Periodic Table of PrioritiesAugust 31, 2015
Microcosmographia xviii: Periodic Table of Priorities
Microcosmographia is a newsletter thing about honestly trying to understand design and humanity.
Do you have a system for managing your time? Since 2005 I’ve used a personal variant of Getting Things Done to manage my work. That changed my life. If you’ve been meaning to read the book (or reread it) you can actually get its core concepts in 15 minutes. But a work management system isn’t the same as a time management system. Even if you know which projects are important to do, and even if you’re confident that you’re not forgetting any projects, that doesn’t mean you know when to work on each project, and for how long. If you always just do whatever is at the top of your list, you’ll always be on time-sensitive, “high-priority” stuff. You might almost never work on things that are important to you but that don’t have external deadline pressure — creative pursuits, side projects, learning, things that reset and recenter you, things that you consider part of who you are.
I zoomed out and decided to spend more of my time focused on a few things:
- Book Focus (writing the UX Launchpad book)
- Learning Focus (reading articles, watching talks, &c.)
- Creative Focus (fiction writing or pixel art, usually)
- Play Focus (geeking out with video games or comics)
These are things that, in an action-based system like GTD, would become nebulous actions like “write a bunch” or “chill out and play Xenoblade or Zero no Kiseki for a while”, and they’d sit around in the system repeating for months or years. I’ve tried this and it’s not great — items that were meant to encourage me to spend time on things I care about instead become a heap of accusatory red due dates.
I needed to get the calendar involved. The obvious schedule would have been a day of the week for each of the four areas — creative writing on Mondays, studying on Tuesdays, &c. But not all of these areas require equal amounts of focus. I want to spend a lot of time on the book, but not as much on video games. And I didn’t want it to be week-based anyway, because I’ve started becoming skeptical of the common divisions of time that we take for granted — are fifteen-minute chunks, seven-day chunks, and 28–31-day chunks really ideal for everything? (As for 24-hour days themselves, it turns out that even our range of circadian rhythms is between 23 hours 55 minutes and 24 hours 27 minutes!? Can’t we get anything right?)
Thus, four interwoven cycles of different lengths. Book Focus every three days, Creative Focus every four days, Learning Focus every five days, and Play Focus every eight days. This lets the rhythms interact with each other and with the days of the week in different ways over time. I may add or remove areas during my periodic review, or shift a cycle if it lands on a busy day. Some days they’ll overlap, and I’ll spend a bit of time on each one. Some days there will be no focus events, and I’ll just do whatever seems important.
“Just do whatever seems important”, incidentally, was my time-management system for a long time. GTD just made the “whatever feels important” decision more likely to be accurate. That approach feels fine and totally reasonable at the day scale, and feels terrible at longer scales. Weeks go by and you realize that you haven’t touched the things that are supposedly meaningful to you but that aren’t easily represented by little morsels of work in a task list. So far I like this new layer of more deliberate, longer-term decision-making quite a lot.
A Music Video for Your Consideration
I have been in a serious Charisma . com groove lately, and one of the greatest things they’ve done is this collaboration with Tempura Kidz called Miira Killer. As you watch this absurd masterpiece, keep in mind that in real life the MC/DJ duo are “office ladies” and the dancers are schoolkids. Also note that in one of the worst branding moves ever, Charisma . com named themselves after a domain that they don’t actually own. XD
Thank You and Be Well
Squeezing blood from a stone this time, but I wrote it! In the spirit of unusual time intervals, I’m going to try a letter every 9 days.