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The Balance-first, Approachable To-Do List

Wednesday December 4, 2019

Here is my latest project. It’s a to-do list method. I am calling it the Balance-first, Approachable To-Do List.

(Shall we nickname this BATL? Maybe. I like the metaphor…)

The goal of this list is to bring clarity to your condition of productivity balance and prevent productivity exhaustion by intentionally managing important aspects like personal values, enjoyment, relaxation, energy levels, and overall clarity, within the to-do list itself.

Specific Outcomes

As a result of using a Balance-first list, your to-do list should feel more attractive or interesting to you and it should seem more approachable.

The energy or motivation you feel at the end of the day should also be more fulfilling, since you made progress, kept yourself comfortable, and pushed forward in living a life which is calibrated to your values.

The list is composed of three different types of to-do list items, with each item type representing an important area of concern in achieving a balanced and fulfilling outcome.

The Three Types of To-Do List Items

  • SQUARE Items: Daily productivity, errands, and “meh” or “groan” items. Examples: Pay water bill; reply to so-and-so’s email about work meeting.
  • DIAMOND Items: Values-driven items—related to personal goals, personal development, and longer-term interests. Usually mid- to long-term. Examples: Finish first aid certification process; Schedule campground for this weekend; Practice the piano.
  • CIRCLE Items: Immediate play, interest, relaxation, or enjoyment items. Examples: Watch new James Bond movie trailer; Play a round of computer golf; Change into pajamas.

Corresponding Graphical Symbols (for use when writing by hand)

  • □ Hollow rectangle / square
  • ◇ Hollow diamond (this is drawn as a rotated square or rectangle)
  • ○ Hollow circle

These are then shaded or filled up, bottom to top, as you make progress.

Example 1: As you complete the sign-up for an online course you’ve been wanting to complete, perhaps you fill in your hollow diamond by about 10%.

Example 2: In reviewing your list, you realize that by changing out of your running clothes and into something more comfortable, you already completed about half of your “Get comfortable” circle—an item that felt really good when you wrote it down. You fill in the circle halfway and add a note next to it: “Turn on the fan and play some music,” clarifying the final steps.

Non-graphical Symbols (for use when typing)

When typing, you can use the following symbols:

  • Rectangle is expressed as T (from “To-Do”)
  • Diamond is expressed as V (from “Values”)
  • Circle is expressed as F (from “Fun”)

Since these letters cannot be made hollow and filled in as we go, we add a dash and then a number indicating how much progress we’ve made, from 0-9 and including X, with X meaning “task complete.” Additionally, brackets are used to set these items apart in your text editor or writing software.

Example 1: [T-5] Activate new debit card. Make phone call next. (The number 5 indicates that the first 50% of the task was completed when the debit card was brought from the kitchen counter to the desk workspace; now only a phone call remains).

Example 2: [F-X] Turn on a favorite TV show to watch in the background. (The show is now on, and this task has been marked complete with an “X”)

Bad Example: [V-2] Complete University Course on Calculus. (This task is lacking clarity. The verb “complete” does not illustrate any next steps, and is more like a goal, rather than a task tied to a goal or value.)

Beginner Tips for Best Balance

  • A beginner’s list should have more circles (F) and diamonds (V), than rectangles (T).
  • A beginner’s list should have more circles (F) than diamonds (V), especially if they have experienced productivity exhaustion.
  • A list should be rewritten and reorganized whenever a new day has come or when the list is over 50% complete, whichever seems appropriate. If typing, you may wish to start putting completed items in a separate area of your file.
  • If a list does not immediately seem to offer you positive energy, look at adding more circle (F) and diamond (V) items first.
  • Another helpful exercise is to re-rank items easiest-first.

What to Expect as a Beginner

Remember that your energy and perceptions may jump to, or swing quickly between, positive / negative as you evaluate or study this from a beginner’s point of view. Not only is this a new type of list notation, but it’s also a new and more inclusive way of looking at productivity for many.

Pay attention to initial, inner criticisms like, “it looks complex.” Ask yourself: Have you tried it yet? For how long? How does it work for you in practice? What do you like / dislike? A good beginner’s goal for any new undertaking should involve developing a nuanced, multi-dimensional point of view.

This is new information, and to your introverted side, new information is sometimes easily interpreted as an enemy. But please give it a try. I’d love to hear your feedback.

Other Important Principles

Energy-first Prioritization

Always start with the item that seems most attractive right now, regardless of the type of item. Even if you feel some guilt, it’s usually wisest to go where your energy leads first.

Use the energy from that activity to lead yourself into the question: Where am I with these other things?

To break through a hard item, it must be clarified.

Otherwise Priority-free

Do not rank or prioritize tasks, unless:

  • The task is immediately urgent within the next hour or so, and you feel you currently have energy to accomplish it.

Raw Information-first

If you’re just getting ideas down, just write or type them out. Don’t feel pressured to apply these special terms or symbols until you have the ideas down. This is a first step in Clarity—just getting the raw information out.

Linked to the Three Points / Three-C Model

The concepts here will help you link your To-Do list with the Three Points of the Productivity Triangle, also known as the Three-C Model. They do this by establishing Clarity and helping you find Comfort. Further concerns about Courage should then be easier to address, as needed.

Filed in: /36/ | /41/ | /32/ | /52/ | /11/ | /14/ | /52/ | /26/