Emergent Task Planner Feedback Round 1

Emergent Task Planner Feedback Round 1

While I knew that creating my own product was well within my grasp, I’m finding that walking the path is a lot different than just dreaming about it. I think the reason is this: when you’re on the path, you can actually see what’s coming at you. When you’re not on the path, the opportunities and pitfalls that you imagine are really just abstractions or undefined fears. Getting on the path—and that really means doing something and being accountable for the results—is much more interesting.

I got my first real taste of this while going through all the great comments from yesterday’s post. I’ve worked on projects before that have been seen by lots of people, but generally the work has been in areas where I was already technically competent. Creating my own product is a bit different, and it’s rather exhilarating to be a noob again. The reason it’s exciting rather than merely terrifying is because I’ve learned to embrace newness as something that’s unlikely to actually kill me, so why not? Also, yesterday I got a fortune cookie that said this: When you understand, you are not learning. Wow!

But I digress…I’m pretty jazzed about the adjustments I’ve made to my developing product strategy. Read onward!

DESIGN ADJUSTMENTS

I was surprised that there are people using the form for billing and general time tracking. I’d originally designed the ETP to help me develop a better sense of available time and to provide daily focus. It’s funny that of all the forms I’ve designed, I originally thought this one was the least useful to a general audience. Live and learn! I’ve made the following changes to address some of the comments raised yesterday:

  • Reinstating the hour summary. Time trackers, rejoice! I was particularly intrigued by Robert France’s use of the hour summary to indicate which tasks were billable.

  • Added a memo area. There used to be a week num / day of week indicator that I never used myself, so I took it out in the first draft. I’ve put the whitespace back in, and have left it blank so people can write whatever they want in it.

  • Flipped timebox for people who don’t like timeboxes. One of the major things I’m trying to do with this form is to encourage pacing of the day, because I suspect this is important for overall energy management. Johannes made the comment that he doesn’t work in “4 hour shifts”, and would like to see a form that just had regularly-spaced blocks. It might be interesting to create a general version like this without the breaks, but that gets away from the estimating/tracking/blocking idea. It becomes a more generic form. Maybe a better-selling form, for all I know. For now, I horizontally flipped the timeboxes so A is on the LEFT and E is on the RIGHT. This will put the 30-minute blocks right next to the note area, so those larger timeboxes don’t get in the way visually and can be ignored. It actually looks a little better to me.

  • Many bugfixes to the layout. There was a missing dot from the timebox grid, which was the one I used to create the new dot grid area. I’ve made several adjustments in spacing, and have reworded phrases to maintain that “concise-but-encouraging” attitude. On the latter: I had originally made the language more neutral, but then I realized that this was giving in to safe thinking. Forget that! BE BOLD OR GO HOME! :-)

  • Conversion to Spot Color. I’m now using 4 spot colors with tints, in anticipation of going to offset press. Using spot color in printing will give me sharper text and purer color over CMYK process color. There’s another advantage too: It’s now very easy to change the base colors, so if I want a blue sheet, I change one master definition and the tints will change. I had also wanted to do a little custom color mixing (sort of like doing a duotone or tritone in Photoshop), but I guess you can’t do this with Illustrator alone.

The new sheet is on the left, and the old sheet is to the right. Emergent Task Tracker Round 1 RevisionEmergent Task Tracker First Draft

BINDING

Based on comments, I’m leaning toward:
  • tearoff at the top, using that gummy-style binding.

  • No pre-drilled holes to accommodate the multiple binding systems I saw mentioned: North American 3-hole binder, Circa/Rollabind/Atoma, spiral binding (cool!) and “no binding”. There are other binding systems in use, but I don’t want to have to worry about all of them.

ALTERNATIVE FORM FACTORS

There were lots of interesting ideas mentioned:

  • 5×7 pads (this is the small size planner, I think)
  • Little notebooks like moleskines you can carry around
  • Weekly Planning / Other sheets
  • Alternative Colors
These have been filed for later contemplation! I’ve already got my hands full with this! :-) It would be fun to make all of those things.

MARKETS

This is very preliminary thinking, but I thought I’d share anyway. I think there are at least three types of people who find this product interesting:
  • The DIY Productivity Enthusiast — This person likes the forms, doesn’t mind printing them out and integrating them into his/her own custom solution. They would buy if the product is (1) comparable to cost of self-printing and/or (2) of higher “aesthetic value” compared to self-printing and/or (3) saves time.

  • The Consumer of Productivity Products — This person is just looking for something that will work with their existing planning needs. They don’t particularly feel the need to build something themselves if it will work right off the shelf, but will try it if it looks like it’ll do the job well. Or if it looks cool.

  • The Productivity System Buyer — This person is looking for a comprehensive approach to task and time management to bring organization to his/her life. They’re willing to invest the time into a system (i.e. read a book) if it looks like it really is addressing their needs. I’m thinking this is the audience that buys planner systems like those from FC.

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p>I’d like to meet all three audiences, but I don’t want to overextend myself. I’m targeting the first two with a simple product, and will just see where that goes. The last product will need an actual system and perhaps a book to explain it; I just have components of the system now, and really we’re all still testing it.

PRICING

To work out a starting point for printing, I started with the following average costs-per-page, culled from some online searches:

  • inkjet: averages around 8-12 cents per page.
  • monochrome laser printer: about 2 cents per page.
  • color laser printer: about 6 cents per page.

If I were competing on cost alone, that suggests that a pack of 100 color sheets should be priced between $8 and $12 dollars. Now I need to look at other products on the market:

  • Day-Timer Graph Paper — 48 sheets, list $4.99
  • FC Day Planner Refills — 2 pages per day, one year (about 365 pages), list $39 to $45 bucks. This is the half-size, too.

I will need to visit an office supply store and look more closely at the range of products, but this is telling me that people might expect to pay around 10 cents a page and not feel like they’re getting totally ripped off. For extra-fancy content, I could probably charge a few cents more per page. If I put together some kind of system, then there’s opportunity to create a neat package down the line. I could probably charge 20 cents a page with a sufficiently cool package, or if there was some kind of nifty pack-in tool (again, this gets toward systems).

For now, I’m going to use 10 cents / page as a working estimate, and compare printing costs to that.

FULFILLMENT

Rather than include shipping in the cost, I’m going to break it out separately. In the future, I’ll use a fulfillment center of some kind, so I don’t have to worry about shipping things out of my house. Initially, I may do fulfillment myself just to see what kind of things happen, and learn more about the way the Post Office works (I love visiting the post office :-)

A big question is handling european orders. The complexity of handling overseas orders could quickly eat up any profit to be gained from the order. If any european readers have had exceptionally good results ordering paper goods from small US companies, I’d like to know what companies they are.

I also liked the idea of getting a single person to receive a larger shipment, and let them handle distribution. Perhaps I can order online printing from an international printer and let them handle shipping. I really don’t know, but I know there are places to find out. For now, I’m going to focus on the US.

This also brings to mind the possibility of internationalization for different languages. More food for thought!

NEXT STEPS

I’ve been talking with my buddy Scott, who’s local and very knowledgeable about pricing and printing. He was telling me about some of the custom Print On Demand services that might make it cost-effective to do mass customized forms and fulfillment, which is a very interesting idea. Very exciting!

Also, before I actually sell anything, I need to create a separate business entity. Gotta protect myself here, and it’s a good opportunity to learn how to create a focused business with its own books.

That’s all for now!

33 Comments

  1. Scott 15 years ago

    Good luck with your endevours!  Your ongoing description of the development process makes interesting reading.

  2. Jon 15 years ago

    Dave, it’s looking awesome mate! Great planning and you have covered off all the bases :-)

    Perhaps you should generate some code so we can add a button / banner top our blogs to dircet people over to you?!

    Cheers,

    JM

  3. Eustis C 15 years ago

    Dave –

    Keep up the great work and creativity.  I am a CFO for a bank in the U.S. and am an active user of the ETP.  It has helped me tremendously as I come from a Big Four public accounting culture and have been in the mindset of tracking/planning my time.

    You have a marketable idea and the changes you have in mind will only enhance your product.  Best of luck to you.

    Eustis

  4. Mike 15 years ago

    Ditto on the badge/button idea. I’ve been raving about your stuff to all my friends, and it would be great to direct more people to you.

  5. Scott 15 years ago

    One other suggestion…either enlarge the date box, or replace the final two digits in the year with a box.  Otherwise, every sheet is out-of-date in about six or seven months.

  6. John Peele 15 years ago

    Dave, take a look at Behance (www.behance.com) for some ideas on form factors and binding.  They have some great products to use as inspiration.

    BTW, I love and use the ETP and can’t wait to grab up some preprinted ones!

  7. Felippe 15 years ago

    Hi Dave, you’re doing a great job!!!

    I’m from EU. I’m a business student and have been using your ETP for just a few days now, but I find it amazing. However, it is a bit uncomfortable that there are exact times for lunch break and for the dinner. I don’t have every day same schedule and sometimes I have lunch at 12, sometimes at 3 PM. It would be great if the ETP was totally tailorable for every personal day routine (or non-routine):-)  …by that I mean no boxes for brakes, so everyone can plan them whatever times suits them the best.

    Second thing is, I think the best thing to do, regarding your distribution to the EU, would be sending it online to some printer in the EU and they would distribute it for you. If distribution would be too expensive this way, you can also have a partner in the EU, that would take care of these after they get out of printer.

    You should also find which country is the cheapest for printing and also posting to the whole EU. I would definitely not go for countries such as UK, as they are much more expensive compared to other EU countries.

    That’s from me, hope it helped.

    Once again, great job Dave!!!!

    Felippe

  8. Lynn O'Connor 15 years ago

    Way to go Dave Being the witness to the birth of a product is exciting, and another ditto on the button idea. I keep linking to you on my blog, and why not have a way to get to you from my lab’s web site too. Its looking great, when can we try it out?

    Lynn

  9. hornbeck 15 years ago

    Thanks Dave,

    Watching your process always gives me more energy in my own business.

  10. lstarn 15 years ago

    Flipping the “E” tasks is a terrific idea. Can hardly wait until you get this thing completely cooked. I have been using the ETP daily for the past three months and cannot imagine trying to work without it.

  11. Scott 15 years ago

    Dave:

    I love using the ETP, but there’s one thing that’s a problem for me but it might be too much of a change.  The time box is set up to start at 8 with a break at 12 – but often I start at 7 with lunch at 12.
    Just a thought!

    Scott

  12. Jason Hoffman 15 years ago

    “Little notebooks like moleskines you can carry around”

    Oh yeah, even a large 8×10 hardcover moleskin-like book would be awesome. Awesome.

    Now, hurry up and get these shipping, I’m waiting and can’t be productive until they’re out. ;-)

  13. penny 15 years ago

    “overall energy management”

    Dave, You are awesome. I need this so much. I need to fix my timing of everything so I am not frustrated when I scheduled something when I am not at my peak (like right now)…

  14. Phil 15 years ago

    Felippe,

    I’m not sure why you thought that ” it is a bit uncomfortable that there are exact times for lunch break and for the dinner.” – because I can’t find exact times anywhere… All I see is a blank field where you can put whatever time you start task 1, task 2, task 3, break 1, break 2….

  15. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Scott: I’m glad you find the ongoing description interesting! I’m sharing it because I want to show that I’m making it up as I go along, so maybe that encourages people to do the same! :-D

    Jon: That’s an interesting idea…where would it direct to though? My site’s a mess! So many things to fix, sigh.

    Eustis: Thanks for the encouragement! I’m glad to hear that the ideas have traction in public accounting culture, and still appeal to the general markets. Very cool!

    Mike: Thanks for the plugs! What do you think might help people the most once they found their way here? This is an interesting design exercise in itself…a badge is both a link, and it’s also a show of identity by affiliation! So what IS that?

    Scott: The out-of-date is by design, sorry :-) I want people to come back at least once a year to see what’s new. Since the forms don’t cost people anything, I figured that would be a small price to pay. For the print one, I’m split on my opinion. For the ETP as it stands, making it generic probably would lesson the visual appeal slightly but be more useful. If there was year-specific information on each sheet, though, I could see it being more of a draw. From a recurring revenue perspective, designing some planned obsolescence into the product makes sense, but not if it ticks people off… I’ll have to think about it more.

    John Peele: I’ve been told about Behance a lot in the past couple weeks, thanks again! I’d rather ask people directly, though, what they’d like to see than just cookie-cutter someone else’s product (I know that’s not what you’re saying). The Behance stuff looks nice too, though of course I have my own ideas about productivity form design :D

  16. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Felippe: Thanks for the ideas on distribution in the EU! Very helpful advice. Your comment on the “exact times” for lunch break and dinner have been voiced before…I’m not quite sure what to do about it. The safe thing to do might be to make a “one size fits all” and eliminate the larger time boxes, but I think this is also an important idea. I suppose I should ask if anyone really uses them.

    Lynn O’Connor: Thanks Lynn! What do you think the button should say? What should it STAND for? BTW, I keep losing the link to your blog…you should start using that more :-)

    Hornbeck: AWESOME! That’s one of the best things anyone has said to me this week! It would have been the best, but a very pretty girl also complimented me today on my writing and community building, so that trumps ya :-)

    Istarn: Glad that you like the ETP! What were you using before?

    Scott: Related to Felippe’s (and of course others) responses, I’m starting to think that there’s a problem to solve regarding different working patterns. Although I’m trying to avoid creating too many SKUs, I’m starting to think that a generic version of the form is called for.

    Jason Hoffman: Heh, thanks for the encouragement :-)

    Penny: Glad that “overall energy management” struck a chord.

    Phil: I think Felippe is saying that maybe he has a 5-hour start, followed by a break, which the form doesn’t handle. I guess the imposed break irritates people. On the other hand, I think people should be mindful of when they take breaks periodically…maybe leaving it in as a reminder won’t hurt :-) Another idea is having a 1-hr “warm up” period before the first 4-hour break…this might work well for email-type things.

  17. Sam Kordik 15 years ago

    This looks awesome…I have already integrated most of your forms into a sort of custom personal mashup of FC, GTD, PCEO and a few other random stuff. However, for cost reasons I have opted to use them off of a BW laser printer on copy paper. I personally would be willing to pay more, 10-20 cents/page for a more aesthetic (color) version on a little thicker paper.
    I personally think an 8×10 or 8.5×11 size on a pad with the gummy at the top would be just about perfect.
    Also, leave the year in. It is more visually compelling with the “2006” or “2007” at the top.

    I know you are pretty set in stone about the spacing of the “breaks” but I echo what a lot of others say. My work day varies in length, breaks, lunch, etc, and while 4hr blocks works great if you can control your schedule, it is a bit rough if you can’t. But, as you mentioned, it would be difficult to vary this much.

    Definitely get us a badge to link to you! I end up telling a lot of people about your blog and your PCEO forms. THey are very useful.

  18. Sam Kordik 15 years ago

    One other thing…what do you do with the back? It seems to me to be a tremendous waste to have the back empty; although, I tend to end up using it just as scratch paper/brainstorm paper/notepad paper throughout the day. Perhaps printing it with a dot-grid would be useful…

  19. masukomi 15 years ago

    Fulfillment: Why not use Amazon? http://www.amazonservices.com/fulfillment/

    Little Moleskine style notebooks: I’d probably love one.

    Pre-Drilled holes: a) i really would prefer to have them too b) you don’t have to support all the binding types just the one with the greatest usage in the areas you’re selling in. In the US that’s 3 ring. I’m sure Europe has a format with similar dominance. …. There are well over 50 web browsers out there but there are only 3 major ones and of those only 2 with enough market share to justify special consideration in almost every case.

  20. Alex 15 years ago

    Here in Germany, letter-format paper is virtually unknown. So an A4 version would be very important. If European fulfilment doesn’t turn out feasible, it would be great if there were at least a downloadable version.

    Regarding pre-drilled holes: In the EU (at least in Germany), there are actually two dominant formats, two-hole and four-hole (I don’t know the exact spacing, but four-hole looks something like 28.5/80/80/80/28.5 mm). Four-hole punched paper fits into two-ring binders, but not the other way round. I have never seen anything else on A4 paper. So there should be four holes, which is the most common for ready-made paper.

    And I understand pretty well Fellipe meant with the big one-hour blocks after four hours.
    Although it works as a one-hour period, I found it visually irritating that it also seems to block the one-hour scale. Maybe there should be separate one-hour-slots for every scale that has periods one hour or more.

    I also fail to understand how one should do e.g. a two-hour task, then a 30-minute one and then another two-hour task. The whole time scale doesn’t seem to make much sense then. But you can work around that, of course.

  21. Sarah 15 years ago

    Curious, this seems like a great idea.  What program do you use to make the planner pages?

  22. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Sam Kordik: I’m starting to think that the enforced timeboxes probably need to go. It was originally designed to work with the resource scheduler (corresponding roughly to MORNING and AFTERNOON work), but in the context of a general planner it probably should go away.

    <span style=“color:red”>Does anyone actually like the timeboxes, or am I just hearing a very vocal minority?</span>

    Regarding the back of the sheet: I think putting something there will have to happen. Not sure exactly what, but something useful for moment-to-moment planning, or will help augment the current day’s planning (maybe a worksheet that allows you to figure out what’s on your mind first before commiting it to a major task).

    Masukomi: I hadn’t heard of Amazon Fulfillment…thanks for the link!

    Alex: The original goal behind the timebox structure was to enforce pacing by limiting choices of when you could start/finish tasks. If you only had certain choices, one would then have to be dilligent about scheduling tasks where they will make sense. This was described in an older post (the ETP is a mashup of earlier work).

  23. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Sarah: I use Adobe Illustrator CS2 to create the planner pages. There’s a bunch more of ‘em at The Printable CEO Series Page

  24. Malte Sussdorff 15 years ago

    Assuming that most potential users will be in the US and the EU, you should figure out two “printing” houses, one in the states, one in Europe, and go by the best quality / price ratio.  Reasoning for the local printing houses is shipping cost and customs.

    There are also fullfillment agencies which you can use, maybe the printing company would do this for you (adding your designs to their products they sell). After all it is all a question of negotiation.

    Going for the price of 10 cents per page looks reasonable. You might also want to offer a download version for a certain price (for all of us who prefer to print it on their laser printer, especially when they have run out of preordered slides).

  25. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Malte: Thanks for the perspective there. It looks like I have a lot of calling and emailing ahead of me to figure out the best options. I’d like to continue offering a downloadable version…maybe it could be a “sponsored download” link, which costs nothing to downloaders but gives me a little additional advertising income.

  26. Luis 15 years ago

    I really like the new design.  It is similar to the way I write and plan for my day.

    Note sure if this has been addressed previously, but I have found it difficult to list out my tasks because the way the form is organized it implies they are in order of importance.  When I sit down to think of all the things I need to do in a day it is more of a brain dump.  My first item may not be the most important or a major one, it is probably what is top of mind.

    The only 2 solutions I have are 1)to use the back of the sheet to do some pre-planning, then transfer them to the front or 2) write the tasks in the space provided and re-label the importance.  I hope this is clear and welcome suggestions.

  27. Karen 15 years ago

    Any thoughts on when a downloadable version would be available?  This new form looks a lot more appealing to me than the original ETP. I’d actually be willing to pay a few dollars for the download, and start using it now!!

  28. Ilya 15 years ago

    David, I’ve been using your Emergent Task Planner for a week now and I must tell you that it’s awesome! I’ve always used computer based solutions such as Outlook, One Note, etc for task tracking, but I must say that with your worksheet I’m loving the paper way. In fact, I’m not sure if I would like it as a computer form…

  29. Agree with Scott about enlarging the datebox – I never mind putting the “07” into the date.  Best, S.

  30. Joshua Tabor 15 years ago

    David:

    It has been fantastic watching you step through the process. Thank you for allowing us to participate in your journey, and for the opportunity to share how we used the ETP. I am eagerly anticipating the release of the pad, but would like to echo previous comments about producing a more generic form.

    I find that my day varies, and the four-hour interval between breaks is not consistent with how I use my time. I usually start work at 7:30 and take lunch at noon. The four-and-a-half hour time frame simple does not fit the predefined breaks on the form. (I find that I use the first half-hour as “organize time” and then begin tracking time with the ETP at 8 am. With a more generic form, I would be able to track how I used the first half-hour of the day.  Also, I find the first hour-and-a-half of my day is crucial to being productive. It is my “golden” hour to get important things completed before the pace of interruptions destroys my work rhythm.

    Again, I look forward your further posts on your project.

    <ul>
    <li>Josh</li>
    </ul>

  31. Jason Langenauer 15 years ago

    I use the emergent task planner somewhat differently – as a site engineer on a construction project, my job is somewhat reactive to happenings on site, as well as the planned stuff I need to get done. So I find myself using the ETP to work out and track what I need to do during the day (particularly as extra tasks come up).

    Also, as I start at 7am, the lunch “breaks” in the day planner don’t align to any real break in my day – I just mark in a half-hour block when I take my lunch. I’d say almost certainly remove them, as people’s lunch times and lengths will vary, but I think they also provide a useful visual cue to find yourself in the day. Without them, it’d be difficult to immediately go to a certain time.

    I think there’s a fourth market, or perhaps a common stream running through the three you listed for this product: people who appreciate good design (or, perhaps more cynically, people who want to be perceived as appreciating good design). Consequently, the printed ETP will be something they’d display almost proudly on their desks; these are the same people who’d love or have a Leap chair at their desks too.

    Maybe you need to think about the ETP as not purely a productivity tool, but also as a brand, as something which is a statement of identity of whoever’s using it.

    After I’m done with the ETP, I just clip them together with a bulldog clip. People need to file non-holed paper all the time, so it’s not a difficult operation to punch holes in the ETP yourself if you need to keep them in a binder. So I’d leave to holes off too.

    Good luck with this!

  32. Ian 15 years ago

    In case you’ve not seen it before, heres some advice on shipping from Joel on Software: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/HowToShipAnything.html

    Its probably overkill for you at the moment but its got some ideas you might find useful. Other than that, liking the forms, they’ve proved very useful and quite inspiring in some of my projects.

  33. catherine 15 years ago

    I live in New Zealand and have had no trouble receiving paper-based things bought online from North America. There is no issue here with receiving the goods (apart from freight cost:) because anything that is printed on paper goes at printed paper rate and this seems to mean that Customs aren’t interested in it. I’ve never had to pay tax/import duty on any printed matter. I don’t think they even need a customs declaration (saves time for you) as they get marked Printed Matter and that’s enough.
    Of course, New Zealand isn’t in the EU (in spite of what an awful lot of people think) but the Printed Matter rate seems to be one of those universal postal agreement things.