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Taskpaper by Hog Bay Software is a nice iPhone app that allows you to manage tasks and projects and also to write text. I recently bought the app and found that it can also be used as a great tool to implement Autofocus system on iPhone.

Autofocus system proposed by Mark Forster, a time management expert and author of Do It Tomorrow, is less well known than “Getting things done” system of David Allen but deserves more attention as it offers a very simple but highly effective way of getting tasks done.

Autofocus basically consists in working with unordered lists of tasks. The lists are divided into two kinds, namely closed lists and open lists.

You start by putting down all things you need to do on a sheet of paper or on Taskpaper that I will review below. When you are done recording all the tasks, you cross a bar under the list of tasks. Items above the bar is called a closed list. They are called as such because you do not add more tasks in the closed list.

Now, you work on any item on the closed list that you just feel like to do. There is no priority or context required as criteria for what task to do. You just leave it to your intuition.

You work on the task as long as you want. When the task is completed, you mark the task by drawing a strike through over it. If the task is not finished, you do the same marking but also add the item under the bar. You scan through the list and select and work on other tasks again based on your gut feeling.

While doing this scan-work-mark process, if a new task pops up in your mind, you add it under the bar. All the items newly added under the bar are called an open list.

Once all the items in the closed list have been scanned, you go to the open list and check if there is a task that you feel like to do. You do it and mark it as done and/or add it at the end of the open list.

You do the rounds of this work process repeatedly. As time flows, all the tasks in the closed list will be eventually completed or newly added into the open list.

When no task is left in the closed list, you draw a new bar under the open list. Now the existing open list becomes a new closed list.

This repeated cycles of working on closed and open lists help you to get tasks done in an effective manner while leaving no tasks undone. If you want to know more about Autofocus system, visit http://www.markforster.net/autofocus-system.

Now the question is what iPhone apps are out there to implement Autofocus?

The answer is “not many”. As of writing this article in September 2010, I found only three apps that may be called Autofocus-friendly. They are Focuspad, Focustodo, and Taskpaper.

Focuspad looks promising app for Autofocus, but stopped working properly since I upgraded to IOS 4.1. For a review on the Focuspad, visit http://www.markforster.net/forum/post/906911

Focustodo quite nicely succeeds in porting Autofocus system onto. However, it has shortcomings like lack of ability to create a bar between the closed and open lists, which is possible in the Focuspad, and inability to move tasks once they are created.

As for Taskpaper, it has double advantage in that it can be used for Autofocus and also for managing tasks, texts and projects. Compared with the two apps above, Taskpaper has much simpler interface.

Any item you create on the blank screen of the app can have three modes of note, task, and project. Once you insert a new item, you can change it into one of the three modes by pressing Enter key.

When you complete a task, you swipe you finger over it from left to right. Then the task is marked as done with a nice looking line. You can also drag and drop any times by pressing them for about one second. This makes it easy to make any items into a subtask or a subproject. You can create as many items as possible by typing each item and pressing Enter keys.

If have plenty of completed tasks, you can mark them as done and collect them at the bottom of the list simply by choosing archive button. This is really convenient feature that easily removes clutter of completed tasks in the list.

Taskpaper does not support one principle of Autofocus that when you do not finish a task in the closed list you cross it out but newly add it into the open list. I solve this problem with a simple drag and drop of the unfinished item from the closed list to the open list.

One of the major strengths of Autofocus system is the simplicity that lies in working a blank paper and creating and working on tasks with no imposition of constraints like deadlines, contexts or others. In this regard, Taskpaper, with its simple but efficient interface and functions, is a nice tool to implement Autofocus

Don’t think that Taskpaper is an app that should be used only for managing tasks. You can use it as a great outliner program. Writing a long text gets easier when you type random ideas in the app and later flesh out each idea by adding sub items.

Last but not least, Taskpaper’s files are also saved in real time on a website offered by the developer. This ensures that you can always keeps copies of all your documents in a safe place.

Taskpaper has many more potentials not covered in this short review. If you are interested in Autofocus system or just looking for a nice app for todo management, you should definitely try Taskpaper.

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