Implementing the Middle Way Method

Wow, 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.

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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