Using the Autofocus(-ish) Method with Evernote

I read about the Autofocus method by Mark Forster a few months ago and instantly fell in love with it. I picked up a new notebook and created an autofocus list immediately! I loved the idea of doing whatever I felt like doing for as long as I wanted (and then coming back to it later if not finished) without losing track of what was complete and what needed a follow-up.

I was quick to start using the autofocus method for work and personal projects. As I crossed away, I realized that the autofocus method is great for creative tasks but not for tasks that have deadlines. After a while, I stopped using autofocus because I found that most of the tasks I do are deadline-bound and therefore don’t go into the autofocus list (or if I put the item in the autofocus list, I don’t have a way of tracking the deadline there).

Also, I have several projects and areas of responsibility to focus on spread out over work, my side hustle and my personal life. Putting everything into an autofocus list makes the list a little overwhelming, and does not provide any way to filter tasks by individual projects or areas of responsibility. I suppose using three different autofocus lists is a possible solution, but there would still be way too many items in a single list and I still wouldn't get an option to filter by a single project.

Also, since the autofocus method is its own way of prioritizing tasks, I can’t separate tasks that I want to do some day in the future from those I want to do now. To be honest, these tasks would probably get weeded out during the “review” where tasks that I don’t work on are highlighted (and probably transferred to a different list), but I didn’t get that far with this method.

I have been a premium Evernote subscriber for the past 2 years, and I have been using it primarily for note-taking. A few days back, I decided to give Evernote a shot at personal task management. I created a todo tag for every note that is actually a task. While using this method, I found that it is possible to simulate the autofocus method using Evernote by doing something like this:

  1. Use a tag for every note that is a task (e.g. todo)
  2. Search for all notes with that tag (you can create a saved search as well) and sort by date updated (least recent to most recent)
  3. Go through list of notes from top to bottom

You now see a list of tasks that are not complete, with the least recently worked on task on top. In a physical autofocus list, this would be the first uncrossed item on the list. When you work on a task and update its note, it moves to the bottom of the list. That way you simulate having the least recently done tasks on the top of the list. This is in essence what you get from a physical autofocus list if you ignore all the crossed out items in between.

It is autofocus-ish because you don’t get the satisfaction of physically crossing an item off a list (and adding it back to the end of the list if required). But in a way that’s nice because you can clearly see the tasks next to each other without any distractions in between.

Now I can use the autofocus method digitally with my tasks in Evernote! The Evernote mobile app sorts with most recently updated note first and does not allow you to change the sort order. So I have to scroll and start from the bottom to find the least recently updated tasks. It’s a minor inconvenience, and I hope the feature to change the sort order comes soon to the mobile app.