Monday, February 16, 2009

Autofocus Time Management System

A friend emailed me a link to Mark Forster's web site. Forster is a fellow author on time management. He proposes a unique system of time management.

When I first read it, I was skeptical since his system does not include the prioritization which I am used to. But I tried it for a couple of days (but honestly, only for about 4 hours per day since I like my prioritized todo system) and I found that it does work well.

It would be a great system to beat procrastination.

A summary of how it work is below and more details are on his web site.

From his site:

Quick Start
The system consists of one long list of everything that you have to do, written in a ruled notebook (25-35 lines to a page ideal). As you think of new items, add them to the end of the list. You work through the list one page at a time in the following manner:

Read quickly through all the items on the page without taking action on any of them.

Go through the page more slowly looking at the items in order until one stands out for you.

Work on that item for as long as you feel like doing so

Cross the item off the list, and re-enter it at the end of the list if you haven't finished it

Continue going round the same page in the same way.

Don't move onto the next page until you complete a pass of the page without any item standing out

Move onto the next page and repeat the process

If you go to a page and no item stands out for you on your first pass through it, then all the outstanding items on that page are dismissed without re-entering them.

Once you've finished with the final page, re-start at the first page that is still active.

Each of these steps is explained in more detail on his site, but I suggest you get going now and read the rest of the instructions later. Don't forget to put "Read the rest of the instructions" as one of your tasks. You don't need a huge number of tasks to start with, just add tasks as you think of them or they come up.


At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the simplicity of it.

At 9:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding Mark Forster's web-site and his "Autofocus" system:

I'm not surprised that you were skeptical about it. Unlike you, however, I'm not inclined to give it a try. (Maybe I'm getting too old and set in my ways?)

Here are but a few of my "objections" and/or concerns:

1. By randomly writing down to-do items in sequence, high priority items may end up on the 2nd or 3rd pages, which will be overlooked if you follow the - finish the 1st page before you move to the next - instruction;

2. By using paper, it's very difficult to assign/use due date reminders;

3. Just like any To-do list, it doesn't give you any indication of interdependencies and the time required for executing a task;

4. With no priorities indicated, everything is "equal", left to your "feeling" (and whim?) as to which one to do;

4. As far as I'm concerned, a to-do item doesn't get done (at least 80% of the time) until it's in your calendar with a realistic time estimate;

One may be able to keep busy and seemingly efficient (albeit likely not effective) by using this system, but the latter is not the right objective.

At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to correct the previous poster, Forster's AutoFocus does NOT tell you to "finish the first page before you move to the next."

I've become a big fan of this method, and one way in which it excels is helping you cycle through your tasks quickly and often--which keeps a huge amount of info fresh in your brain and let's you basically prioritize on the fly.

At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have used this system since it was released on Jan. 5.
Re. #1 - High priority items should either be done now - which is obvious, or many have found that by using Autofocus, they are working on what's important ahead enough in their jobs that things don't get to the crisis stage
Re. #2 - I assign due dates to my paper list although many don't, quite frankly I'm finding myself getting things done well before the due date most of the time
Re. #3 - obviously the system isn't a "project management system" - you won't find the issue of interdependencies being addressed in most time management systems. I used to write the estimated time required to complete the task beside the task, so this is possible to do. I don't need to do that anymore.
Re. #4 - Like any time management system, the priorities should be addressed prior to the project even getting onto the list or being scheduled. You don't leave your common sense at the door when you use the list to structure your day.
Re. #5 - if strict scheduling of your time works for you, I'm truly envious. This system does work however, and works remarkably well for the 90% of the population that can't/don't work well with this method. How does your schedule adapt to interruptions, does it consider your energy levels? Does it respond to the crisis that comes up that disrupts your schedule? Autofocus deals easily with all of these situations.

With respect to effectiveness vs. efficiency, the Autofocus system has uncovered new ways for me to work on process improvement and I've worked in the re-engineering field for a long time.

The ability to be open-minded is a key to developing efficiencies, isn't it?

At 9:59 PM, Blogger Caveman said...

The Autofocus list is used for acting upon your "to do" or "next action" items. if you read Mark Forster's instructions he says to use a calendar or other reminder for date dependent activities.

I have been using Autofocus for over a week with just an A5 notebook - front half for personal stuff and second half work. I used to use GTD, but having a list of things to do in a context didnt mean I would finish them all.

Autofocus is a system that looks like it shouldn't work, but it does. If you are not sure, please give it a 14 day trial and see for yourself.

At 1:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alex - The way the system works cannot be understood merely by reading the instructions - it needs to be actioned to understand how it works. I think you would be very surprised if you actually gave it a try - I'm sure you're not really too old and set in your ways :-)

If it didn't work there wouldn't be such immense buzz about it on Mark Forster's website - neither would it have been translated into so many languages!

At 4:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alex R: when I was at school I was repeatedly told, "Read the instructions caerfully." I suggest you adopt the same approach.

Re your points:
(1) See my first paragraph above.

(2) Mark's instructions stress the importance of a diary, calendar or similar tool. See my first paragraph. I use Outlook 2007. I've been using AF for over two months and have been from paper to electronic and back to paper, as have self-confessed gadget geeks

(3) AF is not a project management system, BUT it does stress the benefits and ease of "little and often" for interdependent and/or sequential tasks. PM systems and other tools "feed" AF.

(4) See (1) above.

RTFM and then try it!

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Obviously if your system works, then that is the system to use. But I would like to clarify a few points you make:

1. You don't need to finish a page in order to go onto the next. You do start with the first page with any unfinished tasks (the Active Page) work those items that jump out at you (and only for as long as you wish) and then when no more items stand out, move on to the next, etc. It is usually a good Idea to make your way through all of your pages at least once every day.

2. If you have an absolute due date for an item, then it needs to go into a calendar or a tickler file.

3. True enough. However, you are free in Autofocus to plan and work projects using any method you like. You can use GANTT charts or mind mapping software or whatever you like. You can block out time during the day to work on important projects separate from Autofocus and/or you can put reminders in Autofocus such as "Work on the ABC Project" that you know you will see each day.

4. Autofocus relies on a combination of intuition and rational thought to decide what is ready to be done.

4. This is where you would differ from many of the current productivity gurus (not all obviously.) In both GTD and Autofocus for example, tasks are not placed in a calendar unless there is a hard due date for the item. I am not sure how merely having a time estimate and a due date helps. People have been putting tasks on daily calendars with priorities and time estimates for years and it hasn't helped these people get everything done. Obviously if you have an item due today then it should be done today. If you have items due now, then you need to do them now. But Autofocus is not for people with little or no discretionary time on their hands.

You are right, one ought not to just look busy while only seeming efficient. But this is possible in any system, whether it is Covey's, or David Allen's GTD, maybe even your preferred system.

Autofocus might seem too good to be true and it might not be for you specifically (especially if you have little discretionary time.) But Autofocus has worked well for many others--even others who do important work. It has made them productive in ways that they have never seen before. I find I am finishing important items on which, in the past, I have resisted to working on.

At 1:20 AM, Anonymous Andy Rumple said...

I am giving Auto Focus a try and it looks like I am going to use it as my main method for dealing with my tasks. It is genius in its simplicity. I have ordered 2 of Mark Forsters books and they are both Great. "Do it Tomorrow" and "Get everything Done" are both must reads.

I love GTD by David Allen and also the RPM or "Time of Your Life" system by Anthony Robbins. Neil Fiore has some good ideas in "The Now Habit" including his "Unschedule".

I think using elements of all of these systems will end up being optimal for me. I am going to use Auto Focus as the center of my system.


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