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Mark Forster's Autofocus



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Qrystal

Posted: Sep 17, 2009
Score: 2



I've been having serious Task Management issues, despite the fact that Toodledo is such a wonderful tool and I'm proud to be a Pro user. My problem is that no matter how nice the interface or how nicely organized my tasks are, I always get to a point where I can't bear to look at my list at all. All my efforts to emphasize my tasks' importance backfire and make me not want to do ANYTHING.

So I've been reading about yet another way to manage my tasks and time, hoping that I can somehow get over the fear and overwhelm. This one is by Mark Forster (author of "Do It Tomorrow") and is called Autofocus, which alludes to the way the system seeks out what the mind is ready to focus on instead of forcing the mind to do things that drain all energy and enjoyment out of the tasks. The system has been in beta for several months and with several revisions, the latest of which is here:

http://www.markforster.net/blog/2009/9/5/preliminary-instructions-for-autofocus-v-4.html

One major difference between the latest version and the previous versions (none of which I was actually ready to try, despite my intrigue in how it worked) is that the latest looks like it will actually work digitally -- which means, perhaps I can use it to save my Toodledo list from my inability to face it!

I just haven't quite figured out how, yet. I'll be working on it, but first I feel I need to start with paper, just to get used to how it works.

So far, one of the major benefits of the system is that it keeps refreshing itself: ANY activity on a task allows you to check it off and add it again onto the end of the list, changing the mind's perception of the task by putting it adjacent to other things newly added to the list. In Toodledo, this can be modeled by simply sorting by last modification date and replacing the idea of "end of the list" (a limitation of paper) with "top of the list" (which may actually turn out to be more inspiring, and less likely to let new-but-urgent tasks fall to the wayside).

I'm not sure what else will be involved in making Autofocus work in Toodledo, which is why I'm playing with it on paper first. I will report back after a few days or so! I just wanted to put the word out that there may be another way to deal with our neverending lists. Maybe together, we can come up with a way to marry Toodledo with Autofocus in a way that best makes use of Toodledo's strengths!

(On that note, I bet it will be an advantage to be able to review items on the list in terms of their folders, etc., something that I'm afraid I'll find lacking in the paper version!)

-Qrystal
replytoken

Posted: Sep 18, 2009
Score: -1



Thanks for the link. I took a quick look at the web site and came away with a very interesting thought. If I had to revise my list every day on paper, I might think twice about some of the items that seem to never leave my lists. Its all too easy to park an item on a list and never get to it (especially if your list is electronic). It is much harder to ignore it if I have to manually re-write it every day, and this is not always a bad thing.

--Ken
Claudio

Posted: Sep 18, 2009
Score: 1



replytoken, I agree.

It seems that the Autofocus approach involves a fundamental shift in how a task list is perceived and, consequently, in how the list is worked.

It also indirectly provides some insight into why it's easier to work a task list in the first few days of implementing a new task management system: All the tasks are "fresh", even those that came from a previous system. A few weeks later (or, even a few days later) some of the tasks have become "stale", and a few months later there's a lot of clutter. In a physical system (notebooks, paper, pen), the clutter is more obvious. In an electronic system, the clutter accumulates in the various nooks and crannies of multiple folders and filters.

It's not clear to me, though, whether an Autofocus system (paper-based or electronic) will maintain the "freshness" of task list any better than regular reviews of something like Toodledo. If it all comes down to discipline, then which system is most likely to work with a particular person's level of discipline? Or, which system is most likely to foster the discipline to get many things done efficiently, effectively, and with minimal stress?

Hey, sometimes shift is a good thing. Y'know what they say: Shift happens.
:)


This message was edited Sep 18, 2009.
replytoken

Posted: Sep 18, 2009
Score: -1



Posted by Claudio:

It's not clear to me, though, whether an Autofocus system (paper-based or electronic) will maintain the "freshness" of task list any better than regular reviews of something like Toodledo. If it all comes down to discipline, then which system is most likely to work with a particular person's level of discipline? Or, which system is most likely to foster the discipline to get many things done efficiently, effectively, and with minimal stress?

Hey, sometimes shift is a good thing. Y'know what they say: Shift happens.
:)


Good observations, Claudio. I know that it is very easy to let items "stack up" with any task list. In TD, I sometimes "pull items out" by giving them a Star. That works well for getting those tasks accomplished, but it is much more challenging to address the "long-term" residents on my list.

I would wager to say that if I had to re-write my whole list every day, I would be very motivated to keep that list as short as possible. One way to do that is to deal with the tasks ASAP. The other way is to never add them in the first place. Taking that one step further, are they not added because they have been accomplished or because I do not want to add them to my list? Some might say that the latter approach totally avoids the issue, while others may say that we are being realistic with our limited time. I guess it depends on your ultimate goal(s) as to what is the best answer to that type of question. And yes, shift happens!!

--Ken
Proximo

Posted: Sep 21, 2009
Score: 1



Very interesting. I will look into this Autofocus and see what nuggets I can find.

I know some of you are not using GTD but the Weekly Review in GTD is where I remove task that seemed important at one time but I have come to realize I really won't do.

This helps keep my list fresh and purged at all times. Claudio is correct in that in boils down to Discipline.

We are always working to improve our Discipline.
Qrystal

Posted: Sep 28, 2009
Score: 1



Discipline is definitely not my strong suit, which is why I have so many issues with task management. Weekly review? EW! :P But I know it would help.

The Autofocus way of reviewing is that it is a part of scanning through to decide what tasks to do. If you go through the whole Closed List without doing any of them, and it's the first pass through it in that session, then all the items are marked for review.

As far as rewriting goes, it does help to keep things fresh, but I'm not so sure the benefit is found within the actual rewriting. It may be more about the fact that stuff is crossed off of the old, stale part of the list, and readded (and even perhaps reformulated) in the new, alive part of the list.

If an automated list is sorting itself by whether a task has had activity on it (which Toodledo can do), one wouldn't need to rewrite it at all, and would still be able to reap the benefits of 'refreshing' the list by taking small bites of big tasks, and doing it often, changing the context of the task by putting it next to other tasks that have recently had progress.

The dividing line between the "Closed List" and the "Open List" is what I'm not sure how to emulate with Toodledo. Still thinking on that part. Also still struggling to get the system into my head, and my tasks off my list, so my head is free to get creative about this idea.

Really appreciate the discussion on it, and am keen on seeing whether anyone else has more to add!
replytoken

Posted: Sep 29, 2009
Score: -1



Posted by Qrystal:

As far as rewriting goes, it does help to keep things fresh, but I'm not so sure the benefit is found within the actual rewriting. It may be more about the fact that stuff is crossed off of the old, stale part of the list, and readded (and even perhaps reformulated) in the new, alive part of the list.


while I do not necessarily disagree with your statement, I personally believe that the benefit is not in re-adding the item(s) to a fresh list, but in the "hassle factor" of the re-writing. If I have to keep re-writing something every day, I am certainly going to be motivated to get "quick and dirty" items off of my list ASAP to avoid the hassle of re-writing them.

Look at it this way, with a list that does not get re-written, it is often easier to let tasks, albeit mostly minor ones, accumulate than it is to just deal with them. By raising the "cost" of the tasks(i.e. having to re-write them), you are much more likely to either deal with them quickly or delete them so as to reduce your "cost". YMMV.

--Ken
Claudio

Posted: Sep 29, 2009
Score: 1



[Forrest Gump]Maybe it's both, maybe both are happening at the same time.[/Forrest Gump]
alexborne

Posted: Oct 01, 2009
Score: 1



I must say I have stopped using Toodledo on a day-to-day basis for a few months, just to try Autofocus (on paper)... and I stick with it.
I'll keep Toodledo for the someday / maybe and long terme task planning, but on a daily basis, Autofocus is right what I needed.
When using Toodledo "GTD like", I felt depressed everyday when seeing this (way too) high number of tasks, never going down. Every time I reviewed all tasks to try to purge the list, I kept everything.
Autofocus brings in a new concept : the todolist has a slowly but steadily advancing time slot of active tasks. If you have not done the tasks during this time slot, they are whether dismissed, or re-entered anew, rephrased, broken in smaller steps.
2 advantages :
1- the dismissed ones stay on the paper, so they become someday / maybe, but they get completely out of sight an thoughts. So even for non disciplined people (count me in !), there is an autocleaning process that keeps the list manageable, realistic, and motivating.
2- when you bring a reviewed task up on the top of the list, it is a very conscious action : you know you want to keep this task because it is important, and you know you have failed to do it in the normal time slot, so you have to modify it, break it down, or else, to make it doable.
It works much better for me than having an ever growing list, on which trying to pick-up the next thing to do makes me dizzy.
I love paper and my internet connection at work is painfully slow, so I stick with paper. But I think this system can be used with most of todolist softwares. With Toodledo, I think it is manageable with "modification date" sorting.
For the separation between closed list and open list, just create a task with "--------------------------" subject, and check it off when you dismiss the closed list.


This message was edited Oct 01, 2009.
Chris

Posted: Oct 01, 2009
Score: 1



I have also been having a look at Autofocus after reading Qrystal's original post.

Just bit of brainstorming - could this work with two searches?

AF - Closed List. "Checked off" = No AND "Date Modified", "is before" X
AF - Open List. "Checked off" = No AND "Date Modified", "is after" X - 1.

(X being the date you start using AF)
When you want to restart AutoFocus just set X to the current date.

I have tried the searches but seem to have too many in my open list (I am using today as X and I know I haven't touched a lot of the tasks that appear - all the ones I have added/modified are there though) I am using the Outlook sync tool so I don't know if this is marking some as updated. I will need to test a bit more to see what is happening - unless someone already knows the answer to this?

Of course you can add more criteria to the searches as the example above will give you all your tasks. E.g. Status = "Next Action". Folder = "Work" etc.

It does involve a bit of jumping around search tabs and modifying the search criteria but it could work. I will probably try this out is the next week or so.

Chris
alexborne

Posted: Oct 02, 2009
Score: 1



I think it could work. Folders, status and so can help when you want to do project reviews. But the real important thing in Autofocus, is to sort the actions by creation date. The hassle to read through old stuff forces you to take a decision when the dismissal time comes up.

If your list seems too long to be manageable, Mark suggests to delare a backlog, and work it little by little. Baiscally, it means putting aside all old tasks, starting afresh with a blank page, making sure we never let this new list growing, and everyday actionning a few actions from the backlog.

Here are 2 links describing his method.

http://www.markforster.net/blog/2009/8/31/backlog-method.html


http://www.markforster.net/blog/2008/7/28/its-like-walking-across-a-muddy-field-how-to-get-rid-of-ba ck.html

Alex
Qrystal

Posted: Oct 05, 2009
Score: -1



Posted by replytoken:
I personally believe that the benefit is not in re-adding the item(s) to a fresh list, but in the "hassle factor" of the re-writing. If I have to keep re-writing something every day, I am certainly going to be motivated to get "quick and dirty" items off of my list ASAP to avoid the hassle of re-writing them.


Firstly, note that you don't rewrite things if you don't work on them, and so you're not rewriting the same tasks every day unless you actually make progress on them. And if a task is truly "quick and dirty", you'll be done it as soon as you work on it! For tasks that are dirty but not so quick, the progress made can change the way the task is written, and this is especially true if you choose to write down just the Next Action instead of something vague like "work on Project". This is how rewriting can be embraced as a motivator instead of a detractor, and that's how I prefer to roll.

I think my main issue with most to-do-list systems it that the old and stagnant tasks weigh me down. In the written version of Autofocus, stagnating tasks get surrounded by all the happily-scribbled-out tasks, making me feel bogged down by them (and perhaps this is an advantage, but it still feels discouraging to me). Rewriting is supposed to be the blessing that cures these woes, because it takes the task out of backlog and back into a part of the list that is fresh and new. But I still don't like looking at all my crossed-out tasks... so I'm yearning to come back to Toodledo for my day-to-day stuff. I am just certain that the ideas behind Autofocus go beyond the fact that it was originally a paper-based system, and so I want to use the ideas here.

Chris, your idea for separating the Open and Closed Lists into two search tabs is interesting, but I think it seems a bit complicated for my taste. There is still the question of how to distinguish the things on the Autofocus lists (either the Closed part or the Open part) versus things that are just Someday/Maybe or Wish-I-Had-Time-To-Do. This is a big deal for me... and in fact, one of the things I like most about Autofocus is that it helps me see only the things I'm fairly sure I'll be doing in the near future, and if I'm wrong, I am encouraged to dismiss, defer, or delay the tasks for a time that is more appropriate. But how to do all this in Toodledo?

Suddenly, it hit me: there IS a natural answer within Toodledo that would make it easy to toggle tasks onto or off of the Autofocus list. It's as easy as clicking on the STAR!!! All that is needed to turn the Starred List into the Autofocus list is to sort by modification date (crucial to making this work!), and add a separator task as Alex suggested. When ready to move the separator, so as to "Close" the Open List and start making a new Open List, just modify the separator task and it will move itself!

This excites me so much, I think I'm going to try it.
Qrystal

Posted: Oct 05, 2009
Score: 1



I found one thing that made me not like the view in the Starred list, and I found a fix for it.

First, note that I use the Multi-line details view, not the table showing all details all at once. I've always preferred this view; it's not an Autofocus-inspired change, although it does fit well with the Autofocus way. It's nice just seeing the task descriptions, and letting them speak for themselves in trying to appeal to my sense of "Do I Want to Do This Now?"

The only other info visible in this view is one aspect of the task listed on the right-hand side of the page. This one aspect is guided by the way the list is sorted, and so when I sort by Last Modified Date, the right-hand column tells me the date I last modified the tasks. This isn't terribly useful information in this case, because I am content to just know that the tasks are in the proper order. But if I change the primary sort parameter to something else, I risk having the items show in an order other than the one needed for Autofocus.

So what I did was this: I sort by Star first, and THEN by Last Modified Date. Since I'm using my Starred list as my Autofocus list, selecting this sort parameter does nothing to the sort order -- but much to my delighted surprise, it changed the right-hand side to display the due date, which is the one missing piece of information that is really worth knowing when deciding what task to do!

This also means that I can use Autofocus to handle tasks with important due dates, without having to include that info in the task description! Another point for digital over pen-and-paper! :)
shiva

Posted: Nov 20, 2009
Score: -1



Has anyone figured out how to get this accomplished on iPhone. The sort for create/modified date doesn't seem to exist on the iPhone. Or am I missing something?

This message was edited Nov 20, 2009.
Proximo

Posted: Nov 24, 2009
Score: 1



I am reading more and more about Autofocus but I must say that GTD is working great for me.

I never feel bogged down, I always work on the things that I have energy for and I never have task that linger too long because of the ever growing task that come into my life.

Not sure how many other GTDers have found it to work as intended, but I know that I do.

One thing I believe that helps me is that I do not accept all the task or request that come into my life. Not anymore.

I often say things like. "I don't have time to work on that" or "Let's see if someone else can do this".

Now I am careful of what I commit to and add to my task list. This by itself is not what makes GTD work for me, but I did make a big difference. I used to think that everything that came my way, was something I had to figure out how to do or fit into my life. Not anymore.
vlcofa

Posted: Dec 01, 2009
Score: 1



"Not anymore."

This is one thing I love about AutoFocus. You can throw everything in, and then as you comb through the tasks, items that you're not committed to get removed--you can add them to a "someday" file, or just forget 'em.

I suppose the weekly review of GTD would allow for the same, but AutoFocus makes it, well, auto...

Thanks to those who are posting their Toodledo/AutoFocus ideas--that's exactly what I came here to fine!
mco

Posted: Dec 22, 2009
Score: -1



Posted by shiva:
Has anyone figured out how to get this accomplished on iPhone. The sort for create/modified date doesn't seem to exist on the iPhone. Or am I missing something?


You're missing it. You can sort by date added or date modified using the sort button in the lower left corner.
1991mm

Posted: Feb 04, 2010
Score: 1



I found autofocus very intersting, I am trying to use the system for my contexts and starred lists.

Anyone has been successful in using it in Toodledo?


This message was edited Feb 04, 2010.
Proximo

Posted: Feb 04, 2010
Score: 1



I tried it but find GTD to be more structured for me and I get things done without any problems.
1991mm

Posted: Feb 04, 2010
Score: 1



Actually, I still use GTD. I agree with you it is more structured, but i find working on my next actions list quite chalenging. I am testing Autofocus for the doing part of GTD.
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