I find this advice from John Kay’s Obliquity very useful:
When faced with a task that daunts you, a project that you find difficult, begin by doing something. Choose a small component that seems potentially relevant to the task. While it seems to make sense to plan everything before you start, mostly you can’t: objectives are not clearly enough defined, the nature of the problem keeps shifting, it is too complex, and you lack sufficient information. The direct approach is simply impossible.
The start of a new year is always a good time to consider one’s time management techniques. I’m a bit of an addict when it comes to lists and discovering new systems, but in recent years I have repeatedly come back to Mark Forster and his AutoFocus series – see Mark’s blog for details.
The joining of ‘auto’ and ‘focus’ is at the heart of Mark’s concept. You focus on the task in hand – one thing at a time – but you are led to which task to work on by a sort of gut-feeling (the ‘auto’ part of the process). You write down all your tasks (in a similar, though simpler, process to David Allen’s Getting Things Done method), and select which one to work on by whichever ‘stands out’ as you read through the list (or part of the list). So you learn to trust yourself to know what should be done next, while also having the security of knowing that nothing will be forgotten, as it’s all been written down.
Another important aspect of the Autofocus system is the process of ‘dismissal’ – knowing when it’s time to let go of a task, when it is no longer relevant to your main goals, or it’s just not the right time to be devoting attention to it.
Mark is constantly experimenting with new and improved versions of his system, but I find I tend to come back to his original – AutoFocus 1 – sometimes with the SuperFocus variant. The reason I return to these versions of the system is that one only has to deal with a page at a time, in choosing which task to undertake next. I find this contributes an element of surprise and interest to what I have to do (as every time you turn the page you don’t know what will be there, and a page of tasks from which to choose doesn’t feel too daunting) whereas reading my whole list of all possible tasks every day would only be dispiriting and demotivating.
So many thanks to Mark Forster for being a constant source of inspiration in the game of trying to cram too many things into too short a span of life – and a Happy New Year to everyone!