TaskMaster: Ordering Your Deck

Getting Things Done – 101 Part 3
Another article in the Taskmaster™ Series
© by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

The last two of Ten Tips for Focus & Intentionality:
Prep-Time for Time Mapping

We LOVE Phillip Martin’s artword!

Lets begin by reviewing steps 1-8.

You need to have those firmly in mind to be able to go forward with what we’re going to do next.

1. House the Homeless
2. Name the Game
3. Mise en Plasse
4. Plant and Stake
5. Remember the Cookie
6. Stop and Drop (thanks Maria!)
7. Survey the terrain
8. Boundary the space hogs

If you’re not ready to ride after reading the following few memory joggers, go back to read (or reread) Parts 1 & 2 of the “Getting Things Done-101” section of the TaskMaster articles.

Scroll to the bottom of this article for links to the rest of the TaskMaster series – and don’t forget that inside-the-article links to concepts mentioned are dark grey, to lower their distraction potential.  They turn red on mouse-over; hovering for a moment before you click will pop up a bit more info for many of them.

This article will continue to help you put your “deck” together.

As I said in the first part of Getting Things Done – 101:

The use of a Time Map – setting a regular and recurring time in your calendar or datebook where you plan to work on the same task each time – reduces the prefrontal cortex resource depletion that happens every darn time you try to DECIDE what to do.

Shuffling the deck – assuming you HAVE a deck to shuffle –
takes far fewer cognitive resources.

We began by gathering the cards that make up your deck.

If you’ve been playing along, you set some timers and gave some focus to your regular and recurring tasks, made GENERAL lists of things to do daily, weekly, monthly and yearly, and rewarded yourself with one or more cookies to keep your inner three-year-old from scuttling your ship before you could sail.  Whew!

Next, you did some task chunking, so that you had nice, neat cards for your deck — no longer than thirty minute chunks.  And you learned about the importance of NAMING those chunks.

I also warned you not to underestimate the importance of the cookie, and urged those of you who thought I was suggesting time for a snack to go back and read the three “cookie posts” in this series, ending that section with the following words:

Don’t be the horse that died of thirst on the banks of the stream.

Moving right along . . .

9.  Set up some campsites

Working in pencil, let’s get a vague idea of how an average week might meander along in your home life. As you will see, we’ll skip right over the hours you spend at your job, but you can run through the same process a second time to gather and order the cards in your work deck.

No ruler required

FIRST: Turn a piece of paper sideways and, top to bottom, sketch a quick seven blocks representing each of the days of the week.  End your days at the time you normally put yourself to bed, and begin them at the time you usually awaken. Write those times at the top and bottom of the blocks.

KISS: Even if you’ve developed the [really!] bad habit of sleeping late on weekends,
FOR NOW pretend you don’t.  We’ll work it out later.
Keep it Simple Sweetie:

NEXT: Draw a line across the “middle” of all of the boxes representing noon (for those of you with more conventional schedules), and the middle of your awake time for the rest of you.  That helps you get your bearings.

Mark off a daily chunk of space representing the time you spend at work, including transit time.  Label the top and bottom of those chunks with the number on the clock that is supposed to represent “start-time” and “stop-time.”  (Yeah, I know — don’t split this hair either)

What’s LEFT is the time you have to work with.

Drop items from your daily and weekly lists
into this make-shift weekly time map
(Version 1.0)

  • What do you hope to accomplish before you leave for work?
    (Start with tasks that MUST be accomplished to get out the door at all)
  • What time do the people in your household generally expect to eat dinner?
    (Some slot before that will have to be food-prep, right?)
  • What weekly chores might you do during the week that would free up time
    in your weekend for something more fun?

If you are like most of my clients, you will notice that the camp-grounds start to fill up
l-o-n-g before you run out of to-dos on your lists.  Uh-oh, time to make some decisions. (Don’t panic, that’s why you are doing this in pencil, and why this prep-step is vital)

Don’t decide — reconsider

As spaces begin to fill, check to see if there is anything you can stop doing as often (or at all?) to make room for something more important or more satisfying?  (I mean, how clean does a house really need to BE in this day and age?  If “cleanliness level” matters to Beloved and not so much to you, guess who needs to find time to go those extra miles?)

Is there anything on YOUR plate that rightfully belongs on someone else’s?  Your partner’s, perhaps, or your kids?  Even if they don’t know HOW to do what you determine is theirs to do, might it be worth instruction time NOW to free up ongoing time later?

What about the tasks attached to shoulds or ego?  I am always amazed at those who could afford to hire out the lawn-care or the housekeeping who don’t.  In 25 years, I’ve only had one client who discovered she was jealous of her gardener.  Everyone else loved the garden and didn’t really miss the work required to keep it pretty.

Time waits for no man – and runs away from most women!

One of the biggest benefits of Time Mapping is that you have a visual reminder that time is a limited resource.  For many of my clients, starting to work with this technique was the first time they were able to understand that a HUGE part of the reason they never get through their
to-do lists was that their lists were too darned long.

Like it or not, time is the one thing we can’t get more of.
Saying yes to one thing MEANS saying no to something else.


Don’t get too “retentive” about this step.  Guess.  Be flexible. Record the things that MUST be done and the things you would LIKE to get done somewhere in your week where it makes sense to attempt to get them handled.

This is a process you will refine as you go — that’s the whole idea behind setting things up to be able to “shuffle the deck,”  positioning your “cards” according to the structure of the game, a bit like a rousing round of Solitaire (it may well matter which red two goes on top of which black ace, but not nearly enough to agonize about!)

Don’t expect to ever get things regimented to the point where you know in advance which card’s coming up next — or exactly which stack you’re going to place it upon.

  • Since you’re going to be shuffling this deck, make sure you put it on your calendar
    in pencil.
  • Start on paper or you’ll end up hyperfocusing on technology quirks.

Most of you will probably want to keep your time map on paper anyway.  Once you have your map, you can plan each day’s trip without having to do much beyond writing specifics on your daily To-Do List or popping them into your electronic gizmo-thingies**.

10. Less is More

NOPE!  I’m not using this term to convince you to clear out the clutter in your space (although that’s not necessarily a bad thing).  This is the phrase to use to anchor the idea that overbooking is a recipe for disaster.

I see to-do lists and time-maps that would be a stretch
if you had a staff of worker-bees to do your bidding
— along with an automated butler to manage them all!

People NEED sleep, food, rest and relaxation, and connection with community.  You may be able to limp along without enough of any of them during bona-fide emergencies.  But don’t set up your life pretending you can do without them for more than a day or two, or that limp is likely to become permanent.

Remember, too, that focus, energy and time are ALL limited resources. Even during times of bona-fide emergency, you will have to factor in TIME for “human being” things sooner than you think.

  • You know you can’t drive your car forever without stopping to fill up the tank.
  • You know that the amount of gas it takes to fill up the tank increases the longer you drive without stopping to get gas.
  • You know that you need to attend to that little detail BEFORE the needle hits empty.
  • You also know that you can always drive a little bit further on “empty” — praying that you’ll reach a gas station before you reach the limits of that
    “little bit.”

Somewhere deep inside you DO realize that you are playing Russian Roulette with your schedule every time you leave it up to fate as to whether you make it or not – even if you think you know how far you can drive on an “empty” tank.

You might also notice that your stress level rises dramatically when you attempt to skate on ice that thin — especially when you “don’t have TIME to stop for gas right now.” (Seriously, is it ever a good time to stop for gas?)

Still, most of us slip into gas station denial all too easily.

Image credit:  Mohammed Ibrahim for  Clker.com

Generalize it

You have to teach yourself to transfer that concept to your life in general. Unrealistic expectations breed like bedbugs.  The more times you leap tall buildings in a single bound, the more times everyone will expect you to be able to do that ALL the time (or at least whenever they want you to).

What’s worse, you will begin to expect superhuman accomplishment of yourself – and batter yourself unmercifully every time you can’t do “it all.”

A big reason for that “What did I DO with my time?” feeling at the end of the day is that we have overbooked our lives, inadvertently setting ourselves up for failure across the board.
BAD idea!

  • Stress activates the amygdala – that “Danger, Will Robinson!” part of our brain that evolved early in mankind’s history to keep us alive long enough to reproduce.
  • Amygdala activation shuts down “unnecessary” areas of the brain (to make sure we can escape the fate awaiting us in the stomach’s of those sabre-toothed tigers we don’t encounter much anymore).
  • Mr. Amygdala considers those executive functions that get in the way of the tasks of the fight, flight or freeze states “unnecessary,” by the way, even though they are pretty darned necessary for planning and follow-through and thinking.

Amygdala activation reduces the availability of cognitive resources needed to handle most of the stressors of modern life.

It redirects the “brain food” away from many of the areas of the brain that we need to have on board for adequate performance, much less the PEAK performance those gargantuan to-do lists require.

Simply said:

  • Stress shuts down cognitive functioning 
  • Over-commitment increases stress

Stuff happens!

  • Dealing with the stuff that happens takes TIME.
  • Distractions and interruptions are inevitable, so build in TIME for them, if only to keep the rest of your schedule from going belly up.
  • How you spend the minutes of your life IS your life.

In the next TaskMaster segment we will look at how to set up and use your Time Map — making the whole process of setting up your schedule of To-Dos and Appointments a whole lot easier. Between now and then,  I hope you will implement some of the ideas from these last three articles – the ten points just covered.

A Quick Review of ALL ten tips:

  1.  House the Homeless
  2.  Name the Game
  3.  Mise en Plasse
  4.  Plant and Stake
  5.  Remember the Cookie
  6.  Stop and Drop 
  7.  Survey the terrain
  8.  Boundary the space hogs
  9.  Set up some campsites
10.  Less is More

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned. There’s a lot to know, and a lot more to come.

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

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