January 6, 2008

Lost art of writing…

Posted in 7 Habits, FountainPens, Paper at 12:10 am by a11en

Apica Wire-Bound Notebook

A recent TED lecture was just posted. I’m a sometimes TED watcher, often disagree-er, but often agree-er as well. [Sorry for the mangled english- sometimes making up words is just more easier than using real ones.]

The lecture was short and sweet. In the lecture, Lakshmi Pratury discusses the legacy her father left to her. The interesting thing, is the legacy he left wasn’t monetary. It was his written word. [Apparently wordpress hates TED embedded video… so here’s a link: Lakshmi Pratury on why you should write.]

You see, her father passed away and left her a journal and letters he wrote to and about her. He tried to convey to her his thoughts on things, especially on her (how to improve and I’m sure what not to change). In this manner he left her something tangible and intangible at the same time. Something of his own hand, that she can now hold, and something of his own thought, that she can turn to when missing him.

That is an amazing example of what the written word can do. Touching ink to paper can mean much more than just a half-hour of your time to address a loved one. If you’re like me, you have so much going on in your life that often doing just that is the last thing on your mind.

I implore you to take out that stationery, that fine fountain-pen, that special “Haute Couture” ink, and spend a few moments writing. [I will do the same.]

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September 25, 2007

GTD, Now Habit, 7-Habits Update: The Weekly Schedule

Posted in 7 Habits, GTD, Procrastination, Productivity, Work at 12:55 pm by a11en

It has been some time since I’ve talked about productivity, so I thought it might be time for a new post. Since my work has been heating up, and I’m trying to finish up a serious breadth (and depth) of work in my research, I’ve also updated my productivity tools. What I’m going to tell you about here, is only one new aspect of my tools, one that I’ve been meaning to re-try for a very long time.

Remembering Covey’s 7-Habits (my first reading)…

The first time I read Covey’s 7-Habits book, I was struggling with my work and direction. Even though I was a bit brain-numb after the incessant use of “paradigm”, the book touched me deeply. The advantage of my first reading, is that I read it on my own time, and on my own prodding. In my opinion, this is the way all productivity books should be read. If you are not self-driven to read them, it will only be painful. One of the important aspects that hit home was Covey’s discussion of the weekly schedule. The weekly schedule as Covey describes it has the advantage of David Allen’s GTD Weekly Review. Focusing on your Roles and Goals for each role, Covey has you set up your weekly priorities and ToDo’s in such a manner as to forward your long-term goals on a weekly basis. The idea being that if you are not furthering every aspect of your life that is important to you each week, you will feel stagnant in that area, and therefore, unfulfilled.

Covey also suggests your week should be viewed all at once (say on a single 8.5 x 11″page). The advantage of this is a longer-term view which keeps you moving through the week, but on a tight enough view that you can get your work done. The daily view often hyper-focuses us, and when we hit the 5pm clock hour, we suddenly realize we missed doing something for the morning meetings. So, viewing everything over the whole week allows us to prioritize a bit better. Sure, there are other methods than this, but this is a simple method and I suspect it works well whenever it’s implemented. I found it to be true for me…

A top-down view of my direction at the time I read 7 Habits was very important to me to re-invigorate my focus and drive in my work. Doing so through the weekly Roles and Goals allowed me to see my week’s work together as a whole, and subsequently that week’s work as a part of the longer-term goals I had laid out for myself. The time-period I consider one of my more productive set of months was when I was xerox-copying the blank weekly schedule located in Chapter “Habit 3- First Things First”. This Chapter was so influential to many, that it eventually became a second book by Covey entitled the same. Certainly for me it hammered home some very important ideas. [Like the time-quadrant.] So, with merely a set of xeroxed sheets, I was making good headway in juggling my days. From there, and it’s success, I purchased the Franklin-Covey planners, and moved away from that simple one-page form. A mistake for me. Having the printed out sheets may help some, but for me, not seeing my week all together really hurt my productivity. I just couldn’t get into the planner.

So, for many years I’ve thought about that sheet. In fact, a good friend of mine, who had success with the Franklin-Planner after I described in crude terms the majority of the first half of Covey’s book, was using it as well with good success. Missing it, I finally decided to make another one from scratch (since I couldn’t find my old printouts and xeroxes). I had a few new goals for the sheet, which I’ll describe here, and how they fit together.

If you are interested in a downloadable pdf of what I worked out, please see the very bottom of this blog post. It’s not perfect yet, and so it’s a bit hard to release something that is not perfect, and I haven’t checked out to see if anything is copyrighted etc, adding more difficulty to tacking it up here for download. But, if you request it, I’ll likely do so, unless I hear from someone that it’s illegal for some weird reason.

My new goals- The Now Habit, and PCEO…

The Now Habit’s Unschedule

Another influential book I’ve discussed here, is the Now Habit. One important aspect of the book is an understanding of the time you have during your day. [Many procrastinators believe they have all the time in the world- that they can do something “later.” Consequently, most procrastinators appear to have very poor conceptualization of time; at least in the way they fit in to the whole “time” thing. Surely, that is true of me.] Fiore’s concept of “The Unschedule” is an attempt (and a great one) to help procrastinators see where their time is going, and how much time they have to accomplish things. In particular, everything *other than* work is scheduled. So, you can look forward to this or that time off, etc., and you can see your blocks of time available for work (if you so choose to work). The start of this process is to track your time during your day, and attempt to see how you spend your time (say for 2 weeks before starting the unschedule). Then, you plan your week with time-blocks, for the items that you would like to do (having fun, eating dinner with your hottie, sleeping, breakfast, etc.). So, in this respect, Neil Fiore’s work also has a week-view focus. Similar to Covey, he suggests not putting everything in your schedule. [Both allow for set-time appointments etc., but not for work-tasks that can be done at anytime.]

So, automatically, when I do this one-page form, I’m going to be using the unschedule with it. The form needs, therefore, a 24 hour view of the day. So I can see all the available time. I’m often using extremely late hours as well (for various reasons, one being that I’m unfortunately a night-owl). (24 hours in the day, check) [The full sheet is show below. The left hand column is for Weekly Priorities, Roles and Goals, and Sharpen The Saw tasks. The upper half of the rest is for daily tasks that require focused time, and daily tasks that only require a check-mark. The lower half is a 24 hour schedule, colored for the UnSchedule.]

The Printable CEO…

David Seah‘s Printable CEO forms have been intriguing me for a very long time. They’re a bit like the DIYPlanner.com pages, although their focus is more on tracking projects and time spent on projects. I’ve played around with a number of Seah’s forms, never finding one that I really liked the bestest (probably my fault). But a number of things about Seah’s forms have hit home for me. One, those darn time-bubbles. What a wonderful idea. Bubbles. You see, for long projects that require me to do tons of work on one subject, I never get to cross these off. But, give me 15 minute bubbles, and couple that with a work-dash of focused 15 minutes of work, and all of a sudden, I can sit there and focus for 15 minutes, and scribble in a bubble. Something just feels good about filling those bubbles in. Very non-test-like. More like- “Yea! I filled in a bubble!”. Positive reinforcement and focus- ah… very very nice. The form I used the most for this was his Task Order Up (3×5) forms. I would set up the 4 major tasks that required over 15 minutes of time each and attempt to work through those during my day. Usually that was with a work-dash, and with a hyper-focus attitude towards the work. So, I wasn’t really using Seah’s forms properly, but the killer-app was working really well for me.

The rest of Seah’s forms look fantastic, but that one idea really was the “killer-app”. So, bubbles are required… not to mention a task-area. (check) [Covey’s schedule has a task area above the schedule, so we’re already seeing synchronicity- now we just need to add bubbles.]

I decided to take a few tips from the Task Tracker, and add bubbles to the day’s view below the schedule. This means the very last thing on the page is a row of subdivided bubbles, larger than the 15 minute bubbles, signifying hours. I’ve noticed a wonderful benefit to this. At a single glance, I can see how many hours in the day was spent on a focused task, and if I look above, in the task area for that day, I can see which task can be associated with that time. [Attached is the task-section of each day show. One bubble corresponds to 15 minutes. Once a row is filled (or equivalent), a 1 hour bubble at the bottom of the sheet can be filled.]

Bringing it all together…

So, the basic basis was the productive tool of the Weekly Schedule of Covey’s. The idea of Roles/Goals which to me tend to focus the multiple higher-level views of David Allen (5,000ft +, etc.) are available on the left of the schedule. Right now, there isn’t a direct link to context or to project views. I’m assuming that on this sheet you’ve chosen some Quadrant 2 type tasks that are not specific in time, other than you’d like to get them done that week. Ostensibly, you’ll choose these items from your Context list or Project list of GTD’s (I like to use OmniFocus for this), but this is a quick way to see your focus for the week/day in a quick glance. For getting more done, I’m hoping to use 3×5’s of printouts of OmniFocus tasks or OmniFocus directly as a normal GTD system would. So, see this form as an advanced calendar (that you fill in yourself), not as a whole system replacement.

With this schedule, I can look at my UnSchedule (colored pencil outlining in my week’s schedule area to see my blocks of time), I can track my progress on each task for the day, and see a final tally of the important task’s work at a day’s and week’s glance. I’m also using it to overlay what I *actually* do during my week, and see how I’ve been bad at my unscheduling. So, if I say I should sleep from noon-8am, and I actually sleep from 2am-8am, I can see that immediately throughout the week.

The bubbles are also becoming a bit like Sienfeld’s Chain Of X’s approach in some senses. If I see that I’ve been good the past few days, I’m more likely to want to see more filled bubbles across the bottom for the current day. Nice little side-advantage. [Sorry no bubbles are filled in this form- I scanned it last week before I started filling it.]

I’m still tweaking space etc., as a one-page week view is always very difficult to fit everything in. But, for now, it’s going fairly decently. I’m finding my old success again, renewed by these new concepts, and finding that creating the new week’s page helps me to review my weekly goals and tasks (ala GTD).

One final note- this sheet gets punched into my Circa notebook at the very back. I’ve been editing a number of short journal-article like papers which I try and complete with every major item started in my Thesis work. So, this becomes a very rough overview of my work. It’s worked so well, that I often refer to it while talking with microscope technicians and others interested in my work. So, I’ve found I frequently am carrying this Circa around with me everywhere, hence making it a natural place to keep this schedule. [Not to mention I can print out the schedule on paper that my fountain-pens love.]

(Just between you and I, I don’t have many bubbles on my form for today… ach. So, I better do some good tomorrow and the next day to make up for it.)

Earworm: “Brandy Alexander” performed by Feist from Bonnaroo 2007, Manchester, Tn

Edit, Thursday; September 27, 2007, Here’s the first version for your perusal (pdf, 160 kB): WeeklySchedule ver.1