Virtual Terrain Maps III: Reframing Tasks

Virtual Terrain Maps III: Reframing Tasks

SUMMARY: Exploring the difference between a “values-based” task list and a “goals-based” task list.Yesterday I wrote about how my desire to have a project management shrine is strongly related to the “spiritual” aspects of my tasks. By spiritual, I really mean that my tasks have meaning, and are aligned with my own values. This is different than what most people think of when managing their tasks; most of the time, tasks are merely “things to be done”. I can’t get excited or motivated by that for very long, so recognizing that there’s a difference is the first step in evolving a new strategy in handling my endless to-do lists.

Consider this:

  • Expressed in the dry terminology of project management, “meaning” can be translated as “strategic context”.
  • The term “values” is a little more difficult to translate directly, but “goals” is close enough.

I’ve never liked using the terms “goal” and “strategy”, because these words are often used to describe a “solution”. I don’t like that world either because “solution” is used as a placeholder for “the desire to fix the problem we don’t yet fully understand, but we would be happy to accept your money to find out.” Desire isn’t enough. Goals aren’t enough either. Until you know the ground you stand on, and you hammer a big signpost into the ground that says HERE IS WHERE WE START, you can’t even begin to formulate a strategy to meet your goals. You always start from where you are.

But I digress. What I am looking for is a way to reframe my tasks in terms of meaning and values, not strategies and goals. I may just be mincing semantics in the eyes of some, but the useful insight is this: to imbue my task list with purpose, my metrics need to be describes in terms of meaning and value. This puts a slightly-different tilt on the whole task list management perspective. I’d like to deal not with goals, but outcomes. And I’d like my to-do list items to be part of a continuum that contributes to that outcome. That suggests a narrative structure to me…I’ll have to think about this while hammering through my to-do list. I’m going to try using Autofocus Version 4 (AF4) today to see if it helps just get some stuff done.


  1. Nollind Whachell 14 years ago

    For some reason I pulled out my “The Tao of Power” book from my bookshelf this morning and was digging through it. A couple of quotes jumped out at me.

    “Evolved Individuals control external input, neutralize aggression, simplify their plans and strategies, and put their awareness in harmony with social and environmental patterns.”

    “Personal power brings independence and freedom into the life of the individual, and it is continuously cultivated through attitude and projection. What one believes, one becomes.”

    ”(Evolved Individuals) then use this energy to alter reality through the focus of their attitudes and convictions.”

    What I found interesting about the above is that while I believe in my passion and beliefs, even going so far to understand them a lot. I lack the ability to sustain my focus on them for any length of time.

    Thus I need something that will help me to sustain my focus and belief. What is that? A picture or diagram above my desk that helps me to clearly keep focused. It needs to remind me, make me aware, of who I am and what I’m trying to achieve. It needs to be something that stirs my emotions and spirit within me, like getting out of a movie theatre after watching an amazing movie and feeling like you could change the world. So what is this “thing”? Is it like a mandala, a symbol, or even a brand?

    With out this “focus” to help “sustain” me on a daily basis, I get distracted and wander off, only to get bombarded by a myriad of interesting but “meaningless” interactions. Meaningless in the sense that they don’t relate directly to my primary passion and purpose which I should be focused on.

  2. Avrum Nadigel 14 years ago

    When I think back to every successful project… every “Flow” experience I’ve ever had, there was two components at work:

    1) I had a partner. A McCartney to my Lennon.

    2) An externally imposed deadline

    No to-do lists
    No project management software
    No tracking my moods, sleep habits, etc.

    When I’m lacking the above components, I’m a bit of a mess.

    Alas David, so many of your posts allude to your search for #1. I hope you (and me) should be blessed to find our partners (love, work, creative, etc).

  3. Dec 14 years ago

    Your post reminded me of the story of the three brick layers:

    The Three Bricklayers

        The story goes, that three bricklayers were working side by side.

      When asked, “What are you doing?”, the first bricklayer replied:

      “I’m laying bricks.”

      The second bricklayer was asked. He answered,

      “Feeding my family.”

      The third bricklayer when asked the question,

      “What are you doing?”, responded,

      “I’m building a cathedral.”

    Like your desire to focus on outcomes, the third bricklayer was accomplishing the task with the outcome in mind, rather than just the task at hand.  The task was imbued with purpose. 

    Just thought I would share the story with you in case you never heard it before.

  4. Gary Constantine 14 years ago

    I’m actually a huge proponent of the word “strategy”.  Unfortunately few people realize what it means, and how to employ it, and I usually find that most people confuse strategy with tactics, and vice versa.

    Strategy forces one to take the time to think through exploring various pathways to achieve some sort of achievement or goal, it seldoms represents one path, often its several, with contingencies should things change as they often do in life.  Its during that strategic assessment process that you figure out what you know and don’t know, what you need to learn, what you think the tasks are at that point in time, and what its going to take to get there.

    There’s the rub, this is where it takes more than dreaming, idealizing, wishing, hoping, desire, even passion for something.  For the most part, after the initial strategic plan has been identified, it often takes an extraordinary amount of commitment, commitment to re-inventing yourself, commitment to discipline, commitment to limiting your other interesting distractions, as well as coming to terms with what the possible consequences are for not keeping those commitments.  One could also attribute this level of focus as sheer tenacity, ambitions, and staying power, but one this is for sure, nomatter how much you might like something, sooner or later there is work involved.

    For instance, two of my favorite interests are in restoring antique vehicles, and large stone sculpture.  Both are overwhelming projects or initiatives in terms of scope, and are chock full of mundane, dirty, exhausting, mistakes, physical injury, risk, and often seem to progress at incredibly annoying snails pace.  There are days full of cussing, threats of abandoning the project, wondering why I ever, etc etc.  Nonetheless there are more days than not where I soldier on to completion, because I know it will be worth it. 

    There are thousands of these mundane little tasks involved that you put and ultimately your name and integrity on, so to belittle the task is to take a cheap shot at yourself.  So it is indeed the evolved person that sees the seemingly endless stream of small tasks as the very lifeblood assurance of achieving the desired outcome.  The more you focus on optimizing the competency in which these tasks are performed, because you care about the outcome, the better the outcome. 

    To quote John Ruskin – “The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it but what he becomes by it”.

    Today we are all simply overwhelmed with choices, overwhelmed fidgeting with gadgets, emails, texts, bad TV, etc etc, and many other related activities that just whittle our days away until we’re too exhausted or mentally bankrupt to do anything, and over the longer haul that only leads to anxiety and depression.  I see so many people make so many many bad choices every single day, and at the same time are wondering why they can’t get anywhere, go figure. 

    So, in addition to mapping out your “strategy” to achieve a goal, I also suggest taking a good hard look at what you are doing to “support” yourself mentally and physically every day, so that long lists of what you think are just mundane tasks, actually find their way to getting done, so you can get to where your’re going.  Good luck people!

  5. Gary Constantine 14 years ago

    Just a comment related to the bricklayer story above.  Nomatter what your goal may be, there will days that you will feel are just laying bricks, others where you are feeding your family, and a few where you will have the perspective that you are actually building a cathedral.  No one is “up” all the time, so you also have to “strategically” balance your most challenging days with also some enjoyable activities to help get you through as needed, otherwise you run the risk of just burning yourself out from disappointment.  Never give up and good luck!

  6. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    A lot of great comments. Thanks all!