Establishing a Dream Context

Establishing a Dream Context

Dream Context Lately I’ve been feeling that I am not doing a good job of keeping on top of my big goals. When I was a kid, I sometimes would look straight up into the sky, so I couldn’t see anything on the ground, and try to run. I would get dizzy and fall onto the grass, fascinated that something that seemed so trivial was actually really difficult. And so it seems to be with me and those big goals; with my eyes looking far into the future, I lose my bearings here in the Right Now.

I’ve been thinking that if I had something that forced me to assemble a causal chain of action, expectation, and benefit, I might have a better chance of keeping sight of both my dreams and my current state of being. I’ve made a preliminary design of a new form, tentatively called a Dream Context Tracker for tracking progress on a weekly basis. If you’d like an early peek at this work in progress, read onward!

Operating Premise

This form is designed as a supplemental sub-project tracker, and does not supplant your existing tracking methodology. Here’s how I think it might work:

  1. Use fill-in-the-blank statements to define the overarching goal. This is repeated every week, and I anticipate the statement will evolve. The tone is affirming.
  2. Define desire, benefit, tangible results, resulting feelings, and personal status in the statement. These are essential for strategic planning.

  3. Provide a place to doodle ideas and draw maps, with graphics that encourage annotation. The idea is to build a graphic playground, to engage the playful side of the brain too. I figure it might be a good thing.

  4. Provide helpful suggestions on how to start, as the practical means by which you can effect change that move toward your goals. These are specific, weekly tasks to be done at any level.

  5. Provide weekly tracking area in a simplified task tracker / resource tracker view. This allows you to measure effort and allocate time in the future.


p>Dream Context Capturer Full The overall effect I am going for is to have a single piece of paper that helps me remember what my goal is without having to reconstruct the game plan every time. In other words, it provides continuity and context for my projects; just looking at the sheet should bring me back to where I last left off. Also, the very act of focusing to write something down things tends to make me more mindful about executing them, which is why I like to draw my Emergent Task Planner form in the morning. Over on 99%, Scott Belsky has observed something similar with super-successful people; their analog rituals helps them with their productivity too. Manipulating your action items in physical form is oddly therapeutic. The effort we invest in doing something tends to increase it’s value in our minds, so perhaps that is part of the mojo that’s at work here.

A second effect I hope will occur is batch thinking. It is tiring to regenerate a plan from scratch every time you need it, and having all the creative inputs turned way up all the time tends to generate more distractions. What I really want: stop thinking and work. It’s hard for me to stop thinking, so I am hoping if I capture the thinking on a piece of paper I can dumbly follow for the week, that would be great. Over time, the trend data will accumulate over many weeks worth of paper, each focused on delivering a specific result. The weekly review then becomes the act of transcribing what was on the old sheet to the new sheet.

I’m thinking that I’m leaving out an important pre-step, which is the selection of a worthy goal in the first place, but I’ll tackle that when I try using this form for the first time.

This is a very preliminary design, and I haven’t even printed it out yet because I’m out of color printer ink, but I’m providing it now for early feedback. Don’t be afraid to pick a few nits :)

Download the Dream Context Tracker (DCT):


  1. Naseer Khan 13 years ago


    This is fantastic…!!! I just revisited your site since I wanted to see if you had an updated ETP. I see there’s a pre-printed pad at now which I will order, both to save ink and to support you.

    But this new Dream Tracker is just “out of this world!” I’ve seen some of the other “forms” that you’ve worked on and each can be helpful in it’s own right. In this day and age, especially in this time of entrepreneurs, this new form may just become your best one yet…!!! Not the most popular or the most used, like the compact calendar and task planners, but the most inspirational…!!! Good luck, and I’ll be tracking with interest to see your progress on it…


  2. Fred Schechter 13 years ago

    Dave, can we nominate you for a genius grant, that’d be great!

  3. Amanda Pingel 13 years ago

    Sweet!! Second the nomination!

    I love the clarifying sentence at the top. What do you want, and how will you know when you have it?

    Have you read The Switch? One of their recommendations for getting people to change (quit smoking, improve their marriage, stop acting up in school, whatever) is to ask “If you went to bed tonight, and you woke up tomorrow morning with this problem fixed, what would be the first sign that would tell you the problem is gone?” and once the patient/client/whatever has named that (I would leave for work without having a cigarette, He would say something nice at breakfast, I wouldn’t be bored in class), you ask them “When was the last time that happened?” Then you look for patterns in the times that it happened, and try to reconstruct those situations. The point is that sometimes little changes can have huge effects: that what you need to stop smoking is to have your breakfast laid out in the morning so you’re not stressed, or similar, tiny efforts.

    I like the focus, that makes the goal specific and real.

    I don’t know if I need this form, but I want to need it. Which is probably just as good, for your purposes. :)

  4. Mike S 13 years ago

    Great idea. Spectacular graphical layout. If you have an example or two of the form completed that would probably give people some ideas of how to use it effectively.

  5. Mark 13 years ago

    The Analog Rituals aspect really resonates with me, Dave. I’ve long struggled with on-screen To Do managers. I’ve used Things, To Dos in Basecamp/Backpack… Nothing compares, for me, to starting each day reviewing one piece of paper and starting a new one. More importantly, for me, paper-based To Do lists support spatial and relative weight priority. Is a task or objective going to go through some changes? Is my knowledge of it incomplete? It should probably have some whitespace around it. Is something really, really important today? It should not just be at the top of the list but also be REALLY BIG.

    I use yellow pads in the office. Legal pads that aren’t legal size, if you will. I have kept these as journals at times, and flipped back through them before throwing away one set to move on to the next. With a bit more thought and organization, that could be a pretty awesome personal assessment mechanism.

    New rituals in general are important too. Much of what I’ve read, and experienced, has proven that making something a habit, at the same time every day, makes it the rule. It not only reinforces “good behavior” but eliminates some of the overhead of having to evaluate those things every day, increasing productivity. An example: A while back I stopped eating meat at lunch. It might be on my plate at dinner, but ceased being an option at lunchtime. On occasion, bored with my typical choices at lunchtime, my mind would start wandering a bit to other options with meat. Just as quickly, it’d snap right back: A rule was established and committed to.

  6. Jim 13 years ago

    This is fantastic. Can you make a 2011 version!

  7. Stephen 13 years ago

    Dave, this is brilliant. I would say that you have definitely invested some time very wisely here. The focus on defining each piece of the path from vision to completion is a powerful tool.

    I agree with Amanda’s sentiment, in that I want to need this form. I have downloaded it and will use it for my next “little” project & determine if I need any other pieces…

    One thing that comes to mind is perhaps making it 11×17, landscape, so there is more room for the mapping area. the Task List and Calendar boxes could run down the left-hand side of the page.

  8. Gary C 13 years ago

    Nice work Dave. I’m definitely a fan of harnessing attractive intuitive graphics for sort of a dash board view of staying focused and on track. Sort of a complimentary tool to the bubble charting I do at a top level to help keep both my projects and overall wellbeing in balance. Essentially each bubble and sub-bubble could adopt something like this form to help keep initiatives clean and stimulating.

    There may be all kinds of tools and calendars out there already, but this form is alot less daunting, its also just more personal, it encourages use by its very design. Not sure of how well the form would perform with more complex and detailed initiatives, its rather tight space wise, which is where I agree with Stephen that perhaps an 11×17 option where one could “drill down” into greater detail, might be a valuable add-on option.

    This area of better planning and execution has also been a long journey for me, and paradoxically, after working with dozens of tools and devices, working for/with best in class makers of such things for over a decade, after going literally full circle here, nothing for me still beats paper on a clipboard. This is where I agree with Mark’s comments and ritual above, where rifling through pads of paper, while doodling with specific icons and creating levels of priority depending upon how I mark and indent and box and asterisk, etc., has become my own ritual, with literally has its own personal language.

    While I ran this “downsizing” experiment this past summer, as I was intrigued with half baseball cards in card holders this past summer, instead of larger pads (that eco-sensitive driven part of me I can thank for that….), as visually and organizationally pleasing as that was, I kept returning again and again to just the run of the mill pads of paper, I simply could not work nearly as fast as having pads or stacks of recycled printer paper at my disposal. Time is money.

    Inexpensive pads or scrap paper also allow me to make mistakes, to prototype the project ahead, I don’t have to worry about messing up a pretty form, or a day planner, etc, or that I boxed myself out of jotting down something important. So inexpensive paper allows me to revise on the fly without feeling anxious, its just what works for me.

    Regardless of where I am today though, the process of simplification and identifying what works for me today, counterintuitively stems from working with even the most complex tools and gadgets, but borrowing their core ideas over time, until I no longer needed them.

    This form of yours though I believe will still benefit many, even as it is, it may not be one size fits all, but its definitely more than a base hit in my book.

  9. Vinita Pappas 13 years ago

    Anytime I feel life is getting overwhelming, I come here to print your forms. Somehow you must have known that I’ve needed this Dave! I’m an artist too…the kind with a brush and paint.

    I printed the form and gave it a go this morning. Here’s what I like…

    • A place to draw. Genius! When you see the obstacle you can envision a way around it. I see the doodle area as a Chutes and Ladders gameboard.
    • Specific instructions, best read out loud in a ring announcer’s voice.
    • Limited room for one big step and 7 tasks. Nothing crumbles the creative spirit faster than a long list of to dos. I, for one, don’t need a larger form.

    I like that this is meant to be filled out weekly. I’ve used Gannt charts for big projects such as getting ready for a new show. But this is so much more encouraging and approachable. I already know that I need to paint 20 new paintings by such and such day. What I need to know is what to do today, right now, to get me to a place of productivity. Also next week’s obstacles most likely will be entirely different than this week’s.

    I’m printing out several copies. Now, instead of getting sidetracked by a new idea while in creative mode, I can take 5 minutes and sketch out a dream and save it for later. That way, instead of squelching the creative muse, I’m saying, “OK, got it, see it, we’ll get to it soon.”

    Can you explain the effort bubbles? Are they for 15 min or just any time you put forth effort?

    Final thought…you may not have room, but it would be nice to review the week at the bottom i.e. This week’s progress was good/slow because ___.

    Thanks Dave, I think you’re on to something great here!

  10. Author
    Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Naseer, Fred – Thanks for the kind words! Glad that this has piqued your interest!

    Amanda – Nope, haven’t read The Switch. This habit of asking the question for ME came out of defining a client interviewing methodology way back in 2000, which itself grew out of the ideas of expectation management in the video game design work I did back in 1995. In a video game, if you don’t see signs of your accomplishment, your are missing out on one of the longer-term experience shapers you can use to drive player motivation the way you’d like. Over on Clear Left they have something called a “Client Ideas Sheet” at the very bottom of their current website which is a nice way of capturing the same intent. But what’s awesome is that you want to need this form, which is indeed good enough. I hadn’t thought of that as being a metric for successful design when I started this, but it’s interesting to ponder!

    Mike S – When I get some printer ink and get a chance to use it, I’ll post how I’ve used it. It’s an experimental form, after all, so its use will be rather experimental.

    Mark: Thanks for sharing your stories about rituals, rules, and regularity. I’ve been pretty terrible about establishing them lately, and just want an anchor. I think for me that starts with place, which is currently my home office. I’ve bought a few new items and thrown away a lot of old ones to try to simplify the space. I think it’s starting to help. But the ritual aspects of my life are pretty much gone. I’ve perhaps gotten too used to the free form scheduling I do. I blame grad school! Not quite sure what to do about it, but I am trying not to feel frustrated. Next time I see ya, maybe we can compare notes.

    Jim: – I’m sure some version of this form will make it to 2011. It makes sense, though, to have these ready BEFORE 2011 hits, as a yearly goal thing. Maybe I will incorporate it into the Groundhog Day Resolutions system.

    Stephen: – 11×17 is a good idea…that would certainly give me more room to play. That might be a fun product to make, a double-sided 11×17 foldable monster form. Hee hee. That reminds me, there’s another form that I’m supposed to be making for a pseudo-client based on his own design…I wonder how much overlap there will be here.

    Gary C: Thanks for your assessment! It’s a good start. We’ll have to go over it next time we meet. I’ve been looking at Postscript programming to try to modularize the forms; you might find this interesting.

    Vinita: The Chutes and Ladders gameboard idea is EXACTLY the direction! I think I might have to have different game templates in there, because different challenges feel like different gameboards. That might be a lot of fun, and open up an area of customization.

    The effort bubbles that are piled up in the corners were designed either for checking off as 15-minutes or checking off as “things done”. I figure people could label what they are. They look like piles of rocks, or they could be piles of things accumulated. I originally made them as part of a “count-based” variant of the ETP, based on the young mother’s comment about how she used it.

    That’s a good point, about having some way of assessing the form at the end of the week. I was thinking of putting a place where you could assess a dollar amount to the form and sign it like a treasury note, thus converting it into a form of cash :-)

  11. Shannon 13 years ago

    I definitely like the idea about having some kind of assessment method at the end of the week. As I was looking at the form I was wondering if there was some kind of way to merge the scorekeeping part of the Printable CEOs with this form, because I like getting “points” but it’s tedious to keep two forms.

    I like the idea of having only one or possibly two weekly forms I use, plus my daily ETP which is becoming more indispensable the more I realize I do a lot on the days I use it, and far less on the days I don’t :) And I like this new one with the big doodle space so much that I’m musing over how to make it my main weekly form.

  12. Beverly 13 years ago

    in a word? Simply Brilliant.

  13. Mike 13 years ago

    Great form. Although this is months later, I do have a few comments:

    1) As with other forms, the year (in my humble opinion) ought to be a field to be filled as part of the date. To keep track of your implementation of these forms you could place a version number somewhere out of the way.

    2) An example…. well, a picture is worth a thousand…

    3) If someone is either a) creating a set of these or b) continuing from a previous form or c) in any way associating this with other forms a box to add that linking info would be helpful. My first thought was “sheet [ ] of [ ]” or “part of [ ] project” but other such linkages might be better. And, of course, this could be just jotted into the doodle area.

    4) I like the simplicity of the form and would hesitate to clutter it but when I do something similar (by hand on a blank page) I note obstacles, dependencies on others or required collaborations, if any. My “form” ends up looking more like a horizontal (left to right) flow chart. But I can incorporate all of items #3 and #4 into the doodle area.