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There’s no inherent structure to work. Work has no inherent unit. We make units; we make tasks, and projects, and milestones, and goals. But nothing about those is inherent in the nature of work. Tiago Forte
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Discussion Forum > Revisiting AF3/RAF

Since the Eastertide challenge, I've constantly been switching time management systems, nothing proved effective against an overwhelming load of professional and personal projects.

Last week, while going through the list of TM Systems on this page (in yet another act of procrastination), I've stumbled over AF3, also known as revised Autofocus.
Instructions can be found here:

http://markforster.squarespace.com/blog/2009/7/28/the-revised-autofocus-system-autofocus-3.html

Basically, it's a combination of AF1 and AF2 into one catch-all system. Through the years, the only systems I did not test myself were SuperFocus, DWM and AF3. So I decided to give it a go - and it proved to be marvellously effective. I'm working the system since one week and am experiencing a level of throughput like never before. I really feel on top of my work again, go into meetings well prepared and find time to relax, too. I just hope this continues when the euphoria of the first few days wears off.

Comparing AF3 to FVP, what I like better is that one does not spend a lot of time cycling through the list. In reverse mode, the next item standing out is chosen, without further comparison with other options. In Forward mode, one works page by page. This makes processing the list very fast. I also like the dismissal/review process (I thinks it's the same as in AF2).

The main criticism of AF3 back then was the 'middle page syndrome', i.e. one tending to work on the beginning or end of the list while forgetting the middle part. So far this has not shown for me. Especially in Forward mode I find myself working through all pages bit by bit.

Two things that I have added to the system in line with the rules and that would work with any catch-all system I think:
1) I've added a morning work routine checklist (on a post-it) to the journal I'm keeping the list in. I go through this checklist before I start woking on my list. This works better than having items like 'check tickler file', 'check calendar' etc spread all over the list.

2) I've added a recurring Task 'Questioning' to my list. When it stands out, I take five minutes to write down the top3 priorities for my main roles on a pad of paper. I then throw away the paper, it's just to get clear about what I should be working on. I aim to do this every day.

I'll report back on my progress with this system. So far, I'm really excited about the way it works - I guess it shows there are lots of treasures among the vast list of TM Systems on this page.
June 19, 2017 at 8:50 | Unregistered CommenterDino
Dino

I'd forgotten about AF3. I must revisit it myself.

One tip I've learned about "constantly switching TM systems" is not to start a fresh list when you change system. Keep the same list. That way you still maintain a sense of continuity.
June 19, 2017 at 11:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
How interesting, I have gravitated to that system without even realising the system was there!

Only a slightly difference - I have been working on reverse mode in the morning and forward mode in the afternoon.

It certainly works well in clearing new urgent/quick tasks coming in, while also working on older tasks so they don't get too old. A perfect balance.

I would certainly recommend this system. Having tried lots of different things, this one seems to be one of the best.
June 19, 2017 at 14:20 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
MrBacklog:

I'm interested in knowing more about how you do this..

Are you using reverse and forward modes as given in the instructions? That is to say AF2 for reverse mode and AF1 for forward mode?
June 19, 2017 at 15:55 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I just had a quick look at the AF1 and AF2 instructions and I am more or less doing as they say.

I'm certainly focusing on getting something done on every task that crops up. I carry forward the task if not fully done. Some tasks can't be done until a future date and I have a system to move the task into a carry forward folder and then back into the main task list at the appropriate time. That is also used for follow-ups/chasers.

I think running both systems at the same time - AF2 in the morning and AF1 in the afternoon seems to have a great benefit for me and for once in a very long time the list feels under control.

The reasons being that the enjoyable/small/quick tasks get done more or less as and when they come in and the big/ugly/would rather not do tasks get tackled in smaller more manageable bits and then they don't seem so bad after all.

It is quite refreshing at last to find something that seems to work for more than a few weeks.
Lucky me...
June 19, 2017 at 17:05 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
MrBacklog:

Well done! I hope it keeps working for you.
June 19, 2017 at 17:23 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Always up for another new system of course!
Don't want to miss out on the fun...
June 20, 2017 at 12:49 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
Mr Backlog,

< I have a system to move the task into a carry forward folder >

Would you mind sharing your system for carrying forward tasks. I always struggle with this kind of thing.
June 22, 2017 at 2:23 | Unregistered CommenterJD
JD
<Would you mind sharing your system for carrying forward tasks. I always struggle with this kind of thing>

Oh yes, I use my email system for my task list, as most of my work comes in that way from clients.

If I want to add a task to the list, I email myself. e.g. say I get a telecall, I email myself the action points. Likewise, if I have a project or recurring task, I email that to myself.
Therefore, email is my catch all list.

When an email crops up that needs to be carried forward as it can't be done there and then, or I'm not ready to do it, I drop it into a folder. That might be the "next week" folder, "July" folder, or "August" folder. Every week, I have a pop up reminder in the calendar, that nudges me to drop all those emails back into the inbox for action.

Also, I have a reminders folder. When I email someone else which needs a follow up or chaser later, I blind copy (bcc), my self and then drop the email into the reminders folder. Again another pop up reminder in my calendar to work through the reminders that are 2-3 weeks old. I'm amazed at how many of my clients don't respond to emails and need constant reminders.

And finally, I work through all the quick emails and most recent ones in the morning and then in the afternoon work through all the oldest ones.
The key point here is to take some little action on all the emails, even if that is sometimes emailing myself as further breakdown of the tasks into little steps.

I suppose all of this can be done with a paper system. I just find email works well for me. Mainly due to my handwriting being completely rubbish and I can type fairly quickly.

Hope that helps..
June 22, 2017 at 8:59 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
MrBacklog:

Is it time yet for a change of name?
June 22, 2017 at 13:38 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
> And finally, I work through all the quick emails and most recent ones in the morning and then in the afternoon work through all the oldest ones.

Interesting. So your AF3 Reverse mode is actually email from newest to oldest, and Forward mode is email oldest to newest. This might work well for me.
June 22, 2017 at 17:09 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Don R:

Yes, basically that is it - AF3 reverse and forward modes.

I notice a build up of emails in the middle, but I'm not worried as I know they will be picked up soon on forward mode.

The list is getting quite long as everything is in there, but moving tasks to the carry forward folder where appropriate is thinning that out to prevent overwhelm.

So far so good....
June 22, 2017 at 19:12 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
Mr Backlog,

Thank you for taking the time to describe your system.

Very interesting set up you have and an attractive option for me.

I was looking around for an 'inbox as to do list' assistant and found this outlook add in that may be useful for those using it as their email client.

http://www.standss.com/eeminders/default.html
June 25, 2017 at 9:28 | Unregistered CommenterJD
Thanks JD, yes I did have a quick look and I can see there are a few email inbox assistants out there. If did not go for any as I found the simple BCC myself on emails and then dropping into folders did the job well enough.
It is quite a simple task so paying for some extra software to handle that did not seem worth it.
Thanks anyway.
June 27, 2017 at 17:18 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
After two weeks with this system I felt a bit stalled.
To counter this, I've made a change to processing the list: instead of standard forward more (AF1) I'm now using the random method. This reduces friction with older tasks to a minimum and seems a good companion to reverse mode with AF2. Working with random more has two other implications:
1) AF3 dismissal does not work as one has no influence on tasks been chosen. I've decided to go without any dismissal for the moment
2) One needs another trigger for switching between modes. For now I'm using timeboxing (25 minutes AF2, 5 min break, 25 minutes random method)
July 4, 2017 at 18:03 | Unregistered CommenterDino
Randomizer is my goto when I'm stalled, especially if there are things I "should" be doing now that I'm stalling on. At least I'm doing something more valuable than goofing off, and when I'm done, I'm usually in a better mood for doing the things I was avoiding.
July 6, 2017 at 17:39 | Registered CommenterCricket
<<It is quite a simple task so paying for some extra software to handle that did not seem worth it.>>

Mr Backlog,

Your email as task list system is working well for me. And yes, it is not necessary to add any software assistant to do what are quite simple steps.

I have, however, added an extra column to the email list to add any notes or reminders to myself. Very simple and effective.

If you are using gmail as your email interface, there is an inbox as task list set up that may be useful : http://www.inboundcommerce.com/blog/how-to-use-gmail-inbox-as-a-to-do-list

I use Outlook as my email client at work but intend to use the gmail set up for personal tasks.
July 16, 2017 at 7:25 | Unregistered CommenterJD
JD:
I use outlook as well. Great idea about adding a column for notes. I will try that.
July 16, 2017 at 11:02 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog