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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Autofocus or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the To Do List

If you know me, you know I love a to do list. I can't live without the things. This is because I only have a sliver of my original brain and trying to keep track of whether or not four kids have been fed or which have recently had diaper changes takes up most of the space. I also love to cross things off my list, because I feel like even if I can't see a visibal difference in my house, I have concrete proof that I actually did accomplish something besides surfing the net and keeping the kids alive.

However, being that I am so hard on myself, I like to focus on all the things I haven't done on my list instead of celebrating what I did accomplish. And, I have all these restrictions. Like on my list "dishes" means every single dish in my house is clean and put away. If I have a cup on my computer table or a pan that needs to be washed, I cannot cross it off my list. Also, "dishes" does not mean spend 10 minutes on dishes, get distracted by smeared pudding or a sudden need to pee, then forgetting I even own dishes until the next day. This means "dishes" is perceptually on my to do list, without me being able to cross it off.

So, while researching something for school, I found a truly brilliant man named Mark Forster. If I ever meet this man in person, he is getting a kiss. Right on the mouth. He's recently developed this system called Autofocus. A to do list tracking method that rewards you for any time spent on a task, uses intuition and logic to approach your tasks.

First of all, get a notebook. Start writing out your list. Don't worry about if it needs to be done soon or not, if it's important or not. Just get it all out and on the page, one task per line. Then follow this system (from his website):

"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:
  1. Read quickly through all the items on the page without taking action on any of them.
  2. Go through the page more slowly looking at the items in order until one stands out for you.
  3. Work on that item for as long as you feel like doing so
  4. Cross the item off the list, and re-enter it at the end of the list if you haven’t finished it
  5. 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
  6. Move onto the next page and repeat the process
  7. 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. (N.B. This does not apply to the final page, on which you are still writing items). Use a highlighter to mark dismissed items.
  8. 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 below, 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."

You can get the rest of the instructions here: Autofocus System.

Or, you can watch this video (warning: cool British accents ahead):


I can not believe how much I've been able to do using this system. Granted, it's only been two days, but I love how it is so flexible. It's motivating. You can cross things off if you only do a tiny bit of work on it! My right brain loves it. My left brain loves it.

This is what I've found as I've used it, again from Mark Forster's website: "It’s very difficult to focus on what is important with one’s rational mind alone, because what your conscious mind thinks is important may not be what your subconscious mind thinks is important. What I’ve found is that looking back on what I’ve done I can see that the focus produced by the system feels 'right' - right for me in my current circumstances."

Mark Forster, you're my hero.
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