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  • New for 2017: Updated Emergent Task Planner (ETP) Design

    May 18, 2017

    "The Evolution of the Emergent Task Planner" If you’ve been watching my Whats Up Dave daily vlogs, you’ve seen how use the Emergent Task Planner in my daily planning. For quite some time, however, I was DRAWING it every day on a piece of blank paper, because I just liked the act of drawing. For the vlogs however, I started using one of the pre-printed loose leaf sheets (this one) because they were handy. After about three months, I started to want more writing space in the DAY GRID area, and started redesigning the form as I streamed.

    A bit of design history: the ETP design dates back to 2006, and has undergone revision in 2009 and 2013. The header image of this article shows the original 2006 printed design that I offered to blog readers through PayPal at the very top. This was revised in 2009 for the first Amazon-fulfilled version, which saw the first major change of swapping the DAY GRID to the left. In 2013 I made some minor cosmetic improvements that have been present in all the full-size ETP on Amazon.

    I’ve been sharing the design process with watchers of the livestreams and also with Patreon supporters. This has been the first redesign process that I think I’ve shared so publicly, and it’s been fun because of the interaction I’m having with my virtual coworkers in the DS|CAFE Virtual Coworking Chat.

    Anyway, let’s get to the new stuff:

    "New Emergent Task Planner"

    1. Wider Day Grid Area

    The DAY GRID at the left was widened and simplified by removing the 15-minute blocks and replacing them with smaller markers. To maintain writing room in the TASK LIST, I reduced the amount of tracking bubbles from 4 hours to 2 hours. Focused work, I have found, doesn’t work well for me past about 90 minutes without a break, so two hours seems adequate to me. If you really need to log a four-hour or more task, break-it-up into multiple 2-hour tasks! It feels good! :)

    2. Revised Note Area

    The NOTE AREA has had the number of extra task numbers halved. They now number every other row; before, having a task number on each line made them a bit hard to use when writing out an extended task list. I’ve also subtly divided the space into 4 horizontal areas to make it easier to compartmentalize the use of the space. I have started to leave the first horizontal chunk free in case I have to write down overflow to-dos, and I put my additional notes starting in the second chunk.

    3. Checkbox Support in Task List

    The TASK LIST has long supported “indented subtasks”, but in practice I don’t think anyone has used it. I certainly never used it, though this feature was part of the Task Progress Tracker for project management. It makes sense on that form, but it never really worked for day planning.

    I have also had a couple of request over the years to provide some kind of checkbox, but never found a palatable design solution. It occurred to me that I could repurpose the indents as check boxes, or even have them still work as indents. I’ve brought back an earlier iteration of the indent lines, and now you can do both. You could also write a job code there too, or just ignore the indents and start writing from the beginning of the line.

    4. Long Last Hour in Day Grid

    Perhaps the most controversial change will be the LONG HOUR added to the DAY GRID. This is actually a feature borrowed from the ETP 5885 Half-Size Notebook; virtual coworker Jess mentioned she really liked it. I had forgotten I had done this, and after some thought decided to try a variation. Here’s the comparison

    "Comparison of Regular versus Long Hour version of ETP" In informal voting across my Patreon, DS|CAFE, Twitter, and Facebook social media posts, there are 6 votes in favor of the long hour compared to just 1 for the original. Unless the votes change drastically by Friday, I’ll be printing new ETP75 and ETP50 pads with this new design.

    5. Various Other Changes

    I’ve changed some of the wording to reflect my current thinking on task management, trying to be helpful and also encouraging in tone (this is an important part of the ETP philosophy).

    • The most obvious one is changing THREE MAJOR TASKS FOR TODAY to read THREE IMPORTANT TASKS FOR TODAY; this wording also matches better for people who like the “Three Most Important Tasks” approach to their day planning. The prompt for this has changed from “realistic expectations equals consistent daily productivity” to the more hard-nosed “Prioritize work that grants tangible benefits and/or meaning progress”. Grammatically it needs a bit of work, but you get the idea.

    • For tasks 4-6, I’ve reframed this as a chore block, so the prompt now reads “God additional chores/tasks? Clear your mind and go for it!” I tend to write down my “have to do” tasks in this box.

    • For tasks 7-9, the tone has remained largely the same but frames this as “ambitious” instead of merely saying “More than six major tasks? Reserve some energy for tomorrow.” I think the new wording is a little more sharply worded to invite reflection (“yeah, I’m an ambitious person!”) while still reminding you not to overdo it.

    • For the NOTES AREA, I’ve also reworded the prompt from “Life just happens. Use this area to keep notes on the unexpected. Use numbers to label day grid as necessary” to “Life just happens. Use this space to track pop-up tasks and take notes throughout the day!”

    • I’ve rewritten the instructions to to emphasize the suggestive, not prescriptive nature of the ETP. The goal of the ETP is to provide just enough structure so you can get going. One way to think about it is that the design can be used in a very structured way, but I encourage you to color outside the lines.

    Overall, the wording changes are more specific in their recommendations now. Before, the tone was more generically supportive. I think these are good changes, but I am open to suggestion!

    The Current Release Candidate

    Here’s a full size image of the new ETP design that will be going to press:

    Current Release Candidate Feedback is welcome! With luck, these will become the new ETP 8511 format for all print products on Amazon and also future digital products.

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  • Resolutions Review #03: Community Making to the Fore!

    May 5, 2017

    Megapoptart It’s May 5th, so that means it’s time for another review of my Groundhog Day Resolutions! These are my yearly goal setting ritual, beginning on February 2nd and repeating monthly on 3/3, 4/4, 5/5, and so on.

    The past month was a pretty relaxed one, though I’ve also started ramping up on a new NSF DIP grant for which I’m doing continued coding as part of the development team. It’s a cool project because I get to work with smart people I like for STEM, while learning new (to me) technologies. It’s also springtime in New England, which is kind of a big deal because the winters here are long. As soon as it’s 50 degrees, it’s NEW ENGLAND SHORTS AND T-SHIRT season. The celebration of warmer days makes it tough to work, but I’m also feeling refreshed and am excited about tackling some projects.

    The highlight of the month, though, was making a giant pop tart for my sister’s birthday! I discovered that I like making pastry dough so I plan on doing it more in the future. There’s a HUGE difference between fresh-made and store-bought pastry dough, which I only noticed because I used the store-bought stuff to make another pop tart out of the leftover filling.

    But I digress…onto the review! (more…)

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  • Resolutions Review #02A: Introducing OKRs

    April 4, 2017

    Hey, welcome to the april review of my Groundhog Day Resolutions, my yearly goal-setting ritual that begins on February 2nd and repeats monthly on 3/3, 4/4, 5/5, and so forth. This month’s review is a bit light on progress because the previous month was consumed by crunch time on a work project that was immediately followed by a trip to Taiwan. It was a good trip, actually, with many personal hurdles overcome as far as language! As for the April review, I’m going to try breaking it down into weekly object/key result (or OKR) posts. (more…)

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  • Resolutions Review #01: A Simplified Restatement of Goals

    March 3, 2017

    After reviewing last month’s kickoff post, I was struck by how difficult it was to read. I’ve made a decision to try to simplify my blog posts moving forward as part of a general reboot of all my online outlets.

    I’ll get into that later; now it’s time to review last month’s progress on my Groundhog Day Resolutions. These are like New Year resolutions, except I do them on February 2nd instead of January 1st, and I followup on progress on March 3, April 4, May 5…you get the idea. Regular review is absolutely key to making regular progress; since the Month/Day pattern is easy to remember, I’m much more likely to do my review at least once a month.

    Last Month’s Insights and Achievements

    These are the goals as I currently understand them:

    • Develop a system for mindblowing productive synergy, which I’m in the process of defining.
    • Continue cultivating and curating the communities that nurture me.
    • Continue growing my side business.
    • and new for this month: reboot the blog.

    Let me address each goal in turn.

    1. Mindblowing Productive Synergy

    I described this in last month’s kickoff post, but let me try to distill it further:

    “Mindblowing Productive Synergy” is the feeling of excitement that come from being part of a group of people who help each other do wonderful things that they might not have done otherwise.

    By identifying this as a goal, I’m attempting to connect my ambition to my pursuit of joyful experience. I’m also subtly acknowledging that it is the connection with other people that makes the joy experience possible. I have more to write on this, such as the article on “what gives me joy” that I’ve been working on intermittently all month. I would say that this article is my main effort at the moment; hopefully I will deliver it later this month.

    2. Cultivating and Curating Community

    I’ve come to believe that my potential for joyful achievement is limited by a lack of community, and that it is my responsibility to ensure that I find (or help found) places where people like me can freely express and pursue their passions. I have very clear ideas about who these people could be and how my own life principles would mandate the culture.

    My main efforts along these lines has been the YouTube livestreaming and the virtual coworking chatroom. The videos help promote my positive attitude toward sharing process and experiments in an authentic (and occasionally grumpy) manner. I’m using myself as an example, and I try to maintain the perspective that I’m just talking to friends so they can keep up with what I’m doing. The chatroom is becoming a supportive place where the regulars are starting to help shape a culture of inclusive positivity and encouragement. It’s been a great place to hang out and talk about how we’re doing the work, as well as compare notes on the challenges of faceing whatever barriers are in the way.

    3. Growing My Side Business

    While it has been a very busy month for my contract work, my long-term strategy for income is to have a easy-to-manage business selling cool stationery products that I design. This has been ongoing since 2009, and it’s at the size now where if I can raise revenues from about $3000/month (with a profit margin of about 30%) to $10000/month, that will solve a lot of concerns I have about retirement. What it will take is continued effort to improve the offerings I have. The market for this type of planner has become a lot more competitive than when I first started too.

    I think the approach I’ll take is to promote the values I have expressed in points (1) and (2) above. This is not only my philosophy, but it is my brand. A related effort is my Patreon Page, which combines all points (1) through (3). There are now 33 patrons contributing about $100 a month, and I’m looking forward to sharing more of my work with them. It should be pretty fun! Already I’ve provided several freebie downloads for patron.

    4. Reboot the Blog

    I think it’s time to redo it. There is a lot of old content still out there, but I think it’s time to revisit the concepts there for a vastly different online landscape. I’m much clearer now on what I know and what I’m willing to stand for. Rather than try to preserve the old content, I’ll just archive it and start a leaner blogging system. This is a good time to do it because my server is up for renewal now that it’s at the end of its service life. TIME FOR A CHANGE! RAWR!

    The Month Ahead

    I will be doing quite a lot of traveling soon, visiting my Dad again in Taiwan. I’m not quite ready for the trip, as I’m winding down the flurry of project work. While I’m in Taiwan I’ll have a chance to reflect and regroup. I’m feeling rather positive about it now as an opportunity for a vacation from my usual inputs.

    That’s about all I have for this review this month. Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in our virtual coworking chat, check out the link at davidseah.com/virtual-coworking.



    About this Article Series

    For my 2017 Groundhog Day Resolutions, I'm challenging myself to pursue mindblowing productive synergy as a way to energize myself to do those boring (but necessary!) foundational projects like "making a living". All the related posts are gathered on the 2017 Groundhog Day Resolutions page.
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  • 2017 Groundhog Day Resolutions: Kickoff!

    February 2, 2017

    "Groundhog by Pearson Scott Foreman" This is my 11th year (!!!) of doing Groundhog Day Resolutions (GHDR). I took a quick look back at my earliest goals, and found they haven’t actually changed that much. In 2007 I had chosen to focus on three main activities:

    • Deriving Income from Writing and Making Stuff
    • Building Sustainable Social Networks
    • Selling a Real Product

    By 2016, these activities had morphed into the following:

    • Have a “Neat Side Business”
    • Make Progress on my long-term 2024 Goals
    • Share What I Love

    In both sets of goals, making tangible goods to make money while pursuing my own interests is a fundamental goal; I later named this “the pursuit of creative independence”. This year, I’m adding something new I’m calling mindblowing productive synergy in an attempt to de-boringify the hard work. (more…)

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