Fractal Planning

[BONUS super post to make up for not posting last month]

A fractal is a geometric pattern that maintains its shape no matter how much you zoom into it. The planning system I’ve been using for the past few months, Agile Results, attempts to mirror this, though not the infinity part. The framework is based on the power of three, journaling and maintaining goals across four different timeframes (and I added a fifth): day, week, month, year (and several years).

I first heard about agile development during my orientation at my job. Our development team explained the merits of their switch from traditional waterfall planning, and how it drastically increased productivity and efficiency. The system is based on two week sprints around accomplishing small tasks within the overarching system. At the end of the sprint, the team evaluates if the task is worth continuing to pursue and can reflect on what kind of changes should be made in order to build a better fit within the overall system. The backlog of parts is re-prioritized at the end of each sprint after everyone has shared what they learned from the past two weeks of work. The system encourages accountability and communication. Most importantly, it keeps long-term goals in sight and prevents wasting time on parts that are irrelevant or unimportant. I was immediately impressed with the potential for it to spread to other applications, but didn’t think much more on it.

In mid-July, I stumbled upon a blog post on Lifehacker from a writer at Asian Effiency. It was about implementing Agile Results, a task and goal management system modified from agile software development. I got really excited and dove in. The system was adapted by J.D. Meier and is written extensively about on his wiki/book gettingresults.com.

Here’s the premise: traditional task management systems rely on dealing with large lists of tasks and prioritizing. Oftentimes, the little, annoying tasks get pushed to the bottom and forgotten (many times on purpose). It’s also difficult to keep your long-term goals in perspective when you’re spending so much energy trying to remember to call the doctor to schedule your check-up. Agile Results is a system that allows you to maintain focus by only looking at three items across several time frames and then taking the time to reflect on why you succeeded or failed. Additionally, you take the focus away from individual tasks and think more broadly about outcomes. This allows you to fill in the blanks without needing to micromanage.

The first step is your long-term plan. Meier recommends starting with a year, but I decided to take it a step further and use my 2 year vision. I already wrote it, see Vision, and it will help guide what I want to accomplish this year. With this in mind, I then started working on my three major outcomes for the year. My three goals are below from my mind map:

  1. Career Development
  2. Healthy Living
  3. Lifestyle Curriculum

    My three outcomes and my lifestyle curriculum expanded a bit. Mindmap courtesy of Mindjet.com

I thought a lot about these, and I think they fit nicely within my vision and are all things on which I want to focus my energy

For months and weeks, I answer a few questions about them:

  1. Why do I want to spend time on this?
  2. How will I accomplish it?
  3. What will the result look like?
  4. When will it be complete?

This helps with deciding if the outcome really fits and allows me to plan out how I will accomplish it. For each day, I write out the three tasks, but they are pretty small and self-explanatory. Often, they are part of the “How will I accomplish it?” from the week or the month or just mundane tasks that I need t do around the house (examples include: renew my homeowner’s insurance, change my gym membership to my new location, and buy a new router with a USB port). I also keep a backlog of tasks that I need to do, but don’t really have any urgency. So, if I don’t have three tasks to do for the day, then I can always try my hand at something in the backlog.

The last part is the reflection. At the end of each time frame, I write out if I accomplished the outcomes, and if not, why I may not have. I also keep in mind if it was one of my standard barriers to success that prevented it (my biggest one is my aversion to conflict, especially confronting people about things that bother me). Being able to point these out has really helped me become more aware of how often I avoid dealing with situations. Of course, I’m still not really dealing with them, but at least I recognize when it happens more often! When I review each timeframe, I can then solidify the mistake in my head and hopefully learn from it.

I keep track of all of this in three places, Evernote, my moleskine journal and MindJet. I write out my week, month, year and vision in Evernote, with answers to the four questions. I have two notes for each time frame, one with the tasks, and one with my reflection on how they went and what I actually accomplished. I keep track of my day to day in the journal, and I keep print-outs of my week and month in the little folder at the back (the major reason why I use moleskine, besides for my unhealthy obsession with them). The best part is crossing off my backlog of tasks from each sheet. I use MindJet for my year so I can keep more complex lists of what my yearly outcomes will consist of (see picture above).

By no means have I explained all of the great intricacies of the system, for that, I highly recommend reading through Meier’s site. However, I think I’ve outlined a good flavor of the system and why it’s so beneficial. I’ve found that I’m using my time significantly more wisely, and I’ve been getting a lot more things done that I used to put off or not even consider due to time constraints.

Please put any questions you have in the comments section, and I’d be more than happy to share any of my webs or Evernote templates if you’d like to see them in more detail.

5 thoughts on “Fractal Planning

      1. Its difficult to explain the intuitive flow of time management. It is better to be seen or experience.
        Explaining it may be a matter of providing the direct results of its implementation. ???

      2. I don’t know about that. I think the results are difficult to quantify because my accomplishments that are directly related to the system may not seem substantial, like making an appointment with my cardiologist. But that was a big deal to me because I had such tremendous mental barriers preventing me from doing it (still not really sure why that is though, but this system helps put you on the path to evaluate that as well).

        I think the major merit of the system is that it helps you keep multiple time periods in perspective as you decide what you want to accomplish. It’s not really time management on the day to day to accomplish tasks, but more of what you want to invest your time in for the aggregate of your life. It helps with prioritizing your outcomes. It helps lift me out of the minutiae of my day to day tasks so that I can remember why I’m doing these tasks in the first place. That perspective is tremendously valuable and why I’ve become such a fan of the system.

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