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GTD and Autofocus in GQueues

My daughter recently enrolled in a Bachelors course in Health Science as she plans to become a Naturopath.  With a tendency to procrastinate like her father, she sent me some podcasts by Michael Hyatt as well as a couple of introductory animated videos about the GTD system that she was enthused by.  A week later she came up to the house for a day to study and use our computer resources to print her assignments.  We chatted about our time management struggles and she was excited to show me Nozbe, an GTD-friendly app on her Android tablet that she had embraced.   I was very impressed and immediately set up the system on my PC and on my phone too.  I spent the next weekend laboriously loading my scattered to-do list and plans, tweaking the app to function as a GTD "trusted system".

I stuck with Nozbe for about 3 weeks, but found it to be a bit clunky and awkward.  Also too expensive at over $120 (Australian) per year, so I searched for something better, finally deciding to try GQueues.  The price was good and I was attracted by the strong Google integration as I am very Google-orientated - in my job as IT manager at a school, I have rolled out Google Education to 500 students and staff.    

After another weekend migrating my data, this time across from Nozbe to GQueues, and following the GQueues and GTD  video tutorial to configure the application the way I wanted, I got back into the real world to test the efficiency of my new time-management system.   It was good, but still felt too complicated - all those queues to keep an eye on.   Being the procrastinator that I am, I started surfing the Internet again for more ideas about GTD and to-do methodologies and I stumbled across a comment by Tim Grahl of a successful entrepreneur who said that he ditched GTD in favour of Mark Forster's  Autofocus.   After a few days messing around with the Autofocus concept I was a convert!   I then set about reconfiguring GQueues to mimic the Autofocus method in its latest iteration by Mark Forster which he aptly names FV for Final Version.  

Back on the coal-face of the real world, how would my new configuration shape up?  Well, my excuse for procrastination has been nipped in the bud - the system simply works for me and I am "Getting Things Done" like never before!    

If you have read thus far, I am guessing you may be interested, so following is my method for :

Setting up Autofocus / FV, using GQueues
Autofocus is a linear system and uses only one Next-Action-List.  So the Queues in GQueues become mostly superfluous.  Everything goes into one Inbox which you can expect to be quite long - I often have over fifty Tasks.  You only have one life, so everything you want to remind yourself about goes here - work, home, personal etc.  I have found this to be very liberating, rather than separating my one life/timeline into separate boxes.

Likewise the top-level containers in GQueues (Categories) can be reduced to a minimum.  These become storage areas for:
  • The Pool:  maybe/one day stuff, and folders to store information where you can find it when needed (phone account details, bills paid).
  • Checklists:  eg stuff to pack on a business trip, shopping lists etc
  • Due:  lastly any schedules and calendar appointment go here as these will have a due date and reminder set and we do not need the extra clutter in our main to-do list, the Inbox.

How about Projects?  you ask.   GTD defines projects as action items that need to be broken down to more than one Task.  GQueues provides the perfect mechanism for this of course - Sub-tasks.   By adding Sub-tasks below the main project header Task, we have a project broken down into manageable chunks.   

In the project header Task, we add a tag (here coloured orange) @SUBTASKS.   As we do not need to view all Sub-tasks whenever we check our Inbox, this tag tells us at a glance that there are Sub-tasks hidden within.   
Note that GQueues also indicates the presence of Sub-tasks in the coloured block to the left
though this can be easy to miss if a pale colour is used.

In the paper-based Autofocus system, you would read through your Next-Action-List from the oldest item, picking out the jobs you decide to tackle today.   In GQueues, we create a tag named 2DAY (here coloured green) - using the numeric character "2" in the tag name ensures that it appears at the top of our tag list, and to the left on a Task view.   

A Smart Queue named Today is then created with the rule set to capture all calendar items "from the beginning of time to the end of today", as well as those tasks with an 2DAY tag.

Now we are set to action just those tasks appearing in our shorter Today list.   Lastly in the Autofocus FV version, Mark Forster asks us to pick three task that we will action now.     

NOTE:   Forster has two methods - a low-energy "let's get the simple stuff done first" approach, then the alternative high-energy "first do those jobs you most resist" challenge.   As you use GQueues you simply make up your own mind which of these two approaches is going to drive your choice of tasks.

To manage the three-task selection in GQueues, we create four additional tags, @NOW_1,  _2  _3 and _z  
Again, the @ sign ensures that it appears at the top of our tag list, and to the left on a Task view.  

Then we configure a second Smart Queue named NOW!  with the rule set to capture all items with any of these four tags.

Note here that, apart from All Tasks, Inbox and Assignments, we can also delete the default Smart Queues installed with GQueues as these are no longer needed.
As you go ahead and pick your three tasks for immediate action, you tag them @NOW_1,   @NOW_2 or @NOW_3  in order of priority. The @NOW_z tag is a wild card which allows for any high priority tasks that may crop up in the meantime.  

Looking at the Now! Smart Queue, you have the three Tasks ready to get done.  When completed, simply return to the Today Queue and tag the next three Tasks for actioning.  

Tagging and Projects.
So rather than complicating things by spreading our Tasks across multiple Queues, we have one Inbox which is our Next-Action-List.   Tagging in GQueues is streamlined and fast.  To identify what project or area each Tasks belong to, we create name tags, using colours to signify the major context.  For instance I have four colours:

  • my workplace Tasks all have a blue tag
  • my home task are dark red
  • my personal items a light green
  • errands and Tasks I need to drive out to (shopping, customer appointments) and those which depend on a third-party response have a purple tag.  
I have a long list of tags to pick from and with which to label my tasks with their minor context, but I stick with those four major colours for Tasks on my Next-Action-List list.   

With a glance at our Inbox we can now identify the context of each Task without having to wade through a maze of queues.   To view all Tasks in a project, simply click on the associated Tag.   You could have tags labelled Home and Work for instance if you needed to filter each of these global categories separately.  I do not find that necessary as the tag colours give me all the information I need.  

Summing up the workflow

  1. Using any of the great tools in GQueues, we capture items to the Inbox as we think of them (my favourite is the voice recognition shortcut on my Android phone).  
  2. DAILY REVIEW: once a day, typically in the evening, we review the Inbox,
    1. select all Tasks for our next day's attention by adding the 2DAY tag, plus any context tags we need to include.
    2. scheduled Tasks are given a calendar reminder and moved to a queue in the Due container (Category).
    3. Maybe/Someday stuff  and any checklists are likewise moved to a queue under the The Pool or Checklists containers.
  3. During our working day, we review the Today Smart Queue picking out three tasks for immediate action using the @NOW tags.
  4. We get to work, action the selected Tasks from the NOW! Smart Queue and when completed, return to Step 3.
  5. WEEKLY REVIEW: at the end of each week, we do a full review of all queues, clearing out the rubbish or perhaps re-activating ideas we had in hibernation. Also all calendar reminders need to be checked for accuracy.
  6. Lastly David Allen, author of Getting Things Done urges us to ensure our priorities are tested against our life goals so we do not waste time being busy with stuff that takes us nowhere. For this we can simply put in a calendar item to review our goals every month, quarter or whatever suits.


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