Wayfinding for Personal Planning and Productivity
There are 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week for a total of 168 hours. That is all that any of us have to work with. The seven-day week was a tradition started by the Babylonians in the 6th century BC and it spread from there to other ancient civilizations. The Romans had an eight-day calendar until 45 BC when they gave into peer pressure and switched to seven-days. This is too bad, because most of us could use another day in the week.
Personal productivity is about how we the time we have more effectively and efficiently. Effective use of time means getting the most important things done. Efficient use of time means getting more done in less time.
Wayfinding uses an agile planning process to structure decisions and take action that follows the POMDAD sequence.
- Purpose: What are you trying to achieve?
- Observation: What do you know?
- Model: How do you organize what you know?
- Decide: What to do?
- Act: Do it.
- Destination: What next?
If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.
Purpose begins with your goals. Start with your 12-month goals. What do you want to achieve in the next year?
Break this goal into sub goals. What are 12 milestones between here and your destination? Roughly one milestone for each month. The challenge with one-year (or longer) goals is that it is easy to put them off because they are so far away or to feel frustrated because we are not there yet. Monthly milestones provide a way to measure progress and maintain focus.
Next create a 60-day plan. Review the two milestones for the next two months. What tasks need to be completed to achieve these milestones?
Now create a monthly plan. What is the priority for those tasks to be completed in the next two months? Which need to be completed first?
Once you have done this, in future months you will build on what you have already done. You can review your annual goals to ensure they are the same. You can validate that the milestones are still correct. You can review the existing tasks for the next month and update those as needed as part of a monthly review.
You can and should also review your goals and activities on a weekly and daily basis to make sure you are headed where you want to go and that you benefit from what you have learning along the way.
The observe stage is about collecting and reviewing what you know. The overarching goal here is to remember less. We want to use our brain for thinking not remembering. When we spend time remembering things, we are not solving problems or being creative. We may also forget things, causing other problems.
We use thee tools to support the observe process: notes, a calendar, and lists.
Note taking is an essential step of this process. Notes can be kept in paper notebooks, digitally, or note cards. The bullet journal (https://bulletjournal.com/) is a system for note taking and productivity that takes this process to the next level. The ideas can also be adapted to develop your own productivity system. A digital tool that can be useful for notetaking is Evernote (https://evernote.com). In addition to being used for recording notes, it can be used to clip and store web pages. Evernote is searchable as well, and can be accessed from computers, phones, and tablets.
Often we leave email and text messages as notes. This is tricky because emails can get buried. It’s better to capture the important information in our note taking system.
Another important tool for observation and recording is the calendar. These can be digital or paper. Some people like paper planners with a daily calendar while others like large wall or desk calendars. Find what works for you.
The calendar is where we record appointments and meetings. We can also use the calendar to record ticklers. These are entries in the calendar that remind us to do something. We can also use our calendar to block out time for work on specific projects or tasks, which we will discuss in more detail later.
The primary type of list is the classic to do list which is a list of tasks to be completed. This begins with the list of tasks from the monthly planning session, but it will also include other items that come up. One best practice is to maintain three lists: a master list with everything, a monthly list with tasks for the month, and a weekly list for tasks that week. The idea is that lists can become overwhelming when too long. Using multiple lists can reduce that issue. You can also use different lists for home, work, school, or other contexts.
Another valuable form of lists is the check list. (See https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/12/10/the-checklist for a great article on the value of this tool.) If we have something that we do repeatedly, such as pack for a trip. A check list can be a way to organize what we need to do rather than relying on memory. We can also use a check list with a one-time project to list steps that must be completed or requirements that must be met. The check list helps get things out of our head to free cycles for thinking and being creative rather than trying to remember what it is that we forgot.
If you find that your notes on a particular are too large to effectively use, you can use note compression. Take the notes from your readings, research or other sources and identify the key ideas. Record these on a single sheet of paper. The process of compressing detailed notes into key ideas and summaries will help you focus on the essential ideas.
When we look at the number of items we have on our calendar, lists, and notes, it can become overwhelming and difficult to know what to do next. This is where the modeling step comes into play. When we plan what we are going to do, we are imposing priority and schedules onto our tasks.
One framework for modeling is “GOST.” We already have Goals from the purpose step. We build on these goals with Objectives that are measurable results or requirements associated with the goals. For example, if our goal is to find a new job, an objective might be a number of applications to submit. Strategies describe how we are going to achieve this objective. Our strategy might be to use job postings to find jobs to apply for or to reach out to people in our network. Tactics are the specific actions we are going to take to realize our strategy. A tactic might be to spend 2 hours every day searching job postings and applying for jobs.
Another to model is to break down a task or goal. Usually there are milestones and deliverables within each task. In applying for a job, the first deliverable is finding the job. The second deliverable is customizing your resume for the job. The third deliverable is preparing the cover letter. The final deliverable is completing the application and including your resume and cover letter. Breaking down a task like this makes it less overwhelming, and it also offers other benefits.
When we break a task down, we can space out deliverables over time. Rather than trying to get all four steps at one time, you can schedule them to be done on different days. If it takes two hours to do all four steps, scheduling them in 30-minute blocks might be easier. It is also useful to group like tasks. For example, if you need to go to the store (or order online), it is more efficient to do all of that at once rather than buying what you need for one activity, and then buying something else for another activity. Also, when you break tasks down you may discover the opportunity to develop check lists. You might have a check list for applying for jobs, and you also might have a check list on how to customize a resume for a specific job.
The model step works best when you make a plan for each week. You want to determine what is your most important task (MIT) for the week. Maybe you have one each for work, home, and school, but you can only have one MIT even if there are many important tasks. Breakdown what needs to be done for this task. On a daily basis, identify 1-3 activities to complete. Some people do this best before going to bed at night for the next day. Others prefer to do it first thing in the morning. Do what works best for you.
Your most important tasks/activities are known as your “big rocks.” The idea comes from a productivity store of putting big rocks, small rocks, and sand into a jar. If you put in the sand, then the small rocks, and finally the big rocks, often the big rocks won’t fit. This is what happens to us on a daily basis. We spend time on the little things, and then find we don’t have time for the big things. However, if you put the big rocks in the jar first, then the little rocks will fall into the gaps between the big rocks, and when you add the sand, it will flow to the gaps between the rocks. The idea is that if we focus on our big rocks first, it will be easier to get smaller, less important tasks done around the big rocks.
One strategy to accomplish this is to block out time on your calendar for the big rocks. Usually we only keep meetings and appointments on the calendar, and then the time we thought we had available gets filled with meetings, interruptions, and other tasks. If you treat working on an activity like a meeting and focus on that work without email or other distractions, it is easier to get the work done.
Deciding is deciding what to do next. This is done by setting priorities for your tasks on a weekly or daily basis. One prioritization system is known as the Eisenhower Matrix after President Eisenhower. In this system, review each task on your to do list for whether it is urgent and whether it is important.
- Urgent and important tasks get an “A” and should be done ASAP
- Important but not urgent tasks get a “B” and be scheduled on your calendar for completion
- Urgent but not important tasks get a “C” and should be delegated where possible
- Tasks neither urgent or important get a “D” and should be delayed or eliminated.
For each “A” task, sort them in order of priority and assign the highest priority 1, next 2, and so on so that the highest priority task is “A1.” Then repeat with “B”, “C”, and “D” tasks.
Start each day by tackling your “A” tasks starting with “A1” either by working on it until it is done or scheduling time to work on it.
Another prioritization system from Bryan Tracey is to assign:
- “A” to tasks that are most important
- “B” to tasks that if not completed will have minor consequences
- “C” to tasks that is not completed will have no consequences
- “D” to tasks that you can delegate
- “E” to tasks to eliminate
One of the challenges in deciding can be analysis paralysis. We can get stuck with too many tasks and uncertainty about where to start. Prioritization forces us to decide where to start and what to do after that. As we do that, things may change, and we may have to revisit our priorities or even what is on our list. That is okay. By having a prioritized list, it is easier to adjust as things change.
Often we have the best plans and prioritized lists but struggle to get started or to complete tasks. We commonly use the term “procrastination,” but procrastination is a symptom of different diseases. For some, we have a hard time getting started on a task. Others get started but get distracted. Others work on something but never finish. Each of these is related to some mixture of motivation, overwhelm, and perfectionism.
Motivation is the energy we have to work on something. If it is something fun, we will have more energy and motivation. If we can see the benefit or reward of doing something, we can also have energy to do it. When we have motivation, we will allocate the time but also give the task our attention. Writing a paper while watching a movie may mean we spend two-hours writing, but since our attention is divided, it is not a quality two-hours.
Vroom’s Theory of Expectancy tells us that motivation is based on two factors. First, we must believe that we can do the task. Second, we must believe that the rewards are worth doing it. We can influence each of these factors. If we are not sure of success, we can start small and see what happens. Usually we will find that it is not as difficult as we thought it would be. If we are not sure about the benefit of doing something, we can create a reward within the process itself. If we work on something for a time, then take a break to do something fun, we creating immediate value to work on something.
One strategy for dealing with procrastination when we don’t want to do something is to approach it five minutes at a time. Even an unpleasant task like cleaning the bathroom is bearable for five minutes. Put the unpleasant task first. Bryan Tracey calls this “eating the frog.” If you eat the frog first, everything else for the day will be more pleasurable. Don’t worry about eating all of the frog. Spend about five minutes eating the frog and ask yourself if you can manage another five minutes. Often you will find once you start, you will want to push through to finish.
Another strategy is “don’t break the chain.” When you are trying to establish a new habit, like planning your day or exercising each day, record in your calendar or on a sheet of paper that you achieved your goal. The idea is to do this every day to create a chain of action. Once you have two days, you have more motivation to make it three days, and so on.
Another tool is the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer. (The original timer was a kitchen timer, but there are special apps for this purpose or you use the clock on your phone.) Set the timer for 25 minutes. For that 25 minutes, focus and work on what you need to do. Do not look at email, text messages, or anything else. After 25 minutes, reward yourself with a 5-minute break. If you have been sitting, get up and move around. Check your email. Do whatever. Then set-the timer for another 25-minutes. This approach works better when you are blocking out time on your calendar. Even if at the start of your work session you block out the next 30 minutes, that can be helpful. If the task is something you dread, use the 5-minute rule and set the timer for five minutes.
If our challenge is that we are worried about our efforts not being perfect or even good enough, focus instead on compounding. If we approach a task with the goal to do it 2% better than yesterday, that is not a big increase. If we repeat that every day, our performance will increase by 61% in a week. Rather that worrying about the big score and improvement, a slow and steady approach can be much more effective.
Perfectionism can also lead to procrastination. It can stop up from starting because we are worried about it ever being good enough. It can also stop us from finishing because it is never good enough. The strategies discussed above will help with getting started. If finishing is the issue, shift your focus from making it perfect to making a version available so you can receive feedback that you can make a new and better version. Perfection is impossible, but continuous improvement is achievable. However, to improve, you need to release something to improve on.
The key to the destination phase is to reflect on what you have achieved and what to do next. We will always know more today than we did yesterday. Sometimes we will find the need to start at the beginning and review our purpose. More often we simply go back to the decision phase to identify what is the next item on our to do list.