The Printable CEO

Handy Dandy FormThe latest version of this form is at http://davidseah.com/pceo/cgt

I love the freedom of being a freelancer, but sometimes I wish someone with vision and drive whispered encouragement in my ear: “Good work, Dave! This Flash project you’re working on is a key part of our interactive marketing strategy! All the pieces are falling into place!” But since I work alone, it’s my job to keep myself motivated and away from the dozens of daily distractions that suck productivity out of the day:

  • You should backup and defrag the server, Dave, it’s making funny noises…
  • The time to investigate AJAX is now, Dave, before your skills completely rust into obsolesence…
  • It’s time to recatalog your MP3 collection, Dave, for maximum listening efficiency…

All of which are fine things to do, but do they move me forward in my career? NO! What I need is executive focus from a leader that understands how to grow my business, a manager that knows how to motivate me. I once read that the most effective executives ask themselves a simple question: What can I do to add value to the company? If the task at hand doesn’t add value, then screw it! Do something else that does!

Hiring my own personal CEO would be great, but who has the time and money to do an executive search? I’ve got MP3s to sort! So I did the next best thing: I designed a printable form to motivate my business development activities.

Dave's Work ListFirst, I made this list of tasks that I’ve decided contribute to my business growth, with points assigned that reflect their relative power factor. Although they’re all important, I gave lower weights to tasks that I already do frequently; I don’t need the extra motivation for those tasks. If an activity is not on the list, it isn’t worth any points. You’ll see that the tasks here are primarily oriented toward getting money, landing new revenue, making contacts, and creating tangible assets.

In case you’re wondering, the list is based on conversations I had with various business people I know; I’m sure the items will change as my focus shifts in the future.

There’s a little video game theory at work here too: while the big points are earned by the big tasks, there are enough small tasks that guarantee that you’ll do one or two of them every day. That feels good, and feeling good is an important part of maintaining a high level of engagement.

Dave's Tracking TableNext, I made this weekly progress chart that has nifty fill-in bubbles for use with a No.2 pencil. Whenever you do something on the list, you get to fill in the appropriate bubble(s) for the day. I can set an arbitrary minimum level for the day, like “I will make 5 points”. When I meet or exceed that level, I know I’ve done a good day’s work.

As stupid as this system may sound, it’s actually working. When I get to fill in a bubble, I feel a little surge of pleasure…I’ve been conditioned by standardized testing, apparently. I also get visual confirmation that I’ve done something to move my business forward. This is an interesting example of feedback in a game design sense; over the course of a week, it’s easy to evaluate your progress at any given time. It’s also easy to pick something to do, based on what you’ve done before. The bubble chart becomes a kind of game board in itself. Instead of feeling guilty for not getting to all your tasks on your ToDo list, feel good that you did make progress. Look upon your worksheet for the proof, and feel the sense of accomplishment in your gut!

I deliberately did not make this a detailed tracking form, because that just slows things down. This isn’t a tool for keeping track of how “efficient” you are every week so management can bust your ass. It’s for keeping focused, and as a reward you get to fill out a lot of bubbles with a No.2 pencil. However, since maintaining task continuity is important, the bottom of the form (not shown) is for keeping notes on what you are doing.

Anyway, you keep this sheet of paper out for the week and log what you’re doing, and hopefully it keeps you focused on things that will pay off in the long run. So far, it’s been fun.

Give it a try, enjoy the pretty colors, and let me know what happens!

» Download PDF


For a look at how to create your own list of tasks, check out the article Creating New Years Resolutions with the Concrete Goals Tracker. For more forms, formats, and editable versions, visit The Printable CEO™ Series page.


51 Comments

  1. David W. 10 years ago

    I don’t have anything as visually appealing as your sheet—just a small notepad. But sometimes I’ll add a couple of ‘fluff’ items on it. Easy stuff that I’ll do in just a few minutes here or there. Like “send invoice to xyz.” The only reason I add it is so that I can make that satisfying little red checkmark next to it once I’ve finished the task. Especially when most of the items on the list are big-ticket items, or being held up on the client end, it feels good to be able to check something.

  2. Beth 10 years ago

    A great resource is the todo list in Google Desktop V2.  I’m sure there’s a much more appealing dashboard widget equivalent for all you mac users, but it automatically saves everything.  It’s right there on my desktop all day so I know exactly what I need to be working on, and what hasn’t been done yet.  If you have to share this list with one or two other people and you don’t want to shell out the money for Backpack, Ta Da Lists are great too.  Viva list-making.

  3. Dave 10 years ago

    The ToDo list! One of my favorite topics! That’s something that I’d love to make also…I’ve tried a number of different ones, but go back to two old standbys:

    A simple text editor, like DaveW…I use formatting that looks something like this:
      o Item To Be Done
      .  Item In Progress
      x Item Completed</pre>

    I haven’t found a to-do solution that was as fast and easy to use as this. I’ll have to check out Beth’s suggestion with Google Desktop and Ta Da Lists…I’m not familiar with them. Thanks for the headsup Beth!

    I have ideas for my super to-do list system. I think it’s an interesting problem, as you’d think a list was something fairly basic, but it turns out that *how* you choose list items is a highly nuanced activity, and how you interact with the list is also personality dependent.

    I also use an excel spreadsheet with some time calculating macros in it…I’ll have to post that sometime.

  4. Cheryl 10 years ago

    Dave: This is a great tool not only for lonely entrepreneurs but for pain in the ass managers too. You DO rock!

  5. Garrett 10 years ago

    Fantastic.  I love this.  I could see this being an online tool as well.

  6. Nick 10 years ago

    Great idea, and very visually appealling too (something that is always of high importance to me, maybe overly so!).  You should suggest it as a template for Pocket Mod! [http://www.pocketmod.com/]

  7. Michael Moncur 10 years ago

    I use a very similar system, in a homebrew PHP app instead of on paper. I assign “units” to amounts of work (a weblog entry is one unit, a detailed article is 2 or 3, etc.) and set a unit goal each day.

  8. Nollind Whachell 10 years ago

    Garrett’s absolutely right. This would be an excellent online tool because you’re mapping and reinforcing your goals.

    This is one of the problems that I’m currently having in trying to structure my weblog content properly right now because I hate the default layout and structure that blogs give you because you can’t really get a good idea of what a person’s goals or interests are if you just show up to a new site, unless you spend a considerable time reading their blog and absorbing their thoughts. Instead I would like to figure out a way to show the ongoing relationship between the person’s current thoughts and their overall goals and interests. In other words, making the blog itself the motivational tool by mapping their current thoughts with where they’ve been and where they’re going (towards their goals). With your chart above, you can do this because you can see your past progress and your overall attainment in reaching your future goals. How to do this online upon a blog I’m still trying to figure out.

  9. Dave 10 years ago

    Nollind:

    That’s a fascinating problem…I actually started this blog because I was trying to figure out my own goals and interests, so it’s kind of similar. For a systematic approach, I’m visualizing it as kind of an “emergent categorization”, if that makes sense, or like goals crystalizing out of a rich solution of seemingly-unstructured ideas.

    When I first started blogging, I started with 3 categories and quickly expanded it into the set I have today. I would constantly rename and move posts until things seemed to fit just right. It was a bit of a pain in the butt because the WordPress tools aren’t designed for rapid and flexible manipulation of categories. Also, the WordPress category system is a form of hierarchical classification, as opposed to faceted classification (sort of what “tags” are, I guess, except maybe more rigorously defined). Unfortunately, I’m neither a nor am I dating a library scientist so that’s the extent of what I know, but here’s a link

    It might be interesting to not have “posts in categories”, but instead let groups of posts *define* them. For example, if you two or more posts that are “related” (without explicitly defining a category as their parent), then you have created a group. You can create as many relations as possible. And then you can use a tweaked search engine to do an exhaustive AND-based keyword search to find the common set of words (and their synonyms). The “greatest spanning set” of words become the de-facto “category”, and perhaps someone can figure out what “word” describes it in the broadest possible sense. If that can be automated, you end up with a set of categories based on your groups, hopefully finely nuanced and accurate. The idea in the end is to not have to explicitly create categories, but have them emerge by themselves using existing world data.

  10. Dave 10 years ago

    Nick:

    Thanks for the headsup on pocketmod…I hadn’t seen that before! Maybe I will make a pocketmod compatible version.

  11. Gordon 10 years ago

    I dig it. Simple, effective.

  12. Peter 10 years ago

    This is a great idea.  Could you post the original file so instead of recreating it from scratch I can just edit the items worth doing and add more to the list?

    Also, I’m very interested in your Excel timetracking spreadsheet, as that’s something I haven’t managed to sort :)

  13. Dave 10 years ago

    Hi Peter

    I’ve just made an Excel versions of the CGT sheet, which should be accessible to just about everyone. I’m uploading it soon.

  14. anon 10 years ago

    It’s, perhaps, overthought for my uses – but great. I love the Google “To Do” list. I’m fascinated by your use of time calculating macros in Excel. Can’t wait to see that.
    In terms of prioritising within (your system of checks, dots and zeds) – that can be self-defeating (i.e. a way to put off things by de-emphasiizing them), howewer, I do like Michaels assigning of “‘units’ to amounts of work (a weblog entry is one unit, a detailed article is 2 or 3, etc.) and set a unit goal each day.”
    isn’t it amazing how much knowledge-creating information can be shared so quickly and easily?

  15. Nollind Whachell 10 years ago

    Dave, I’ve been thinking about what you said above regarding classifying things. The more tags or categories that I found I had to use to describe something accurately, the less useful I found they were. For me, it is more about finding the meaningful relationships between my thoughts instead of just generically grouping or classifying them.

  16. Dave 10 years ago

    Hi anon,

    That’s a good point, about it being a way to put off things. This is not a to-do list system that is intended to be followed strictly. It was born out of these observations:

    (1) I have a ton of stuff I should be doing but
    (2) I have a ton of distractions that nevertheless must be done
    (3) I feel like crap because I don’t seem to be making headway on growing my business practice.

    So instead of focusing on what I’m not getting done according to the tyranny of the ToDo List, I flipped it around and told myself, “Just get SOME of the things done, and you’ll move forward”. The mental shift I’m making is from “you’re behind on tasks” to “you’re moving ahead”. In practical terms, I HAVE to deal with all the day-to-day chaos and firefighting as it arises, so instead of building a system that ignores that and constantly forces you to defer action until “you get a moment”, I’m trying this.

  17. Dave 10 years ago

    Nollind:

    That was an interesting article…I think I hear what you’re saying, which I might loosely paraphrase as “categorization is not really that meaningful by itself”. I also find relationships far more interesting. Relationship != category.

    It may be that relationships really ARE described by stories and narrative. One of the big realizations I had this year was that I was very much driven by how things relate to each other, and my primary mode of operation was as a “relater of things”. Everything else I do is in service to that, not the other way around. It was a pretty big personal insight.

    It may be that we have to have categories of categories: some are relation categories, some are attribute categories, some are contextual, and so on. I don’t think most people think in this fashion. I’m not sure where I’m going with this thread, so I’m going to stop.

  18. Nollind Whachell 10 years ago

    Dave, I think you’re right about having different layers of categories. How to do this though is the tricky part (because I would want them to be separated from one another and displayed differently). For me, the most important thing is showing those meaningful relationships between my thoughts. However, what I may find meaningful about a specific topic may differ from what someone else finds meaningful about it. However, we are both talking about the same topic. Therefore, our meaningful relationships with that topic may differ but the topic and what category/tag it may fall under may be the same. Therefore, there is a global categorization and grouping of information, which makes it accessible to everyone, but then there is also a local categorizations (which as I said, I find the more important and useful to me).

  19. Dave 10 years ago

    I’m thinking that narrative, context, and story are somehow key to doing this. Maybe taking a step back and asking WHY we want to “categorize” is important to us…that’s related I think to the “local categorization” issue you’re raising. We know the meaning is different, but why is it important? And is it an inward- or outward-facing need?

  20. stolo 10 years ago

    Focusing on the bottom line—are these billable hours?—is essential to running your business. But without the other stuff, the relationship maintenance, exploring new opportunities, keeping track of latest trends the essential stuff becomes boring and unrewarding (at least in my book). The cool thing about the point system is you can specify one day, for instance, that you will not go above a certain number—causing you to focus on the little stuff.

  21. Dave 10 years ago

    That’s an interesting observation, stolo. Thanks!

    It would be cool to see how other people arrange their point weights, and how wide a spread they choose. I picked these numbers rather arbitrarily…I was just thinking I should have made New Business 20 points, but I can just fill in two 10x bubbles if I feel like it, and make the appropriate annotation.

    When choosing the items for my list, I focused on things that were CONCRETE, or had LASTING IMPRESSIONS that could lead to new business. That’s where I’ve tended to be weak…I spend way too much finding out about trends, programming languages, graphics packages. It’s all really fun and useful, but only if people know that I know this. Best way to show it: write, demonstrate, get in front of people. And first and foremost, make sure I’m bringing in the money and booking the jobs…all the MBAs I know say this over and over. Ok, that’s just 4 people, but they are all remarkably persistent people :-)

  22. Chaim Krause 10 years ago

    I am a procrastinator with ADHD and a lot of bad (what I coined) “non-habits”. Like, not brushing my teeth after every meal (and having my dentist tell me my teeth have six months to live), not exercising daily, not walking the dog, not going to bed on time, not getting out of bed on time, and other things I should do but I don’t. I used to tell people that I need to stop acting like a kid. Then it hit me the other day, Gold Stars!!. So, as of two weeks ago Sunday, I have a piece of white grided posterboard on the side of my fridge with a list of ten things I want to turn from “non-habits” into habits. I give myself a gold star for each activity I do each day. And, yep, you guessed it! It reminds me everyday how childish it is not to do these simple things. I am still not doing as well as I would like, but I do see progress, and, possibly more importantly, it has brought these things to the forefront of my mind so I am more likely to remember that they need to be done.

  23. Cuccu 10 years ago

    I’ve been imagining ways that I could use this (not being self-employed). Work isn’t such an issue for me, but managing other parts of my life is. I’m thinking about using individual forms (I already carry a three-ring binder) for different life areas (health, home management, blogging).

    Thanks for making it available to all of us.

  24. Dave 10 years ago

    That’s cool, Cuccu. Good luck! I’d be curious how you organize your 3-ring binder. I’m working on a task management system for myself to extend the PCEO into actual day-to-day tracking, without a lot of tedium. The biggest challenge, I think, is making context switches between tasks faster and less painful.

  25. Cuccu 10 years ago

    My binder isn’t organized with task management in mind. I made it because there are certain things that I like to have with me, sort of a portable home office: stationery, envelopes, stamps, paper clips, business cards, a calculator, a rubber band, lip balm, stamps, a legal pad.

    There are several permanent sections:

    – I study a foreign language, and I have a section for notes, vocabulary, and writing practice.
    – I have a home management section which I use for meal planning, project ideas, color swatches, etc.
    – There’s also a section for blogging ideas. It holds randomly made notes, articles, post ideas, mind maps, etc.

    I add and subtract other sections as needed.

    When I’m not using it, my binder lives in my tote bag. It’s typically with me wherever I go.

  26. Dave 10 years ago

    That sounds really cool…I’m going to have to think about what kind of kit I would build for that. Righ tnow I’m hitting a kind of management bottleneck for the number of simultaneous projects I’m running. I tend to start thrashing when I do 3 or more projects.

  27. John Norris 10 years ago

    Wow! Great stuff!  I think the folks at DIYPlanner.com would love this kind of thing….will let ‘em know.

  28. Andy 10 years ago

    It’s the age old truism: we feel better when we achieve. Small successes drive us forward.

    The only thing that worries me is that I also tend to spend way too long writing To Do lists…

  29. Jamie Elis 9 years ago

    Your forms and the implicit methodology for Task Progress Tracking and the Concrete Goals Tracker are very appealing to me.  I easily wander and have used just graph paper, 4 squares to the hour to track if on or off task, but yours is more sophisticated. Your “When is Something Worth Doing” could be a “module” in itself, maybe a good starting point would be for someone like me to complete two sets of criteria, one for “work” and one for “play”.

  30. Dave Seah 9 years ago

    Hey Jamie,

    Yep, that would be a cool application of either! Glad you found them interesting! I’m thinking that a sorting questionaire would be a useful component for “When Something Is Worth Doing”. It basically boils down to two criteria:

    <ul>
    <li>Does it leave a lasting impression on someone</li>
    <li>Is it something you can show or point to</li>
    </ul>

    If it’s neither, they’re probably not working toward your ultimate goals.

  31. Techbee 9 years ago

    I am a freelancer too. I’ve developped over the years a less sophisticated three steps motto. 1)Today, Do something for today. 2) Today, Do something for mid-term( say, the next couple of monthes)3) Do something for the long term (be it sorting through pension plans or doing a query/letter/phone call for your future business). When I can tick the three boxes, I sleep soundly. It works for relationships too, I ve noticed.

  32. Dave Seah 9 years ago

    Techbee: That’s a great system…stunning! It really hits at the essence, and I’m floored at how much more to-the-point your approach is. Thanks for sharing!

  33. Ken Chen 9 years ago

    Thanks Thanks Thanks Thanks!

    I’d been using the flash prototype for weeks now! The 15 min chimes helps me to get back in track if I had wander out of a task. I finished two days worth of work at a client in 8 hours! Thanks Thanks Thanks! :-)

  34. Dave Seah 9 years ago

    Ken: Awesome! That’s a great story, finishing 2 days of work in 8 hours!

  35. Demetrius Pinder 9 years ago

    Flash prototype? What flash prototype? Is there a flash version of your form available? If so, please point me to it! I can be contacted from my blog.

  36. shaggy 9 years ago

    very cool, some say online tool, i agree but it needs to be a convergent tool part online part ‘real world’.

    very cool you rule!

  37. Brad 9 years ago

    Joe’s Goals does this exact thing for free, on the Web. Just sign up, put in your actions to track, and assign a point value to each (from -5 to 5 points). Then you monitor yourself and put check-marks in the boxes corresponding with the action and day.

    You can even put a graph on your blog or website that advertises your daily point score along with recent averages, if you want to keep yourself accountable.

    I use it to track my adherence to fitness goals, but the system works just fine to monitor PCEO progress (except for the inability to track 10-point actions, but I’m sure the developer would add that if users wanted it).

  38. Dave Seah 9 years ago

    Brad: Thanks for advertising Joe’s Goals :-) It’s a little different in its intent, but similar.  Ian had IM’d me in early July to tell me about it, and I wrote a bit about it then. I haven’t seen the new features, but they sound pretty cool.

  39. Hailey 8 years ago

    What a great system!! This is one of the only systems that I have ever read about and started using in less then a span of 30 minutes. I am hooked!

    Being a student, the point list of What is Worth Doing doesn’t apply to me that well, so I created my own to use with the form. I posted about this and my version in my blog in this entry.

    Thanks for creating this!!

  40. Stan 8 years ago

    Hello David!

    chanced upon your article from the Cowboy. It’s a great Idea I think, have printed your Coal Tracker and will try it out this week – I’m having exams! Shall blog about my progress and link you back! Thanks again!

  41. bearrito 8 years ago

    that surge of energy when you fill in the bubble. funny how something that simple would have such a hold over people, including myself. when i was in college i used to ask myself, is there a free t-shirt involved with this proposed new activity? if the answer was yes, there was nothing in the world that could stop me from doing it. now i ask myself, is there a bubble involved?

    easily amused. it’s one of the secrets of life.

  42. Ian 8 years ago

    I found this via an article about it featured on Lifehacker – it is fantastic! I would be very interested in a Pocket Mod version and an Excel version.

    The only thing I suggest about this document is rewards, for example, if a certain score is reached, then there should be a reward which could be anything from a chocolate bar to a meal out, depending the budget available.

  43. Dave Seah 8 years ago

    Bearrito: It is strange, isn’t it? I think it’s the power of seeing an answer clearly and blackly expressed.

    Ian: There is indeed a PocketMod and Excel version, if you go to this post or visit the Printable CEO Series Page

  44. Steve T 7 years ago

    Greetings David,
    I came across your website yesterday during a Google search for a “daily priorities worksheet.”
    I really appreciate your approach to time management and your enjoyable writing style. It is natural, informative, and entertaining.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
    Steve T.

  45. Nathan Ketsdever 7 years ago

    Fantastic post and great tool.  Why not update this for 2008?

  46. Thomas Martin 5 years ago

    Would it be alright to run with this idea and create an online php/ajax app where you can download and print off pages that would have the current calendar dates on them. I’m finding this pretty darn useful and would love to make a way to grab updated sheets quickly.

  47. Author
    Dave Seah 5 years ago

    Thomas: You can give it a go. I’ve been looking into dynamic PDF generation here, but it’s a very low priority.

  48. Thomas Martin 5 years ago

    Dynamic PDF generation is how I want to deliver the downloadable sheets – When I have it working suitably, I can send you a copy of the code.

  49. Author
    Dave Seah 5 years ago

    Thomas: That would be wonderful. Thanks!

  50. Susan Wilson 5 years ago

    Hi Dave! I’m a nontraditional doctoral student (which means I’m about 30 years older than my fellow/sister students and 15 years older than my professors) and MUST get better organized–and your tools will surely help me beat procrastination and all the other pitfalls of student life! Are you going to be selling other planners aside from the emergent task planner through Amazon? Will the 2011 materials be available soon? I want to begin planning for spring semester. Thanks so much for being you–I’m a stickler for fine design and your work certainly scratches that particular itch~~ Susan

  51. Author
    Dave Seah 5 years ago

    Susan: I’m running behind on my 2011 updates, but they will get posted soon. I’m not sure what other planners will be available, but we’ll see!

A message from Dave:

I really believe we all benefit when we share our own perspectives on common experiences. It would be great if you added your own anecdotes and comments, even if you don't necessarily agree with the premise of the post; that's just good conversation in my book. The house rules are "treat each other with kindness and respect" and "enjoy the flow of ideas!"

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