Visual planning for designers

4 min read
Anna Iurchenko
  •  Dec 30, 2015
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You have to set aside time every day to do things that improve your personal and professional skills and make you an overall better designer. But without planning, that’s no easy task.

Over the last few months, I’ve planned my days visually in a sketchbook. I might set aside time for a hobby, a work-related interest, or something I just want to do out of curiosity but without any real purpose. I call this visual planning the “Get Things Done (GTD)/Growth Balance.” Here’s a closer look at my process.

Getting things done

For planning my day, I used the Chronodex template, a visual way of tracking where your time goes. Patrick Ng created the template, and I tried several of its variations before arriving at the modified version pictured below. This version of Chronodex resembles a clock, with each section divided into 15-minute intervals.

“You have to set aside time every day to do things that will make you a better designer.”

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If I can plan tasks chronologically, I write them down on the Chronodex circle and color the corresponding parts. If I can’t schedule tasks for a particular time, I just write them down on a sticky note and put it next to the Chronodex.

I use the internal circle for personal tasks and the external circle for work hours. I might use both of the lines when I multitask. I use the thin line between the circles to point out short tasks, like a phone call or getting the mail.

I use Chronodex in 2 directions: to plan my day and to acknowledge the things I accomplished in a day. Basically, it’s a log of your time and tasks.

“Use a Chronodex to log your time and tasks—even checking Facebook while working.”

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When you start or finish a task, write it down on the circle and color every segment according to your activity during that time. For example, if you check Facebook in the middle of working, you need to log that.

I usually keep it open on my desk, and it helps me think about the day in 15-minute blocks—and it helps me focus on one task at a time. It also constantly reminds me what block I’m in and stops me from jumping between different tasks.

You can color-code different activities to better track them, but I found it’s tough to constantly keep in mind the color system.

Growth balance

Now let’s talk about the growth balance part of this planning method.

1. Understand your goals and key activities

Decide which activities push you forward and allow you to progress in your personal and professional development. Hint: they usually come from your goals.

Here’s my list of key activities:

2. Log your key activities

I created a special area in my sketchbook with space for those 4 activities. In the evening, I take a look at my day in Chronodex and draw a dot in the corresponding activity.

“Logging your tasks for several weeks shows you where your time really goes.”

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Doing this for several weeks shows me where my time really goes and if I’m doing something beyond my everyday responsibilities.

Another approach is to color-code each of the activities, like blue for UX and pink for creative, and then visually analyze what you get. On the Chronodex below, you can see how I’ve color-coded one of my working days at Stanfy.

The greatest benefit of this time and task log is the ability to analyze your habits and routines to see where your time is actually going.

3. Analyze and adjust

After a week of doing this, you’ll already start to see some patterns, like when you were doing the things you planned for that day and when and why you were doing something else.

You may see that you dedicate very little time to some of your important activities, so this will help you figure out how you can actually fit them into your everyday life.

This tool shows what I’m actually using my time for and allows me to tune my habits and actively manage my professional and personal growth.

Where to find Chronodex

I usually print a bunch of Chronodexes on sticky paper, cut out each circle, and stick them into my sketchbook. Download my tweak to the original Chronodex.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard