An Unlikely Pair: The Network Self and the Gantt Chart

We end each month inside the Collective with a planning session in which I walk participants through a set of activities that promote some reflection on the past month and some intention-setting for the month ahead.

For our February planning session I decided to bring in two visual tools that had caught my eye in recent weeks: a network self diagram and a Gantt chart.

The network self is a concept that I learned about in Tara McMullin’s book What Works. It comes from philosopher Kathleen Wallace, and it’s a way of acknowledging that you are more than a single identity. Instead you live out and carry within you multiple identities at any given time, some of which shift with the seasons of life.

Here’s the network self diagram that Tara sketched out:

Here’s what I appreciate about this way of looking at who you are:

  • It helps you to not overweight a single identity as you think about how your life is going right now – even if one identity feels stagnant, others might be going great.
  • It encourages you to make connections that you might have otherwise missed between your different identities.
  • It opens up the door for you to lean into a newer or neglected identity that you’d like to prioritize in the coming months.

That last piece is an important component in the goal setting framework that Tara unveils throughout the book, which is why I thought it would be a helpful start-of-the-month activity within the Collective, so that’s how we began our planning session together.

It’s also how I decided to introduce myself in a recent workshop I led, Mark Making: From Verbal to Visual Thinking. Here’s the sketch I shared, modeled directly after Tara’s:

One of the participants commented on how effective a tool that is to give folks some context to who you are and what you’re up to. As we often see with visual thinking work, the drawings and diagrams that we create for ourselves often end up being helpful for others.

Back to the monthly planning session…

Since the goal of those sessions is to do some concrete planning, I’m always on the lookout for visual tools that support you in getting things done. So when I was reading Dan Roam’s book The Back of the Napkin a few weeks ago, his example of a Gantt chart caught my eye:

That example from NASA spans years, but there’s no reason you can’t scale it down to weeks.

So after encouraging participants to decide which identities they’d like to lean into, I next asked them to use the Gantt chart format to map out the specific projects they’d be working on, including the sequencing and overlap.

I had imagined those two activities of the network self and the Gantt chart to be separate, the first simply priming the pump for the second, but one member of the Collective, Julie, did something really smart: she gave each identity its own row on the Gantt chart:

What a great way to see how you’re investing time and energy into your various identities.

If you’ve got multiple projects that you’re trying to move forward, and want to account for the multiple identities that make you a complete and interesting person, then you might try sketching out those two types of diagrams for yourself.

Start with the network self to get a more holistic perspective on who you are and what you’re up to, and then try giving each of those identities a row on a Gantt chart as you sketch out the projects that will allow you to live into those identities in the coming weeks.

What you’ll end up with is not only a useful reference throughout the month, but also a place where you can capture reflections on those projects and identities to make next month’s planning go even more smoothly.

If you give those activities a try, let us know how it goes with a comment below!



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