Emergent Task Planner Tweaks

Emergent Task Planner Tweaks

This is an obsolete article. You should visit the most recent Emergent Task Planner page unless you are browsing for historical content.

The New ETP FormI’ve been nose-down with in projects for the past couple weeks, and have not been doing very much with my own personal scheduling. As a result, my sleep cycle is out of whack again, and I’d like to move back toward establishing a working rhythm. As I work at home it’s up to me to establish the rhythm for myself, which is the purpose of the Emergent Task Planner.

I’ve made a few updates to the form to clarify its pacing mechanism. The original version was an experimental form derived from the older Menu of the Day. The primary difference is that MotD incorporates goal tracking, while the ETP is a more general purpose planning form. It’s not surprising more people find the ETP useful.

Here’s what’s new:

Finer-Grained Lunch and Dinner Hour Scheduling

Closeup of redesigned Lunch/Dinner Box Several people had commented that they tend to have lunch at different times, but the old version of the form had a giant one-hour block of time. The idea behind this form is to establish pacing, so I had deliberately made lunch an inviolate block of time. However, I see what people mean, so I’ve introduced 15 and 30 minute chunks during that time period. This retains the general idea that there should be a break in activities after 4 hours of work, but doesn’t beat you over the head with it anymore.

Three Task Burst Mode Explained

Closeup of rearranged Major Tasks area I had come to the realization that during the course of a busy day, I would be extremely lucky if I got just three of the major things I needed done out of the way. To me, a major task is something that takes at least an hour of uninterrupted work to get something done. This is harder than it sounds in a world of meetings, clients calling unexpectedly, and handling business opportunities and family during the day.

Rather than beat myself up over this, I decided that I would just focus on 3 tasks a day, and accept that this was a reasonable amount of work to get done in a day. That was a huge concession, because I used to think I should get a lot more done, and always felt I was falling short. The better way to think about this, though, is to accept that any progress is good. Take the three points, and feel good.

Still, there are days when you might get more than three tasks done to completion, so I have two additional groups of three for those situations. These are bonus tasks. If you can level-up to 4 or even 7 tasks completed in a day, you’re kicking ass.

The older version of the ETP didn’t make this grouping clear, so people might have wondered why there were just 9 tasks listed. This is why.

As an aside, the idea of using “bursts” of tasks came from reading about the history of submachine guns. It’s much easier to control a quick burst of three shots than a continuous stream of fire. This reminded me of really long to-do lists, tasks spraying out of control ineffectively stressing everyone out. But a burst of three tasks? Much more doable, focused, and likely just as effective.

More Task Reference Numbers

Closeup of redesigned bottom scribble section So what happens when unexpected tasks pop up? Scribble ’em down in the “what else is going on” section. If you need to actually note something important in the schedule grid, write it down near one of the small numbers in the left-hand side of this area, and stick that number in the grid. This is just a suggestion; feel free to use this area as a scratch area for the remainder of the day.


These forms replace the old ones, so you can either grab them on the original page (which also explains how to use the form in more detail) or click right here:

» Download Standard Color PDF » PCEO-ETP01-Standard.pdf

» Download Standard B&W PDF » PCEO-ETP02-StandardBW.pdf


If these don’t quite meet your needs, feel free to inquire about having a custom variation made. As an experiment in online commerce, I’ll charge $50 per variation, which will include the electronic delivery of your custom printable PDF. Please use the Contact Form to let me know if you’re interested, so I have an email address for ya. Someone made the effort to call me about one, but never followed up in email, so his chance of making Printable CEO™ history has been lost.


  1. Andre 17 years ago

    David, which software program do you use to design these nice outlines?

  2. Dave Seah 17 years ago

    Andre: Illustrator CS2 on Windows.

  3. Kevin 17 years ago

    Your an inspiration man… thanks!

  4. Single Malt Sam 17 years ago

    In this, as with all the others, I’m strangely drawn to the post-it note colours and the rounded edged rectangles.  I am sure that if either of these were not present, the attraction to these productivity forms would not be as strong.  I’m sure you are well aware of this.

    Why do I love the bright dayglo colours so?  Why am I drawn, as moths to flame, to the gentle radii of these rectangles?  Why do I find comfort in the logic of system that these forms present?

    Are there studies of this?  Or is it simply an association: dayglo lime green = postit notes/tabs = organization.  Rounded corners not as harsh as squared.

    By the way, I love the site.

  5. Dan 17 years ago

    This is a great update! I like the reduced impact of the “lunch” blocks.

    I think I felt slightly more partial to the rounded rectangle in the lower-right than to the tiny numbered list, but the free-form entry ares is important in any form.

    One small quirk: you’re missing a single dot just to the left of row #13!

    Thanks for making these forms available.

  6. Kaizer 17 years ago

    Hi David,
    I’ve been using the ETP for some time now and this variation is turning out to be effective (positively) for me.
    I am curious about the following though:
    A] Why is it that CAtegory E tasks are first in the column? Why not Cat A? My logic is that if it’s a long task, i should hammer at it first to get it out of the way quicker.
    B] What is the logic for having the Cat C a boxes darker shade of black. I get this when i print out the B&W form on my laser printer.

    I have a couple of stupid suggestion to make:
    A] A box around the “what else is going on today” area would make this look neater (for some reason i cant really pin down). The famed “round edge box” would look good IMHO.
    B] At the footer of the form i would recommend that you provide a link that takes one directly to this form. Put another way, each form should have its link printed at the footer so that if i want to go to the article that talks about that particular form / device, i can do so by looking at that link and entering the same in the web browser. This i ask because i find it tedious to navigate back to a particular form after a week. And no! i dont blame your site layout for this!

    Lovely site.
    Keep up the splendid work!

    Have a super day,

  7. Tijl Kindt 17 years ago

    Hi David,

    I’ve been reading through your website for the past few weeks with much delight. Some people actually do have the same problems and struggles as I do!

    I’m one of those ‘lazy grad students’ that you mentioned at times, and I must confess I’m probably one of the worst :(… It comes and goes at times, but the last few months have been pretty bad, so I needed some structure in my life once again.

    I really liked your approach of the Task Planner and the Time Tracker, as well as the points system (Concrete Goals). (I actually found your site through the Online CEO website which incorporates your points system for tasks).

    What I was lacking though, was a combination of task planning and time tracking. The Task Planner is good to plan your day, but you have little control on whether you actually stick to it. And the Time Tracker is great to see what you’re doing, but without a good schedule, you’re not going to do anything of course (being a grad student ;)).

    So I need to be able to plan my day, and check if I actually stick to it at the same time (i.e. on the same piece of paper). So… yesterday I made a composition of your Task Planner, Time Tracker and Concrete Goals Tracker into one A4 page (yes, I’m European ;)), using Excel and Photoshop. You can see an example of what a reasonably successful day would look like here.

    As you can see it’s roughly divided into 3 parts. The left part lists appointments and tasks that you need or want to do today. The right upper part has a number of ‘time tracker’ strips aligned to the respective tasks/appointments, and the right lower part has the date, a Notes section and a place where you can sum your points and hours of useful work. So the lower right part is where the verdict goes on the end of the day. I know the time line is pretty broad (7am till midnight), but that’s because I don’t really have a fixed starting or ending point of my day.

    Now… each of the time tracker strips has a thin strip and a thicker strip. I use the thin strip to schedule what I want to do, and I use the thicker strip to track what I actually did. Obviously the ideal day would be one where the planning strips would correspond exactly to the tracking strips.

    I don’t know if there’s anybody else who’s been looking for something similar, but I think I like it. I’ll also make something to keep track of my totals for each day, so I can be happy (or horrified) about how much I did during a whole week).

    If it’s successful, I’m going to let you know in a few weeks time with some comments :) and maybe either beg you or give you $50 to make a fancy one ;).


  8. Steve Johnston 16 years ago

    The forms are great, and can be printed without too much trouble—except that we use A4 paper down here in Australia, and so some of the page space is wasted.

    Any chance of creating A4 versions?