generally 2 or 3 tasks that requires quite a few hours/days to complete (my big rocks, id est, read a 100 page technical report and make resume and comments), some recurring ordinary tasks (process email, ...) the currente initiative and a few single-shot tasks selected from the Main list: so 10 is a good number for me, but obviously could be any other number. The important thing, in my opinion, is to have not too many task, in order not to leave too much time between two consecutive esecution of the "big rocks" (the idea it to force "little and often" in contrast with "little and too seldom", as in pure AF) and, on the other hand, is to have not too few tasks in order to leave space for the execution of some one-shot tasks selected from the Main list.

<<On the other hand, I see nothing wrong with having an empty Focus list, if there is nothing urgent and there are no hard deadlines to worry about. Keeping an extra task or three on the Focus list is entirely optional>>. This is the big difference between our approches: for me the Focus list *is mandatory*: I only work on it, circulating in strict order through the 10 (circa) items. It's like SMEMA, replacing 3 with 10 and using the main list to select an item to write in the focus list as soon as you finish one of the ten. Consider that when you perform that selection you are creating a fairly big time space between the selection and the subsequent execution of the item , reducing the psycological resistence to commit to a difficult/heavy Mark explained us somewhere in the forum.
August 21, 2013 at 16:39 | Unregistered Commenternick61
Yeah, that's a different sort of Focus list. I wonder which approach works better?
August 21, 2013 at 17:14 | Registered CommenterDeven
Hi Devon
I think the implementation of a focus list should be used according to your abilities and needs. Some days I might spend over 12 hours on just one project. That's my MIT along with necessary batching/maintenance tasks. Other days, I have a few MITs. When I'm picking off several one offs I don't even bother writing them down on the MIT list. I'll simply note the category. example:Accounts. The trick is to stay current or ahead with most of your work so that you can freely work on your projects plus the maintenance stuff. For my brain, I need a focus list which has my MITs. I don't set rules on how to create it other than having the goal to stay current and/or move forward. Contexts change. Therefore, I don't think having rigid rules to create a focus list would work for me. As I've stated before, my only rule for creating my MITs is to use it to help my focus on the important work. It's sort of a balancing act. For a switch, I'll work on less resistance producing work to refresh my mind. I get more done that way. My big project(s) get done while I'm also staying current on all the recurring and one off jobs. IOW, my list decides my focus.....but....(and why I don't have strict rules) if I'm in an excellent flow pattern, I'll stay with it as long as I can. If there's other work due today, I'll usually pick that off first so that I have the freedom to devote to my project without the worry of the other necessary stuff. If the other stuff can safely wait, I might work on the project for 10-12 hours if I'm enjoying the challenge. That's the beauty of staying current before something becomes urgent. Problem solving, designing and other creative thinking needs a free least for me.

Summary: When rules serve me, I'll use them. I primarily rely on my judgement to decide what my day's work is. And I use my judgement to adjust it when it's to my benefit. Some long jobs require a lot of time and application of thought. When I'm lucky enough to fall into a great flow pattern, I want to have the freedom to go with it without niggling thoughts about other work that can easily wait for another opportunity. I think nick61 and you are after the same thing. You want focus. You'll just have to experiment to discover how to get and keep that focus in your various demands and circumstances. I write my MITs as a day list yet I feel free to to other work as well as completing my WILL DO Today list....or not. Once the MITs are completed, it's my choice to do whatever I want! LOL!
August 21, 2013 at 18:09 | Unregistered CommenterLearning as I go
Deven, I was definitely not being sarcastic--one of the limitations of this medium. I have enjoyed the discussion a lot. One of the things I forgot to mention as a pro for your method was it got me into the habit of giving myself credit for unfinished tasks again. That is a big issue for me. I get frustrated if I keep working on something, but can't quit cross it off. I hope your new approach bears fruit for you.

Mark, I think the fault was mine in that I thought I was being "good" if I got everything done on the list when in actuality, deciding not to do some things can be even better.

Learning, I completely agree with you. It makes no sense to try to force yourself into a certain number of MITs when it doesn't apply. Some days I have a large number of smaller MITs and others I have one that will consume the entire day. If we ignore the voice of reason, we'll find our inner rebel will say forget work then. What you're doing makes perfect sense, although certain personalities will feel more comfortable with rules. :-)
August 21, 2013 at 18:41 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Wilson
Learning as I go:

Firstly, do whatever works for you. But when it comes to the "rules" for a Focus list that I'm using, nothing stops you from bending the rules if that works for you. If you wanted to try this system, you could just decided that for yourself, your practice will be to add ALL of your MITs for the day to your Focus list, even if there's more than 3. Nobody will slap your wrist for exceeding the limit, it was just meant as concrete guidance for avoiding a "Focus" list which becomes so long that it's unfocused after all.

This is pure speculation, but I suspect the Focus list becomes harder to mentally track when it exceeds the limit of how many things you can juggle in your head at once. Melanie might know the research on this, but I seem to recall reading that the limit varies from person to person, but it's about 7 items, give or take one or two? Personally, my goal would be to keep the Focus list below this limit whenever possible.

To give you a sense of scale, when I converted my AF2NDP5 list to an AF1NDF1 list today (rewrote everything in chronological sequence on index cards for both the Main list and the Focus list -- previously had one index card per task), I ended up with a Main list containing 71 tasks and a Focus list containing 3 tasks. I thought of two more tasks for the Focus list, so now there's 5 on that list. I'm hoping the size of the Main list isn't a problem, but I strongly believe that the Focus list needs to be kept short to be effective. How short? That answer likely varies from person to person. I offered guidelines that I expect will work for me, and hopefully for others. (I realize there will be times when I'm juggling a lot of things and my Focus list may have a dozen tasks, but those hectic times will be exactly when I most need that list to cope with it!)

So in summary, feel free to ignore the "rules" on what to put in the Focus list and include whatever suits you -- but don't be surprise if the Focus list isn't helpful, should it grow too long!
August 21, 2013 at 20:26 | Registered CommenterDeven

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