New Time Management Tool — Milestone Chart with Long-Term Planning

A milestone chart has been the core of my planning for over a year now. The old one focused on the one-week through several-month time frame. The new one encourages you to plan even longer projects.

Each row has a time frame, and each project (or group of projects) has a column. Each cell then has a milestone or goal.

The chart allows you to add as much or as little detail as you like for each time frame, at any time. Even better, you can see the big picture for a November to February project without flipping pages.

You can flesh out an important project first, then see how much time is left each week for other projects. If you need to change something, you can see how it affects both the rest of the column, and your workload for the week.

The chart didn’t convert well to WordPress format, so here’s a pdf of the entire thing.

milestone chart version 2

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More Samples of my (lack of) planning

More images to support a conversation elsewhere. Two are pictures, two are files. One is a busy week, needing more structure (well, it felt busy), one is a light week needing less.

daily chart

weekly chart

Sample of Weekly Project Chart

The productivity group I’m in wanted a sample, so here it is.

Projects by Week

Music while Working — Study results

Another group I’m in was discussing music while working, and this study came up.

I don’t like to study to music anymore, but as a teen I used it to set the mood and keep me focused. My mind would wander as far as the music, then return, rather than all the way down the hall. Also, it was part of the routine — including turning it off in frustration when I was deep into some complex theory and realized it was distracting me.

From the group:

Here’s an interesting passage from the classic productivity book, Peopleware:

During the 1960s, researchers at Cornell University conducted a series of tests on the effects of working with music. They polled a group of computer science students and divided the students into two groups, those who liked to have music in the background while they worked (studied) and those who did not. Then they put half of each group together in a silent room, and the other half of each group in a different room equipped with earphones and a musical selection.

Participants in both rooms were given a Fortran programming problem to work out from specification. To no one’s surprise, participants in the two rooms performed about the same in speed and accuracy of programming. As any kid who does his arithmetic homework with the music on knows, the part of the brain required for arithmetic and related logic is unbothered by music—there’s another brain center that listens to the music.

The Cornell experiment, however, contained a hidden wild card. The specification required that an output data stream be formed through a series of manipulations on numbers in the input data stream. For example, participants had to shift each number two digits to the left and then divide by one hundred and so on, perhaps completing a dozen operations in total.

Although the specification never said it, the net effect of all the operations was that each output number was necessarily equal to its input number. Some people realized this and others did not. Of those who figured it out, the overwhelming majority came from the quiet room.

Many of the everyday tasks performed by professional workers are done in the serial processing center of the left brain. Music will not interfere particularly with this work, since it’s the brain’s holistic right side that digests music.

But not all of the work is centered in the left brain. There is that occasional breakthrough that makes you say “Ahah!” and steers you toward an ingenious bypass
that may save months or years of work. The creative leap involves right-brain function. If the right brain, is busy listening to 1001 Strings on Muzak, the opportunity for a creative leap is lost. The creativity penalty exacted by the environment is insidious.

Since creativity is a sometime thing anyway, we often don’t notice when there is less of it. People don’t have a quota for creative thoughts. The effect of reduced creativity is cumulative over a long period. The organization is less effective, people grind out the work without a spark of excitement, and the best people leave.

Declutter Challenge 2011

The challenge is to deal with at least one piece of clutter most days this year.

Clutter is something that doesn’t belong in your home, and you’re not quite sure why you still have it. Or you are sure, and the answer doesn’t reflect well on your housekeeping. Either way, the thought of sharing the goal makes sense to you.

Set your own guidelines for what counts as in progress vs clutter, and what counts as dealing with. It can change as we go. Have fun with it.

Report on Twitter with the hashtag #declutter2011 or whatever social media site you prefer, or here in the comments.

Three Task System, Live Demo

Mark Forster, from, author of Do It Tomorrow (which the store tells me is in the mail), is doing a live demo today of the Three Task System.

In my words, the system is as follows: Use whichever list generation and sorting system you like, until the rubber hits the road. Mark is using his AF4. I’m using an experimental hybrid of AF4, DIT (as I understand it from his blog) and a task calendar.

Pick three tasks, using whichever criteria works for you. Do two (or three), the refill the list.

I decided to join him today.

9:30: As of last night, my overly-ambitious list for the day, with estimates, was:

  • 30 Kitchen, laundry, hotspots (I consider these one task.)
  • 10 Weekly Tub
  • 15 Weekly Bathrooms
  • 60 Aerobics (today it’s moving a huge pile of mulch)
  • 20 Voice (4 songs to learn for spring exam. The Grade 4 exam is normally taken by 8 year olds, but it’s a stretch goal for me. Today’s goal is warm up and finally learn the words to the B part of the aria.)
  • 30 Paperwork backlog. Must get this done by the end of November so we can review our budget properly.
  • 30 Last month’s story performance. Listen to recording and write what I actually said / want to say next time I tell that story.
  • 10 Wrap husband’s birthday present
  • 30 Block shawl. I want to wear it on Wednesday when I tell my knitting story. Should do early in day so bed is available for bedtime.
  • 30 Shorthand. It’s the least important of my tasks, but I started doing it again while waiting for daughter’s karate and am on a roll.
  • 15 Annual deep clean of the house. I try to get through the house every year, a bit at a time. Next step is finish the family room.

Total: 250 minutes = 4 hours. Not possible.

It’s really damp out and I might be coming down with something, so the Aerobics, which is usually first thing (I walk the kids to school, then keep walking and end with a shower), is being skipped. Third day in a row, sigh, but I’ve been pretty good for the last few weeks.

9:55 First set of three tasks:

  • 30 kitchen, laundry, hotspots
  • 30 block shawl
  • 15 tub and bathrooms (combining them)

Updates will go in the comments section. Feel free to add your own comments.

Eating an Elephant, Review

Elephant Eating 101: One bite at a time.

Elephant Eating Remedial: Ignore the salad.

Elephant Eating 102: Ignore the other elephants.

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