How to Use 30/30 Like The Emergent Task Planner

I’m a big fan of David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner. When I was purely a “paper-based productivityist”, I used it regularly. In fact, I still break it out from time to time when I really want to escape from my digital devices and better connect with what I have to do – or better yet – the important crucial stuff that I know and want to do. So what I’m about to propose isn’t going to be for everyone.
That said, here is a workable digital alternative for the ETP using one of my favourite workflow apps: 30/30 from Binary Hammer (iPhone, iPad).

For those of you not familiar with The Emergent Task Planner, the idea is to work through three major tasks for the day. You will put those at the top of the planner on the right-hand side and you’ll estimate the time they’ll take to complete using 15 minute increments. For those that want to go beyond those three tasks, there is room for an additional six. That said, there are some warnings once you go past the “three major tasks” mark (especially once you try to shoot for seven and beyond).

There are other aspects of the Emergent Task Planner that are worth noting as well. This includes tracking your time throughout the day on the left-hand side. This is called the Day Grid, and it’s where you will schedule what you are working on and when based on your estimated times of those major tasks. Below the tasks themselves is an area where you can keep notes for anything unexpected that may crop up throughout the day.

That’s essentially the bare-bones instructions of how to use The Emergent Task Planner. And while you can download the PDF from Dave’s site, you can also order a pre-printed pad of ETP sheets from Amazon.

Let’s look at how 30/30 can do the same thing the ETP can do for you on your iPhone or iPad.

  1. Enter in the three major tasks you plan on doing for the day. You’ll find these in your task management application of choice (OmniFocus, Flow, Asana, etc.), much like those who use the ETP do.
  2. I tend to assign the icons provided to represent contexts (at least as much as possible). 30/30 comes with some default icons already installed, but you can purchase additional ones from within the app. It’s often a good idea to assign an icon to a task to make sure that you are in the right place at the right time and with the right tool when you decide to take that task on.
  3. Assign a time limit to each of those three tasks. Much like the 15 minute increments with ETP you can do something similar with 30/30. But you don’t have to use 15 minute increments – you can get as specific a time limit as you want with 30/30. As with the ETP, be realistic when planning the time for your three major tasks. As the ETP states, “realistic expectations equals consistent daily productivity.”
  4. Take a look at how your tasks are lined up. At this point you can move them around to best suit how you like to work for the day.
  5. Should you decide to go beyond the three major tasks, you can add additional tasks to your day in 30/30 as you would with the ETP. You can even do this ahead of time. But, I would strongly recommend that you colour code the three major tasks in one color, the next three additional tasks in another, and the final three in a third colour.

The colours I use are green for the first three, yellow for the second three, and red for the third three. You might think that’s because of the traffic light colors, but you’d only be one-third correct. I’m a fan of the Green Lantern, so the green is for tasks that I must get through – the ones that will require the willpower to push through. The yellow is there to keep me focused on the green ones. Yellow represents fear in the Green Lantern universe, and fear is the enemy of willpower. So only once I have conquered the green tasks do I move on to the yellow ones. As for the red ones? Chances are I should’ve stopped working on major tasks by now, so the traffic light hypothesis does work well here.

The one caveat to using 30/30 as a replacement for the ETP is the lack of a Day Grid. However, since I tend to break my time into chunks anyway, the Day Grid doesn’t really work for me all that well. If you haven’t used the Day Grid yet (or don’t want to so that you can adopt what I’ve proposed here), then what you can do is exactly what I do: block out time chunks for your most inportant and crucial work, and do the same for other work as well (checking email, smaller tasks, etc.). That way you’re not working with such a rigid schedule…if that is something that you can afford to do.

The thing I really like about 30/30 is that it works in tandem with my task management app. It can’t replace the power of my task management app, nor does it really try. Instead, it augments my workflow in a way that allows me to realistically manage my expectations. And as mentioned earlier, that equals consistent daily productivity.

So if you like the idea of The Emergent Task Planner but want to try to be as paperless as possible, using 30/30 as its digital equivalent is really the next best thing.