Through LifeHacker I’m trying a new productivity system (used to be called ‘to do lists’ in my day) called Autofocus.  It’s been created by Mark Forster, who I admire and have used his techniques before.

Autofocus is clearly described here,  and I won’t repeat the details, but I will explain why the system seems to work for me.

  • There’s no prioritising or categorising of the items on the ‘to do’ list.  As Mark has ‘twittered’, you can put ‘sharpen pencil’ or ‘take over the world’ as an item in Autofocus, and they are both valid.
  • There’s a good focus on empathy, you do what you feel like doing at that time on your to-do list.  This works well with my frame of mind, certainly at work.  I can pick what I want to do.  If I don’t complete the item, I cross it off the list and add it to the bottom.
  • There’s an element of ‘drop out’, if you reach the end of a page, and none of the items appeal to you then you highlight them but don’t carry them forward onto the next page just yet.  Of course some items will have to appear on your list again (we all do things we don’t like to do), but at least this way you get page ‘closure’.
  • Some aspects of this are similar to a time management technique I used to use years ago, when uncompleted tasks were carried forward to the next week, and so on.  The problem was that I was always carrying the same tasks forward, and there was no potential to stop and start a task as there is with Autofocus.
  • It doesn’t try to combine home/work/personal into a single list, it clearly states that they should be kept separate.  Whilst Mark Forster recommends separate books, once I’m set up with my ‘proper’ book (see below) I may just use the back of my new book for ‘stuff’ outside work.
  • Finally, I have another excuse to buy another moleskine notebook, which can’t be bad!  At the moment I’m using an emergency notebook, but looking forward to transferring my new Autofocus list into the new one.

One thing that keeping a list like this does is demonstrate to yourself how productive (or otherwise) you have been in the day.  Even with a heavy teaching day yesterday I managed to get four fairly sizeable chunks off my list.  Admittedly though, I still have 15 outstanding items! (14 now, as blogging about Autofocus was on my list!).

A video of ‘how it works’ is below.


4 comments so far

  1. Mark Forster on

    Thanks for the review, Andy. One suggestion: when you transfer into your new notebook try to keep the page structure by drawing a line after the items from each page. If you consolidate all items you will end up with a lot of difficult items on one page, which will slow things down.

  2. Tom Gibson on

    Thanks for the post.

    I’m day 2 into this system and like the simplicity of it. I was drawn to it because I just love paper and pencil, love to make lists but hate to decide where to put the item. This system solves it (so far).


  3. Andy Hollyhead on

    Thanks for the advice Mark, will do, though hopefully new book will be here before my to do list becomes as long as yours in the video!

  4. […] using the Autofocus system for a month – more information on how it works is at my original posting here.  I wish I could say I’ve followed it religiously in that time, writing everything that I […]

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