I always appreciate discovering lesser-known things – yes, always, at least when it comes to organizing, time management, productivity, and other things that fascinate me. I wish I could remember how I come across some of them, as is the case with the e-book “Clear Mind, Effective Action” by Jim Stone where he talks about his Fractal Planning system. Are you already rolling your eyes or afraid to read more? Talking about fractals and planning systems might sound intimidating or like a non sequitur, yet this is the type of thing I’ve encouraged all of you to do – at least to some degree – use what works from the systems around us and then find ways to adjust for the parts that don’t work as well.
Therefore, let’s talk about his approach, fractals and all. What do you think of when you hear the term fractals? The way he envisions fractals is as “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-sized copy of the whole” which he says is how Wikipedia (at the time of writing) defines it. What is critical about fractals in his view is that they surround us and “creative productivity (like most business projects) grew via fractal processes” so a successful planning tool would incorporate fractal awareness into it.
He offers several different ways to envision fractals around us. One of those is a tree, where you take a main branch off a tree and it looks like a smaller tree. If we continue, taking a branch (he refers to this as a sub-branch) off this other (main) branch, this also looks like an even smaller tree. And so on. Sometimes there are some random variations at each step, as with this example of a tree, yet remains an example of a fractal.
Part of what that means is the versatility for breaking things down into ever and ever smaller parts – the splitting (or fracturing) mentioned above that is still a smaller representation of the bigger picture. Yet, fractal can also be seen as a way to build things up through the branching process. This can be seen with the Koch Snowflake (animated to see the process in one direction) – where you can see how both breaking down as well as building up applies.
Isn’t this what we need when we’re planning our tasks and priorities – the flexibility to approach things from any direction? Sometimes we’re stuck in the forest, unable to see the trees when we’re trying to plan. Other times all we can see are the trees – or to put it another way – we’re busy thinking in the big or small picture view and struggle with aspects that go beyond that view. Or maybe we’re just not clear – it’s somewhere between the two extremes – yet wherever we might be, it’s important to have a planning tool that will support us as we capture our thoughts. And then we can take that planning as far as we need to for maximizing our productivity and minimizing our stress – fractal like in either breaking the steps down or building our plans up.
Essentially the idea of fractal planning comes down to the idea that being aware of the fractal nature – of our plans, our goals, our entire lives – will help us as we’ll work better, becoming more efficient and effective while our stress will decrease. As Jim Stone says, “”If you set it up right, with a planning tool that allows you to break down projects to any level of detail, your plans will just grow naturally from your brain‘s innate desire to break tasks down as you go. That‘s what fractal awareness does for you. It helps you see that your whole life can be represented in the same plan, and you can trust it to grow organically, just like a tree grows (because that‘s how plans grow, too). And don‘t worry. There is no ―right way to break down your life plan or your projects and sub-projects.”
I love the optimism of this – while the skeptic in me wonders how realistic this is for everyone. Oops, even I can slip into the temptation of 1 solution for all of us. This is simply an example of one person’s solution to planning and productivity challenges that were not solved from another system out there (David Allen’s Getting Things Done are evident in places). His approach also assumes you are 1) comfortable with technology and 2) that you sit at a desk the majority of the time – where it’s easy and convenient to be interacting with your list. [Please note that I have no data on his paid online system – and am considering writing another piece that discusses some of the issues I see with this system; this post is about the ideas in his e-book.] Nevertheless, the idea of fractal awareness shifting how we view things intrigues me – without needing to adopt any other piece of his system. Are there any ideas that capture your interest?