Project View

In my last article here at Stepcase Lifehack,one of the comments I received suggested that there is a fine way to get around the question of having a “sacred’ calendar.

Popular books like Getting Things Done and others advocate the use of calendars for appointments, trips and other activities that “must” be performed on a particular date. Unfortunately, the word “must” is imprecise, and likely to be interpreted differently by each person.

The principle that they are attempting to reinforce is more clear: don’t populate your calendar with commitments that aren’t firm. Instead, treat the calendar as “sacred” – a place to put commitments that you dare not break.

Fortunately for us, the technology is fast approaching in which you can, at the same time, maintain a “sacred” calendar, a “profane” schedule and every-calendar-in-between!

In Outlook, for example, it’s easy to create, with a few clicks, any number of calendars that cover the same dates. However, because these calendars seem to be different files, it’s easy to believe that they represent different entities.

Not so. Instead, three different calendars of September 2011 are actually three views of the very same set of 30 days.

With that possible snag out of the way, it’s not too hard to see how Outlook and other programs like Google calendar or Yahoo calendar can help us “see” our schedule in ways that can help us to prevent overlaps and miscues, and give us a deeper understanding of the time demands we must confront each day. For example, I have been experimenting with the following 5 views of my schedule. (I didn’t try using them all at once!)

5 Views of One Calendar

View 1: A “Default” week’s view – before any appointments, deadlines or one-off activities have been created, there is an underlying schedule that I use as the basis for every single week. It includes the basic activities that I need to live my life, and I only move them or delete them in emergencies. These activities include time spent sleeping, eating, exercising and relating to close family members. These are items that I do regardless of the work I do, where I happen to live, or the time of year. For example, going to bed early is important for me due to the triathlon training I do. Before it became a habit, I scheduled the time to go to bed and also set an alarm on my watch to beep at 10:20 pm.

View 2: The “Hard appointments” view – this view consists of scheduled activities planned with other people. The criteria for placing an item in this view is that “there are sharp consequences for myself and others if the appointment is missed.” Dental appointments and coaching calls are examples.

View 3: The “Deadline” view – when there are deadlines I have that produce negative consequences if they are forgotten, they are placed within this view (e.g. due-dates for my company’s tax deposits)

View 4: The “Blank-time” view – this is the time that I schedule each day for the unexpected. These slots of dead time act as buffer against all the things that can go wrong, and their length and frequency depends on the environment I’m in, and the kind of work I’m doing. For example, I have found it difficult to schedule work on travel days, so I would set up huge chunks of dead time in the expectation that something is likely to go wrong. If nothing goes wrong, then it’s easy to reach into future days for time demands that I can start working on now. Using this view helps to prevent (but might not cure) the popular fault of over-scheduling, which most ambitious people commit.

View 5: The “Activity” view – in my last article,I focused on the switch that needs to be made by people who have a great number of time demands i.e. from learning to place tasks rather than lists. The Activity view is the one in which the most action takes place as time demands that come into my life are placed directly in my calendar. Most of the schedule juggling that happens each day takes place in this view.

Paper’s Shortcomings

Viewing a single schedule in five different ways can be quite confusing to those of us who think of calendars in the traditional, paper-based way. Throw in the ability to access your scheduled time demands on your laptop, smartphone and tablet and you may realize that there’s a need to see calendars and schedules quite differently…. perhaps as a set of tasks that are organized by date and time, that reside in the cloud. At any point in time, the calendar-view you are looking at is filtering tasks, and helping you to focus on the few at a time that you really need to see.

This filtering is important… it might never make sense to combine all the views in one, any more than it makes sense to watch more than one television channel at a time… even with the latest PiP technology. Each view serves a different purpose, providing a layer of information that’s important to maintain separately from the others, or to combine selectively. For example, I combine the “Default” view with the “Activities” view on a day to day basis, while I use the “Blank-time” view as a planning tool that’s filtered out once my day starts.

Of course, there could be other views. For example, Dezhi Wu’s groundbreaking research suggests another possible view for Projects. In her book, “Temporal Structures in Individual Time Management” she explains that a project manager should be able to craft a schedule of activities for each team member that can be downloaded right into a planning device. To me, this suggests an additional view is coming.

View 6: The “Project view” – when you have a group of inter-connected tasks that are designed to produce a particular result. It would be nice to take a look at each project as a separate thread of activity. You could see, for example, what happens in your life when there’s a change in final due dates. This is a far cry from the mental, unreliable estimates that often fly around.

Technology Limitations

Unfortunately, the core technology of managing multiple views isn’t maintained on all calendars. My Blackberry’s calendar doesn’t allow for multiple views from one program. Hopefully apps are on the way that will correct this, and allow me to synchronize different views with the cloud.

However, with tools that are already available, it’s possible to keep a “sacred” calendar if it’s seen as merely one possible view to manage. With improved tools, we could do much more scheduling and less listing, even as we stick to the GTD principle of maintaining and managing firm commitments. Doing so would help relieve us of the job of juggling our calendars in our minds, and delegate the task to tools tapped into the cloud.

P.S. I used Yahoo!.Calendar to generate these views, and the instructions for doing can be found here.

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