Menu of the Day

Menu of the Day

I’m having one of those days where I’m feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of cool project ideas floating around in my head, and the mental thrashing is causing a drop in productivity. I could haul out the old Pickle Jar, but that’s a device more useful for long-term idea storage, not projects that I would like to do in the next couple of weeks.

I started to unstick myself by borrowing a ritual from Iron Chef Rokusaburo Michiba.

For those not familiar with Iron Chef, it’s a cooking show in which world-class chefs compete against each other in a 60-minute battle in a “kitchen arena”. The skill and experience of the participants is astonishing, with roving cameras capturing the action up-close. Michiba is regarded as perhaps the best of all the original Iron Chefs, a hardened veteran of the professional kitchen with the soul of a true artisan. At the beginning of every battle he would take the time to compose a menu with brush calligraphy while everyone else was running around scrambling for ingredients. And then, after he’d finished writing, he’d slam it home, always in control, never hurried, producing absolutely beautiful dishes. It’s that menu that came to mind today—I didn’t have the time to make it beautiful, but the focus might work.

Borrowing some additional inspiration from Phil’s Progress Blog, I drew a quick form with the “Big Things To Do Today” on the top. However, I also left space at the bottom for writing in other things that occured to me throughout the day. It’s a start…faster than pickling ideas in the jar, and no screwing around with Illustrator before I end up with a usable form.

As I looked over the menu, I made a few interesting observations:

  • My “Big Things To Do” list described complete projects that I needed to work on. They were indeed like prepared dishes, chosen to serve up a well-balanced day of productive work and reward.
  • I also realized that I wouldn’t be able to actually finish them (as in done forever), but it was still important to just work on them so I could make some progress. That would relieve the pressure to a more tolerable level.
  • Next to each menu item, I also added a small line based on an insight from the Destruct-o-Matic: Pick a tiny task to initiate the project work; it’s the fuse or the primer for the task.
  • I needed to add a few reminders for the day’s chores (something I’m really bad at) so I scribbled those in on the side. These were more like regular To-Do list items.

I felt that there was a kinship between the menu approach and the other things I’ve been trying lately, and I think it’s this:

  • The Task Progress Tracker was really a first draft of a Working On List. These are complete projects that are defined by the end result. This is what a regular To Do List doesn’t cope with well.
  • However, a regular To Do List is essential for achieving clarity in what specifically you need to do.
  • From this, I can conjecture that there are three parts of my personal productivity system: High Level Goals, Tangible Objectives, and Execution. These roles are fulfilled by the Printable CEO, the “Working On” list, and a regular To Do list respectively.
  • For the system to work, it needs to be incredibly convenient and free-standing. Paper alone will not do it for the Working On list, because paper management becomes a problem once you have more than one sheet. A Print-and-Archive approach might work a lot better, augmenting a software-based methodology.
  • It’s important to recognize that each list has a different scale of satisfaction, and that it’s pretty unique to each individual. By scale, I mean that amount of work and reward that feels “meaningful” to the person performing a particular task. So an important prerequisite for crafting a useful productivity tool is to find out what that is, and then craft tools that help compensate for imbalances between “required scale of achievement to feel good” and “the ability to self-actuate to completion”. This is the broader context of what I’m trying to figure out for myself.

Ok, now I can get back to work.


  1. Beth 19 years ago

    Unrelated sidenote about the Iron Chef:  Did you know Morimoto had a signature hazelnut beer from Rogue Ales?  I don’t think they make it any more.


  2. Dave 19 years ago

    Mmm! Did you get to try it? Did it evoke Morimoto’s style?

    Hm, I wonder what MY signature beer would be like. Probably something like a root beer, non-alcoholic. But the BEST root beer, if I had any say in it. I guess I’d want it more rooty but not harsh, and less sugary. It would use pure cane sugar…no corn syrup in MY namesake beverage! I actually don’t even like root beer that much, actually…having a signature Soda Pop doesn’t quite cut it though.

  3. Beth 19 years ago

    I did try it, and it was awesome!  If you’ve ever had a Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, it’s like that but sweeter, no soy-sauce undertones.  Rogue still has a hazelnut beer, so it’s probably just the same thing without his name.

    It didn’t really evoke Morimoto to me, though.  A beer that says Morimoto would probably taste like octopus or blowfish or something since they always use seafood on Iron Chef.

  4. Dave 19 years ago

    Intriguing! I’ll see if I can find those beers!

  5. Scott Wright 19 years ago

    I have a simple question/observation? How much of what you’re thinking about is attacting the same thoughts that you are trying to deflect, in that, thinking about the solution to a problem does, in essence bring on more thoughts of the thinking you are not wanting to think about, and less thougths about the thinking you want to be thinking about. You think? Oh, and you can never beat nice calligraphy… it is a lost artform…

  6. Dave 19 years ago

    Interesting question, Scott… if I understand you correctly, you’re suggesting that thinking about a problem just generates more of the same problem. I think if one is consciously trying to break the cycle to obtain RESULTS, this isn’t a danger…you have to observe/identify a problem before you can try to take effective countermeasures.

    In an environment where IDENTIFYING problems is more important than SOLVING them, then yeah…it’s just a big waste of time. Some circles of academia are probably like this, and organizations where cover-your-ass is more important than get-it-done.

  7. Ben Tremblay 19 years ago

    thinking about a problem just generates more of the same problem
    heh … I think you’ve just described “the box”.

    I suspect that what “calligraphing the menu” does is to allow a whole constellation of intuition-level processes to cycle. (My theory is that there’s a whole array of processes operating asynchronously, perhaps on different time scales.) Allowing those to complete rather than pre-empting them with some operational NIRQ results in benefits later … and because they’re at an intuitive level the “later benefits” aren’t obvious.

  8. Dave 19 years ago


    Interesting observation on “the box”. I never thought of it before as an actual PROCESS constraint, instead thinking of it as a CONTEXT constraint.

    The comment on NIRQs reminds me a bit of that article that Joel Spolsky wrote on human task switching, though I think the intuitive benefits part you’re talking about is something different. Maybe it’s the power of ritual? Automatic process memory?

    Translation for non-techies: NIRQ = non-maskable interrupt request, meaning a task that pre-empts EVERYTHING you’re doing right now, forcing you to switch mindsets completely and quickly. Mask refers to…oh, never mind :-)

  9. Junko 18 years ago

    I am an Iron Chef fan especially of the Japanese version, and my favourite chef is Sakai, his desserts are amazing. :)

  10. Karen 18 years ago

    I agree Junko, I like the Japanese Iron Chef too. Your website link is really funny, I really enjoy it. :)

  11. Jared B 14 years ago

    I LOVE this website and these productivity tools!

    Please keep it up and running! I am an University of Oklahoma student and need these! I’m also developing as a Pastoral Leader…and these will help so much!

    Thank you!!

    GREAT WORK David!!!