The Printable CEO™ IV: Task Order Up!

The Printable CEO™ IV Check RailI was at The Museum of Useful Things last week…what a great store! The website doesn’t do the place justice; they carry much more than is shown online! I was excited to see they carried the Ex-cell Noteminder Check Rail, which is used by restaurants to hold orders in the queue.

I’ve wanted one of these things for years, thinking it would be useful for prioritizing my own tasks. I got the idea by watching a worker at McDonald’s manage a priority queue during a busy lunch period. She put the priority items (for cars) on the left, scanning the tickets constantly to stay on top of what food needed to go in which bag . I was impressed; apparently I am not alone in this observation.

Now that I have my check rail, I need something to put in it! This type of task management has been on my mind a lot since I re-evaluated The Printable CEO™ series and noted that there were two major missing elements:

  • Something useful for focusing on a single task
  • Something useful for very high level strategic planning

Today I’m addressing the first one. Introducing the Task Order Up!

UPDATE: I changed the name from “Task Order Slip” to “Task Order Up” after reading Damien Tanner’s trackback…much cooler sounding! :-)

The Big Idea

The main idea of the Task Order Up is maintaining context and continuity for a single task. With previous incarnations of The Printable CEO&trade, the various forms addressed groups of tasks, and are therefore more usfeul as “big picture” tools. The closest tool is probably The Task Progress Tracker, which was designed for managing tasks like a To Do list with finer-grained progress measurement. The Task Order Up ticket is similar in that it is also a form of To-Do list, but it ideally focuses only on one thing at time. One task, one ticket.

One of the original inspirations is my belief that, in a trusting work environment, all an employee needs to know are the following two things:

  • What I am supposed to do?
  • When is it due?

The manager / producer needs to know:

  • What the employee is doing?
  • How long did it take to finish?
  • Is the employee being effectively utilized?

From the employee’s perspective, the tangible work ticket allows them to manage their own tasks. It ameliorates the distractions that occur in a busy workplace too, since the work ticket becomes a visual anchor. Where was I? Oh, the ticket is right here in front of me. Once the task is complete, the ticket is also useful to review what happened that day, which makes filling out the weekly timesheet a little less onerous.

From the manager’s perspective, being able to see what’s on an employee’s plate at any time without having to explicitly ask helps you from becoming needlessly annoying. The work ticket is a minature contract between you and the employee, outlining the essentials of what needs to be done by when. By observing the state of the check rail, one can get a quick picture of how loaded someone is at any given time.

While comparing our hip New Media lifestyle to short-order cooking may seem unglamourous…have you seen how productive those places can be? It’s amazing. The really good places don’t even need a check rail, but in fast food environments these things help maintain context and continuity. That helps with focus. I’m also thinking that having these slips of paper may help disambiguate the process of communicating what tasks are actually “on-deck” at any given time; that’s always a challenge in a small business environment.

The Setup

The Printable CEO™ IVHere’s a more illustrative view of the check rail w/ three task slips. The idea is that you mount the rail near your primary work area and keep a bunch of these “current task” slips on them. Maybe at your workplace you use it to jot down quick tasks and hand them off to other people; I’m still working out the logistics.

The photo here is a temporary setup rigged for the purposes of this blog post, but I am planning on building some kind of holder out of 2x4s over my monitor.


Task Order Up Instructions The form is split into 4 visible sections. Note the header at the top is designed to disappear under the check rail’s gripping mechanism.

  • Task Description — What you are planning to do in terms of producing a tangible result. Tasks that don’t produce tangible results are not really to-do items.

  • Date / Due By — The optional due-date of the task. There is also a visible weekly calendar so you can make a mark when it’s due. The theory behind the calendar is that this allows you to visually sort dates instead of doing comparisons in your head. You can mark something due as either in the AM or the PM by filling in the box or putting an X in it.

  • Procedure List — Write down the things you need to do to complete the task. Use the bubbles on the side to track the amount of time you spend on the various subtasks if you like; they are supposed to be 15-minute bubbles. I find that visually this isn’t quite working well, so this part of the form is still not quite ready. The original idea was that I’d write the procedure down like a receipe so I wouldn’t have to think so much as I work, but that’s a topic for another post. There are small tick marks to align subtasks on the left. The tick marks on the right are for putting Concrete Goal Tracker points; for example, if one of your subtasks produces a result that is CGT-worthy, you might write “+2” in that column.

  • Hours & Points — After the task is complete, finalize the task by filling in the amount of time you took. Also, sum up any Concrete Goals Tracker points that were earned; you can use the ticket to later fill in your weekly timesheet or whatever. Finally, there’s space for a job code, if you’re in an environment that uses them. Otherwise, you can just write down the name of the project or other note in the space.

Concluding Thoughts

I’m still working on this form, as there are two significant drawbacks:

  • It’s hard to sum-up the hours from the bubbles in the left column — They are supposed to be 15-minute intervals, but I think they tend to read as hours. If you don’t fill them continuously, then you can’t just count big groups for hours.

  • The “best” way to fill-in the To Do list portion is not clear — If you use the bubbles as an estimate of time per item, then you have to skip lines or draw arrows to connect a set of bubbles to a particular line item. That would be similar to using the form as an emergent time tracker, but the results are visually cluttered.

  • The horizontal format of the Emergent Task Timer and Task Progress Tracker is more suitable for this, so I have some ideas on how to bring that back in while maintaining the vertical format. In the meantime, you might just treat this as a fancy todo list and see what uses emerge over the next few days.

  • This is potentially a very wasteful paper process. I personally like making forms so it’s fun, but ultimately this should be a software-based system. I have most of the essential design concepts finalized now through previous iterations of The Printable CEO™; it’s time to put some of my Actionscript experience to work.


p>BTW, if you’re grouchy about not having a check rail, just use a big clip like this!

The Printable CEO™ IV

Download The 2010 Printable Task Order Up Forms

This year’s updates make some cosmetic changes to the typography, including darkening some of the background tints which were printing too lightly.

Standard Format

3×5 Index Card Format

4×6 Recipe Card Format

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