Last Updated: 23 September, 2020
I’m a big fan of Mark Forster and have all three of his books (pre-ordering two of them). Mark has lots of tips for increasing productivity that do not involve a complex system like Getting Things Done. I have found many of his ideas beneficial particularly rotating through tasks implementing little and often, the concept of a closed list and minimising distractions by not working on incoming tasks until tomorrow.
Before giving birth I developed a new organisation system that incorporated many of Mark Forster’s ideas, as well as some from Getting Things Done. However, I soon realised it was not going to work because of the time it took to set up each day. Fortunately Mark issued a request for Beta testers for his new system AutoFocus in January 2009 just as I was looking to spend time on things other than baby.
The best way to understand AutoFocus is to read the instructions on Mark’s site and to watch the video of Mark demonstrating how it works.
AutoFocus is designed to be a simple productivity system; you can’t get much more simple than a notebook and pen. In fact when you read the instructions your first reaction is likely to be that will never work and so think of ways to ‘make it better’. However after trying it for while you’ll wonder how you never came up with the method on your own.
The method has one list that all ideas are added to (without the initial filtering of GTD). Working through the list encourages you to start tasks that may have been around for a long time, examines why you maybe resisting a task and identifies items you don’t actually want to do. Sound too good to be true? It isn’t.
What I like about AutoFocus
- the simplicity, it requires a notebook, a pen and a highlighter (although I use two highlighters as I like to highlight completed tasks)
- the ease of keeping the tasks up to date, if you forget to add tasks for a day or find them scribbled on a piece of paper, it doesn’t matter just add them in
- you don’t feel silly adding all type of tasks on the list; I’ve got tasks to do with organising my return to work as well as books and magazines I want to read
- it helps you find the quickest way of completing a task. Mark talks about a task ‘standing out’, sometimes I’ve found this is a task ‘nagging’ me such as vacuuming the house. Once I’ve decided to do it my brain starts working how I can complete the task (or part of the task) as quickly as possible so I can move on to more enjoyable items (whereas in the past I would have ignore the task or procrastinated)
- you get the ‘reward’ of crossing off a task for doing just part of it
- if you lose your list you can easily start again (fortunately I haven’t needed to test this)
What I did wrong when I implemented AutoFocus
Maybe I was in too much of a rush when I first implemented AutoFocus but I made two mistakes; one which has certainly made things more difficult. As they are both mistakes that other people may make I thought I’d mention them.
- I added in tasks off my previous list, but I was so excited I have to admit that it wasn’t just my previous list it was the one before that as well. Mark recommends that you build up your list organically with items that occur to you from now, and one of those items should be to work on the backlog list. Having added all my backlog items means I have a long list to work through, but looking at the positives I have already completed some tasks that have been around for a long time
- Each day I started the list from the first page rather than the last page I’d worked on. In some ways this wasn’t a big problem because I was still working on tasks and dismissing them, but I didn’t get the feeling of making progress through the list and instead just felt the list growing while I was still on page 1.
My experience of AutoFocus
I’m very impressed with AutoFocus and it is perfect for me at the moment because it is very low maintenance. I’m not making quick progress through the list, in fact I haven’t finished my first pass through the list (hopefully today or tomorrow). However, this doesn’t bother me because while I’m on maternity leave my main role is to look after the baby and it is not appropriate to include nappy changes and feeds so the list is only for the times I have outside of those things, which isn’t always a lot. The important thing to me is that I am being productive in my available time.
My list includes a lot of duplicates which makes it longer, but whenever I think of a task I simply add it to the list without checking whether it is already on. This means tasks which are praying on my mind or need doing more often such as tidying the house appear more often than other tasks such as review my blog stats.
What I’m anticipating is that once I’ve started my second pass I will either dismiss a lot of tasks or discover I’ve already completed a lot of them, this will enable me to reduce the list size and hopefully enable me to rotate through the list at least once in a week instead of once in four months! For information, my position on 12th April 2009 was
- 1 page dismissed
- 41 active pages
- 21 unopened pages
Taking AutoFocus forward
So far I’ve only used AutoFocus for my tasks at home, however I’m planning on introducing it at work when I return later in the year. From what I’ve read about other people’s experiences on Mark Forster’s forums I’m planning on introducing two changes. Firstly I intend to use an A4 notebook rather than A5 because this will enable me to rotate through the tasks quicker and secondly to add a column to highlight any deadlines (although I will still work through them the same).