Burner List - Manage Your Time with A Piece of Paper

Can you imagine that you can manage your time with a piece of paper, instead of a complicated app? Yes, you can.

One of these methodologies is called burner list, which is introduced in the bestseller Make Time . The author uses a single paper to manage his time, with an ultimate goal: keeping focus.

In brief, a piece of paper can be divided into four areas (see the demo below):

  1. The upper left is for the most important project;
  2. The upper right is for the second most important project;
  3. The lower left is the note area for the most important project;
  4. And the lower right is for misc items;


2 and 4 can be blank is there is no less important projects.

According to this setting, we can

  1. Only focus on up to two prioritized projects at a certain period of time (you can define the time range by yourself, for example, one day).
  2. Fold the paper vertically when we use it. Therefore, we can concentrate on the top priority or the other items at one time.

Take my day as an example

I have planned my today’s project with a burner list:

  1. The top priority is writing: an English post (this one) and a Chinese post, and I need prepare topics for the coming days;
  2. The second priority is team planning: I will set up a Basecamp account, and call my teammates;
  3. The misc tasks include surveying indie hacker website, learn online marketing and review my calendar setup.

I aim to finish all items in Writing and Team Planing by the end of today, but for now, I can focus on the left side of this burner list.

Recap

  1. With a single piece of paper, we can manage our time effectively;
  2. The ultimate goal of this methodology is keeping focus;
  3. We build a template on Notion, so you can import to use;
  4. We are building a tool based on burner list, so please stay tuned.

Reference

The “Burner List”—My simple, paper-based system for focused to-dos 

Manage Time Like Cal Newport - Plan-Actual-Revised

The Plan-Actual-Revised method (PAR) was used by the author of Deep Work Cal Newport. In Cal’s daily life, he uses a notebook to record his schedule. Simple as that, with a pen and a notebook, Cal can plan and reschedule his daily arrangements. In addition, he can revise and review them afterwards.

According to Cal, he would divide a paper into three columns:

  1. The first column is for PLANning;
  2. The second column is for ACTUAL arrangement;
  3. And the third column is for REVISion.

Each line will be set as a time block, for example, a line can be 30 or 60 minutes. In this way, we can put each activity into a one-line block or a multiple-line block according to needs.

Naturally, the duration of each activity is visualized. Therefore, we can have a vivid impression of each activity.

Why do we need Plan-Actual-Revised method?

Sometime, strictly sticking with plan can make us anxious. Instead, constant rescheduling time can make you feel having more control of time, and feel more relaxed.

As pointed out by Cal, this method

make(s) sure that I am intentional about what I do with my time, and don’t allow myself to drift along in a haze of reactive, inbox-driven busyness tempered with mindless surfing.

The similar point can be found in Jake Knapp’s comment, who is the author of Make Time:

‘The constant redesigning gave me a handle on how I was spending my time, showed me when my best writing time was, and helped me establish a routine.’

In addition, with reviewing the past reschedules, this approach can help us build a ritual by finding suitable time blocks for different types of tasks.

How do we apply Plan-Actual-Revised method?

Day before:

  1. Divide a page into there columns;
  2. Set each row as a fixed duration, e.g.: one row for one hour;
  3. Fill activities into the first column according to planned duration;

During the day:

  1. Reschedule activities if any change happens;
  2. Review the planned and actual activities;

When do we apply Plan-Actual-Revised method?

  1. If a fixed schedule doesn’t work for us, we may give this method a try;
  2. If our daily tasks involve many changes, this method may work better;

Recap

With a lined paper, we can follow Cal Newport’s approach to manage our daily tasks. This approach may release our stress, and help us build a long-term ritual.

If you want to be a part of more discussion, join our Telegraph Group.

If you would like to share your time management insights, please answer a few questions below and email us at post (2) acacess.com and we'll edit and publish.

  • Please introduce yourself briefly.
  • What scenarios does your time management workflow apply to?
  • What tools do you need for your time management workflow?
  • Please briefly describe your time management workflow?
  • How long have you been sticking with this workflow?
  • The advantages of this workflow?
  • The biggest pain point in time management at the moment?
  • What is the ideal time management workflow? What tools are needed?
  • Can you recommend a book on time management? The one that affected you the most.
  • Can you recommend a friend to share her/his time management tips?

TMS Interview 004 -- A Software Engineer Who Quit Academia

Crazy Orange is a software engineer. She has been in academia, and her biggest dream is to be an artist. Now living in the United States, she hopes to freelance in future to experience life around the world.
  • What scenarios does your time management workflow apply to?

It's a workflow for doing research that works for a variety of scenarios.

  • What tools do you need for your time management workflow?

Whiteboard/white paper/note-taking tool software (e.g. Gitbook, Notion, etc.)

  • Please briefly describe your time management workflow?

Reading the literature with a "list of questions"

Every piece of literature you read should have a purpose. Some areas will be particularly hard to read, or you may not have a lot of basic knowledge, so you have to read a lot. One new concept leads to more new concepts, so it's easy to get lost. Time passes all at once, but you feel like you're making no progress at all. Time is finite but knowledge is infinite, so don't look up what you don't understand, but focus on your goals.

My workflow is to write a list of questions first, it includes a few of the most important questions as well as gaps. If the answers to these questions are written, then the task of reading this literature is complete, and in many cases there is no need to get through the full text! There is also a "sideline list" of important extras that you may see while reading.

Keep a "sideline list" so that when you see something important and additional, you may have a new idea to follow up on, and continue with the current reading task.

Do not deviate from the goal. Be sure to write down the answers to these questions, not just "read with the questions".

  • How long did you stick with this workflow?

I don't read the literature so I am not using this workflow in my current work. But I have followed these principles for the last two or three years.

  • What are the advantages of this workflow?

The biggest advantage is that by asking yourself the most important questions, you gradually lead yourself to develop your own knowledge base as you read and focus on the main branches. In addition, having a reading/survey for each read, you have a page of the most polished notes on that material. When you need to recall relevant content later, you can quickly find the answer from this note without having to look up the answer from a lengthy piece of information. On the second reading of an article, you can quickly start from the original note to save time .

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

  • The biggest pain point in time management at the moment?

Electronic tools are easy to be discarded but not easy to focus.

To that end, if a tool is not appropriate in the first place, then it needs to be discarded. The right tool allows people focusing more on their work, and the following satisfaction creates positive feedback.

So what is the right tool or process? The needs in different scenarios are different and even change over time. Tools should also be selected as needed. Need to be easy to use? Or ned to be easy to retrieve and browse for reflections later? Need to complete all tasks within a limited time frame or need to complete the most important tasks with high quality? Only with a clear understanding of your needs can you weigh the options and choose the best tool for you.

Also I find a whiteboard to be a great helper, which always reminds myself what I need to focus on in the moment. Personally, I don't like tools that prohibit me from doing something, I want my tools to help me focus on the task, and if I do it efficiently I'll be able to do it. What's wrong with playing games/browsing the web to relax from some of the tasks? It's still back to work soon after that.

  • What is the ideal time management workflow? What kind of tools are needed?

A tool to adapt to itself, not a tool to ask people to adapt.

--

Crazy Orange’s method of "list of questions" is very similar to the Evidence-based Study described by the famous Youtube blogger Ali Adaal.



If you want to be a part of more discussion, join our Telegraph Group.

If you would like to share your time management insights, please answer a few questions below and email us at post (2) acacess.com and we'll edit and publish.

- Please introduce yourself briefly.
- What scenarios does your time management workflow apply to?
- What tools do you need for your time management workflow?
- Please briefly describe your time management workflow?
- How long have you been sticking with this workflow?
- The advantages of this workflow?
- The biggest pain point in time management at the moment?
- What is the ideal time management workflow? What tools are needed?
- Can you recommend a book on time management? The one that affected you the most.
- Can you recommend a friend to share her/his time management tips?