Adding pictographs to your To Do list

I've switched over to using Mark Forster's new "Autofocus" system, which seems to suit my way of working better than GTD did. Boiled down to one sentence, it calls for using an ordinary list with everything you need/want to do on it, and simply scanning the items on the list and relying on your gut feelings to tell you what to do next. (See if you want details.)

You are supposed to use a notebook large enough to put a couple dozen items on each page, and scan a whole page at a time while deciding what it's best to do at that moment. I've tweaked the system a bit by adding a little pictograph that indicates the nature of that To Do at the far right edge beside each item. For me, this makes page scanning much more efficient.

For example, if I'm currently away from the office, there's no point in reading the items that can only be done at work. Similarly, why get distracted by the details of what I need to discuss with Betty, if Betty isn't around to speak to? And the reverse -- if I impulsively stop at the video rental place, I want to quickly find the title of that Italian movie Joe raved about last week and not have to skim through everything else in my notes to find it.

The symbols I use are pictures that indicate the nature of the item, but they have been simplified so nothing takes more than a couple of pen strokes AND they require absolutely no artistic ability (thank goodnesss!) Here are my most commonly used ones:

Two small circles connected by a short line = handset = telephone call to make.

A box divided into four boxes by a vertical and a horizonal line = the windows logo = task that can only be done on a computer.

A circle with three lines drawn across it, dividing it into six 'pie' pieces = spider web = requires internet access. (I use different computers, not all of them are hooked to the web.)

A square with a triangle on top of it = a child's drawing of a house = tasks to do at home.

A rectangle with two slanted lines coming partway up from the bottom line = a car windshield with wipers = errands to run.

A line slanting up then turning to form an ovalish loop = a feather plume = something I need to write.

A vertical rectangle with a line slanting up from the top left corner = a book = something to read, not necessarily a book.

A square with an additional short vertical line from its center up past the border = a store's hand-carry basket = something I need to buy.

A spiral = partially unwound reel of film = movie/video/tv show to watch.

In addition to the pictographs, I also use a few more standard tags:

A pair of letters = someone's initials = a topic I need to discuss with that person.

W = just a large W = tasks that must be done at the office. (Yes, this is lame but I have no visual 'shorthand' for my office.)

A circled date = the deadline = for time critical stuff.

$ = financial tasks.

Really simple and basic, yes? But I've found it saves me a surprising amount of time while scanning. Even if you aren't using the Autofocus system, it might be useful with any general To Do list.

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Easy "pictures"

For those of us who have no artisitc ability (namely me!) I really like how you turned what could be complicated pictures into something very simple! Great ideas and thank you for sharing how you draw the pictures!!

I use an even simpler

I use an even simpler system. A triangle is my house (roof): anything to do at home A square is work- in an ugly boxlike building. A circle is errand: the car wheel, and a culicue is something to do at computer or telephone, because of the coiled cable on a land line receiver. I rarely use my cell phone, so all computer and phone tasks take place at a desk, with my appt. book in front of me. I mostly use these codes when I am in meetings, and think of something to record immediately. I carry a 2x2.5 inch pad of paper and a tiny pen in my id wallet, and transfer the info to my planner when I get back to my desk.

Thanks I enjoy your way of

Thanks I enjoy your way of planning it. Gunna be using this with my hipster to-do lists.

Proud owner of a Newton 2100

SusanBeth, are you still using the Autofocus system?

I have been reading about the Autofocus system, and I loved this idea of using pictographs.
Are you still using it? Is it working?
I'm about to sit down and brain dump and thought I'd ask if it's still working a year later.


Actually, it's been over two years!

Wow, time flies....

Yes, I'm still using my (simplified, minimized) version of Autofocus, complete with my artistic embellishments. (Hah!)

The 'full' version of Autofocus, with various new/continuing lists, with rules on where to start scanning, how to 'dismiss' tasks, and all that, is too much for my pretty basic needs. Actually, should say 'versions' since he had at least four variants the last time I looked. Not that I'm knocking them, it's just over kill for what I need.

I'm amazed at how stable my system has been for years now. No more starting over from scratch every four months or so, no more buying expensive organizing gear over and over. Outside of few spiral notebooks (bought a New School Year sales for like 25 cents each) and packs of white index cards (dirt cheap year round) I haven't spent a penny on gear.

Though I'm mighty tempted by those new notebooks w/3 index card pages at Staples. Would they add enough convenience to my system (no more rewriting of tasks onto cards for when I'm away from my notebooks) to offset some added complexity.

Hmm. Must think more on this.

Two years is amazing!!!

That's awesome to hear, considering I'm starting this method. I love the pictograms and the general EASE of the system. Write it down. When you do it, cross it off. Have you made any other adjustments to what you've already described, or are you doing the main things you mentioned?

Also, I know you gave us a generous list of pictograms, but I was curious to know if you've thought of anymore that you use routinely?

If you have any pictures of your spirals, I'd love to see it. (I'm a visual learner, alas.)

As to your decision about the notebooks with the index card pages, good luck! I assume the reason you use the index cards is for 1) portability and 2) cost. Although I'm sure those notebooks (keep in mind, there are still TONS of school supply sales going on!) are pretty reasonable compared to more luxurious things mentioned here, would you carry the new and improved notebook with you?

Thank you again for sharing and for inspiring me to quit 'getting organized' and start LIVING.

Changes in my system/pictographs

Okay, I admit I've made two sizeable changes to the system: a Someday/Maybe List and a Toad list.

These relate to tasks that are hanging around undone for too long. As I said, I generally have maybe 18-20 ToDos on a page. When I've crossed off all but a couple items I tear out the page, because I hate the messiness plus why waste time scanning a page that's mostly done and gone? Then I give the remaining items on the page a bit of scrutiny, as in, why haven't I done them?

Sometimes it's pure happenstance -- haven't had a change to talk to X about Y yet. Fine, write the task back onto the end of the on-going ToDo list.

Sometimes the item is just super low priority, and then I decide whether I really want or need to do it at all. If the answer is yes, I put it on my separate Some Day/Maybe list which lives on the last few pages of the notebook. Some Day I may have the time/ambition to put the pictures I inherited from my mother into albums. Maybe I'll decide to put in a spiral herb garden. Things like that: stuff it might be good to do or have done, but they'll never be the task I turn to any time soon.

If the answer is no, I'm really not all that interested or needful of the task being done, poof! Just throw them away with the discarded list. :)

However SOMETIMES the task is important, but I'm not doing it for emotional reasons. Such as: it'll be hard. I'm worried about screwing it up. It will involve a tense confrontation with someone. It's a job I resent having to do. It's outside of my comfort zone. These are things I am genuinely procrastinating on -- and isn't pretty much all procrastination due to negative emotions? I think so.

Anyway, important but unpleasant tasks get moved to my TOAD LIST. (Yes, another list.) When I need to create a new TOAD list I just take the next blank page after the existing To Do pages, write TOAD at the top of the page, and then color a bright red stripe down the right margin so I can find it easily.

You know that saying about "Eat a toad first thing every day, and everything else won't seem so bad?" Well, my 'rule' is that I have to do a TOAD first thing every Monday morning. Hey, Monday mornings are bad anyway, making them a bit worse doesn't hurt much.

Okay, sometimes I can't do them first thing on Monday, due to some aspect of their nature -- perhaps a needed resource isn't available until the afternoon, or even not until Wednesday -- but I *have* to do it at the first opportunity.

A Toad a week keeps the Unpleasantnesses from piling up into real problems. :)

Wow, this is getting long. I think I did essays that were shorter. Let me move on to a new rock.

"If you eat a live toad first thing in the morning..."

...nothing worse can happen to either of you for the rest of the day
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson) ***

I think I need separate lists, too

I think I need to have separate lists, too. And I LOVE the Toad List idea and as Ygor pointed out, it won't kill us either. =)
And I understand what you mean about the former Office Supply Addiction. My husband swears I need to start a Office Supply/Organizer's Annonymous group. I've also been reading up on Visual Thinking/Mind Mapping/Idea Mapping and I went to Office Max today. I wanted to buy a brand new set of 48 markers. But I have a wonderful set colored pencils at home. Way cheaper and in my opinion better for the environment (no plastic tubes to toss when they run out).
I agree--simple is better. Although the magnetic pull of 'buy me' from the store shelves is sometimes a bit of a battle.
When it comes to your writing projects, do you make a to do project list for each or do you just add it to the Autofocus list?
Thank you for your original post and your update!

Moving on....

Pictographs: no, I haven't found any other categories useful *for me*. It would not at all surprise me that there are symbols I use that are of no use to you, and categories of tasks that keep coming up in your To Do list that I didn't mention. To each our own.

I don't have a picture of my spirals, but they're nothing special: put your pen onto the paper, make as if you were drawing a little circle but 'miss' connecting with the starting point by going a bit wide. Then go around again, as many times as you like, just getting bigger each time. Personally, I only do a lap and a half: that's enough for me to recognize what the symbol is.

Oh, right, I *DO* use another symbol -- a star! Or many stars! On tasks that are super important DO RIGHT NOW things. This is in addition to the regular 'category' symbols.

You're probably right that I wouldn't get real benefit from the index-card notebooks. I suffer lingering twinges of WANNA BUY ORGANIZER STUFF from my former addiction. For example, over a year ago I bought two cute little plastic boxes designed to store index cards. Adorable things, with dividers and snap closures, could hold maybe 50 cards. I got a blue one for work stuff, a purple one for personal.

And they're sitting on top of my file cabinet, now, just gathering dust. They did nothing for me that my ponytail elastics didn't accomplish AND they took longer to get the card I wanted out of, or back into AND since they always were an inch and a half thick regardless of how few cards they actually held they were more awkward to keep in my purse or pocket.

Simplicity is good. I keep having to remind myself of that when something new and shiny catches my eye.

I don't do list so no Autofocus for me but I love the icons idea

I am on a no buying anything at the stationnery store that doesn't fit inside my Field Journal Notebook, which is a half letter size, 3 rings binder style.

I have been really thinking hard on the best setup for ultimate at home and on the go organization without too much bulkiness which would add weight and make the on the go part a pain to deal with.

I had to buy ink refill for my printer, so I took the time to do major browsing at the local Office Depot.

I need another utilitarian stuff so I am going to get it from the local Office Max to check what they have.

There is no Staples in within 50 miles of where I live so I had to find an alternative and there is an independantly owned office store not far from me and there is a Franklin Covey in a nearby town.

Those two have a website and need to be checked, in person, as soon as possible.

It's fall and I feel like a squirreling stationary stuff but my place is pretty much full of letter size organizing items.

So on to outfit my half letter size Field Journal Notebook.


Edited to say after a few weeks, I had to get paper manilla folder for important papers. I have all kind of plastic folders at home but no paper ones.

So I headed to the local Office Max which was on the way to the grocery store, I spotted it a while ago and did some search on their website to see what they carry in store.

I don't have a Staples in my area, and I know the layout by heart of other big box office store.

So this store has a half letter size binder area and I found that:

The multicolor dividers I have been looking for. :)

They are so nice and lightweight, I almost bought multiple of them.

But Avery makes them in the pink and purple family which I like more. If they are as lightweigh as the ones in multiple colors, I most probably will buy multiples for my half letter size Field Journal Notebooks:

I can even mix and match the tabs of both set of dividers! Oh goody!

I will be checking out stores for half letter size page protectors and maybe a moving Today tab/tabs and the elusive half letter paper punch.

I forgot, the store had pink and purple plastic document cases which match my desk drawers perfectly, on sale, I got 2.