Category Archives: planning

Living life online

People often find the public nature of my blog remarkable. They boggle
at the idea that I put my task list online and that I share my
reflections on my quarter-life crisis.

I share a lot, but this blog doesn’t have *everything.* There are a
lot of things I don’t write about because I haven’t figured them out
yet or because I don’t feel like writing about them. I also have quite
a number of stories that I just haven’t gotten around to writing!

But yes, my life is mostly public. Why, when I know that Google and will mean that these things will be around for pretty much
forever? ;)

In particular, people find my task list unusual. Sacha Peter said:

… she has taken the step to pretty much put her task lists online for the whole world to see.

He wonders whether it might be interesting to look back over several
years of data. Hmm… Come to think of it, I’ve been using Planner for
four and a half years now. Whoa.

I use my task list as both a tool for proactive planning, reactive
management, and retrospective reflection. I mainly use it to plan
ahead, get stuff out of my head, and keep track of what I accomplished
for the day. I *could* use Planner to keep track of tasks that I
didn’t finish or didn’t get around to, and I might change to doing
that one of these days.

I guess the strange thing is that I do this kind of planning out in
public. This has helped me countless times. A public task list lets
people figure out if I remembered that I have a meeting with them.
Sometimes people will remind me of things if they see me
procrastinate. And every so often, people offer tips and suggestions
that help me do my work more effectively.

It’s easy to have private tasks. Here’s the basic Emacs Lisp code I’d
need for that:

(defun sacha/planner-skip-private ()
  "Remove all lines matching {{ private }} (no spaces)."
  (goto-char (point-min))
  (delete-matching-lines "{{private}\}")) ; escaped here just so that you can see it

I don’t think I’ll use it often, though. It’s kinda nice keeping
people up to date on what I’m working on even if I don’t have the time
to write long blog entries…

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Charting my life on index cards – Saturday afternoon goal-setting workshop?

Begin with the end of mind, as the advice goes, so I reviewed the
index cards from a previous brainstorming session and summarized them
into these ideas about the person I want to be.

  • Well-read, with a range of experiences that help me relate to people
  • With strong, loving relationships
  • An accomplished speaker and writer: teacher, seller and storyteller
  • Wealthy: passive income exceeds expenses, ecomfortable retirement plan is in place, and skills prepare me for practically any event
  • With an excellent memory for names, faces, trivia

I wrote these ideas down using red ink on plain white index cards. I
laid the index cards on the floor so that I could see of my goals.
Then I started thinking about how I could achieve them, particularly
ways that could help me move towards two or more goals at the time. I
wrote those down using black ink, and clustered similar cards
together. I put down all the possibilities I was considering, even
though I’ll have to choose them eventually. I also wrote down how
those methods were related to my goals.

Doing this, I realized that I was following these principles:

  • Recycle and maximize experiences: Reflecting, writing and speaking helps me get even more value out of experiences.
  • Focus on long-term skills that can be used in different contexts: For example, people skills are useful for all of my goals, and will be helpful throughout my career
  • Choose activities that move towards multiple goals effectively.
  • Don’t be afraid to let go. Keep things simple and focused. I can’t do everything in my life, but I can choose what to do.

After I wrote down lots of methods, I laid out a timeline. I wrote
milestones down in red ink as I organized methods by their
requirements and by their fit with stages in my life. Now I have a
general idea of what I want to do, how to get there, and what it’s
going to look like along the way. I know what I can do in parallel. I
also have an idea of what I can drop if I need to, and how that
affects things down the line.

My draft timeline’s pretty packed right now, and I’ll need to
prioritize it and add conditionals along the way. Also, it doesn’t
take into account some timing quirks that I need to consider. I’m a
little nervous about some of the modifications I want to make, but
that’s something with which other people can help me.

A flowcharting tool would be perfect for this, but I didn’t want to do
a lot of mouse-work today, so I just wrote it down in a text file.

I’m pretty happy with the results, and I’m glad that I spent this
half-hour sorting through things.

I’d love to get together with other people to brainstorm with them
about our lives. If our out-of-town trip pushes through, then Saturday
will probably be my only free day for this. It’s a good afternoon kind
of thing, with index cards and multi-colored pens. Would anyone be
interested in a workshop this Saturday afternoon? We can work on the
studio floor, so you can spread index cards out as wide as you want.
I’d like to do this with other people because people can suggest
methods that one person might have overlooked, or ask good questions
in order to clarify goals.

So if you’re up for goal-setting this Saturday afternoon and you’re
somewhere in Metro Manila, e-mail me! We can do it from 1:30 – 3:00 or
so. E-mail me or leave a comment for directions and contact
information, and feel free to invite your friends!

Random Emacs symbol: gnus-article-strip-all-blank-lines – Command: Strip all blank lines.

Optimizing your action loop

If you want to be radically more effective at doing things, get better
at deciding what to do. Few things are more personal than figuring out
what you’re going to do with your life: at this moment, for this day,
for the next few years. Few decisions are made as frequently. If you
can improve the way you make that decision, you’ll reap the benefits

We’ve all developed some ways of coping. We all have our quirks.
One of mine is that I can’t settle on one way of planning my tasks.
Some days, I’m all strategic and top-down, connecting my life goals
with the tasks I plan to do that day. Other days, I just need to get a
crucial task out of my head so that I don’t forget it while hunting
for my keys. Some days, I block out time to work on my priority
projects. Other days, I have to work around other people’s schedules,
so it’s all about cramming whatever I can into whenever I’ve got.

Now think of all the other geeks out there, and you’ll understand how
to-do list programs might outnumber programmers. Despite the
collective efforts of companies like Microsoft and IBM, despite the
coolness of Web 2.0 services like Remember the Milk, despite the
renaissance of paper-based planners such as the Hipster PDA, I have
never found anything as powerful as a plain text file in terms of
personal productivity: a plain text file with shortcuts that are
form-fitted to the way I work.

Here’s what my workday looks like:

  • I do a _quick_ scan of e-mail to see if any tasks have come in. I copy those into my inbox. I resist the urge to reply right away, as that turns e-mail into a huge timesink.
  • 5-10 minutes are enough to schedule and prioritize my tasks for the day. I see both my calendar and my task list at the same time, and I can estimate my load. I leave plenty of space for things that come up. I feel better when I finish my scheduled tasks and then cross off a few more, than when I don’t finish everything I planned and I have to postpone tasks to the next day.
  • I work on my highest-priority task for the day.
  • _Then_ I respond to e-mail.
  • Then I work through everything else in roughly 45-minute chunks, with some downtime in between to recharge my brain and take care of routine tasks.
  • My computer is set up to encourage me to take 10-second breaks every 5 minutes and 2.5 minute breaks every hour. The numbers are arbitrary, but the result feels good. This works out even better when I work from home: 2.5 minutes is just enough time to clear the sink, or to empty the dishwasher, or to start some tea…

A plain text file keeps me all organized, thanks to the Org module for
the Emacs text editor. The text file shows me what’s on my horizon and
what’s on today’s schedule. The text file helps me deal with
interruptions because it keeps track of what I was working on and what
I need to do.

The text file even helps me learn more about myself and my skills
through detailed time-tracking. Every time I start a task, the clock
starts. Every time I mark a task as waiting or done, the clock stops,
and the elapsed time is stored in the task. This helps me tune my time
estimates and report time at the end of the week.

And it’s just amazing. I don’t feel that I waste a lot of time. I have
a sense of progress. I can see the big picture, and things almost
never fall through the cracks. (When they do, that’s because I hadn’t
gotten around to putting them in my text file yet.) Sure, this still
doesn’t give me enough time to do everything I want to do, but I don’t
feel stressed out about it because I’m working well. From now on, most
of the performance improvement will come from improving my skills and
learning more.

If I can do this much as a new hire with a pretty nifty task
management system, think about what you can do with all your
experience. What _could_ you do if you spent less time fighting with
your memory or with your TODO system, and more time making the
difference you want to make?

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Random Emacs symbol: edebug-stop – Command: Stop execution and do not continue.

A toolbox of questions

Darius Bashar asked Gary Vaynerchuk an interesting question at last night’s DemoCamp24: What questions did Gary ask himself? (Not quite answered, but it might’ve been hard to get the gist across.)

After the event, Darius posted some of the questions he uses to figure out more about passion.

I was thinking about the questions in my toolbox, and I realized that I approach things very differently from the way that many bloggers I’ve read (particularly those who push personal branding) approach this discovery process.

I do ask people about their passions when starting a conversation, but that’s an opener that’s there so that I can see if they light up. It gets them away from the name-occupation spiel. If people stumble and don’t have a clear passion, that’s okay.

Looking at the questions I see on these personal development blogs, I often feel that questions assume you need to have a clearly definable passion that you can easily differentiate from other things you think about. While many people respond to that challenge, others might feel even more discouraged.

Me, I like discovering my passions through small steps. I’m not looking for a huge flame I had been previously unaware of. I’m just looking for a spark I can cultivate. That often emerges when I focus on relentless improvement and on sharing, two of the categories I’ve listed here. Other questions help me clarify, develop, and expand that interest. Passion isn’t something I expect to spring full-formed (Athena from Zeus’ forehead?). It’s something I grow into.

Discovery is shaped by the questions you ask. Some questions are sheer rock faces that are hard to get a grip on. Some questions are paths already marked by others so you know where to go. Some questions give you a lot of holds so that you can work your way around tough parts. Some questions are the shortcut walking trail a sherpa points out to you. ;)

Maybe some of these big-picture questions might help you think about your interests and passions, and maybe some of the more tactical ones will help you think about other things you do. Here’s a Swiss Army toolkit of small questions I use to think about things, and I hope to add more as I learn!

  • Questions

    • Improvement

      • What worked well?
      • How can I make this even better?
    • Vision

      • What difference do I want to make, and why does it matter?
      • What can I do?
      • What can I help other people do?
    • Planning – dreams

      • What do my ideal days look like? How can I get closer to that?
      • What doesn’t matter to me? What can I say no to?
      • What do I want to build, experience, or share?
      • What are the different ways I can make that happen?
    • Planning – Career

      • What kind of value do I want to create?
      • What does wild success look like?
      • What skills can I develop?
      • What do I need to take the next step and scale this up?
      • Who can I touch, reach out to, influence, or help?
    • Planning – long term

      • What’s the best case scenario?
      • What are the curveballs that I might deal with? Probabilities?
      • How can I make a safety net?
      • How can I increase my chances of a favourable outcome?
    • Planning – short term

      • What are my priority items?
      • How much time do I have? Will it fit?
      • What important things should I plan for?
      • How can I have fun, learn, and create value?
      • How can I make this easier, more efficient, more effective, or more fun for myself and others?
      • How can I share what I’ve learned?
    • Sharing

      • How much can I share with the world?
      • Who might find this useful?
      • How can I make this easy to find, especially for me?
    • Conversation

      • What are you passionate about?
      • What does wild success look like?
      • What could make you even happier?
      • What do you need to get there?
    • Delegation

      • What part of this can I delegate?
      • What do people need to do this?
      • What does good output look like?
      • What limits are there?
    • Presentation

      • Why does this matter?
      • What should people do or feel?
      • What do they come in with?
      • What’s my key message?
      • What stories and examples can I share?
      • How can I organize this?
      • What interaction can I build in? What questions should I expect?
      • How can I make this even shorter and clearer?
      • What do I want to learn from this?
    • Evaluating a presentation opportunity

      • Why does this matter to the audience? To the organizer? To me?
      • What can I say that is new, will make people think, and will make people act?
      • How can I scale this up before and after the event?
      • What’s the context?
    • Writing

      • What do I want to say? Why does it matter?
      • How can I illustrate it?
      • Can I make it clearer?
      • What am I missing?
      • What’s related to this?
    • Free time

      • How can I be present and enjoy life?
      • How can I express love?
      • How can I move my goals forward?
    • Figuring things out

      • What’s the end point?

        • What has to happen before that? (and so on)
      • Where are we now?

        • What can we do right now to move toward the goal?
      • Why? (at least five times)
    • Social media adoption

      • What’s the immediate personal benefit?
      • What’s the long-term personal benefit?
      • What’s the social benefit?
      • How can we enable the social benefit with minimum
      • What are the challenges? How do we address them?
      • Who are out there?
    • Finding people

      • What are the details of the request?
      • What communities are relevant?
      • What keywords can I search for?
      • Who else do I know?

Learning plan for 2010

Here are my priorities for 2010:

  1. Share as much as I can at work and in life. I want to share as much as possible so that other people can build on that foundation. At work, this means creating enablement material, blogging, organizing the shared content, and helping communities and individuals.
  2. Learn more about drawing, animation, and video. I want to get even better at thinking things through and communicating what I’m learning. The better I get at sharing, the more I can help people learn.
  3. Continue living an awesome life! I can’t wait to explore the experiment opportunities that are sure to come up. I’m looking forward to further building my relationships with W- and J-, family, friends, communities, and the world, too. And I’m definitely looking forward to bringing my cat to Canada as I complete the permanent residency process. I miss her! =)

What do I want to learn to support that, and how can I go about learning?

1) Share as much as I can at work and in life.

I want to share patterns for social software use, organizational knowledge (connecting the dots), skills I’ve picked up, and ideas and insights I’ve collected along the way. I can learn through:

  • Practice: Adding content to blogs, wikis, communities, and other repositories will move me towards this goal and help me develop the skills I need to do it even more effectively
  • Community, mentors: People’s comments and questions teach me what to share and what’s missing.
  • Inspiration: I can get ideas from e-books, presentations, wikis, and other resources.

2) Learn more about drawing, animation, and video.

I want to communicate better. Visual skills complement written skills and can be quite engaging. I can learn through:

  • Practice: I can use drawing, animation and video to share what I’m learning.
  • Community, mentors: People’s feedback will help me learn how to communicate more effectively.
  • Reading: There are a few good resources coming out soon – looking forward to reading them!
  • Inspiration: I can get ideas from presentations, images, and videocasts.
  • Coaches: I can work with editors and illustrators to get feedback and improve the output.

3) Continue living an awesome life!

I can explore this further through:

  • Practice: Particularly experiments! =)
  • Reflection: What am I doing well? How can we do even better?
  • Reading: Lots of books and blog posts about life, yay!
  • Community, mentors: Learning from people’s comments, questions, and advice really helps
  • Inspiration: Looking for examples and picking up ideas from them = awesome

Learning more about facilitation

In 2010, I want to improve my facilitation skills. Facilitation is a large part of the consulting that I do at work, and I can see how good facilitation creates value. I’m frustrated by the limits of what I know and can do, and I’m looking forward to learning more. I’m particularly interested in three areas:

  • facilitating better online discussions (especially asynchronous ones)
  • doing visual facilitation and visual recording
  • helping people brainstorm wild success stories and worst-case scenarios

My work focuses on brainstorming rather than conflict resolution or other applications of facilitation techniques, although I’m also interested in facilitation of group processes in order to improve collaboration.

If I improve my skills, I can use that foundation to help figure out more effective patterns for virtual facilitation and collaboration.

In order to learn more about facilitation, I plan to:

  • proactively take on more responsibility for facilitating discussions at work, including doing the background research and helping prepare the deliverables
  • read and reflect on lots of resources about in-person and remote facilitation
  • collect templates and processes
  • practice visual notetaking and facilitation during meetings, conference calls, and talks
  • reflect on and share lessons learned from the workshops and idea labs we do
  • shift more of my talks to interactive formats
  • build mentoring relationships with people who can help me plan my learning

I plan to share what I’m learning with you through blog posts, sketches, lessons learned, and talks.

Looking forward to the adventure!