Adventures in Tana: Setting up a reviewing system Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog-post series I emphasised the importance of the foundational planning phase. If you haven’t already read it, take a look before you get stuck into this part of the post.

As a freelancer my work is project-based so having a system that is as powerful as Tana to interlink and track my tasks, the people involved, due dates and all the other details of my life’s work – to optimise my productivity – makes sense. However, for me, it’s equally important to be able to refer the output of my personal and professional energies back to my values and aspirations and to keep them in alignment.

The planning phase suggested by August Bradley in his two videos in Part 1 will take some time to complete, but it’s worth it. It begins by asking you to consider what matters to you. It puts the spotlight on why you’re doing all this planning. What’s the point of being super-productive if it’s for its own sake? Spend time thinking about what you want the graph or workspace to do for you and write it down. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be ready to start mapping a meaningful system tailored to your needs, one that will enable you to review your activities as you go, to evaluate how you’re tracking against your goals, and also to plan forward incrementally.

Planning for the coming year is a topic getting some buzz right now as the New Year’s imminent arrival is more and more apparent with each day. The process I’ve set up in my Tana workspace is going to make forward planning a much smoother experience as well as save time. I’ve described it below with some screenshots.

I’m assuming, dear reader, that you have some basic understanding of how Tana works and a passing familiarity with supertags – Tana’s secret sauce – as well as how they are set up and how they operate. If not, can I suggest you check out the YouTube videos of experienced Tana users like Cortex Futura. My own understanding and usage is based on a scant 10 weeks’ experience in Tana, so by no means do I claim any kind of expertise. I share in the spirit of learning as we go.

My Setup

I use Tana’s day page as my canvas or scratchpad as some call it – it’s home base. I learned to do this in Roam Research and to appreciate the genius behind design that uses a blank dated page as the default/workspace entry to a graph. Everything I write flows from the daily page, and it’s here that I begin to gather material for what will be the first step in my reviewing schema of weekly, monthly, and annual review cycles. Each review flows forward into the next. But it all begins on the day page – bottom-up reviewing and planning.

If anything is particularly memorable during the course of a day, I tag with #highlight. A highlight could be a personal or work-related matter. I do an evening reflection each day and find this a good time to highlight anything I might have missed. The #highlight supertag has two fields: Areas and Values each with option drop-downs. Areas are the key areas in my life e.g., family, work, travel etc., while the Values refer back to those values, aspirations, and goals I work with and which direct my energies and provide fulfilment. I’m keeping those foundation stones in mind from the get-go.

Highlight supertag

At the end of the week, I do a Weekly Review that uses a supertag #Weekly Review. I’ve designed this supertag with a search field that pulls up anything tagged as #highlight on any day during the preceding week. I then distill these highlights and write a summary which gets tagged #achievements. 

Weekly Review supertag
Achievements tag

I’ve also got a search field in the Weekly Review supertag that references an Open Task node on my day page where Tasks can be entered manually as they arise or in advance and where I can tick them off when done. Any tasks that remain undone will show up at the end of the week. A neglected task will flow forward from day to day, week to week, month to month but hopefully not for too long. Anything that keeps being booted forward needs interrogating. Is it really important? Am I procrastinating? What’s the deal? Move it on or move it out is my mantra.

When it comes to the Monthly Review (also a supertag), a search field looks for those nodes tagged #achievements – the weekly summaries – created in the past 30 days. You could also find them via the navigation shortcut – the list of #achievements. Once again, as I did with the weekly reviews, I’ll distill this list into a note which I’ll then tag with #Monthly Report, the name of the month e.g., #December, and the year (#2022). I proceed this way month by month until the end of the year and time for an annual review. 

Monthly Review supertag

Within the next few weeks I will work on my Annual Review. I’ll create a supertag which will enable a search for each #MonthlyReport completed during the calendar year. I will follow the process I’ve established with the weekly and monthly reviews by distilling all monthly reports into my annual review. I often flesh this out with a reflection on the year as a whole. I’ll finally tag it appropriately and use it as a reference for planning the upcoming one.

Annual Review supertag

These supertag names are just working titles for me right now. Other users are going to find ones that are more evocative or that work better for them. One of the beauties of Tana is that you can adapt and change the name of a supertag within your system, and the changes will be reflected throughout the database. I have no doubt there will be other options available for cross-referencing more smoothly as Tana’s under-the-hood abilities improve and I become more clued in. For now this approach, which is something of a hangover from my Roam days, works for me.

Pros

As for forward planning and thinking about the upcoming year, there’s wonderful synergy between planning and reviewing. Much of the value of an annual review (a looking back) lies in what it can do to assist your forward planning. The reflection on the year past will have given you a sense of how you are tracking and give you a kick-start to planning the months ahead. Whilst your foundational values and aspirations are probably not going to change much, if at all, goals and projects and their associated tasks are dynamic and will need reviewing. Look back to see your way forward.

You’re also going to get a sense of what worked and what didn’t. You’ll get the big picture of the year – a map of the territory – as well as a sense of achievement. I find this very useful in thinking about what the new year might look like, what I want to achieve in the short and medium, even long term and how I am placed to deal with the challenges. If, like me, you already have projects on the agenda, it’s time to diarise them, see them as “nodes” in your life’s database, and to mull on how they interconnect and how they reflect those values and aspirations and the goals you set yourself.

Cons

I’ve done some tag juggling in this workflow to get a system that works for me but it feels a bit janky, even awkward in places. As to Tana’s current search capacity, whilst getting better on an almost-daily basis with frequent upgrades, It would be great for my system to be able to search for nodes that appear within a specific date range rather than use the current “created within the last x days” search expressions. I can already foresee the problem.

There will be “spill” if a user creates a tagged item using the “created within …” series of search expressions. Whatever the due date e.g., a month ahead or a day in the past, a search is going to throw up the day the user entered the node in the data base i.e., created the item. This won’t work for the use-case I’m developing here. The Tana elves are prolific and very clever, so searching across date ranges is a feature I’m pretty sure they’re working on now.

What I’ve described here is obviously my work in progress in a tool that is developing as I write. I’m excited in Tana’s potential as a partner in easing the work load, and I’d welcome any thoughts you might have on your own Tana experiments.

Late-breaking: I’m about to start experimenting with the ability to search for nodes and tags using Tana’s “greater than” and “less than” search expressions as it applies to dates. So, for a monthly review, the search would ask for a date greater than the first of the month, and less than the last. Whilst this makes perfect sense, once you think about it, is not as intuitive as it could be in this context.

Thanks for reading.


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One response to “Adventures in Tana: Setting up a reviewing system Part 2”

  1. Dee Todd Avatar
    Dee Todd

    This is great. Straight forward and effective. Well done. The date searches will really help you move this forward. Looking forward to seeing more from you.

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