Task Table 2: Diagnostic tools

An aquamarine journal and a blue, white, green and yellow plaid print pencilcase sit on a white table top.
An aquamarine journal and a blue, white, green and yellow plaid print pencilcase sit on a white table top.

Last fortnight I introduced the Task Table: how I created it, how I use it, and how it’s helped me to manage the many facets of my working life as a knitwear designer – amongst other things. However, you can also use the task table as a diagnostic tool for your current routine.  If you feel that you aren’t coping well, or want to find space for new interests, this can help. If you haven’t yet read Part 1, hop back and do that before continuing here.

Referring to the same categories, log all the things you do – actually do – in the space of a week or month.  (Established bullet journalists will recognise this as a kind of rapid logging.)  It doesn’t matter how large or small the task is; all that matters is that you spent your time on it.  Set aside one page per day.  This is the Logging Box.

On a separate section of the same page, write down the things you wanted to do, would have liked to have time for, or feel you could’ve fitted in somewhere.  If they are solo pursuits, use black ink; if they are partnered or team activities, use purple ink.  This is your Wish Box.

Against each daily task in the Logging Box, apply the colour coding in the task table (it’s replicated below so you don’t have to navigate away from this page):

  • If you carried out a planned and independent task, mark it with a black dot;
  • If you carried out an unplanned and independent task, mark it with a blue dot;
  • If you carried out a planned and dependent (i.e., team or partnered) task, mark it with a purple dot;
  • If you carried out an unplanned and dependent (i.e., you were asked or relied upon to do it) task – or something unexpected – mark it with a brown dot.

For the sake of argument, I’m using the words independent and dependent instead of active and reactive; they’re more suitable for this diagnostic context.

Next, count up how many of each coloured dot you have in the Logging Box throughout your set time frame.  It is easiest to set up four columns and create a tally.  The results will tell you something about how your time is being used and where the pressure points are.  Break things down to days and weeks for even more insight into your current routine.

A handwritten table showing a colour-coded tally of the aforementioned task categories (planned and independent, unplanned and independent, and so on).
A handwritten table showing a colour coded tally, exemplifying part of the Logging Box task.
  • If you have mostly black dots, your routine is under control and you can get things done with minimal disruption or distraction.  You are good at following through on plans and well disciplined about what you’re doing, and likely work independently most of the time.
  • If you have mostly blue dots, you are good at going with the flow and using your initiative.  You may prefer to see what you feel like doing on the day or in situ rather than planning ahead, and you are also good at finding things to do when you’re at a loose end.  You might not plan much of your time, but you definitely don’t waste it or sit around doing nothing.  The only thing to beware of is whether these flow tasks are pulling you away from your wishes or intentions.
  • If you have mostly purple dots, you probably work collaboratively or spend most of your time operating as a pair or part of a group.  If you’re getting a lot done, then that’s a good sign that you have a warm supportive group of people around.
  • If you have mostly brown dots, you most likely feel pulled in several directions and spend most of your time being reactive to other people’s needs or requests.  This drains your creative energy and generates nervous strain as you try to carve out time for peace, quiet, or to hear yourself think.  You often get to the end of the day wondering where your time has gone, what you did all day – and why you feel so tired.
Close up of a vase full of white peonies
Close up of a vase full of white peonies

Next, let’s look at the Wish Box.  How full is it, and what can the dots tell you?

Lots of black dots in the Wish Box indicate that you either have eyes bigger than your stomach – that is, you plan in more than you can realistically achieve – or that your plans are thwarted by outside factors or influences.  The colour of the dot with the second highest count will give you a clue:

  • If blue, you might be distracted or sidetracked by another task;
  • If brown, you probably have several calls on your attention from people or things that need your support.

Lots of purple dots in the Wish Box suggests that your intentions are good and clear, but that you lack the support needed to bring them to life.  You might feel let down by other people on whom you rely for help or teamwork.  Plans might be cancelled or postponed.

  • This is especially true if your Logging Box has a quantity of blue dots; things you did instead or to keep yourself occupied when your plans fell through at short notice.
  • However, if your partner or team-mates are present and brown dots feature in the Logging Box, your time and attention is being pulled away by other things or people.  This suggests that the situation is frustrating for everyone: you, because your plans haven’t been realised; and your partner(s), who miss your company.

Here are some questions to ask yourself about the contents of your Wish Box:

  • Do you need help or strategies for staying focused?
  • Can any of your caring responsibilities be shared or redistributed?
  • Do you need to be kinder to yourself and not push so hard?  Taking time to recharge often gives you more energy for the things you want to do.
  • Would taking smaller steps be more helpful or realistic?  You’ll still be moving forward, but at a pace that doesn’t cause pressure or feelings of defeat.
  • Are you overcommitting yourself to projects?  Passion and enthusiasm are good – but don’t let them set you up for a fall.
  • Have your feelings changed about your wishes and tasks?  Do they have less meaning than they used to?
  • Are you around people who want to be around you and share the same goals?  Do you need to communicate and be honest about what you want?
  • Do things need refreshing?  As the saying goes, sometimes a change is as good as a rest.
Overhead shot of golden mitten-clad hands holding a large mug of frothy tea. The wearer's hands are resting on a pale blue blanket, and their grey outfit is just visible at the top of the shot.
And…breathe

If you logged a majority of brown dots, here’s a friendly pep talk from me:

This is a clear sign that you need to set some boundaries and ask for help.  Sometimes people don’t realise they’re being demanding; sometimes people don’t realise they’re being stretched too thinly.  If you are already feeling frustrated, start small: communicate with people who care; allow yourself to properly enjoy cups of tea, every last drop – take your time instead of rushing, and make sure it doesn’t get cold.  If you’re out walking or running errands, slow your pace and feel each step work through the muscles of your feet instead of pounding into the pavement.  Allow yourself to savour moments of tasting food, sipping drinks – activities that keep you alive and well.  Without taking time to eat, drink and rest, you won’t have the energy for anyone, let alone yourself.

Pressure does not have to equal impatience; people can and will wait a few minutes more for your valuable attention.  Your time is yours, so reclaim it.  Waiting for something doesn’t cause it to depreciate; asking someone to wait a few minutes for you to do something for you doesn’t mean that you think they’re unimportant.  It just means that you need to take some time to collect yourself.

Remember: Secure your own life jacket first, because you cannot pour from an empty cup. Make sure your cup is at least as full as the one you can see here!

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