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productivity hacks, reviews

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This is Week 26 of a Year of Living Productively

This week I tested Deven’s modification of one of Mark Forster’s Autofocus approaches that I called Focus & Relief. I worked from two lists–a Focus list with urgent and deadlined tasks and a Relief list for everything else. Up to three Relief tasks could also be moved to the Focus list. Scroll to the bottom of last week’s post for details.

How Focus & Relief Saved My Sanity This Week

  • Gave me a true focus list. When I tried the original Autofocus approach, I had to hunt through an enormous list to find urgent or deadlined tasks. I really liked having all these tasks on their own list plus three more tasks that I just wanted to get to–and no more. I tend to overdo it on the “want to get to” tasks being added to my focus list. Both lists were short which empowered me to get more done. This advantage likely wouldn’t be present the longer I worked the system.
  • Helped me accomplish non-deadlined tasks. Just the fact that these tasks were on a separate list motivated me to do them. It may be a language thing (calling these tasks “relief tasks”), but I also felt free to work on them whereas I haven’t before. I felt I should be doing urgent work or recreating and little in-between.
  • Gave me an alternate reward for work. When I used Autofocus originally, I included absolutely everything I wanted to do–even fun, frivolous things. I realized partway into the week that I could do this again, including them on the Relief list. I found that the system rewarded my work with tasks rather than time as the Pomodoro did. Jacq, a blog reader and friend, calls this a “task sandwich” and it was very effective. Finally, I really enjoyed the Autofocus approach of crossing off and rewriting tasks that I had worked on but hadn’t completed. This functioned as a reward as well.

How Focus & Relief Made Me Crazy This Week

  • Resisted starting with the Relief list. I understand the idea that we can get so stuck on urgent and deadlined tasks that we never get around to the not urgent, but important tasks. But feeling forced to start with that list didn’t work for me. Part of that is because I had urgent things to do that had to be addressed first thing and part of that is because I have already experienced the value of Eat That Frog. If the Relief list is used to record recreational tasks, there shouldn’t have to be a requirement to use it to be effective.
  • Resisted the other rules, too. After writing down the focus tasks and relief tasks, I usually knew what I wanted to do and did it. At other times, I just wanted to scan the list in any order to decide what I wanted to do. As before, I both liked the paper list and didn’t like it. It’s very satisfying to cross off tasks and see the list shrink, but I hated carrying it around. I did like the approach I chose for listing tasks, however. I used the front of a notebook for Focus tasks and the back for Relief tasks.
  • Difficult to identify the 3 Relief tasks on the Focus list. I didn’t use any kind of notation for the three non-urgent tasks I chose, so after I had completed a number of tasks, I honestly couldn’t remember what they were. I didn’t know if I could choose more or not, so I just didn’t worry about it. I found myself as happy to work on the substantive tasks in the Relief list as any other anyway.

Did Focus & Relief Help Me Get Things Done?

Yes, and I enjoyed it. I am starting to think that rewarding myself with a task could be even more effective than rewarding myself with time–maybe because the time feels too restrictive? I have serious concerns about using this method on paper long-term, however. I can see how it could become unwieldy over time. It would necessitate the use of stars and rules that I’m not wild about using.


I don’t use any type of long task list anymore. I now find it rewarding to work ahead and get tasks done before their scheduled time. I also enjoy the free time I have over lunch hour and after 8 p.m. That’s what I was missing before.

Sparring Mind

The Productivity Approach I’ll Be Using for Week 27

This week I’ll be testing the Accountability Chart from Sparring MindThe day is broken up into 90-minute work periods followed by 15-minute breaks. You write down what you accomplish during each 90-minute block.

The concept. Research of masters of music suggests that those who practice for 90 minutes and then rest for 15-20 minutes achieve the most in terms of skill building. The idea is similar to Pomodoros, but allows for longer periods of work.

Research also suggests that dieters who record what they eat lose the most weight. Combining these two approaches should theoretically help us get more done. Either that or I will lose weight and be playing piano better by next week.

If you’d like to join me this week, here’s what you do. Read Sparring Mind’s article on productivity and watch the 3-minute video if you’d like. It’s one of those cool white board animations. Choose a method of timing your work and rest breaks and have something ready (notebook, white board, smart phone) to record what you accomplish during each period.

To see how I did with an accountability chart, click here.

If you’ve tried Deven’s Focus & Relief method to increase your productivity, please comment. I will no longer be including polls.

Here are the links to the productivity hacks I’ve tried so far:

A Year of Living Productively

Week 1: Paper To-Do List

Week 2: Covey’s Quadrants

Week 3: Routines

Week 4: Paper Planner

Week 5: SMEMA

Week 6: Guilt Hour

Week 7: Envision Ideal Day

Week 8: Do it Tomorrow

Week 9: Pomodoro

Week 10: Time Warrior

Week 11: Scheduling

Week 12: The Repeat Test

Week 13: Personal Kanban

Week 14: Eat That Frog

Week 15: Vacation

Week 16: David Seah’s 7:15AM Ritual

Week 17: Another Simple and Effective Method

Week 18: Daily/Weekly/Monthly To-Do List

Week 19: Ultimate Time Management System

Week 20: Getting Things Done

Week 21: Time Blocking

Week 22: Morning Ritual

Week 23: Beat the Week

Week 24: Productivity Ritual

Week 25: Make it Happen in 10 Minutes