(last edited on April 29, 2014 at 1:26 am)
SUMMARY: Over the past week or so I’ve identified many personal tips and insights that will help 2010 be more productive and goal-focused. To ensure that I can be reminded of what needs to be done every day, I made a personal tracking form / cheat sheet to help keep on task. This past weekend I spent a lot of time reviewing my current situation, qualitatively weighing my sense of progress against my sense of achievement. The net evaluation? I’m not satisfied. I didn’t beat myself up too much, though, since I know I’m actively trying to reorient my work-related identity from Designer to Producer of Goods. One critical insight from the weekend session: As a Designer, I was focused on getting more design work. However, as a producer of goods, I should be applying my design sense to the creation of awesome products and get them out into the world…thanks GaryC for that mental nudge. It’s a subtle shift in emphasis, one that I hope results in improved clarity. This month, I’m going to start testing that hypothesis.
Getting a Grip
In my recent posts on packaging what I’ve already designed and kicking off the 2010 Groundhog Day Resolutions season, I’ve identified a whole boatload of principles, insights, and rules of thumb that I’ve gleaned over the past five years of blogging. One recurring problem, however, has been in the spotty focus on GHDRs day-to-day. This is something I believe I need to fix right now.
The GHDR (Groundhog Day Resolution) focus is met incompletely by two existing forms I’ve made:
- The Emergent Task Planner deals with daily “must get done” tasks. However, since it is “emergent”, it is by nature a reactive approach. While things do get done, it’s not a form that enforces the adherence to a strategy; the implicit assumption is that there’s already a strategy in place to guide your daily to-dos.
- The Concrete Goals Tracker is a higher-level form that is more suitable in principle, but it’s designed to create strategy-supporting habits, not implement a specific strategy directly. The design works because it relies on a mechanism that harnesses our natural desire to see our actions in a positive light similar to being a “spin doctor” or rationalizing our behaviors. In this way, we can theoretically condition ourselves to be on the lookout for favorable opportunities where we didn’t before. I’ve attemped to adapt the CGT a couple times before, once in this lengthy resolution-making process article from 2009 and another in this general New Year’s Resolution process. Neither approach I found to be particularly interesting, though.
I decided to make a new form that is essentially a cheat sheet containing everything I believe is working for me. Although it is highly personalized for me, I think there are probably some ideas here that may serve others.
The basic premise is pretty simple: print out one of these for every week or two, and keep track of what I’m making to fulfill my stated Groundhog Day Resolution Master Goal:
To create exciting start-up kits with people I like and respect while making an honest buck.
There’s a place where I can keep track of what I’m doing, but the bulk of the sheet is stuffed with reminders and tips of how I will actually meet that goal. In educational terms, I believe this is called “scaffolding”; any educational theorists out there reading this can give me a hand here.
I’m going to try this form for the next few weeks to see if it helps me maintain a sense of clarity and purpose. You can download a printable PDF to assess for your own personal resolution-making activities. It’s not an official supported form release, but it may become part of a Groundhog Day Resolution package in the future. The next challenge, actually, is to remake my portable desk/notebook that neatly complements my online communication tools. Otherwise, I won’t have a place to physically look at every day! That’s an essential factor in making paper forms as part of the daily workflow.
Sorry Dave, but I think it’s nowhere near as systematic as your other, great work. It’s way too noisy, way too cluttered and I don’t see it’s real value.
Those numerous affirmations will only work for the first couple of times before they become visually obsolete. Thumbs down on this one.
Garrido: Heh, that may turn out to be the case with this form, but you don’t know until you try!
I think you’re probably looking at this form with a different set of expectations than I am, and therefore your design observations would naturally lead you to conclude that it’s not a good design…FOR YOU. I would agree that it’s cluttered, and a lot of the text becomes “visually obsolete”. But I think you miss the ramifications of what “highly personalized for me” and “cheat sheet” means; you should factor that into your design analysis, if you are doing an objective assessment. I don’t expect my explorations to be useful to everyone. I’m glad that you posted your comment. I hope you’re ready for a debate :-)
To clarify a bit, I’m thinking of this form as a “fuse” or “first-stage rocket burner”. Unlike some of my other forms, this one actually has an implicit 2-week expiration date on it (it only goes up to February 20). At that point, I’ll see if this has helped. There are a LOT of things I need to remember to get this stuff going (hence, “cheat sheet”), and I’m not confident I will remember all of it. That’s why it’s all in one place as a single-sheet reference, so I’m constantly reminded of what they are and don’t have to go hunting all over the place to find them.
I agree with your direction on this, Dave. It is a brilliant reminder for you to use to keep your eye on the ball.
The broader strategies are supported by specific, measurable, realistic tactics and activities (a textbook example of SMART goal-setting). It reminds me a bit of Marina Martin’s Ultimate Guide to New Years Resolutions that she published a couple of years ago and I wrote about here (http://hdbizblog.com/blog/2008/12/31/a-better-way-to-make-new-years-resolutions/ – my old blog).
I also like how you have given yourself a timeline for using this form, and look forward to seeing a pic of the form ‘in action’ on the 12th and 20th.
I use things like this all the time but never have taken the time to design one… I wonder why. In any case, as a cheat sheet I expect it to be content heavy and thus I think it will serve its purpose.
For a more streamlined effect (something visually grabbing and viscerally moving) it would perhaps help to take your musings down to 3 themes/phrases/quotes and design the sheet for giving you a quick punch in the eyes (that’s technical jargon for you.)
Did I mention how extremely fond I am of the layout and palette? No? I’m extremely fond of the layout and color palette.
I think this one could be really useful, depending on how you use it.
I find that I often get distracted easily… my work by necessity takes place inside a web browser, but once you have Chrome up and a couple of tabs open, it’s really hard to not get involved in Facebook or email or just surfing. And one solution that’s helped me is to post my current to-do on Twitter. That way, when I’m shuffling aimlessly through tabs looking for something interesting to do, I find myself looking at a tweet that says, “I’m writing a paper for my marketing class” and say, “Oh yeah! I could write a paper!”
I think this form could serve kind of the same purpose. I think a lot of times you don’t need it—when you’re working on the ETT or CGT and have your MITs for the day and are plugging right along… all well and good.
But occasionally you’ll hit a point where you say….“Now what?” And that point will need a different solution at different times: sometimes you’re stuck because you’ve forgotten the next step, sometimes you’re stuck because you feel overwhelmed, sometimes you’re stuck because you don’t feel appreciated… the list goes on and on.
I think this piece of paper is a place to go back to when you’re stuck. It has what you’re supposed to be doing at the top, and other reasons you might be stuck at the bottom.
The main problem is that it’s really only useful for Dave; it’s a distillation of several years’ worth of introspective blogging, and other people have different motivations and sticking points.
The lesser problem is that you have it starting on the 7th, which makes it less generally useful (just on the off chance—I’m being optimistic here—that you actually get your resolutions started on 2/2 next year. ;)
I never cease to be amazed by your design abilities.
Love the PCEO stuff. All of it! It makes productivity beautiful.
Have you checked out Mark Foster’s AutoFocus Productivity system? If not, Google him and check it out. I don’t know why, but I think it would fit your personality.
However, it could benefit from your exquisite form design skills.
Curious to see what would come out of that…
I adapted how I use the Emergent Task Planner (ETP). I put 4 recurring items in #2 (daily), #7-9 (net support, fritter/personal, current project). I keep a running To-Do list of items.
Yes I rewrite them everyday as it motivates me to get them done (get tired of rewriting the same thing after a few weeks).
For projects that require several steps, I create a Resource Task Quantizer (RTQ) for that project and break down the major steps/next actions on that form. Then on my daily ETP I just reference the project in my running ToDo list. Since I have several projects I need to do (not all at once), I keep the stack of RTQs (less than 10) on my desk and keep my current project that I am actively working on, on my desk under my daily ETP.
Throughout the day I will track on the ETP the time I did certain items on it. I place the number of that item from the right side of the ETP in the time bar when I start and draw a line to note when I was working on it. I end the time with an arrow. If I still work on it, I continue the line. When I am done I put a horizontal bar at the bottom of my arrow. Since it’s a vertical tracking system I can add other running to-do’s to the right and draw arrows for them. By doing this I can get up to 4 numbered tasks into the time bar. Although I try not to let myself multitask that much since it is too easy to get distracted.
When I get tired of working my current project’s task, if I’m not frittering the time away, I will pull out my stack of RTQs and see if I can knock off an item on one of those.
You could do something similar for your main items on your GHDR. Get your RTQ or Task Exploder forms and dedicate one form per area on your GHDR – and assign it a letter (A, B, C…). Then on your daily ETP, when you do something to further your GHDR goals, you can just annotate it in your ETP by letter and action item – e.g. A2 (where A = the first area of GHDR and 2 = the second action item noted under that area in your GHDR or RTQ)
Stephen: Heh, “form in action” pictures will look exactly the same as when I started! :-) Apparently my biggest problem at the moment is the lack of the portable document shrine. I’ll probably write about this later.
Federico: I’m glad you like the palette! Good idea too on reducing to three overarching principles. I think that could happen after a few weeks, after the underlying facts are remembered. I’m hoping that repeated exposure will drive home some of these core action tips, so they are more “top of mind” at all times, and kick in the RAS.
Amanda: Yup, it’s a place to reground. As for the problems, it’s very much a “Dave” piece (which is why it’s not part of the PCEO), but I figured it might give readers some ideas for making something similar for themselves.
Martin: I’ve seen AF4, and wrote a brief post about it a few weeks ago after Avrum commented on it here. I’ve used it from time to time when I’ve got a lot going on. Right now, I’m in a kind of bubble of planning and have not felt the need for strict planning. I do like how it ties a physical format to a methodology, though I actually like AF1 better than AF4.
linlu: Wow, thanks for the detailed breakdown of how you are using the ETP with the RTQ. I’m curious how you’re handling the physical organization of those sheets, and what kind of workspace layout you have. That’s an interesting idea about combining the GHDR with RTQ/TPT, too…will ponder it.