Rebuilding Big Pictures

Lately I’ve been feeling that there too many things going on that I’m not tracking. I’d hoped to have my rudimentary task tracker application running by now, but after 21 days of coding I haven’t made as much progress as I’d hoped. So close, yet so far away.

So I’ve been forced to do a manual refresh of my task list, which I’d let slide over the past few weeks.

Master To Do List The process I used to generate this document follows.

1. Scanning and Capturing

First, I scanned the major digital areas of my life to reconstruct what I’d been doing, which jogged my memory. This is noted in slightly more detail in my Stream of Consciousness Journal. The key insight here is that by following a LIST I had used before, I saved myself the angst of having to think it up again. I knew exactly what to expect from this, and was willing to accept that maybe I missed a few things. If I did, they will likely resurface if they are urgent. I don’t think I missed any, actually.

As I scanned the various sources, I typed terse notes into a simple 5-column InDesign CS5 template. The nice thing about using InDesign for this, as opposed to another text app, is that you can set up multiple lists on one page, with solid typography and good performance. Using multi-column Word (a horrible joke), a text editor, multiple “stickies”, or even Illustrator doesn’t come close. Well, I didn’t try multiple stickies…that might be OK.

2. Grouping and Prioritizing

After capturing everything (which took a couple hours while I was sipping my coffee at Starbucks), I then organized the list by projects, people, chores, dates, events, and deliverables into a semblance of priority. These are the fundamental elements of a task management system, before you start linking them together into dependent relationships.

Here’s how they roughly break down:

  • Column 1 contains the highlights from my so-called Attitude Guide, which identifies the key area in which I wanted to make progress. I put it here to remind myself of what was important, and what was not. Everything here (with the exception of column 5) is related to the Attitude Guide.

  • Column 2 is for people-related activity, order from prospect to active to stalled. All these people in this column are expecting some kind of response from me. Some things, like the various ETP translations, have been backburnered for a while and I want to get that back on the list.

  • Column 3 is for my projects, generally things that I want to make, generating assets that will help fuel the advance toward my main strategic goals.

  • Column 4 is for community and other support activities. There are giant projects here, but I’m not entirely responsible for them; they are intended to be shared with other people. Also here are the business and shipping support activities, such as e-commerce and business structures.

  • Column 5 is for dated chores and miscellaneous things to act on.

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p>Tada! The Big Picture, good enough for keeping focus for the next couple of weeks. I must say that the InDesign entry system worked well, so I’m going to duplicate it (with enhancements) for my task management prototyping using some fancy “rich text area” controls.


It’s interesting how all the pieces are starting to fit together. While progress isn’t going as quickly as I’d wanted, keeping all these notes in all these journals has helped me keep perspective on what I’m specifically achieving every week. The puzzle that I’d like to fix, though, is big picture maintenance…you know, the sort of thing that a system like Getting Things Done is supposed to help you with. This task app that I’m trying to spin into reality ultimately is intended to do just that, using my own weird sense of what a “task” is and how I feel about it.