How to Get Things Done
PART I: THE AUTOFOCUS TIME MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
Do you have dreams, goals, or plans you wish to accomplish? Most of us do. We start off with good intentions and carefully jot down all the things we need and want to do. But then we often find our To-Do List grows out of control, and instead of guiding us throughout the day, it becomes overwhelming, causing paralysis and stress. How can we overcome this problem? How can we get everything that needs to be done, done, with a minimum of stress? The answer lies in taking a strategic approach, such as The Autofocus Time Management System, which was created by Time Management Expert, Mark Forster.
His method is so simple everyone can follow it. Whether we’re a housewife, student, or busy executive, we can all benefit from it. If we follow the system, which is extremely easy to do, we will increase our productivity and finally realize our dreams. But before I share the system with you, I have to issue two warnings.
First, we tend to undervalue or dismiss whatever is easy and inexpensive and overvalue whatever is complicated and expensive (even if it doesn’t work!). In other words, when you learn how easy and inexpensive the system is, you will be tempted to think it probably doesn’t work. I’m warning you in advance, so when the thought occurs, immediately reject it and promise yourself to try the system for yourself. After all, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Second, as you scroll down the screen and see the long list of twelve steps, you may mistakenly believe the system is complicated. It isn’t. To make it as easy as possible to understand, get a pen and notebook and practice each step before you proceed to the next step. It is only a practice session to understand the process, so don’t worry about what you write; any example will do.
MARK FORSTER’S AUTOFOCUS TIME MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
Get a notebook that opens flat so you can easily fill the pages with notes. But as you practice this session, anything will do. You can use loose scraps of paper, a legal pad, anything. But once you understand the system and wish to begin, use a good notebook.
1. The first thing to do is make a To-Do List. For your practice session, don’t worry about the length of the list, but when you start working on your real list, it will probably have 25~35 items on it. Don’t make it longer than a full page. You can always add more items later, but for now list the first things that come to mind.
This simple step brings immediate benefits. It is called by some a `brain dump.’ That is, you are removing items from you mind and dumping them on the page. Once you have done so, you reduce stress because you will no longer worry about remembering what needs to be done. Also, your list will provide you with a permanent record and keep you focused on what’s important.
2. If your list is less than a full page, make a line under it. Everything above this line is considered the `backlog.” This is where you emphasis will be. Your primary focus will be on clearing the backlog by doing all the items on the list. But as you work on the backlog additional tasks, projects, or appointments will occur to you. These new items are added below the backlog and become your secondary list.
3. Now that you have a list (the backlog), you are ready to begin. You start the day by quickly scanning your backlog. You don’t start with an intention to do anything on the list. You are just trying to get an overview. Actually, this step is for the benefit of the subconscious. It’s as if you’re saying, “Here’s what’s facing me. Any ideas where I should begin?”
This is an example of what’s unique about The Autofocus Time Management System, it’s designed to function with both hemispheres of our brain, logical and intuitive. It also appeals to both our conscious mind and the subconscious. You see, if we consciously decide which of the many tasks to do, we are effectively telling the subconscious what to do. It doesn’t like to be told what to do or to receive orders from anyone. If it believes it is being told what to do, it fights back by creating resistance, which is why we haven’t been very successful in the past. In the next step, we honor the subconscious by allowing it to choose which task to work on.
4. Now go down the list more slowly, until you sense a signal or sign that an item on the list is ready to be done. It’s like plucking a piece of fruit off a tree. If it isn’t ripe yet, it offers more resistance and is more difficult to pluck. But if it’s ripe, it comes off easily. As you go down the list, what you are actually doing is allowing your subconscious to decide. And if it makes the decision, it offers no resistance. It may sound a little weird at first, but just play along. You soon will develop the knack. It’s simple, really. If you’re receiving a lot of resistance, you’re working on the wrong task. Try again.
5. Now that you have selected a task, start to work on it, continuing until you either complete it or wish to stop.
6. If you’ve completed the task, cross it off the list. If more work remains to be done, cross it off the list and move it to the end of the secondary list (you’ll be getting back to it later). Recurring tasks (tasks that you repeatedly do) are treated in a similar fashion. For example, after answering email or working out in the gym, cross it off the backlog list and add it to the secondary list.
7. After completing a task, continue down the list, repeating steps 4~6, skipping tasks you don’t feel like doing. After getting to the bottom of the page, return to the top and repeat steps 4~6 again and again.
8. After a while, you will have several items crossed off the backlog list, but you will not feel like doing any of the remaining items. When this happens, move to the secondary list, going from top to bottom, doing whatever feels right to begin. But unlike the backlog list, do not repeat steps 4~6 when you reach the end of the list. That is, you work your way from top to bottom of the secondary list only once.
9. After completing one sweep of the secondary list, return to the top of the backlog, repeating steps 4~6 over and over again. Then repeat step 8.
10. Eventually, you will complete most of the items on the backlog, and after going through the few remaining tasks, you may not feel like doing any of them. At this point the backlog is nearly ready to be closed. Use a yellow marker to highlight the remaining tasks you don’t feel like doing. Next make a line after the secondary list, which is now promoted to the backlog. And all new tasks are added after the line, becoming the new secondary list. Continue working with your new lists until the end of the day.
11. On the start of the new day, return to the highlighted items that you marked in step 10. Now you will decide what to do with them. Perhaps the situation has changed and you no longer wish to pursue that goal; if so, permanently cross it off your list. On the other hand, you may want to work on it later; if so, cross it off the list and move it to the end of your new secondary list.
Now your old backlog list is officially closed.
12. Continue working your new backlog and secondary lists by following all the steps and you will surprise yourself as your productivity soars.
A powerful feature of the Autofocus Time Management System is that you look through every item on your lists several times a day. So nothing falls through the cracks; you don’t overlook or forget anything. The system keeps you focused and the list of crossed out tasks points out your successes and acts as a motivational device, prodding you onward.
The system is designed to help you get things done, but it cannot do everything. For example, you will still need a calendar or alarms to help you keep track of appointments and special events. But it can very well become your most powerful tool in your arsenal of productivity tools.
Don’t worry if the Autofocus Time Management System isn’t completely clear in your mind yet, for I’m sure the following tools on Mark Forster’s web site will answer all your questions. Before you go, however, let me point out that he numbers the steps a little differently and calls the secondary list “the action page.”
1. Watch Mark Forster work his lists in the video on this page: http://www.markforster.net/autofocus-system/
2. Read about his system here: http://www.markforster.net/autofocus-index/
3. Download this animated demo of Mark working his system: http://autofocus.cc/public/data/af4-demo.pdf
Books by Mark Forster:
PART II: OTHER SYSTEMS
Although I am enamored by Mark Forster’s system and believe its simplicity and power is the perfect tool for most people; nevertheless, I recognize that we are each unique and have different ways of working, so some people may do better with another system. To help this group, I will briefly point out other systems.
Today, the most popular system is GTD (Getting Things Done). It was created by the remarkable David Allen, Management Consultant, who also worked in the past as a magician, waiter, karate teacher, landscaper, vitamin distributor, glass-blowing lathe operator, travel agent, gas station manager, U-Haul dealer, moped salesman, restaurant cook, personal growth trainer, manager of a lawn service company, manager of a travel agency, and is an ordained minister with the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA). Get his book here.
His system is so popular, it has spawned more than 100 software products. Here is an example of 128 GTD Software Programs.
2. The Pomodoro Technique(TM) – Francesco Cirillo created the Pomodoro Technique(TM) in 1992. Simply stated, you work for 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break. After 4 rounds, a longer break is allowed.
3. The 3, 6, 9 Time Management Strategy – In this system, you work in 3 hour time blocks, focusing on one thing for each block.
5. InstaTime – Deals with prioritizing according to the size of the project and the readiness for action.
6. Total, Relaxed OrganizationT (TRO) – Offers training and software to accomplish its aim.
7. Power Time Management System – A 600 page course for $45.
9. Time Management from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of Your Schedule and Your Life Book by Julie Morgenstern, Henry Holt and Company, 2000.
10. Watership Planner – Software: features dynamic planning, which monitors the time you spend on each task.
11. PROACTIME – Software: A complete time management solution.
12. Work Time Studio – Software: It allows you to organize, manage, track and prioritize your time, projects, tasks, notes and ideas. It is a professional package at the giveaway price of $39.95.