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Discussion Forum > Stop the presses! Flexible Autofocus is here!

I do not know whether I am blowing things out of proportion here, but I have to say that FAF might just be THE most important time management system made by Mark Forster.

I say this because, being one of the oldest members of the website, I can remember how important AF1 was. Autofocus 1 was originally THE Autofocus, and it was amazing how simple and effective AF1 was compared to the other ways of handling tasks at the time. As I mentioned in the blog article announcing FAF, it only had the glaring and crippling problem with how it handled urgent tasks. This website grew from that point on because all the other systems made later by Mark were either attempts to fix this handling of urgent items by AF1 (the other autofocuses from AF2 to SuperFocus and DWM) to outright abandoning of the original "standing out" process (randomizer, FV/FVP, No-List systems, etc). Even the other members (like me) started to tweak and make their own task management systems.

There however was a problem with all the proposed systems to improve and replace AF: they do not FEEL like AF1. AF1 has a unique feel and even fun to it that even with its flaws made it an efficient way to handle tasks.

But if FAF can hold to its promise of being flexible and still retain the feel and fun of using AF1, then this one system has just made almost all the other systems in this website obsolete.

And that just might be the case. I have been using FAF since yesterday and, although it might be too early to tell, FAF does retain the feel of AF1, and yet it handles urgent items flawlessly.
January 9, 2017 at 17:37 | Registered Commenternuntym
I'm very excited about this modification to AF1 as well, I also happened upon this site when AF1 was first developed. I remember being amazed at how quickly I got caught up with my work. I have one question about dismissal though - it was one of the most powerful features of AF1. Any way of getting it back? Any thoughts on the implications of not having dismissal? I'm thinking, if, like AF1, you first came across a page where nothing stood out, you still put the page "on notice" for dismissal as per instructions. Moving forward through the system, dismissal would no longer work, but it might still work at least for that first page. Thoughts?
January 9, 2017 at 18:35 | Unregistered CommenterPaul MacNeil
Paul MacNeil: "I have one question about dismissal though - it was one of the most powerful features of AF1. Any way of getting it back?"

I remember Mark and the others talking about the role of dismissal in AF and we had a phase of "no dismissal" for a time here. We did find out that AF1 might work well without the dismissal process (although AF2, AF4 and some others will not), as long as you add a task like "Prune list" or something like that to give yourself permission to streamline your list. I myself do not like AF1's original dismissal procedure and I am happy with just the "Prune list" task in my AF list.

Of course you can add something like an expiration date to the first page or maybe a running counter on the first or more pages you just passed through, but I recommend not adding anything first to your list processing aside from the "streamline list" task line and just get a feel of vanilla FAF.
January 9, 2017 at 19:00 | Registered Commenternuntym
Hi everyone - I too am excited about FAF, and it's quite funny that it's meant to achieve the very opposite of the verb "to faff around": to spend time on a non-productive activity; "waste time". Also faff, faff about. British slang.
January 9, 2017 at 21:47 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret1
Not really sure about the acronym... I guess we could just say that we are faffing around when we use it...

http://onlineslangdictionary.com/meaning-definition-of/faff-around
January 9, 2017 at 22:18 | Unregistered CommenterNenad Ristic
FF
Flexfocus
FlexFocus
FlexAF
Autofocus F
AF Flex
AFlex
January 10, 2017 at 3:43 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
nuntym:

"But if FAF can hold to its promise of being flexible and still retain the feel and fun of using AF1, then this one system has just made almost all the other systems in this website obsolete."

Flexible Autofocus does look really good! I don't think it will make the other systems obsolete though. In fact, Mark seems to be bringing the best of his systems in line with his goal of fast, flexible, systematic methods. It's great!
January 10, 2017 at 4:06 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
Admittedly I have not tried using this latest iteration of Autofocus. However I'm slightly surprised that 'how to do the same old thing' hasn't received more attention. It's actually very simple to do! (Even though it may sound a bit complicated). It seems simpler than this version of AF too... It's also very flexible when starting work anywhere on the list and working from that point.

'Fast flexible and systematic' - thanks Mark for sharing your ideas, this provides a great structure for working out (ones own) systems. As usual (for the folks here) I'm working on a system that includes 'how to do the same old thing' and I will report back, should it survive the next few weeks!
January 10, 2017 at 9:59 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
Leon: "However I'm slightly surprised that 'how to do the same old thing' hasn't received more attention. It's actually very simple to do! (Even though it may sound a bit complicated). It seems simpler than this version of AF too... It's also very flexible when starting work anywhere on the list and working from that point. "

Uh, no. It is anything but flexible; that's how it works, by being inflexible.

As Mark said:

"The point of the 10 is to put pressure on you to do the more difficult tasks, which you might not otherwise get around to.

If you get an urgent task which can't wait until you reach it in the normal course of scanning the list, then do it immediately."

I.e., if you have an urgent thing to do that is beyond 10 tasks from what you last worked with, you'll have to break the rules of the system to do it right away.
January 10, 2017 at 20:32 | Registered Commenternuntym
What is it that makes you so excited about Fast AutoFocus? I am not sure I understand the appeal. It seems to boil down to:
1. Write everything down
2. Scan for whatever stands out
3. Give more attention to the pages where things already do stand out

It has the appeal of simplicity. It uses the "standing out" principle. It's fast.

But I don't see how it would avoid the downsides of catch-all lists in general. Especially, I would expect it to fall prey to the tendency of catch-all lists to process lots of trivia.

I am willing to be proven wrong. :-)
January 10, 2017 at 23:59 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim: "But I don't see how it would avoid the downsides of catch-all lists in general."

OK I have to admit, I had to search and re-read those discussions about the weaknesses of catch-all systems and AF1 in particular, and I was surprised how long ago it was.

I will tackle first the weaknesses particular to AF1:

http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2016/7/25/answer-to-the-puzzle.html

When it comes to <procrastination>, yes dismissal was removed in FAF with nothing to replace it except tidying up the list to keep it current, and yet that tidying up I think will not contribute anything to solving procrastination. However, in using FAF I find myself not being bothered by procrastination much compared to Fast FVP, and I think the reason is that FAF supports better my current thinking on the relationship between work, leisure, play, and rest.

http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2650343

For Fast FVP, I needed a "Relax/Play Card" because the system was not flexible enough to include play and rest in the list. But now with FAF I found I do not need it. I only have to ask myself an algorithm of questions and those are good enough to get me focused. Those questions are:

1. Am I well rested? If yes go to #2, if not take a nap or something like that (if I wanted to I'll mark my "Rest/Nap" task in FAF)

2. Am I relaxed? If yes go to #3, if not take a few deep breaths. If that worked go to #3, if not use FAF to play.

3. Is it leisure time? If yes use FAF for leisure, if not use FAF for work.

This kind of thinking is almost impossible for Fast FVP, but for Flexible AF it's almost trivial. Also, I think this handles your concern about "the tendency of catch-all lists to process lots of trivia."

For <Time spent scanning> and <Time spent choosing>, no actually I did not find this problem.

For <Excessive fragmentation> and <Loss of momentum>, I think this has been offset by FAF's ability to focus on the last pages of the list without neglecting all the other pages of the list. Being able to focus on the last pages of the list encourages "little and often" to a better degree, yet FAF can easily go to the older pages if needed.

The next post I found about the weaknesses of catch-all systems is

http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2016/1/25/types-of-lists-i-the-catch-all-list.html

I really like how this post mentions the "Someday/Maybe" list from GTD. Vanilla AF1 excels at making one by keeping the dismissed pages. I remember having a love-hate relationship with the dismissed pages of AF1 because I will never forget these "Someday/Maybe" tasks as they are written down and even highlighted, but knowing I have these tasks in limbo, waiting for me to decide whether I will do them or not, just gave me anxiety. I am glad FAF took that away.

However this is the verdict of that post as to catch-all systems' biggest flaw: "The biggest advantage is completeness, but this is only achieved at the price of losing focus - or at the very least having to do a lot of work on keeping your focus."

I think I answered that earlier.
January 11, 2017 at 16:07 | Registered Commenternuntym
Seraphim:

<< What is it that makes you so excited about Fast AutoFocus? >>

I assume you mean Flexible Autofocus (FAF)

My experiences with the system after five days are as follows:

1. It's much faster than AF1, even more addictive and even less stressful.

2. The result of being able to pass over pages with just a perfunctory scan is that tasks of similar priority and/or time requirement tend to get clumped together.

3. The result of 2. is that these clumped tasks tend to get cleared together when there is a suitable time available to do them.

4. The clumping also means that you can look at pages on the list and identify what the common features of the remaining tasks are. This makes it easier to consciously or subconsciously identify when the time is ripe to do them.

5. At this stage I feel that I have done the best with the time available.

Here are the stats (there are 31 tasks to a page).

Page 1 24 actioned
Page 2 21
Page 3 31
Page 4 28
Page 5 29
Page 6 30
Page 7 31
Page 8 25
Page 9 31
Page 10 23
Page 11 21
Page 12 1 (out of 9)

That means that out of 350 tasks on the list I have actioned 295, leaving 55 yet to be actioned. I am actioning tasks at an average rate of 59 tasks a day, so. I could in theory clear the whole list in less than one day.
January 11, 2017 at 17:20 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
That's a great explanation, thanks Mark! Sounds very promising!
January 12, 2017 at 18:25 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
59 a day. That's about 10 minutes each, on average (though I suspect the spread is wide), for 12 hours. That tells me how finely you divide your tasks.
January 13, 2017 at 0:12 | Registered CommenterCricket
Cricket:

You're making a lot of assumptions there!
January 13, 2017 at 12:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Average can be a very misleading statistic. I'd be curious to see the actual distribution. And, yes, 12 hours is also an assumption.
January 13, 2017 at 13:01 | Registered CommenterCricket
Cricket:

And also you are assuming in your calculation that I do nothing during those 12 hours which isn't on the list.

And then the question of averages - is a river which has an average depth of 4 feet safe to wade across?
January 13, 2017 at 22:15 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
You're right, I hadn't thought about you doing things not on the list. At 59 things, I'd assumed you'd included everything. (It was a super-bad assumption. Bad assumptions are those you're aware of and make allowances for. That used to be 10% of the mark in engineering school. State your assumptions, and then check them. Super-bad ones are those you aren't even aware you're making.)

As for the average, yep. Hence the curiosity about the distribution. It also assumes each line is exactly one task. One entry might be Make calls. Another Call Bill. Another few lines, for each of the things you want to discuss with Bill.
January 14, 2017 at 16:37 | Registered CommenterCricket
Cricket:

<< One entry might be Make calls. Another Call Bill. Another few lines, for each of the things you want to discuss with Bill. >>

I wouldn't do it that way myself, but some might.
January 14, 2017 at 17:13 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Enjoying FAF after one day. I had a rave review of Fast FVP before but I burned out quickly on it because I was basically starting to work on everything without consideration of what size of tasks I should work on. FAF (speaking of naming conventions, maybe it could be called "AF5"? Or maybe "FlexAF" since we keep mixing it up "Fast" and "Flexible") has me starting a lot of the right things I've been meaning to get started on, because there is some prioritization and consideration of what I'm really ready to get started on.

Cricket:
<< One entry might be Make calls. Another Call Bill. Another few lines, for each of the things you want to discuss with Bill. >>

Mark Forster:

<< I wouldn't do it that way myself, but some might. >>

One of the best things about No-List FVP is that you're working on the last item in the list, and you have room below it to break the task down into a smaller first step, and then break that down further, if needed. I think that helps a lot.

No-List also helped with interruptions and is completely flexible in that regard. Add interruptions that you need to deal with now to the end, then get back to what you were doing afterward (if it's still relevant).

When I was working FAF yesterday, between getting started on some projects that I really wanted to kick off, I dealt with various work-emergencies and broke those down into substeps as needed by adding them to the end and going straight to that.

I actually didn't end up making it to the end of the list at all on my first day (I started with my existing Fast FVP catch-all list).

It seems that FAF is not quite as flexible as I need it to be, unless I switch to putting a No-List FVP on the end when needed.
January 14, 2017 at 22:17 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Don R

<< I actually didn't end up making it to the end of the list at all on my first day >>

The whole idea of FAF is that you can move much faster round the list than with AF1. The ability to move quickly to any part of the list is what gives it its flexibility.
January 14, 2017 at 23:40 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Now that you mention it, with most previous catch-all lists I would barely be able to advance through a page or two in a day, meanwhile it sounds like everyone else is making multiple passes through the notebook. I wonder what I'm doing differently. Except for standard FVP where you reach the best things to do regardless of the location on the list.

I might mark up my list as I work on it with an eye towards diagnosing that.
January 15, 2017 at 16:38 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
I took notes on how I worked on FAF while making a point of moving through the list faster by not letting things "stand out" so easily. I quickly got to the end of the list, where I started doing things in almost a no-list manner. After some thought, I think the problem is that I have been using these systems to try to force myself to do things. I think that's why I took to Fast FVP at first because stopping to do the first task which you can possibly do anything with went along with that concept. But I think in the long run, you can't keep forcing yourself to do things for long.
January 18, 2017 at 16:45 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Mark:

"Contrary to my initial impression, I'm now finding that I prefer Fast FVP to Flexible Autofocus. I may yet change back again!"

Currently:

• Using Flexible Autofocus
• Responding to urgent tasks as described in "Update 3" here: http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2647373
• Deciding which I like better: Fast FVP or Flexible Autofocus.
January 24, 2017 at 4:38 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
Michael B.

And I'm currently using Autofocus - that is to say the first version exactly as written at http://markforster.squarespace.com/autofocus-system/

It's working extremely well.
January 24, 2017 at 14:58 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark:

That's probably a good thing as I've discovered I prefer Flexible Autofocus and No-List FVP to FastFVP! The cognitive-load and decision-fatigue is drastically reduced, it feels addictive and in-sync with my intuition, and I feel more relaxed and focused.
January 25, 2017 at 4:49 | Registered CommenterMichael B.
Mark

I returned to AF1 last week. Though I'm using the variation with a second column to add in urgent items.

Given that January is my busiest month of the year it's working very well. Or, more accurately, it's helping me to work with reduced stress and resistance but still getting lots done.
January 25, 2017 at 10:38 | Registered CommenterCaibre65
Still having a blast with Flexible Autofocus!

Mark: So the new system is a no-go?
January 25, 2017 at 14:33 | Registered Commenternuntym
nunym:

<< So the new system is a no-go? >>

Unfortunately yes!
January 25, 2017 at 20:04 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
This might be an old concept in the website, but I found that there are at least two ways a task can stand out in all variants of AF: the conventional one of "Oh! I want to do this right now!", and the counter-intuitive one of "Oh heck no I'm not going to touch that with a ten foot pole."

There are a few ways to deal with the repellant stand-outs: break them down to smaller tasks, cross them out, schedule each for a committed concentrated effort, delegate them, or outright do them, among possible other ways. Because of these, I found that being more sensitive of the repellant stand-outs is one good way of "dismissing" in FlexAF.
January 31, 2017 at 17:41 | Registered Commenternuntym
After trying both "The Bounce" and "The Natural Selection of Tasks" I have come back to Flexible Autofocus. The two former seem to be good systems but for me Flexible Autofocus is better.

For "The Bounce", what dissuaded me was that I was not willing to discontinue my old list just so I can try it fairly; I used it on my old list. Flexible AF felt better to use. Besides, the two main advantages Mark mentioned about the system-"It is very responsive to circumstances, time of day, etc" and "No need to have separate lists for work, office, home, etc."-are also in Flexible AF, because of "clumping". As mentioned by Mark above,

"Tasks of similar priority and/or time requirement tend to get clumped together. The result...is that these clumped tasks tend to get cleared together when there is a suitable time available to do them. The clumping also means that you can look at pages on the list and identify what the common features of the remaining tasks are. This makes it easier to consciously or subconsciously identify when the time is ripe to do them."

As for "The Natural Selection of Tasks", I sorely missed the "clumping" effect of Flexible AF. Besides, the mentality of my task list as "A wide-ranging list of everything that you might do" has been in my mind for years now; I think that's why I am loathe to discard my list for a new one.

On the side, I thought of using TNSOT's "dismissal" process on Flexible AF but I never did try it because it theoretically fits too perfectly into Flexible AF that it would most likely increase compulsion of doing something in a page just so it would not be dismissed first thing in the morning/last thing in the evening.
February 19, 2017 at 23:26 | Registered Commenternuntym
nuntym,

"After trying both "The Bounce" and "The Natural Selection of Tasks" I have come back to Flexible Autofocus. The two former seem to be good systems but for me Flexible Autofocus is better."

I completely agree.

And I am back to running the whole show from SMEMA, on which I often enter "AF session." The "big rocks" do not get much attention if I leave it all up to AF or any other of these methods, but with SMEMA, I typically enter a big rock in the 2nd or 3rd position. Once I get going, I tend to reenter the same big rock in alternate slots with small things in between, which can be more AF sessions.

I also enter (on SMEMA) things like "tasks @home" meaning I will scan my AF list for stuff that can only be done at home, before I leave for a long period. In that case, I typically scan backward from the end of my AF list.
February 20, 2017 at 1:00 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
Still using vanilla FAF after three months. I probably cheated by choosing this system as my Lenten challenge because it is definitely NOT a challenge to use this system consistently. Everything gets prioritized correctly, urgent items are handled as well as the non-urgent ones, list gets trimmed consistently by "reverse standing-out" that I expounded on a few posts above.

At least for me, this is the perfect task management system. Thanks Mark for developing this!
March 17, 2017 at 5:26 | Registered Commenternuntym
nuntym:

Sounds seductive... Which kind of notebook or digital note-taking device do you use for FAF?
March 17, 2017 at 14:16 | Unregistered CommenterLaby
Hello Laby! I am using this,

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/8883704924

as my notebook, and I have this

http://www.etsy.com/listing/261851365/slim-covers-for-field-notes

for the cover.
March 17, 2017 at 16:39 | Registered Commenternuntym
Interesting choice! Thank you!
March 17, 2017 at 18:48 | Unregistered CommenterLaby
Although the "reverse stand-out" tweak has been effective in trimming down my FAF list and keeping it relevant (currently at 46 items spread over six pages) I noticed that finding these "reverse stand-outs" disrupts my looking out for the "vanilla stand-outs". This was not alleviated by having a "weed list" task since I usually notice the aberrant stand-outs while just scanning the list without even encountering the "weed list" task.

The solution was introducing a "Reverse FAF Mode".

If I encounter a "reverse stand-out" in my list, I mentally switch gears into "Reverse FAF", in that I would do vanilla FAF on my list but instead of looking for items that "stand out" because they are ready to be done, I choose items that repel me, things that I really do not want to do, things that I have been procrastinating, and I mark them with an x instead of a • like I usually do to distinguish to myself this mode of FAF. These "reverse stand-out" items I then re-word, schedule for "focus time", delegate, remove, or outright just do. Once I am satisfied that I will not find any more "reverse stand-out" items anywhere in the list, I go back to "Vanilla FAF".

Some surprising advantages I found in using "Reverse FAF" are (1) it is a great way to start the day, as it encourages surveying the whole list, and (2) it can be used anytime one feels a resistance in using the FAF list.
March 28, 2017 at 4:12 | Registered Commenternuntym
nuntym:

<< I mark them with an x instead of a • like I usually do to distinguish to myself this mode of FAF. These "reverse stand-out" items I then re-word, schedule for "focus time", delegate, remove, or outright just do. >>

That sounds a good approach and presumably would work with other systems as well. Can I just confirm that you are identifying and taking action on the "reverse items" one at a time, rather than identifying them all at once and then dealing with them in bulk?
March 28, 2017 at 12:34 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark Forster:

Yes, only one at a time, just like I am doing FAF but choosing a different kind of tasks.

And yes I agree that this might just work with other systems as well. And the thing is, you would still be following the rules of whatever system you use this tweak on.
March 28, 2017 at 19:11 | Registered Commenternuntym
nuntym:

I must try it out when Lent is over - I'm getting quite a list!
March 28, 2017 at 20:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I like the idea of "reverse stand-out". It changes the goal.

Instead of trying to do the project you're resisting (something you've already discovered doesn't work, at least for this one), the task becomes, "Find what is making me resist the project and take appropriate action."

That's much more doable, and the result is a project you'll actually do (or be happy not doing).
April 10, 2017 at 20:17 | Registered CommenterCricket
@Cricket:

"I like the idea of "reverse stand-out". It changes the goal."

I agree! Or, more exactly, I think it is the "change of goal" that is its main strength, in that when you go "reverse FAF" you look at the list in a new light, and the list becomes fresh again.

But Mark Forster gave me a new idea when he mentioned dealing tasks in bulk. They still are in the preliminary testing phase, and yes the system still is FAF albeit with some addons, but the tweaks are looking promising. They seem to give FAF the advantages of FVP, the Next Hour, and maybe even SuperFocus, as well as deliver what I had been looking for in previous systems that I had made like CAF, yet totally retain the feel of AF1 and the advantages of FAF.
April 10, 2017 at 21:28 | Registered Commenternuntym
Everytime I have used this tweak my most resisted upon tasks kept on getting done, so even though I have been using this for only 5 days I decided to post about it and see what others think. I don't have a name to call it yet, you guys think of one.

1. Decide on a context, period of time, purpose, or what not for doing your tasks. For example: "I want to do what I can in one hour", "I want to clean my home", "I want to do all the things I need to do on the computer," etc.

2. Scan your whole FAF list and dot • the tasks that fit your context/time period/purpose.

3. Start from the beginning and do vanilla FAF, marking the tasks that are ready to be done with an ✗. Note that you have no obligation to ✗ the tasks you have marked with •.

4. You can always mark more tasks that fit your context/time period/purpose with • even while doing FAF, but all tasks marked with • must be dealt with before you decide on another context/time period/purpose.

So what this tweak does is that it gives you a push to do the tasks you marked, but in my opinion it has the perfect balance between leniency and urgency. It is lenient in that you do not need to do the marked tasks right away, but urgent in that it won't let you start another "session" of context/time period/purpose without finishing the tasks you have marked with •.

From these descriptions I hope you can see what I mean when I said it has the advantages of Next Hour, FVP, and even SuperFocus, while retaining the feel and advantages of FAF.

And oh yes I still do "reverse stand-out" but I now see it as a possible session using this tweak.
April 13, 2017 at 3:39 | Registered Commenternuntym