24 More Boxes

24 More Boxes

Still more boxes Yesterday I’d started doodling boxes on a piece of paper, idly wondering if I could somehow structure the coming days of toil into a set of 24 boxes. This represented, in hindsight, a desire to put some structure on my expectations and somehow guarantee a productive use of time. There’s something pleasing about a grid of boxes. It’s orderly! It’s contained! It makes everything look clean and clear! Of course, it’s also a pipe dream to believe that it could actually work, but on the other hand I’m a firm believer that the appearance of order plays a part in creating the motivation to keep going.

designing balance

Today’s doodling expands on the theme of breaking up the day into boxes. Underlying the itch to structure the day is something new to my productivity form designing escapades: the desire to build balance into the task management. That presumes that there exists an algorithm for balance in the first place, and admittedly this has always been an area where I’ve suffered. However, in yesterday’s post I decided that starting with four billable hours a day would be a good start; this is both sustainable and realistic in my freelancing experience, especially when considering all the additional non-billable stuff that I have to do.

I’m not going to get this form done today, but a few ideas have popped up:

  1. There are many work-life balance systems in existence, each purporting to break down the formula to happiness into a number of essential categories. I don’t happen to use any of them–which maybe explains a lot–but the idea of hour bins is very appealing from a tracking perspective. It’s compact, visually countable, and looks orderly. I’d have to build in some way of enforcing the time element for it to be a workable system, though. In some ways this approach resembles the Emergent Task Timer, but the emphasis of that tool is to discover where your time has gone in the face of hectic days. The use of bins, which could be asymmetrically sized, encourages balance. Likewise the Concrete Goals Tracker is similar in that it encourages certain essential activities, but it’s not designed to encourage balance. If anything it rewards point grubbing behavior, which doesn’t exactly encourage balance.
  2. There are tasks that need to get done every day, which is one of missions fulfilled by the Emergent Task Planner. One minor inconvenience is the need to re-transcribe tasks that didn’t get done, so I’m toying with the idea of some kind of overlay system. I actually don’t mind re-transcribing tasks because it helps one be mindful of them; the act of writing is an act of mental refocusing, in other words. Still, it might be useful in some way to create sets of tasks and uses them as task lenses on any given day. This was a concept that I’d played with before for an ad agency, but it didn’t really go anywhere.
  3. I also like the idea of using asymmetric grids to visually convey the “otherness” of some time blocks. You can see a hint of this idea in the lower left corner of the picture. It reminds me of board games, which suggests a sense of progression from block to block. A reduction of the game board concept to an ideogram-style representation could be interesting, motivational, and highly compact.


p>This is the first form I’m creating that addresses balance, to my recollection. A larger issue is how all the various Printable CEO forms work with each other; how does this new balance form figure in with that? The short answer is that there is no “system” in the first place; each PCEO form tool is designed to meet a specific need. While there are ways that two or three forms could be used together, there is no unifying design philosophy at work to eliminate tedious data retranscription. This is where software may be the solution.

In the meantime, designing to encourage balance introduces a new concept in the PCEO universe, and I’m curious to see where it goes.


  1. Jolan Hsieh 13 years ago

    Hi, David,

    In between my classes here—I enjoyed very much the way you write about your Taiwan trip. Keep walking!! Jolan (your Uncle William’s daughter—I think Taichung was first time we met each other?)

  2. Amanda Pingel 13 years ago

    Looking forward to see the results—I love your forms.

    Can I just reiterate that on weeks I can’t read all your posts, I’d REALLY like to have a “go to next post” button on the blog?

    Post the new form as soon as you have it!