Four Colours

Today, I wanted to share with you an ‘organizing things to do’ method that Y showed me a long time ago.

This method is from a podcast by a talented individual known as Chris Westra[1].

I also love ASCII 4-quadrant diagrams, so we’ll start with one[2]:

  Spend 80%       Spend 20%
  of your time    of your time
  on this         on this
  column          column

  DEEDS           TASKS
| Red:          | Black:          |
| Things which  | Required, but   | 
| Move your     | Not Important   |  TODAY
| Project       | in and of       | 
| Forward       | themselves      |
| in a Big Way  |                 |
| Green:        | Blue:           |
| Things to     | Maybe important |  TOMORROW
| Automate or   | in the Future,  |
| Delegate      | but Not Now     |

The upper left corner (Red) is ‘Things which move your project forward in a ‘Big Way’. This is the writing that important post, writing that module[3], calling that important new client, building that thing. Basically, anything that is a deed, not a task. Done once, will move your project forward.

The upper right corner (Black) is ‘Things which are required, but not important in and of themselves’. Chris uses the example of ‘changing the printer ink’, to mean anything that needs to be done, but you really shouldn’t take more time than you need to. Anything which is a task, something that you do repeatedly is in this category. You should be constantly looking for ways to automate or delegate things in this category (we’ll cover that later). This category contains tasks which may feel somewhat satisfying to perform in the moment, but ultimately are meaningless in the grand scheme. The tasks here tend to be easier and require less decision making than red tasks, so it’s easy to get distracted here.

The lower right corner (Blue) is ‘Things which are maybe important in the future, but not now’. All of your undirected R&D is in this category, Chris mentions reading trade publications, lots of random browsing can be in this category.

The lower left corner (Green) is (for me) where this method really shines. In this category is ‘Things which you can automate or delegate’. Something where you spend an hour today which saves you a minute a day for the rest of your life[4]. Chris says (and I agree) that it’s important to do one or two of these every day. You will thank yourself later.

In my first phase after discovering this way of thinking, I rotated from Black/Blue to Blue/Green. Through considerable work, and some life coaching, I feel like I’m finally making the rotation from Blue/Green to Green/Red. This takes considerable self-discipline, and can feel emotionally difficult as you give up spending time on things which give short-term accomplishment feelings, but don’t really help you towards your goals.

Comments? Put them below!

Note: I added the column and row labels above. They’re not quite accurate. If you have better suggestions, comment!

[1]I can’t seem to find him online any more. If I do, or if someone points me to him, I’ll put it in the comments below. EDIT: I added above. He also has a site at which is…a little…on the strange side of new age. But the mental model above is still very useful.

[2]Some people have said that it reminds them of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

[3]This would be true for any of the 3+ meanings of ‘module’.

[4]A handy chart from XKCD on when this is worth it. This may understate how worth it is, if it also reduces your ‘open loops‘.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *