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Posted by Chris Murtland
Nov 18, 2011 at 06:19 PM

 

Re importance - I try to think of importance as being something that I will either still care about in five years or that has an impact that reaches out at least that far. Many individual tasks won’t meet that, but they may be moving forward something larger that will.

 


Posted by JBfrom
Nov 19, 2011 at 09:05 AM

 

“Assignment of urgency/importance is absolutely relative. ;)”

Precisely why A/B sorting is so necessary.

Reply to Chris:

First, let me say that your approach is pretty functional. It sounds to me like a best fit given your system sophistication level. Given a fairly high degree of life stability, good health, external reminders, and a workload with low formal dynamism, it should work indefinitely.

Of course there is slippage we can talk about, but that’s true of any system.

“Yes, but more like deciding in advance in the morning that ?3-4pm is all about Project X? (based on an intuitive judgment of which project/areas need attention during the day) rather than sorting projects against each other as I go along. Besides providing some boundaries on things, it is also a lot easier to ?balance? 20 objects; it will be evident just by looking at the past few days on the calendar if some projects have not gotten any blocks, for example.”

This system inherently predisposes you towards more equal treatment of project blocks, which might not be your optimal path. A/B sorting would surface your granular critical path.

“If something is literally urgent, I will either know about it before I plan my time, or someone will call me (repeatedly, probably, if I don?t answer) to let me know. So I?ll still be able to respond to literal emergencies.”

That’s fine then.

“If something is just urgent because it has an impending deadline, though, it?s true that I would need to have some means to review and see those deadlines in advance. But I think that applies no matter what approach is used to manage daily action. Also, I think if some slack is built into the schedule (an open hour in the morning and afternoon, for example), that will give some leeway to deal with any crises or opportunities that arise. And finally, it is definitely fluid; I wouldn?t feel bad about deleting or moving a block if I needed to - it?s more just of a guide to filter my attention in a premeditated way when all else is equal.”

It’s not just a matter of urgency. I don’t try to optimize my system for time management. Instead, I try to focus more on surfacing true prioritizations, and applying what amounts to 80/20 by mixing all project tasks together at the “by time” level.

This can result in wildly different schedules. One week I may do nothing but X and let Y,Z,W,Q and P completely slide. Letting bad things happen is the painful part of a truly powerful productivity system. An intuitive system will be biased towards putting out all fires. An inductive system will surface true priorities and let the unimportant truly slide.

Also, I want to mention the main disadvantage of block scheduling - it interferes with the mechanics of flow. Your subconscious is not under direct conscious control, and it is the key to productivity. Once it gets rolling on a topic, you’re well served to indulge its direction. Once it runs out of steam, you’re well served to switch topics.

Obviously real-world circumstances may require you to force the issue, but the lowest stress, highest quality option is to let the conscious and unconscious minds take turns leading. Most people trying to maximize efficiency wind up with a model where the conscious mind leads all the time. This is a mistake.

“I?m not sure about needing to know the ?highest value task? under each project. Each of the 20 headings has value to me in different ways or it wouldn?t be a heading. Spending some focused time on each heading, and being able to intuitively balance the areas seems sufficient. I will know if certain areas or projects have higher value to me at any given time and can block them out accordingly. And if I can balance the areas over the course of a week, I?ll be getting to any high value tasks under individual areas soon enough without having to spend any time considering their value in advance.”

Again, I’ve done the top down categorization approach. Maybe your life is wayyy more static than mine. But I think a growing, dynamic individual should have dynamic top-level categories, whose shifting, merging, and jostling prioritizations wreak havoc with this type of system.

For example, something like “music” is super vague. That would be a topic heading in my notes, never a project heading.

Maybe it’s difficult to fully realize what a problem this is until you’ve experienced the A/B sorting solution, to have a baseline for comparison.

“I?m not sure this applies to what I am trying to accomplish (or I don?t understand how it does). I?m not concerned about detailed or accurate categorization. The 20 categories I came up with for myself are how my mind already groups life and work anyway, and they are relatively static. They would probably morph a bit over months, but they will stay the same for many weeks at a time. So I?m just looking at them as large objects I can maneuver in order to avoid the complexity contained within each one until I am in the allotted time. To use another analogy - if I am planning a trip among cities, deciding the order I will visit them in and how long I will stay in each is a high-level and uncomplicated exercise and there is no need to look at any city?s detailed street map until I?m in that city.”

To hijack your analogy, simply knowing the city names is not enough to determine the appropriate length of stay. You must first know the city contents. And traveling without a defined schedule allows you to actually enjoy the journey far more, by serendipitous explorations and opportunism.

 


Posted by Chris Murtland
Nov 19, 2011 at 07:24 PM

 

“This system inherently predisposes you towards more equal treatment of project blocks, which might not be your optimal path. A/B sorting would surface your granular critical path.”

It’s more balanced, but doesn’t approach equality. Some projects would probably get a two hour block every day; others might get only a half hour once per week or even every two weeks.

I’m unclear as to how the optimal path would surface. The optimal path at the action level for me is completing everything with a minimum of stress and smooth transitions that don’t require a lot of decisions at every transition. Adjusting what even gets on the list of things to be completed seems to me to have to take place at some higher level.

“Also, I want to mention the main disadvantage of block scheduling - it interferes with the mechanics of flow. Your subconscious is not under direct conscious control, and it is the key to productivity. Once it gets rolling on a topic, you’re well served to indulge its direction. Once it runs out of steam, you’re well served to switch topics.”

I agree with that as an ideal. However, rolling with my subconscious often just leads to things that are utterly fascinating to me but not useful or productive in the “real” world. They may have some internal value to me but I need to limit the amount of time there.

I do think there is value to indulging the direction of the subconscious at times, but my subconscious doesn’t seem to want to ever lead me to work on my taxes.

A benefit of blocking that may mitigate the hampering of “natural” flow is that it minimizes the overhead relating to switching projects and loading up all of the needed resources. I get the relevant files, notes, email messages, and web sites in front of me at the start of a project block and can just start burning through multiple tasks on the project - which in itself can lead to flow. With a task-focused zoom level, I was often loading up these resources for the same project multiple times a day because the project’s tasks were not batched together.

“For example, something like ‘music’ is super vague. That would be a topic heading in my notes, never a project heading.”

Yes, it’s a vague word. But the label for me is personally explicit - I know exactly what projects, recurring actions, types of activities, etc. are contained within that label (and it’s creating, not listening - I wouldn’t feel the need to have an area of focus for a passive endeavor like entertainment). I even know that I only need to spend 5-10% of my time on music to get the maximum benefit; any time beyond that does not increase my satisfaction or fulfillment in that area.

It’s also an area that, while having a higher satisfaction rate based on the minimal time investment, is one I’ll easily ignore completely if I am aware of pressing work or life tasks. Music will usually lose in any A/B comparison. So committing to an hour of focus on it here or there is a way to rationally guide myself toward increased satisfaction - something my subconscious is not always predisposed to do. I’m all for letting the subconscious lead at times, but isn’t there something to “training” the subconscious by creating positive habits?

“Maybe it’s difficult to fully realize what a problem this is until you’ve experienced the A/B sorting solution, to have a baseline for comparison.”

I sort of tried it, although I doubt I was doing it right. I don’t understand the frequency of your sorts or how far you travel down each branch of the tree each time you sort. It felt like I was sorting all the time; it felt TOO dynamic.

It did seem easy to do the sorting for personal tasks (although poor music would always lose). However, work tasks for clients (which represent probably 80% of my tasks) presented more of a problem, because on the face of it, all individual work tasks are equal. I can compare two work tasks, and if they are from different projects there is no immediately obvious indicator of which is more important or of a higher priority or of a higher value (I do usually have some indication of the relative priorities within a project). I’ve committed in advance to these tasks, so it’s rare that I can just let a work task slide off into oblivion (I can dismiss clients that are more trouble than they’re worth, but that’s at a different level than task management). The only way to rationally sort work tasks is to introduce a bunch of different dimensions of value, like the overall value of the client based on revenue and volume of work, client perception (how long has it been since I touched their projects), immediate cash flow (how imminent is the client’s next bill date), my profit margin on the client, etc. And the sorting may turn out to be moot, anyway - even sorting based on any of those criteria doesn’t obviate the requirement to actually complete the tasks that are sorted lower, so sorting seems like too much cognitive overhead for the action level.

You say, “An inductive system will surface true priorities and let the unimportant truly slide.” But with work commitments, I have to address the problem of importance at a higher level than individual tasks; I may need to make some higher level business decisions in any given season (and those decisions will of course generate their own tasks), but in the meantime I still have to complete ALL of the work tasks already in the system. It’s true that some tasks get canceled externally, but I am not the one who cancels them.

I will grant that even in work there is a small subset of tasks that I have not explicitly committed to in advance, and I often do intend to these and then end up ignoring them because they just have little or no value. But otherwise, once I have committed to some work, it’s a matter of how and when, not if.

 


Posted by Daly de Gagne
Nov 19, 2011 at 09:44 PM

 

Chris, I’ve found it helpful to spend some planning time working with broad “results areas” in my life - if I don’t do that, given me issues with executive dysfunction, I can lose track of important projects and activities related to them. Each result area has a page or two in a notebook with projects/activities written underneath.

I can quickly scan the results area pages to be reminded of all that I have going and want to accomplish. Also, when planning how to allocate time and what to do, I can go through these pages more slowly, constructing a task list for the day from them.

Using the Do It Tomorrow concept the idea is to construct a task list which is achievable, and which, barring a real emergency, you see yourself accomplishing.

You leave room for such things as checking email, receiving phone calls etc - perhaps scheduling set times to review emails. Rather than deal w emails in the moment, a quick note on your tomorrow list as to how you wish to deal with each one needing a response usually suffices. In the real world, most people are delighted to hear back within 24 hours. In some cases you may wish to reply to an email saying, “I will have that information for you tomorrow.” Similarly with incoming phone calls.

The beauty of this approach is it improves the chances of everything scheduled for today getting done today.

Real emergencies, of course, need to be dealt with accordingly.

Daly

Chris Murtland wrote:
>“This system inherently predisposes you towards more equal treatment of project
>blocks, which might not be your optimal path. A/B sorting would surface your granular
>critical path.”
> >It’s more balanced, but doesn’t approach equality. Some projects
>would probably get a two hour block every day; others might get only a half hour once per
>week or even every two weeks.
> >I’m unclear as to how the optimal path would surface.
>The optimal path at the action level for me is completing everything with a minimum of
>stress and smooth transitions that don’t require a lot of decisions at every
>transition. Adjusting what even gets on the list of things to be completed seems to me
>to have to take place at some higher level.
> >“Also, I want to mention the main
>disadvantage of block scheduling - it interferes with the mechanics of flow. Your
>subconscious is not under direct conscious control, and it is the key to
>productivity. Once it gets rolling on a topic, you’re well served to indulge its
>direction. Once it runs out of steam, you’re well served to switch topics.”
> >I agree
>with that as an ideal. However, rolling with my subconscious often just leads to
>things that are utterly fascinating to me but not useful or productive in the “real”
>world. They may have some internal value to me but I need to limit the amount of time
>there.
> >I do think there is value to indulging the direction of the subconscious at
>times, but my subconscious doesn’t seem to want to ever lead me to work on my taxes.
> >A
>benefit of blocking that may mitigate the hampering of “natural” flow is that it
>minimizes the overhead relating to switching projects and loading up all of the
>needed resources. I get the relevant files, notes, email messages, and web sites in
>front of me at the start of a project block and can just start burning through multiple
>tasks on the project - which in itself can lead to flow. With a task-focused zoom level,
>I was often loading up these resources for the same project multiple times a day
>because the project’s tasks were not batched together.
> >“For example, something
>like ‘music’ is super vague. That would be a topic heading in my notes, never a project
>heading.”
> >Yes, it’s a vague word. But the label for me is personally explicit - I know
>exactly what projects, recurring actions, types of activities, etc. are contained
>within that label (and it’s creating, not listening - I wouldn’t feel the need to have
>an area of focus for a passive endeavor like entertainment). I even know that I only
>need to spend 5-10% of my time on music to get the maximum benefit; any time beyond that
>does not increase my satisfaction or fulfillment in that area.
> >It’s also an area
>that, while having a higher satisfaction rate based on the minimal time investment,
>is one I’ll easily ignore completely if I am aware of pressing work or life tasks. Music
>will usually lose in any A/B comparison. So committing to an hour of focus on it here or
>there is a way to rationally guide myself toward increased satisfaction - something
>my subconscious is not always predisposed to do. I’m all for letting the subconscious
>lead at times, but isn’t there something to “training” the subconscious by creating
>positive habits?
> >“Maybe it’s difficult to fully realize what a problem this is
>until you’ve experienced the A/B sorting solution, to have a baseline for
>comparison.”
> >I sort of tried it, although I doubt I was doing it right. I don’t
>understand the frequency of your sorts or how far you travel down each branch of the
>tree each time you sort. It felt like I was sorting all the time; it felt TOO
>dynamic.
> >It did seem easy to do the sorting for personal tasks (although poor music
>would always lose). However, work tasks for clients (which represent probably 80% of
>my tasks) presented more of a problem, because on the face of it, all individual work
>tasks are equal. I can compare two work tasks, and if they are from different projects
>there is no immediately obvious indicator of which is more important or of a higher
>priority or of a higher value (I do usually have some indication of the relative
>priorities within a project). I’ve committed in advance to these tasks, so it’s rare
>that I can just let a work task slide off into oblivion (I can dismiss clients that are
>more trouble than they’re worth, but that’s at a different level than task
>management). The only way to rationally sort work tasks is to introduce a bunch of
>different dimensions of value, like the overall value of the client based on revenue
>and volume of work, client perception (how long has it been since I touched their
>projects), immediate cash flow (how imminent is the client’s next bill date), my
>profit margin on the client, etc. And the sorting may turn out to be moot, anyway - even
>sorting based on any of those criteria doesn’t obviate the requirement to actually
>complete the tasks that are sorted lower, so sorting seems like too much cognitive
>overhead for the action level.
> >You say, “An inductive system will surface true
>priorities and let the unimportant truly slide.” But with work commitments, I have to
>address the problem of importance at a higher level than individual tasks; I may need
>to make some higher level business decisions in any given season (and those decisions
>will of course generate their own tasks), but in the meantime I still have to complete
>ALL of the work tasks already in the system. It’s true that some tasks get canceled
>externally, but I am not the one who cancels them.
> >I will grant that even in work there
>is a small subset of tasks that I have not explicitly committed to in advance, and I
>often do intend to these and then end up ignoring them because they just have little or
>no value. But otherwise, once I have committed to some work, it’s a matter of how and
>when, not if.

 


Posted by JBfrom
Nov 19, 2011 at 11:30 PM

 

“I’m unclear as to how the optimal path would surface. The optimal path at the action level for me is completing everything with a minimum of stress and smooth transitions that don’t require a lot of decisions at every transition. Adjusting what even gets on the list of things to be completed seems to me to have to take place at some higher level.”

I don’t understand this paragraph.

The optimal path in Cyborganize surfaces thusly:
By time -> Today -> This week -> this month -> this year
By importance -> (sorted by projects, rank the current most important project first and do it, with importance rated considering the time-adjusted value of completing the next chunk as well as the overall project value)

The tasks that fill each layer in this order of execution are automatically placed there by a series of small A/B decisions, thus obviating the need to stress over a big picture composed of more than 7 factors requiring simultaneous comprehension.

As for chunking things together rather than rapid task switching, Cyborganize permits chunking, except for the following 4 artificial firewalls - the transition from today to this week, from this week to this month, etc. It’s an appropriate tradeoff between chunking and urgency.

“I agree with that as an ideal. However, rolling with my subconscious often just leads to things that are utterly fascinating to me but not useful or productive in the “real” world. They may have some internal value to me but I need to limit the amount of time there.

I do think there is value to indulging the direction of the subconscious at times, but my subconscious doesn’t seem to want to ever lead me to work on my taxes.”

I don’t mean it in quite that way. Your subconscious can get rolling on taxes if you give it a push. And there may still be a time to step away for a while, to let your subconscious regroup, and close off a persistent off-topic open loop.

“A benefit of blocking that may mitigate the hampering of “natural” flow is that it minimizes the overhead relating to switching projects and loading up all of the needed resources. I get the relevant files, notes, email messages, and web sites in front of me at the start of a project block and can just start burning through multiple tasks on the project - which in itself can lead to flow. With a task-focused zoom level, I was often loading up these resources for the same project multiple times a day because the project’s tasks were not batched together.”

Yes, I typically batch together as many non-urgent tasks as comfortable while taking care of a project’s urgent task, unless I am truly pressed for time. Cyborganize doesn’t intend to limit you to ONLY performing the next task in the queue - it merely defines that as the next deliberate, highly organized step you take.

The insight behind this is that you will quickly run out of productive steps to take that don’t require much organization, and this will force you back into the next action on the predetermined critical path.

“I even know that I only need to spend 5-10% of my time on music to get the maximum benefit; any time beyond that does not increase my satisfaction or fulfillment in that area.”

That’s what I would define as a habit, not a task. The habit being, spend 5-10% of your time on creating music per week. You could ensure adherence by time blocking or another method. Music tasks wouldn’t need to surface to the top of the task priority queue, since you would simply find them in your tree during the designated music time.

I consider habit instillation and maintenance to be a different problem from task management. It deserves its own system.

“I sort of tried it, although I doubt I was doing it right. I don’t understand the frequency of your sorts or how far you travel down each branch of the tree each time you sort. It felt like I was sorting all the time; it felt TOO dynamic.”

You shouldn’t be sorting all the time. Sorting is done in batches, then execution is done serially, with plenty of room for digressions to increase batch execution block sizes.

You should calibrate the depth of your tree sort to the degree you expect it to be useful. If your tree is likely to change between this sort and the next, there’s no need to sort deeper than “By time”.

Also, scratch files handle the proliferation of sub-sub-tasks that would otherwise overburden BrainStormWFO with minutia.

“However, work tasks for clients (which represent probably 80% of my tasks) presented more of a problem, because on the face of it, all individual work tasks are equal. I can compare two work tasks, and if they are from different projects there is no immediately obvious indicator of which is more important or of a higher priority or of a higher value (I do usually have some indication of the relative priorities within a project). I’ve committed in advance to these tasks, so it’s rare that I can just let a work task slide off into oblivion (I can dismiss clients that are more trouble than they’re worth, but that’s at a different level than task management). The only way to rationally sort work tasks is to introduce a bunch of different dimensions of value, like the overall value of the client based on revenue and volume of work, client perception (how long has it been since I touched their projects), immediate cash flow (how imminent is the client’s next bill date), my profit margin on the client, etc. And the sorting may turn out to be moot, anyway - even sorting based on any of those criteria doesn’t obviate the requirement to actually complete the tasks that are sorted lower, so sorting seems like too much cognitive overhead for the action level.”

If the order of the elements at a particular layer doesn’t matter, just arrange them how you like and move on. Even among equal projects, I usually have one I’d rather work on first, probably because it’s what I’m thinking about at the moment.

If you stopped blocking your time, you might sort equal client projects by ranking those highest which you haven’t worked on for the longest time.

Keep in mind that at the “By Time” level, you will be sorting individual tasks, not projects, which is easier.

“You say, “An inductive system will surface true priorities and let the unimportant truly slide.” But with work commitments, I have to address the problem of importance at a higher level than individual tasks; I may need to make some higher level business decisions in any given season (and those decisions will of course generate their own tasks), but in the meantime I still have to complete ALL of the work tasks already in the system. It’s true that some tasks get canceled externally, but I am not the one who cancels them.”

Sure… so you’ll have to let the optional stuff slide instead. Cyborganize doesn’t divide up work and personal tasks; they’re all mixed together.

 


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