Friday, October 30, 2015

Task List Status Indicators

Use these task list indicators to monitor your progress when completing tasks.

Advantages of Tracking Task Progress

While it is possible to keep track of tasks on your smartphone, I prefer to use a paper-based planner for my tasks. Several advantages to using a paper list include:
  1. Tasks that have been acted upon are still visible, permitting you to track the evolution of a task from initially added to a list to eventually deleted, delegated, or canceled.
  2. By adding status indicators to tasks, you can track the progress of each task.
  3. You can view a completed list of tasks and feel satisfied at a job well done. 
  4. Additionally, you can use task lists to review categories of tasks in order to monitor and improve performance.

Below are six variations of task list status indicators. The first four sets are ones that I have come across in my Internet journeys. The last two sets are the ones that I use every day.


From the BulletJournal website: "The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less."


FranklinCovey is a productivity company focused on performance improvement. According to the company's website, "We help organizations achieve results that require a change in human behavior." Co-founded by Stephen Covey, much of the content is based on Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People."

Mike Rohde - The Sketchnote Workbook

In the Sketchnote Workbook, Mike Rohde walks readers through specific ways to enhance visual notes and organization.

Unknown Source

I recently came across this set of indicators, but was unable to relocate the source for this post. However, I wanted to include it because it is slightly different than those included thus far. The small circles remind me of the achievement tests I had to take in school and of the satisfaction of filling in each circle completely with my #2 pencil.

My Indicators for Tasks

As I have previously written in a post on my DIY planner, I dedicate one section of my weekly planning pages to tasks. My set of indicators is modified from the FranklinCovey indicator list.

My Indicators for Tasks in Notes

In a separate section of my weekly planning pages, I also have space for notes from meetings, observations, and other interesting tidbits. When taking notes from various meetings, I usually use some sort of bullets to record each agenda item. If an action item is assigned to me - or I assign it to myself - I use the status icons below to ensure that it stands out from the routine agenda items.

I also use this set of icons when making notes on handouts or other documents. In these situations, I usually create a task list on the first page of the document.

You have probably noticed that this set of indicators is similar to Unknown set displayed above. Since I've been using this set for several years, it is always interesting to find similar approaches to tasks from across the world.

Track Your Tasks

If you are already using a system to track your tasks, please comment below and let me know what your system is and how well it is working. If you need a system to help improve your approach to tasks, I encourage you to try one or all of these sets to see which one works best for you. Let me know how it goes by commenting below.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Carpi vs Capri

Does spelling make a difference when using a GPS? I once followed directions to a Lego store inside an outlet mall, only to find myself in the middle of the country in a run-down industrial area. Fortunately, the mall was only about 15 miles away. This was an important lesson: don't rely solely on the GPS for navigation.

Below is reprint of an article I first read on Yahoo! news. I transcribed the article into my 2009 notebook because I felt it was an extreme example of what can happen when you make assumptions about technology.

In preparing for this post, I searched for the article, and found it on the website for Reuters.

Carpi vs. Capri

7-28-2009. Two Swedes expecting the golden beaches of the Italian island of Capri got a shock when tourist officials told them they were 650 km (400 miles) off course in the northern town of Carpi, after mistyping the name in their GPS.

"It's hard to understand how they managed it. I mean, Capri is an island," said Giovanni Medici, a spokesman for Carpi regional government, told Reuters Tuesday. "It's the first time something like this has happened."

The middle-aged couple, who were not identified, only discovered their error when they asked staff in the local tourist office Saturday how to drive to the island's famous "Blue Grotto."

"They were surprised, but not angry," Medici said. "They got back in the car and started driving south."

The picturesque island of Capri, famed as a romantic holiday destination, lies in the Gulf of Naples in southern Italy and has been a resort since Roman times.

Carpi is a busy industrial town in the province of Emilia Romagna, at the other end of Italy.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Master Plots 11-20

Improve your storytelling by using one of these time-tested plot patterns.

Last week's post on Master Plots for Stories Large and Small lists plots 1-10 from the book 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias.

Master Plots 11-20

11. Metamorphosis: involves physical characteristics of the protagonist actually changing from one form to another (reflecting inner psychological identity).

12. Transformation: involves the process of change in the protagonist on the journey through a stage of life that moves them from one significant character state to another.

13. Maturation: involves the protagonist facing a problem that is part of growing up, and from dealing with it, emerging into a state of adulthood (innocence to experience).

14. Love: involves the protagonist overcoming the obstacles to love that keeps them from engaging/experiencing true love.

15. Forbidden love: involves the protagonist overcoming obstacles created by social mores and taboos to consummate their relationship or seeing that the price is too high.

16. Sacrifice: involves the protagonist taking actions that are motivated by a higher purpose such as love, honor, charity, or for the sake of humanity.

17. Discovery: involves the protagonist having to overcome an upheaval in their life and thereby discovering something important within them, a better understanding of life, etc.

18. Wretched excess: involves a protagonist who, either by choice or accident, pushes the limits of acceptable behavior to the extreme or is forced to deal with the consequences.

19. Ascension: rags-to-riches plot deals with the rise (success) of the protagonist due to a dominating character trait that helps them to succeed.

20. Destruction: dominating character trait that eventually destroys the protagonist’s success.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Benjamin Franklin's List of Virtues

 You might think of goal setting and creating personal performance measures as modern developments. However, Benjamin Franklin pioneered these techniques.

In addition to contributing to the United States as one of its founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin was also an author, printer, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, statesman, librarian, and diplomat. Franklin only received two years of formal education, but continued to learn throughout his life by reading voraciously.


When Franklin was near the age of 30, he set a goal of "arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time." As he described in his autobiography, Franklin created a list of values that he observed in the writings of others. His list consisted of 13 items. For each, he noted the virtue and provided a brief description:

  1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolved.
  5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity: Rarely use venery [sexual indulgence] but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

The Process

Rather than attempting to master all of these virtues concurrently, Franklin decided to focus on conquering one at a time, but still track his transgression of the others. To accomplish this, Franklin created a "little book, in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues." Each page list a virtual with its description at the top with a grid filling the rest of the page. The grid listed the first initial of each virtual in the first column. Franklin used 7 additional columns for the days of the week.

For each virtue, Franklin recorded his faults by placing a small dot in the appropriate row and column. He focused on improving a single virtue for the duration of a week. Thus, he was able to repeat this cycle four times within a year. By tracking his progress, he was able to see his improvements over the course of a year with the goal of "seeing on my pages the progress I made in virtue, by clearing successively my lines of their spots."

As I wrote my memoir, I tracked my progress every day. I used an Excel spreadsheet to record the number of words written, length of writing time, location, and time of day. At the end of the process, I was able to quickly determine when and where I was the most productive. You can read about my experience in my e-book, 60,000 Words in 6 Weeks. I believe that my motivation would have diminished had I not been able to review my progress each day.

I encourage you to track something for 30 days. My post on collecting measurements is a great primer on getting started.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Master Plots for Stories Large and Small

Improve your storytelling by using one of these time-tested plot patterns.

Several years ago I came across a list of story plots on the website of the Tennessee Screenwriters Association. In preparing for this post, I searched again on the website and was unable to locate the list. However, I discovered that the list was likely put together from the book 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias.

In the book, Tobias discusses the nuances of each plot and how to create plots for any subject matter. You will recognize these time-tested plots in television shows, movies, and books.

Definition of Plot

Prior to addressing each of the 20 plots, Tobias lays a solid foundation by defining plot. According to him, "Plot is a chain of cause-and-effect relationships that constantly create a pattern of unified action and behavior." A plot is a series of connected events that typically include an inciting incident, a series of reversals, a climax, and a logical ending which ties the events together.

While a story is a sequence of events (this happened and then this happened), a plot includes events that cause tension that builds throughout the narrative (this happened but then this happened). It is this subtle difference that keeps plot-based narrative compelling.

In his blog The Story Grid, Shawn Coyne discusses a framework for plot divided into five elements:
  • Inciting Incident: Something must occur that gets the main character, the protagonist out of the normal, everyday world and into the adventure.
  • Complications: Someone, the antagonist, wants something that conflicts with what the protagonist wants and seeks to prevent the protagonist from achieving goals.
  • Crisis: The protagonist gets to a point a choice must be made between various courses of action (retreat, continue, etc.).
  • Climax: The protagonist makes a choice which leads to further conflict with the antagonist, ultimately leading to the ...
  • Resolution: The protagonist reaps the consequences of the choice made.

Using the Plots

I like Coyne's structure, and I believe it can be applied to any of the plots below. These five steps and ten plots are suitable for large works of fiction, short stories, anecdotes, and dinner conversations. If you think about a situation from work, could you adapt it into one of these plot patterns? Can you outline the narrative using the list above?

Rather than telling a basic sequence of events, think about it in terms of conflict and tension. Audiences keep watching reality television shows because they want to see the conflict between contestants and learn what will happen next.

Master Plots 1-10

  1. Quest: plot involves the protagonist’s search for a person, place, or thing, tangible or intangible, but must be quantifiable.
  2. Adventure: involves the protagonist going in search of their fortune, and since fortune is never found at home, the protagonist goes to search for somewhere over the rainbow.
  3. Pursuit: this plot literally involves hide-and-seek, one person chasing another.
  4. Rescue: involves the protagonist searching for someone or something, usually consisting of three main characters (protagonist, antagonist, victim).
  5. Escape: involves a protagonist confined against their will who wants to escape (does not include escape from personal demons).
  6. Revenge: retaliation by protagonist or antagonist again the other for real or imagined injury.
  7. Riddle: involves the protagonist’s search for clues to find the hidden meaning of something in question that is deliberately enigmatic or ambiguous.
  8. Rivalry: involves the protagonist competing for the same object or goal as another person (their rival).
  9. Underdog: involves a protagonist who is at a great disadvantage and is faced with overwhelming odds competing for an object or goal.
  10. Temptation: involves a protagonist that for one reason or another is induced or persuaded to do something that is unwise, wrong, or immoral.

I will share  plots 11-20 in another post.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Problem Solving by Jim Rohn

A summary of Jim Rohn's problem solving approach, featuring a quote from astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Jim Rohn was a speaker and author who wrote several books on personal improvement.

For several years I subscribed to his e-mail newsletter. In the May 11, 2009 issue, Jim Rohn described an approach to problem solving. I recently rediscovered this in my notebook from 2009.

To solve any problem, there are three questions to ask yourself first:
  1. What could I do?
  2. What could I read?
  3. Whom could I ask? 

The real problem is usually two or three questions deep. If you want to go after someone's problem, be aware that most people aren't going to reveal what the problem is after the first question.

Neil Armstrong once said, "You only have to solve two problems when going to the moon: first, how to get there; second, how to get back. The key is, don't leave until you have solved both problems."

Never attack a problem without also presenting a solution.

The best place to solve a problem is on paper.

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Ten thoughts on success

Ten random thoughts on success as discovered in a high school handout.

Ten Thoughts on Success

I discovered this list of success tips while paging through my daughter's notebook for her junior year of high school. This was distributed as a handout from an agricultural vocational class, a requirement for all students at her school.

  1. Your salary increase will become effective when you do.
  2. How many people do not buy from you because you have not asked them to?
  3. Explain the value before you tell the price.
  4. Too many people stop looking for work when they get a job.
  5. It is easier to sell to people who do not want to buy than to find people who do.
  6. The surest way not to make money is to sit around waiting for a break.
  7. You are not paid for having brains, but for using them.
  8. When your prospect quits listening, it means you should stop talking.
  9. The door of opportunity won't open unless you do some pushing.
  10. Do you count time or make time count?

What do you think of these? Which one is your favorite?

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What's Missing from SMART Goals

Goals should not only be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-oriented, but also Educational and desiRable.


A search for "SMART goals" on Google returns over 24 million possibilities.

SMART is a mnemonic acronym that is helpful to apply when setting goals. According Wikipedia, the concept of SMART goals originated in 1981.

S = Specific - Goals must be well-defined and clearly written. In the context of writing, there are many individuals who say, "I want to be a writer." However, this is a rather ambiguous goal. A better goal might be, "I want to write a book on the philosophy of birds."

M = Measurable - Goals must be written in such a way that progress (or lack of progress) can be measured. I have a love-hate relationship with working out. However, right now, I am in the love phase, and have set a measurable goal of walking three miles every day at a rate of 4 miles per hour. This is clearly measurable, and I can easily assess each day whether or not I met this goal.

A = Attainable - Goals must be within the possibility of being achieved. I love to travel, but I recognize that a trip to the moon or into space - even though possible the very rich - is unlikely to occur for me. Instead, I could set a goal of traveling to a new part of the world.

R = Relevant - Goals must be related to whatever project or activity is being developed. There are two ways that relevancy can get derailed. First, some type of qualifier might be added to a goal, such as "I want to read one book a week, but I can only read at Starbucks." In this case, the location is not relevant to the goal, and may actually serve as a distraction (Starbucks is sometimes noisy). The other way that relevancy can get derailed is by simply selecting a goal completely unrelated to a project. If I am planning a get-away weekend with my wife, thinking about I will read my work e-mails while we are traveling is not relevant.

T = Time-based - Goals must have time frames assigned so that planning can stay on track. If a goal does not have a time element, (i.e., a deadline) it is easy for efforts expended towards a goal to lapse into a state of entropy, where all activity slowly decreases until no action is being taken. If someone sets a goal of writing a book, but doesn't specify a time limit within that goal is to be accomplished, it is easy to put the project on a back burner, or perhaps neglect it altogether.


There are two additional factors that I believe need to be considered. These additional factors are Educational and Desirable. In order to change SMART into SMARTER, "desiRable" must be adjusted so that the "R" forms the new acronym.

E = Educational - Goals must contribute to continual learning. In my free e-book, Never Quit Learning, I discuss ten simple ways that knowledge can help you stand out. Every goal should teach you something about yourself. What factors make it easier or more difficult to obtain a goal? Does it make a difference if the parameters of SMART are changed slightly? The "E" for Educational is really the review part of setting SMART goals to ensure that goals are helping you achieve what you want or need.

R = desiRable - In order to stay motivated, the end result must be something you want to achieve. I could set a goal of obtaining my black belt in karate, but that is not particularly desirable for me. However, earning my black belt in the lean/six sigma quality improvement methodologies is something that interests me.

Instead of setting SMART goals, set SMARTER goals to ensure that whatever you are doing helps you learn more about yourself and moving you in a direction you want to go in.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Friday, October 2, 2015

More Mental Jogging Prompts

Last year I shared my review of Mental Jogging by Reid J. Daitzman. The  book consists of 365 prompts to stimulate your creativity. Below are ten prompts. These are great to think about while commuting and at parties.

  1. Eight or more reasons why you shouldn't drop out of school.
  2. Six or more nice things about the person to your right.
  3. Seven or more ways you can tell a dog from a cat without seeing one.
  4. Eight or more reasons why rainbows cannot be seen at night.
  5. Seven or more things never to say to a dentist.
  6. Six or more ways to eat dinner without utensils.
  7. Seven or more ways how not to attract other men.
  8. Eight or more reasons for not becoming a United States Sentator.
  9. Six or more reasons for not owning a calendar.
  10. Seven or more rules of soccer if there were two goalies in each goal.