How to Manage Your To-do List

Tame your to-do List with the Autofocus task manager system.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #143

How to Use the Autofocus 4 System

The system is simple. Copy your current to-do list into your notebook. Draw a line after the last item. Every time you think of a new thing to do, add it to the end of the list. The items before the line are called your backlog. The items you’ve added after the line are your current list. Unlike other systems, your items can be as big, small, vague, or specific as you like, as long as you know what they mean. “Buy lugnut to repair electric ear-cleaning attachment” goes on the list, as does “iguana pancakes.” As long as you have some idea what you mean by “iguana pancakes.”

Start at the beginning of your backlog and scan forward. When you see something you feel like working on, work on it for as long as you want. Then cross it off. If it isn’t done, re-enter it at the end of your current list. Then keep going through your backlog. When you come to the line you drew, don’t go into the current list. Go back to the start of the backlog and keep cycling until you do one full pass through the backlog and no items stand out as something you want to work on.

Now pass through the line into the current list. Work through the current list in order, one time only, using the same rules: work on an item for as long as you want. Then cross it off and if needed, re-enter it at the end of the current list.

When you’ve finished the current list, loop back to the start of the backlog again. When you’ve crossed everything off the backlog, draw a new line at the end of the current list. The current list becomes your new backlog. What we’ve covered so far guarantees you’ll make at least some progress on everything you want to work on. But what’s to stop some items from staying in your backlog forever? There’s one last rule that handles that.

How to Deal with Items On Your Backlog

When you return to the backlog after working the active list, if you don’t work on at least one backlog item the first time through, highlight all remaining items with a little star. Starred items are now On Review. When you next work through the backlog, you have only three choices with items on review: cross them out forever, work on them and add them to your current list, or put a note in your calendar to reconsider them sometime in the future. Click here for my episode on deciding which tasks can be dropped.

And that’s the whole system: Draw a line after your backlog. Work through the backlog making some progress on some things. When nothing strikes you, move once through the current list, then back to the backlog. If you decide to do nothing the first time through the backlog, put everything on review and work your current list.

This system will handle everything in your life, and, as you’ll discover when you try it, the On Review feature forces you to drop those “I’ll get to them someday” things that you never actually work on. All that’s left is a Mind Like Zen. A mind perfect for reading my upcoming book Get-it-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!


To-Do List image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.