Social Innovation

Spotlight on Productivity – Day-Planning using David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner

This is the fifth post  in the Spotlight on Productivity series, in which I examine productivity challenges associated with academic/knowledge work and take stock of current thinking and tools to help us get things done.

Being Productive = Staying Focus

One of the most important realization about being productive is maintaining razor sharp focus on doing only a few big things a day. The brain, like a piece  of muscle, does tire out. That’s why it makes sense to start the day off doing cognitively demanding tasks when you are fresh and recharged. Leave technical tasks towards the end of the day.

But meetings and errands do get in the way of producing. This requires conscious effort to prioritize tasks and arrange to do them during “down time”. It’s also helpful to create time-blocks where you purposefully block off to dedicate to certain important tasks, like writing a paper or doing literature searches.

In the last post, I introduced David Seah’s tool for project-task tracking. In this post, I introduce David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner for day-planning. It’s has several built-in features that work well with knowledge work.

What is the Emergent Task Planner?

In David’s words, the ETP is designed around three ideas: The ETP is designed around three ideas:

  • Focus – A small set of important tasks is more likely to get done.
  • Assessment – Estimating and tracking task time helps you allocate your time more effectively.
  • Time Visualization – There are only so many hours in the day. By showing you the time you have left, you can see whether your planning is realistic or not.


How to Use It

ETP Instructions (via David Seah,
ETP Instructions from David Seah (via David Seah,

1. Write-in the date and hours of the day at the top and left-side of the form with your favourite pen.

2. Write-in three tasks you want to do, more if you are feeling optimistic!

3. Block-out the time to do them in the day grid on the left.

4. Keep notes of interruptions and unplanned tasks as necessary.

5. Review at end of day, and prioritize what’s left for tomorrow.

Why use ETP

The ETP is excellent for tracking how much time is spent on each task. Since adopting it, I find that I am more conscious of how I am to spend my time, and how I actually spent time. It allows me to do a post-game analysis each day to fine-tune my productivity. I now feel more in control of my time and of my day.

Like the TPT, the ETP is free to download and print in B/W and Colour. The ETP also comes in several different sizes (US Letter/US Half-size 2-Up; A4; A5).

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Lifehacking Productivity

Spotlight on Productivity – Tracking projects with David Seah’s Task Progress Tracker

This is the fourth post  in the Spotlight on Productivity series, in which I examine productivity challenges associated with academic/knowledge work and take stock of current thinking and tools to help us get things done.

I previously characterized knowledge work as centering around projects. Projects are time-bound, and involves a series of tasks. They often require coordination between individual. Often than not, knowledge-work projects requires a degree of creative; it’s hard to replicate the same steps for every project. Being flexible in coping with the demands of each project is key to maintaining momentum.

When doing any projects, it’s often helpful to:

  • break down the project into sub-tasks
  • Estimate and track time spent on the project
  • Maintain a log of tasks performed
  • Track the status of any projects.
  • Remember what’s been done after a project has been dormant for  some time.

In David Seah’s work, I found a solution. A graphics designer by trade, Seah has been producing a line of paper-based productivity tools since the mid-2000’s.

What’s Wrong with To-Do Lists

Prior to discovering Seah’s Task Progress Tracker, I used to create to-do lists. But this isn’t the best approach according to Seah.

To-do lists have their place as pre-flight lists and reminders. They are also workable for tasks that you know how to complete. When tackling something new, creative, or unknown, I don’t think they don’t work as well; they are like the untrained boss who bugs you every five minutes for results, without caring about how you get them. It’s oppressive!

Seah’s solution is to track the time spent on each task.

The TPT is designed to provide an overview of a project and its subcomponent steps, focusing on problem solving rather than mechanical task completion. It does this by tracking time spent, not tasks completed. This allows you to be mindful at the “intention” level as you work toward solving your problem, which is appropriate when pioneering new processes or doing fundamental research. So long as you’re working, that’s great.

At the heart of the TPT is the “Tracker Bar”.

TPT Line (via

How You Use TPT

1. Start a new sheet for each project. Note the Project Name and the Start Date. I staple the TPT to the front of a folder.

Example of TPT in action. (via David Seah,
Example of TPT in action. (via David Seah,

2. List any tasks down the left that you already know has to be done. Add to the list as new tasks emerge.

3. Optional: Estimate the time it takes to complete each task via tick marks.

4. As you tackle each task, pencil in the time you spent in 15-min chunks.

5. Once you finish a task, add up the time spent, and tick off the line.

It’s been about two months since I started using the TPT to track my projects. There’s something gratifying in filling those bubbles. I also feel a greater sense of accomplishment. Better yet, I now have a betters sense of where my time is going.

The best part? Task Progress Tracker sheets are available for free for self-printing. They come in B/W or colour. Or, you can buy them pre-printed on his site. Give it a try, and let me know how it’s working out for you!