Implementing the Middle Way Method

my planner systemWow, a new year, a new planning method, and a new planner. We're all set, or are we? As you recall from the introductory article, I created the Middle Way Method to help take advantage of the best aspects of top down, and bottom up planning. Soon after creating the methodology, I realized that in order to put this practice to work, I'd need to hack together a new planner, which I've called the Middle Way notebook. I showed you how to create one of your own last month.

Now I'd like to take some time and look at how the method, system, and journal all work together to create planning nirvana. In this article, I'll guide you through the process of working with the Middle Way Method System and corresponding planner. We'll use the methodology's step by step planning process to guide you through real-life examples (from my life) of how I use the forms and method. The whole weekly planning process usually takes me 15 to 30 minutes, unless I choose to journal for a longer amount of time. To help you understand this process, I'll be using examples from my personal life.

Step 1: Review Mission and Vision Statements
Every Sunday Night, or Monday Morning I read over my mission and vision forms, and determine if they still feel true to me, and whether they're still a guiding light in my life. If the words do not resonate with me, then I use this time to change them to reflect my new outlooks. I think people have a misconception that once they craft a mission and vision statement that they need to uphold themselves to that document; when in reality, their document should reflect the ever changing personalities that we all have. Starting with the mission and vision statements help me to focus my mind on the upcoming week's tasks.

I believe, for most people, there is room on the Mission form for between 2 and 4 revisions of the mission statement. I estimate there's room on the Vision form for 4-6 revisions. Of course the length of your statements will affect how many revisions can be put on the form. If you feel that you do not have enough room for developing your statements, I recommend you use your computer to craft the draft or use an external form to make the drafts of your statements. Then you can copy (or paste a copy) of the final version onto the two planner forms. You are also welcome to add more of the two forms if your statements require.

Creating your own mission and vision statements can be the hardest part of using the Middle Way Method. In the Middle Way System, discovering who you are, and who you want to be is an integral part of the the methodology. The idea to come up with a "working idea" of who you are, and who you want to be, and develop it into a personal Mission, and Vision statement can be a scary one. Now that 2010 is upon us, now is a great time to ponder a new start and ponder the big "Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?" questions. There's not that many reference materials on creating Vision Statements, so when I wrote mine, I took the core of my mission statement, and wrote the statement as if I had already achieved the growth I wanted for myself.

Remember you can not chart a course until you know where you are. Keep in mind that knowing where you are going in your life is an ongoing and rewarding process. When I started down the road which lead to today, in 1998, I had no clue who I was what I valued, or where I wanted to go.

The Weekly Form
The Weekly Form is the bread and butter of the system. It will become your compass; your guide. Hopefully the form will contain all the aspects of your life to track on the sheet. It should give you an complete overview of what that week will look like. Most of the steps in the Middle Way Method use parts of the Weekly Form. I'll discuss these parts as I get to them in this article.

Step 2: Goal and Task Setting
After your statements are correct, take some time to review and ponder your goals and associated projects. I tend to do a little praying while I ponder these items. I look at each goal and ask myself if I still want to accomplish these goals. If they are still current, I leave them. However, I also add new goals or remove outdated ones at this time.

One of my goals is to get my CPA License. In order to get a CPA license I have to get a Masters' degree in Accountancy; pass four exams; and have work experience. In my planner, I write this goal down on a sheet, and then break up the educational steps into passing 12 core classes. Since I'm already enrolled in a class, I pull out my class schedule and put the homework assignments due this week on my Weekly action items list. In this way, I see how the goal fits into my big picture plans.

Big Picture Plan: Get my CPA License.
Steps: Get Accounting Masters degree, pass 4 exams, build up work experiences.
Weekly Action Steps: current class homework assignment due.

Step 3: Reflection Journalling
Now it's time for some journalling. I pull out my journal and write about the previous week for 5- 30 minutes while thinking about my goals and projects. I recall my accomplishments and the things that didn't get completed. I use the following questions as my jumping off point: What challenges did i face this week? How did I overcome them? Why was I unable to overcome them? I also include any significant events that happened. These can include: family experiences, important business or job experiences, memorable events, or feelings and inspirations received. Journaling the past week allows me to chronicle my life and clear my mind for the upcoming week. It helps me set the stage. If you'd like to use the same template as I do, I've attached a sample Journal book format at the end of this post. Feel free to use it for your own reflections.

Most people tend to focus on the goals and positive aspects of their planning challenges. The Middle Way Method is flexible to handle any challenges you may face in your life or your projects. So don't forget to look at those items and the ways that you can overcome them. For me, this includes:

  • Procrastination
  • "Fun" time wasters, which help me to not accomplish my goals.
  • Needs of Family Members which interrupt my projects.
    Some of the ways I overcome the challanges are:
    Remembering my projects, and saying no to time wasters.
    Scheduling time to help my family, so that I can focus for set blocks of time is another way I overcome some of my challenges.

The next two steps, Defining Weekly Roles, and Setting Ancillary Goals, help to corral the small, but urgent things that can take over your life. I find that it helps to plan weekly items that include people and things that matter to you, as such items help to balance your life and allow you some fun. Scheduling and planing these things in prevents me from trying to "do it all."

Step 4: Define Weekly Roles
A role is defined as a part that you take on in your life. Usually you have more than one role. Some examples include Father/Mother, Husband/Wife, Business Partner, Employee, Church Member, Citizen, etc. Select 3-5 of the most important roles you see yourself playing in for the upcoming week. I do not believe that your roles goals have to be tied back to your personal goals.

All roles are tied to relationships, and all relationships have parts which come from another, and parts which come from within. If the role relates to another person, then it is best used to link in something they need or want from you. For example, a spouse could just want you to do the dishes this week. You could also want to surprise someone special. The first example is imposed from outside as it's important to someone else. The second example comes from within. It is something which will be appreciated, but is not expected of you.

For example, my most often used roles include Husband/Father, Business Partner, and Ham Radio Operator.

When you are done defining your roles, add them to the Weekly Planner Sheet in your planner.

Step 5: Set Ancillary Goals
Ancillary goals help define the remaining areas of your life. Loosely grouped, these areas are: Spiritual, Mental, Physical, and Social. I also sometimes record a vision for the week to come, but I often feel that recording my goals, roles, and action items set the vision for me. The goals I set for the week are designed to keep me from overpowering my life with any one aspect. This way I keep myself tied at least a little bit to trying to improve my physical health, mental health, spiritual health, and social health. The weekly vision is a sentence or two which captures the essence of the actions, roles, and ancillary goals I have set for the week. It is a tool for when my mind wanders away from what is important to bring it back into focus.

When you are done defining your roles, add them to the Weekly Planner Sheet in your planner.

Step 6: Process the Inbox
I love this step. It's my favorite in the whole system. Originally introduced by David Allen in his Getting Things Done Method (GTD), it was this idea that drew me to GTD in the first place. I use two tools for collecting items: Gmail for electronic items, and my pocket/laptop bag for paper items. I record necessary items in the appropriate areas of my planner, or add contacts to my list in Gmail.

Processing my in-boxes keeps me from losing important information, growing a fire danger in my pocket, and losing my wallet. This part of the review is important because it makes sure that all of my data is captured in the Middle Way System. I do not carry my full planner with me everywhere I go. When I need to leave my planner behind I carry some note capturing device; be it a pocket notebook, hipster PDA, Palm Pilot, or just plain scraps of paper. Anything I find important gets recorded down on these papers.

In an ideal world I'd enter any of the stuff I gathered back into my system on a daily basis. However, even with the best of intentions, I do not get around to incorporating the information immediately. Using the once-a-week processing of these random bits of ideas gets the pieces of paper I sometimes miss into my system. More importantly, it doesn't clutter my wallet, bag, or sporran. Once I've recorded, or dealt with the items, I recycle the paper or throw the items away.

Step 7: Review Current Projects
Use this step to scrutinize your projects. Remove completed projects from your system and planner. Are you able to complete another action in a project? Then add it to the Actions section of the Weekly Planner page.

In my planner, projects take the form of project cards from the core D*I*Y Planner forms. When I have a new project from my goals, I take a blank project card and write down the name of the project on the card. I use these cards to keep sequential tasks in order, without using up all of the space I set aside for weekly tasks in my planner proper. As I review each project, I write down Action Items I want to accomplish this week in my planner's action item section. Remember, not all of your projects may deal with your big picture goals.

Step 7 completes the Weekly Planning process for the Middle Way Method. Doing those seven steps in this order, will give you a solid 15 - 60 minutes of big picture planning to set the stage for the week. I go to work each day confident that I've set myself up for success.

Daily Reviews
Each day, I take some time to look over my schedule and I decide what I can accomplish from my Action Items list. The way I prioritize my action items is a combination of by which I feel is the most important to accomplish, and whether or not I have any similar items. Similar items are grouped together and then done at the same time. For example, if I have to make several phone calls, I'll block out some time in the day to make those calls at once. I tried to put the meat in the weekly planning part of my system, so I can hit each day running.

Summarization of the Planning Process
Now that I've gone in-depth details over what I do each week, I want to quickly walk you through my weekly planning for today (Monday, January 11, 2010). This whole process took me about 45 minutes to complete.

  1. I retrieved my planner and journal.
  2. I reviewed my mission statement and vision statements. They still felt accurate to me.
  3. I evaluated last week, and wrote about the challenges I am facing as I try to get my schooling done, and to build on a couple of business ideas.
  4. The roles I decided to act on for the coming week are: Husband & Father, Business Partner, and Student. In my Husband and Father role I am going to help clean the house, do music time, and read with my kids. In my Business Partner Role, I have several calls and action items to make. In my Student role, I am going to read my material and do my Homework.
  5. For my physical goal, I am going to exercise daily. For my social goal, I am going to post twice to 2 social websites. For my intellectual goal, I am going to read the book One Minute Millionaire. I also plan on reading scripture daily.
  6. Also this week I set a vision for the week: To improve myself, and to build towards business success.
  7. I processed all of my loose papers, and e-mails into my system.
  8. I went over my project cards, and decided on actions.

Reflections on Using the Middle Way System
The Middle Way Method has been a long time in development. I started developing the ideas for the Middle Way Method about a year ago. My first post on the idea if top down and bottom up planning methods could meet in the middle did not garner much interest, but I kept plugging along. I discovered the rough steps about 6 months ago, and around that time formalized the methodology.

I believe the strengths of this method and system include:

  • I keep what is important to me in focus, but with out putting undue strain on always thinking about it. I set up each week with the big picture in mind, and then I go on autopilot as far as the big picture is concerned for the rest of the week. I am able to do more, because I have a form to follow, but I also keep flexibility, and can change fairly quickly.
  • I get down to getting my action items accomplished daily, but I do not go into the week blindly just doing what comes before my face.

Now that I have poured everything I know about the Middle Way Method, and how I've applied it to meet my personal needs, I'd like to invite you to submit comments and questions. Next month, I'll answer and post the questions that I get in email or from the comments below. Feel free to be creative and ask me anything you want about the method or how I implement it. I would love to have between 10 and 25 unique questions.

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"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

OK I have a question

I have looked at many different planning systems and all of them have as a part of the system a "Mission Statement"

Do you really need a "Mission Statement"?

I can see setting goals. That gets a project done. But a "Mission Statement".

I as an individual have no mission. I just want to get my life in order and make sure I get things done that need to be done. Perhaps if I were setting up some sort of association, a small business whatever a mission statement might be important but it is a waist of time that can be occupied getting things done that need to be done and reviewing and editing it is doubly useless.

Or am I wrong?

That sounds like a mission

That sounds like a mission statement of sorts. You can start with that, and as you go along, see if your values or thinking changes, then modify your statement.
Perhaps you need to start from a lower view. Your projects are guided by your goals, and your goals by your vision. All of us have a vision, even if it is just to find the best Start Bucks on the way to work. Once your vision or visions become a bit more clear over time, your mission will begin to take shape. I see my mission as guided by my talents, values, and the general direction that my goals take from month to month, or even from day to day, if you are that clear about it.

And as the poster mentions, your mission statement is not a contract written in stone with yourself, just a clarification of what is important to you in the long run.

But I agree with you on one thing, it is a waste of time to review your mission statement every week, if your current needs do not demand it. You should review higher altitudes only as needed.

Hope that helps.

Yea I thought someone would say that

Getting things done and goals as I see it are not a mission statement.

finding the best start bucks I would see as a goal, minor goal but a goal. results oriented direction.

a mission statement is a nebulous pretty statement where as a goal has a definite start middle and end.

I have just never understood the need for a mission statement and when I first started trying some of these organizational methods I tried to make one but it always seemed so silly and for the most part I would be copying the mission statements that were presented as examples.

I have gone to, as you say, a lower view and just focus on the projects and the goals for those projects. I was just wondering if anyone can really explain to me the importance of a mission statement.

Thank you for your response any response helps.

It is your purpose in life

You misunderstood the Starbucks example. Your mission statement is your purpose in life. I doubt any of us knows that with absolute certainty, we discover it over the course of life, it is not something we arrive at by a neat, clean cut decision.

As many authors have suggested, including David Allen and Stephen Covey, our purpose in life can be discovered in spiritual values or personal philosophy. If you don't find meaning in those, that need not stop you from simply asking yourself, why am I doing this?
The answer most of the time will be nebulous, but, I repeat, it has something to do with our values, talents, inclinations, and the general direction our lives take.

As suggested, you already have a basic mission statement, a basic compass. It really does not need to be neat and pretty, it is just helpful to realize it is there, for personal guidance. If you are content with "I just want to get my life in order" as a mission statement, then there is no need to force yourself into a mold that has no meaning for you.

I wish you success in your personal discovery.

Here's my take. I would say

Here's my take.

I would say a mission statement is pretty synonymous with lifetime goals, directions, vision, purpose, motivation, personal philosophy, etc. It goes beyond the daily, weekly, or even yearly goals, and lies at the core of who we are. Everyone has one at a conscious or unconscious level, even if it's not codified in concrete form. Statements like "Enjoy life everyday" to "Don't die broke" are mission statements in themselves. We all make decisions both longterm and daily because we believe that our actions will help us achieve what we want in life (money, happiness, fortune, fame, a new planner, etc.). A mission statement helps us figure out what we want. As you said, a mission statement can be a somewhat nebulous thing and can evolve with time, just as we change with time. Often times we don't even know what we want out of life.

There is a reason that you work on your projects - you believe that fulfilling the goals of your projects will give you in life what you want (whatever that is, presumably happiness).

Semantics

I don't know about others, but the word "mission" implies goals and vision to me, not where I am but where I want to be.

Is there another way to word what jordanjm (the author) describes as a "mission statement"?

To wsround: Ah, but you do have a mission (in my understanding of the word mission). You stated it clearly: "I just want to get my life in order . . . ." I think, like me, you know where you are and don't feel the need to revisit it in a formal way. And you will know when you reach your goals when you reach them (Does that make sense to anyone but me?).

I think what's important is that we keep revisiting how our day-to-day activities and roles relate to and help us achieve our goals (mission/vision).

Missions are where the soup kitchens are.

I cringe at the mention of Mission Statements.

They have spawned some of the worst purple prose in the corporate world (if not the entire planet).

Adjective laden, rambling, built-by-committee paragraphs that almost always boil down to:

"We are in business to sell stuff and make money."

A real example

From a company I once worked for:

"Making a difference in areas that make a difference."

I Wear Many Hats

and if I were to write a personal mission statement, it would have about 17 chapters, none of which tied in to each other.

Or, I guess I could spend a couple of hours searching my mind for some over-arcing principle to try to tie everything together. I could then do a typographic poster of my mission statement, hang it on the wall — and it wouldn't change whet I'm doing, not one bit.

Mission statements

I see mission statements as describing your personal aims and ethics around what you're doing.

eg.
Task - find a panda
Goal - find a panda and hug it
Project - Complete the Hug a Panda Project
Mission - To be a happier, more rounded and claw-scratched panda hugger

Brilliant example

What a brilliant example! It gave me a bunch of information in just four lines. I believe it will be easier for me now, to explain (to myself) how these things relate to each other. Thanks!

mission statements

brilliant!

How do you mesh the different planning steps together?

So the Middle Way looks very much like taking parts of the Covey 7 Habits/First Things First and Getting Things Done meshed together. Looks very interesting.

So there are two steps where you decide actions - in the role planning stage (steps 4-5) and project planning stage (step 7). Is there a lot of overlap between the two? What's the advantage of both planning steps? Do you think it's possible to just focus on project planning?

Just some questions I'm interested in hearing answers to. I've tried role planning before, but haven't ever been able to get it to fully work, so I'd love to hear any input from anyone.

Thanks.

In theory, one could look at

In theory, one could look at roles as defining projects, and projects as defining actions, but I think David Allen would advice not to limit oneself that way, in fact any level of planning can define actions directly, it is just a matter of whatever makes the brain grid out ideas.

This is only on an 'as needed' basis, not sure that doing so weekly is necessary. The Middle Way advises doing so weekly, GTD advises to at higher levels only as often as needed, once a month is sufficient in most cases, if I remember it correctly.

If you accept the GTD definition of projects, it is safe to say that anything that comes out of your mind the first time, unprocessed, is a project, no matter how simple or actionable it seems.
I have found that tip very helpful since I first read it.

How do you keep track of roles and projects?

I think I see in principle how it all works together in the Middle Way, but I'm not seeing how it works in practice. For instance, Covey suggests you have sections for your roles that you can keep track of actions, data, etc. So do you have two different sections in your planner- roles and projects?

Perhaps the way roles are used in the Middle Way is just as 'bonus' actions. Maybe it's just a chance to take a look at the "30,000" ft level (or is it 20,000 ft in GTD language?) and see what needs to be done, besides the actions at the project-level.

Actions & projects definitions in GTD & Covey are not compatible

I am assuming you are mostly a Covey person, so I will try to explain my take on this as a GTD person.

In GTD, a project is anything that takes more than one step to complete, and an action is a physical, single action that moves a project forward. Also, in GTD, one keeps one list of projects and one list of Next Actions (not every action, just the very Next one, just one per project, more actions can be put in the project plans if desired, but plans must be kept separate from the list of projects, the list of Next Actions, and all the other lists (roles, higher thinking, etc). As you can see, linking is not intended in GTD. That is why it does not really matter if a Next Action occurs to you after looking at projects or roles, though it is helpful to note if there is a project behind every action.

But you must put your thinking in your Inbox for processing, not directly on your lists. Why? Because in GTD, the aim is to write things down only once, after you break it down properly. In Covey there is much rewriting, in part because of priority coding and dating. In GTD you don't put dates in actions (anything with a date goes on the calendar), and avoid priorities as much as possible (at least complex ones like those of Covey), this helps avoid rewriting.

Since I do all my lower level (actions & projects) from GTD, and add parts of Covey to enhance aspects of GTD, rather than the way Covey was intended, the Middle way makes a lot of sense to me.

The higher view of GTD and Covey are highly compatible, and there is much in Covey that can be used to enhance GTD. But the lower level of GTD and Covey are not really compatible, if you try to define and practice the GTD lower level with a Covey bent, you break it, in my opinion.

Of course, you must use whatever works best for you.

I hope that helps.

Roles are less useful than names of persons and contexts

Having said all that, I find that I tend to use agendas and contexts more than roles. Roles are helpful with higher thinking and motivation analysis, but I end up subdividing roles by the name of the person I am dealing with, so more often I end up planning projects and actions with the name of the child in mind, for example, rather than the role of parent.

Yes, I'm mostly Covey, but

Yes, I'm mostly Covey, but have read and tried GTD. Bunches of it didn't stick, like having long lists of next actions, or contexts. But the idea of a project certainly did, and almost everything I do/plan is arranged around a project. I find it helps to think in terms of projects (or connected actions) when planning. But come to think of it, my projects may not be what everyone else thinks of projects and some of my projects may be more roles (teaching, reading, etc.). I just lump a bunch of related actions together and call it a project, as this makes more sense to me.

Anyways, I believe my confusion likely arises from the idea of mixing the project planning stage, which is a GTD-esque method, and the role planning stage, which is a Covey-eque method. In role planning you're supposed to pick your most important tasks (quadrant II). But in GTD importance takes a step back compared to Covey. So when I think of the project planning step, I think of a GTD style, look at the lists, and pick what to do this next week, ending up with a bunch of tasks where context, not importance, separates the actions. When I think of role planning, I think of picking a half dozen to dozen most important tasks to do. One could in principle just do the project planning and end up with a to-do list, so this is why I said that perhaps the role planning actions are 'bonus' actions that you think are the most important to do.

How all this works in practice, I'm not entirely sure and maybe I just need to give it a go. I don't know if I'm making any sense, or just confusing the issue already.

I understand, sorry if I

I understand, sorry if I overexplained GTD, my point was simply that I get the impression the Middle Way seems largely based on GTD, with Covey attached, rather than the other way around. Actually, the Middle Way blends Covey into GTD much better than I currently am doing.

I myself get confused with Covey, I believe I will not really understand Covey unless I attempt pure Covey, but I tend to resist the parts of Covey that seem antithetical to GTD, hence I don't get the full benefit of Covey myself.

Kinda like trying to use the best parts of a Ford in a Toyota, I am not doing Covey quite well enough. But I persist because Covey is very much value based, whereas GTD is intentionally value agnostic, so ideologically at least, Covey feels right, it just doesn't fit right yet.

Confused...

"But you must put your thinking in your Inbox for processing, not directly on your lists. Why? Because in GTD, the aim is to write things down only once, after you break it down properly."

I'm confused - doesn't your first statement infer that, in GTD, you must write down everything at least TWICE, not once? First in your inbox, and then later where it really belongs?

Notice that I said "after

Notice that I said "after you break it down properly" that is, after you process it. Capturing thoughts on paper is writing too, but it is not the only capturing method.

Rewriting of unfinished items is intended on other systems, not on GTD.
It will make more sense if you read the book.

opening docs and making changes

Hi,

I love this website - it has revolutionised my life in terms of getting organised and feeling happier for being more productive and focussed - so thanks to all involved.

I have some difficulty opening files and also in making changes to them. I have downloaded open office. I am using a mac. When I tried to open the journal.zip file in open office for example it just opened something with a load of gobbledygoop in it. All help welcomed.

I'd also love to know what the 5 little symbols stand for in the weekly middle way sheets. - two presumably are exercise and a quote - but not sure about the other three.

Regards,

Anne

5 little symbols

http://www.diyplanner.com/node/765

This is the harmony template. The symbols are described here.

Application

Is there a pdf or MS Office version of this file? You actually have put into words what I have been practicing for about a year. Both Covey and GTD are great methods, but each of them have strengths and weaknesses. Why not take the strengths from each? I think you've done an excellent job of doing just that!

Open Office is free

Try it out.
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"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Inspirational Methodology

Thanks for a very inspirational series of posts. I am now inspired and motivated to give your system a try (though I think I will be modifying aspects of it to suit me better). By the way, good luck with getting your CPA qualifications!