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Course of Actions – Task Flow Mapping Your Day

Course of Actions – Task Flow Mapping Your Day

One of the things I’ve found when listing out tasks and actions, is the difficulty of organizing a list into a logical flow. Most of my day is filled with tasks that I need or want to complete in a specific order, and I wanted a simple way to map out the flow of my day. When I set out to find a way to do this, I had several criteria in mind:

  • It had to be simple – I didn’t want a lot of options or stuff to fill in. Just a quick way to map out the actions for my day.
  • It had to be flexible – Even though I know what tasks or actions I want to perform during the course of my day, things invariably come up. So it needed to be able to fit these items in, without interrupting the flow.
  • It would not be time-based – I have other ways of covering time-based stuff. I wanted it to be strictly a priority-based flow of actions for the day.
  • It would not be project based – Like with time-based stuff, I already had a way of tracking projects. This would be a flow of tasks for the day that may involve several projects and contexts.

A Task Flow Map is Born

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I played around with several methods, and many were way too complex. One great approach is Chris Brogan’s post on Mini Process Flows. It had some ideas with a similar flavor to what I wanted to achieve. But being lazy when it comes to writing things out, I wanted an even simpler approach. My goal was to create a basic form that I could fill out at the start of each day, that would map each of my tasks or actions in the order I wanted to complete them.

The worksheet I came up with has a set of boxes, one for each task, with a small arrow indicating the flow from one box, and task, to the next. The picture below shows a sample marked up worksheet (click to enlarge).

Task Flow Sample WorkSheet Thumb

    The first box has an arrow box for the current page number and the last box has one for the “continued on” page. So if I have more than 10 actionable tasks in a day, I continue on to a new sheet.

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    In order to accommodate things like waiting for, interruptions, unplanned meetings, and deferred tasks, I added adjacent boxes attached with a dotted line. I also included a small circle to designate the type of interrupt. Some of the ones I use most often include:

    • “W” = Waiting for or @Waiting.
    • “I” = General interruption, including phone calls I had to take, unplanned meetings, going out for lunch, etc.
    • “D” = Deferred items, tasks that I decided to put off for some (probably good) reason.
    • “P” = Pawned off on someone else.

    The idea is to have a readily available map of my day, with each task laid out and flowing into the next. As I complete a task, I cross out the box. Originally I had checkbox to mark off completed items, but it wasn’t nearly as gratifying as crossing out the whole thing. As the day progresses I can clearly see what I’ve completed and what is still left to do.

    If I am unable to complete all the tasks by the end of the day, I simply begin where I left off the next day, and then start a fresh page for the new tasks for that day.

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    I’ve recently began combining the Task Flow worksheet with a modified version of the DYI Planner project form. I use the project form to track overall progress for each project, and then load up the Task Flow form with the tasks I need to compete each day. It’s helped tremendously in simplifying my process.

    For me, in order for a system to be useful, it has to be simple – something that doesn’t just add more overhead to my day. Having a way of tracking tasks that is clear and direct, and that still allows me to work in my preferred manner, has helped me to create a system that I actually use.

    Task Flow Worksheet – PDF Format

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    Tony D. Clark writes, draws cartoons, designs software and websites, and spends a lot of time talking others into working from home, being creative, and doing what they love. His blog Success from the Nest focuses on helping parents who want to do meaningful work from home and have more time for their families, and their dreams.

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    Leon Ho

    Founder of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on July 10, 2020

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

    More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

     

    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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