The Chronodex and My Search for Sanity

I stumbled upon Patrick Ng's Chronodex system while researching the Midori Traveler's Notebook. This little paper template has changed the way that I work. The system is simple, with 24 hours divided into a clock-like spiral. The layered spiral makes it possible to capture both AM and PM in a very compact space. An entire five day work week fits on two pages of a Midori notebook, which is the same length but skinnier than a standard A5 sheet. Each cell of the spiral represents an hour, and Patrick recommends shading the cells different colors based on daily calendar events. The common use is to copy an entire calendar day into a single Chronodex, with callout lines explaining each event. This method may work for some, but I struggle with the redundancy of having two version of the same calendar.

 Diamine Onyx Black for the busy times and Diamine Red Dragon for the free times.

Diamine Onyx Black for the busy times and Diamine Red Dragon for the free times.

My digital calendar is just fine at what it does, and I don't need/want a paper replacement. My work requires that others have access to my calendar for scheduling student appointments and checking my availability, so a paper calendar is out of the question. While my calendar is good at telling me where I have to be, it's pretty crappy at helping me to see how much free time I have in a given day. It's even worse at helping me to decide which tasks should be tackled within that free time. This is where my adapted version of the Chronodex system comes in. Instead of copying my entire calendar, I look at my calendar every morning and shade all of the times that I'm busy as black. I shade all of my free time as a bright color, such as orange or red. In my brain black means busy, and color means freedom. Why is this useful? This gives me a very simple snapshot of how much time I really have available to work on my todo list. It helps me to set realistic expectations for what is possible and addresses my terrible tendency of overestimating how much I can do in any given day. Once I have free time mapped out, I move to my beloved Omnifocus to tell me what to do next.

 Planning by the firelight.

Planning by the firelight.

Omnifocus is a powerful task management tool that allows me to easily track hundreds of tasks across multiple platforms, without letting important due dates slip through the cracks. The problem with Omnifocus is that I'm very easily distracted by all of the tasks that are waiting for me there, and it's easy to go down the rabbit hole of fiddling with and organizing my todo list. To be clear, Omnifocus does a great job of showing me what I need to see, but I find that I'm more productive if I keep it closed for most of the work day.

 My daily Chronodex page lives in a homemade folder in my Midori, which travels with me everywhere.

My daily Chronodex page lives in a homemade folder in my Midori, which travels with me everywhere.

I take the most important tasks from Omnifocus and copy them into the Next Actions section of my Chronodex sheet. I only copy as many tasks as I think that I can realistically accomplish in the given free time that I have for the day. If I only have an hour of free time in an eight hour day, which happens quite often, I'm not going to worry about that big report that's due next month. Instead, I'm going to tackle those one or two items that absolutely have to be done by tomorrow morning. Some days I have one or two actions, and others I have five-ten.

Once my next actions are copied onto my Chronodex page, I shut my task manager down for the day and focus only on those tasks that are written down. It's a much better feeling check off all of these tasks by the end of the day, compared to that of constantly facing all of the tasks waiting for me in my task management software. I tried the Chronodex on a whim and found it confusing and hard to read at first. I wondered if a paper planning workflow could ever be anything but redundant. I'm glad that I stuck with it. After a few weeks, I can easily glance at my Chronodex and tell how much free time I have. I'm getting better at being realistic about what I can accomplish in a given day, making me more productive and less guilt-ridden about the tasks that remain.

 The template that I use has a day for each side of the paper. I'm investigating more paper-efficient options.

The template that I use has a day for each side of the paper. I'm investigating more paper-efficient options.

Patrick Ng's Chronodex system is a paper tool that adds sanity to my highly-digital life. As a pen geek, I realize that sometimes I use pens and paper in ways that are less productive than using computers. This isn't one of those times. Patrick's tool has changed the way that I work and reduced the noise caused by a constant digital buzz. I'm just getting started with the Chronodex, but I plan to cover it more in the future, as my digital/analog workflow matures.

Have you ever tried to use the Chronodex or other analog system. What works for you?


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