Friday, January 07, 2011

Autofocus 4 Q&A: My little personal assistant

I got some questions recently on how I use Autofocus 4 for time management and I thought I’d answer them here.

Are you using pen and paper or a computer? 

I’m using pencil and paper.  (For some reason, pen doesn’t  feel right for AF4)  My paper is a simple composition book with ruled lines.  I divide each page into two columns.   I connect crossed out items with vertical lines to make it easier to spot unfinished items.

Do you have a separate notebook for personal/home tasks?

Yes.  Though I have considered otherwise and I have a friend who uses just one and he likes it.   I prefer having two because I don’t like to mix work and family.   I do, however, bring my home book to work so that I can write down ideas that need to be done at home (and vice-versa).  I would probably keep just one if I was self-employed.  

Do you find that Mark’s recommendation to ignore task priority works for you? 

Yes.  However, I’m still getting over feeling nervous about it.   What I find important is to keep the discipline.  One of the rules is to scan the list before I start acting on it.  This let’s my intuition kick in before I decide what needs to be done.  That way I don’t forget about important things.     A very valuable feature of AF4 is that it highlights the stuff I have not touched in a long time and it begs me, pleads with me, cajoles me into doing something about it.  About half the time, I simply highlight the item so I can forget about it and move on.  The other half of the time, I force myself to do 5 minutes of work on it so I can move it to the front of the list.  Oddly enough, this feels quite satisfying and I am surprisingly productive when I do it.

Along the same lines, what do you do when a task comes up that should get addressed soon/immediately? 

This is where the philosophy really kicks in.  The first thing I observe is that 95% of everything that is “urgent” is really not as urgent as we think.   Case in point- when I got these questions, my impulse was to answer them immediately because I had all these ideas about them.  Then I settled down and focused on the rules.  I wrote down a task to answer the letter and finally took it on when the time was right (after some more pressing tasks were completed).    For those rare, truly pressing tasks, I find that as long as I keep the rule of scanning the list, my intuition forces me to work on them.    For instance, I got an email this morning saying that an output of mine was broken and it was urgent to fix it before an 11am meeting.  I wrote it on my list and then went back to scanning my email.  Then I scanned the AF4 list, did a few items on my backlog that I felt needed to be done, and then my brain started screaming at me to do this one item.  I couldn’t even concentrate on what I was reading.   I got it done way ahead of schedule and was able to feel very satisfied in all the work I had accomplished.

So, what seems to me to be the most wonderful thing about AF4 is this discovery that I have a personal assistant to help me focus on what’s important.   So far this has not let me down and my confidence in “my little personal assistant” is increasing. 


ErikD said...

Thanks Eric! I'm still a bit concerned about the priority issue though.

One of the things that jumped out at me when watching Lifehacker's video interview of Mark was how many pages he had in his notebook that still had a few unfinished tasks on them. Add to that the fact that he only allows himself to scan/act on one page at a time, and I'm filled with fear that I'll be slow to act on high priority tasks because they happen to be on other pages.

For example, the urgent "due by 11am" task that you mentioned would go at the bottom of the last page in his notebook, but then he's going to go back to scanning/acting on the page he had been working on before the interruption, right?

Maybe the only answer is to try it. :)

Rex said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience here, Eric.

I'm going to have to try this out.

Eric Jorgensen said...

Yeah, as with all good things, a dose of practice is worth a thousand speculations. You are always in control of what you do. You *will* get to the important stuff!