Introduction to the Middle Way Method
I want to introduce you to The Middle Way Method, an organizational system I created and have been using to keep me and my projects on task. In 2006, I decided to learn how to be more effective with planning. I had tried a few planning systems, and while they all had something I found useful, not fit my lifestyle or personality perfectly. An Internet search about making planner pages brought me to D*I*Y Planner. Here I found I was not alone in needing and creating custom planning systems. D*I*Y Planner also introduced me to a whole slew of planning methodologies.
From studying all these planning systems, I noticed that they fell into two categories: Top Down or Bottom Up. The first is Top Down Planning, and the Franklin Covey methodology provides a great example of this type, which says "Know who you are, and work from there to become who you want to be." The second type is Bottom Up Planning, and Getting Things Done (GTD) system, follows this methodology. GTD is designed to clear all of the "Stuff" in your life, and process it effectively. However, I found that neither of these systems really work best for me. Over time, I kept track of what worked for me from each system, and I used that to create my own system, called The Middle Way Method.
I choose the name, The Middle Way Method, because I was inspired by the story of how the Buddha reached enlightenment. I see this system bridging the gap between Top Down and Bottom Up systems. The Middle Way Method encourages me to uncover who I am, who I want to be, and how to become who I want to be, while being able to handle everything that is thrown my way. In the past, I've had issues where the planning systems break down on me. A crisis or a change, and I need a complete new system. The Middle Way Method helps me to create a new system utilizing this same methodology. This enables me to quickly create a new system for my changed circumstances, because I do not have to work out the method all over again, and I am no longer bouncing between top down or bottom up. I feel that this approach gives a balance between the important things of life and the daily grind.
The first step in using The Middle Way Method is to determine your personal mission and vision. There is a difference between mission statements and vision statements. I believe that a mission statement should answer the question of "who am I and how do I fit into the world?" while a vision statement describes who you will be when you achieve your goals.
For an overview of creating a mission statement, I recommend you look at innowen and Doug's articles here at D*I*Y Planner. Steven Covey's books, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First both have great sections on crafting mission statements. You might also find spiritual advisers, prayer or meditation, and scripture useful sources for information/inspiration. Most importantly though, listen to the inner voice, which guides you. This is not a do once, and it is done part of this system. Mission and Vision statements are an integral key of the Middle Way Method and you will find yourself reviewing and updating your statements as your life changes and growth occurs.
Once you have your Mission/Vision Statement prepared then you can move into the meat of The Middle Way Method. The bulk of this system relies heavily on weekly and daily reviews. The next section talks about the various reviews in-depth.
During the Weekly review, you will spend time reviewing your mission and vision statements, past week, current roles (family relationships, work relationships, friendships, and self), goals, and your action items or to-do lists.
Mission and Vision Statement Review
First, read over and think about your mission and vision statements. Do they still inspire you? Do they still feel true to you and what you want to accomplish? If so great, if not take some time now, and revise them. Keep the mission and vision accurate, inspiring, and right for you.
Past Week Review
The next step is to review your previous week. What goals did you achieve? What goals did you not achieve? Why did you succeed or fail? What were your challenges? How did you overcome them? Why did they overcome you? This is a great way to keep a weekly journal. You can then go back, and look at your life again, and see how far you have come and reflect on what you've done and make any adjustments you may need for the upcoming week.
Review and Select Your Roles
Decide on which roles, you will act on for the coming week. Roles can include Husband/Wife, Father/Mother, Boyfriend/Girlfriend, Partner, Friend, Son/Daughter, Employer/Employee. I recommend that you do not confine your roles to this list, because you may have unique roles that you may want to include on this list. Write down your roles on a piece of paper.
Identify Weekly Goals
Now you'll identify any Physical, Mental, Spiritual, or Social goals you may have. What goals do you have set to accomplish for the week? Record these in your system for the coming week. I suggest setting at least one goal in each area, even if it is small, and easily done. This will help you to find balance in your life.
Like in GTD gather all of your loose papers, notes, what is in your head, on your lists, on your calenders, your Action, or To-Do items, and process your in-boxes. At this point who you are, and who you want to become should be fresh on your mind. This helps us determine if something in an inbox is important, or not.
Review and Create Projects
At this point, you have a good idea of what is going on for the week. Now with all of our "stuff" out in front of us, organize, create, update and delete any projects. This will let you know how you are progressing on any long term, or multi-step projects.
Select Actions for the Week
Now that you know what roles, personal goals, projects, and actions for the coming week record those in your system.
Use the time in your daily reviews, to look over your calendar and incorporate any incomplete action items for the week. Next prioritize action items for the day, and make plans to achieve them. Some people will prefer to do this step at night for the next day, and some will prefer to accomplish this at the start of the day. I believe that this is a place where personal preference is necessary. The key to the daily review being successful, is to have a quiet place and time you can think, and feel about the next day you are planning. I suggest trying multiple times/places, to find the best place and time for you.
Use this daily review session to focus on your calendar. Review the appointments, meetings, and activities you scheduled for that day and any following days. If you do not use a calendar regularly, you might find it handy to begin doing so now. Make sure every appointment and any other "busy" times are recorded. Now familiarize yourself with every time commitment you have made for the day, and determine if you can reasonably accomplish everything based around the time you have during that day.
Prioritize Action Items
Use the Prioritize Action Items session to think about everything you want to accomplish in a day. List them on paper and then break those items down into manageable chunks. Once you have these items broken down you can then prioritize them so that they become achievable. How you choose to accomplish daily action items, and goals, is really to pick the way that works best for you.
There are a few ways to achieve daily goals. The first is to simply label each Action item for the day with A, B, or C. A items are must be accomplished today, while B items should be accomplished, and C items do not need to be accomplished, but can be. Then give each alphabetical label a numeric value starting with one. Therefore all your A items will be numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. next to them, the B items will be numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc., and C items will be numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. next to them. First complete the A list then the B list, and finally as much of the C list as possible.
Another way to accomplish action items is to group them by context, like GTD. Then when you find yourself in one context you work on those contexts. For example, when I am at my telephone making a telephone call, I can look at my telephone context actions, and use the context to make all of my telephone calls before moving to another context. Some possible contexts are: Computer, Work, Home, Telephone, or Car. The idea is to have contexts which are useful to you. Each person's full list of contexts should be somewhat unique.
The last way to make decisions on accomplishing tasks is to utilize the quadrant approach. In the quadrant approach, you divide a page into fourths, or you can use the Actions Quadrant template located in the D*I*Y Planner kits. Begin by placing items in one of the quadrants, with Unimportant / Important on one axis, and Urgent / Not Urgent on the other axis. Then complete the Urgent/Important actions first, followed by the Not Urgent/Important actions, followed by the Urgent/Not Important, and lastly the Not Urgent Not Important approach. In the quadrant approach the goal is to work out of the Not Urgent/Important quadrant as much as possible.
Next month, I will show you the kit I created for use with The Middle Way Method and how you can create your own. However, I do want to share the two-page custom Weekly form I created. I used existing forms and designs from the D*I*Y Planner kits, so they can be easily integrated into this or other systems. This form allows the system to work from one set of pages for each week. I have included both a blank PDF form you can simply print and fill in, and a SVG graphic file which you can use to fill in the dates, and add your own quotes. This template has four features:
- Actions section. The Actions section is for your Actions/To-Dos. Populate this from your in-boxes each week, and then determine how you will prioritize them each day, so that everything gets done.
- Harmony section. The Harmony section is useful for completing Steps three and four, deciding on your actions for your roles, and goals for your physical, social, mental, and spiritual growth. It has a section where you can list a little about your coming week, to set the vision for your week, and space for three roles.
- Weekly appointments/work space planner, starting on Monday. The Week section is next, here you layout your schedule. I have left the space clear of hours, so that you can customize the space for your own purposes.
- Quote of the Week area, where you can add your own personalized quote. The quote section is above Thursday, and gives you about 255 characters in 2 lines. I used Google to search for short uplifting quotes.
Using The Middle Way Method draws on the strengths of the top down, and bottom up approach. From the top down approach we inherit a knowledge of who we are, and where we want to go. Then we are able to apply this knowledge to our every day grind. From the bottom down approach we inherit the ability to manage information, projects, and tasks. One of my favourite aspects of the system is actually the weekly review. It is a time where I can be honest with myself, and recommit to moving forward. I also believe that the weekly review is ideal for journaling in a meaningful way. Please remember the Middle Way Methodology stands on the shoulders of giants. Pull what you can use from either top down, or bottom up, and then customize the rest to fit how you work. This is a methodology, not a system. I envision the methodology giving rise to unique customized systems. I do not envision any two systems being entirely identical. Next month I will show I'll take you through the process of putting a planner together to work with The Middle Way Method.