Need more time? Who doesn't? You can't create more time, but you can always manage the time you have more effectively.
The Autofocus Time Management System was developed by Mark Forster as a reaction against the most common time management advice—prioritizing tasks based on one's opinion of their importance. Forster found personal prioritization unhelpful at best and harmful at worst.
Humans tend to focus on what they perceive to be most threatening, and the Autofocus System balances what appears to be most urgent with what is most important.
Here's how to adopt it.
Adopting the Autofocus Time Management System is Simple
There are old school and new school methodologies for how to be more productive without losing your mind.
This system is old school in its implementation and consists of three easy steps:
Start with a sheet (or sheets) of lined notebook paper and list everything you have to do. As new tasks come to mind, add them to the list and review them without taking action.
Read through the list again, slowly, until a task stands out to you. Work on that task as long as you "feel like doing so." When you stop, whether finished with the item or not, cross it off the list (if the task isn't completed, re-enter it at the end of the list).
Repeat this process of slowly pouring over the list and tackling tasks as they stand out to you or until none of them stand out to you.
The Autofocus System creator claims that it has dramatically increased the amount of work he gets done, reduced his stress, and accelerated routine projects. The "autofocus" refers to paying attention to what your mind latches onto, and "you just feel like the item is ready to be done." Sound murky? Not according to Forster. "It's hard to describe but easy to recognize," he said.
The system helps balance the brain's rational and intuitive processes—the conscious and subconscious. The rational or conscious mind pays more attention to what is most urgent than what might be essential. Providing time and space for the subconscious or intuitive mind to show up allows what is most important to present itself.
This system allows you to balance attention to urgent and important tasks by giving each part of your brain equal input in what you chose to focus on.
Break Down Long Lists by Task Type
Though simplicity is key to this system's success, Forster realized that it could be challenging to manage a very long to-do list. If you find yourself not knowing where to begin, he recommends dividing your list into four sections:
- New tasks
- Recurring tasks
- Unfinished tasks
- Old tasks
The easiest way to create the sections is by using four separate pages, but you can also use columns or a grid if that's more intuitive for you.
Using this structure, start your day by tackling new tasks. Once you feel ready to move on from those, do your recurring tasks, and so forth. Whenever you stop an activity without finishing it, add it to your unfinished list and, if you reach the end of the day without starting one of your new tasks, add it to the old tasks list.
Repeat this process daily, so you make consistent progress on all of your task types.
The Dos and Don'ts of Successful Adoption
The Autofocus System might seem too unstructured to be a time management method, but some best practices that Forster calls "dos and don'ts" can make the system work.
- "Trust the system," Forster said. At first, it may feel unnatural or unproductive tackling tasks throughout the day without a clear plan, but if you stay focused on work, you'll rapidly cross items off your to-do list.
- Use common sense and react to an emergency if there is a real one! Just add what you were working on to the bottom of your list, so you remember to come back to it later.
- Record the date next to the first task you add to a list every day to monitor your progress.
- Create calendar items for tasks that need to be done at a particular time, and set reminders for time-sensitive projects.
- Review the list after an extended break (weekend, vacation) from work.
- Leave creative time off the list. Planning, brainstorming, or asking a specific person for input might not seem like tasks, but they can be. Your intuitive mind will let you know when you need to perform these kinds of exercises.
- Pre-edit what you put on the list. The whole point is to not prioritize in advance and instead let the right task present itself.
- Put your personal tasks on the list, like lunch or medical appointments, or keep them on a separate list that you review outside of work.
Following these best practices will allow you to focus on top-of-mind activities without getting distracted or forgetting about important projects.
Stay Focused with a Virtual Assistant
Many busy entrepreneurs turn to virtual assistants to help them manage their workloads, and they can be an ideal partner in implementing the Autofocus Time Management System. Not only can they help you keep your to-do list organized, but they can also take tedious tasks like scheduling, workflow management, and document management off your plate. This allows you to focus on the tasks that require your authority and expertise.