There’s a new feature in the Fractal Planner. The 2+ minute demo video is a few paragraphs down.
But first, if you’ve read the eBook, “Clear Mind, Effective Action”, you’ve seen me suggest that creative individuals can handle most of their productivity needs by using one organizational strategy (Fractal Planning) and developing one set of habits (collectively called “Reactive Flow Management”).
(If you haven’t read Clear Mind, Effective Action yet, it’s free and you can get it by signing up for the email notification list for the blog — the form is to to the right) →
“Fractal Planning” and “Reactive Flow Management” can be contrasted with “Flat Planning” and “Proactive Flow Management”.
When people use a “flat” planning structure (such as a collection of simple lists) they face various problems:
- It can sometimes be difficult to see how their projects relate to each other.
- They usually don’t break tasks down as far as they need to, because it’s difficult to keep the thoughts organized with a flat list.
- Because they don’t break tasks down far enough they are often surprised by the hidden complexity lurking in their plans.
- It can also be more difficult to keep the big picture in mind as they work.
In order to cope, flat planners will draft mission statements and have weekly planning sessions to untangle their plans, figure out how their new tasks relate to their old tasks, and maybe even plan what specific work they’ll do each day (or even each hour) for the coming week.
With Fractal Planning, on the other hand, we can easily keep breaking tasks down quickly in a hierarchical structure as we discover new complexity. This brings the following benefits:
- We can trust that, most of the time, our priorities will naturally organize themselves.
- We can trust that our plans will stay naturally untangled most of the time.
- We can trust that our greater purpose will remain clear most of the time.
- We can comfortably allow our greater purpose to evolve over time with our skills and opportunities (instead of locking ourselves in with a “mission statement”).
- With a fractal mindset we also understand why unexpected complications arise, and we have ways to easily work solutions to these complications into our plans.
With FLAT planning, flow can be more elusive, and more difficult to maintain. So it makes sense to be PROACTIVE and vigilant.
With FRACTAL planning, flow is assumed, so we can relax and deal with the occasional flow killers as they arise. It makes more sense in this case to be REACTIVE with respect to our motivation swings, and to just focus on our work for the most part. In particular we don’t need weekly planning sessions (or if we still use them they can be put to better use). We don’t need to schedule our work as tightly. And we don’t stress out about unexpected complications as much (in part because we anticipate more of them).
Overall we work with less stress and don’t need to take as much time out to “sharpen our saws”.
Fractal Planning is, in some ways, “the lazy person’s way to get a lot of work done”.
But, even with fractal planning, flow killers still show up. And, when they do, we need some Reactive Flow Management techniques to get ourselves back on track.
That’s where the newest Fractal Planner feature comes in. Take it away, Jim :
The Motivation Wizard is one of four wizards that will one day be linked together into a master wizard (if the current plan holds). These are the four wizards in my current vision:
- Clear mind wizard – use this if you find yourself distracted by many unrelated thoughts [I plan to replace the current “Clear Mind Wizard” with a more streamlined version].
- Motivation Wizard – use this if you’re not clear about why you’re doing the project, or whether you should do it. (This is the wizard in the video – Fractal Planner subscribers can use it now.)
- Clear plan wizard – use this if your plan seems confused, or you sense it might contain scheduling or logical conflicts.
- Will power wizard – use this if you don’t want to work on your project because you’re tempted to do something less important instead.
And now, a couple caveats about some of the things I said above.
It’s not that those who use fractal planning don’t ever do proactive flow management. I think it’s good to be proactive about managing your energy and choosing the best time of day to get your core work done.
I also think it’s good to be proactive about breaking larger projects down wisely, and to arrange for meaningful feedback every week or two. In other words, it’s good to adopt something like “SCRUM for one” for larger projects.
Also, Scott Young recently suggested that flow is not the be all and end all of human experience. In particular, he suggests that sometimes we learn things faster when we choose skills that are so far beyond our current abilities that the learning process causes us some stress, confusion, and uncertainty for a while.
I agree with Scott. However, there are good reasons to be out of flow and bad reasons to be out of flow. If we choose to be out of flow because we are taking on a worthy challenge, and want to learn at a faster rate, that’s good. If we are stressed out and depressed because we don’t have an effective way to tame the increasing chaos of modern life, that’s bad.
One of my main purposes in life is to give people the tools they need to achieve flow in a world of increasing complexity — when they want to or need to. If a person is currently stressed out and/or depressed because they are overwhelmed with life, they need to learn how to work with flow. Once they’ve achieved flow for a while, and they’ve built up some emotional reserves again, they can move their attention toward new growth-oriented activities that might take them out of flow for a while — at their own discretion. In fact, I highly recommend it.
Scott’s post is thought-provoking. There’s much more I could say about the relationships between growth, flow, stress, well-being, and higher-order levels of flow and growth. I might do a stand-alone post on the topic at some point. But I’ll leave it there for now.