Gil has posted two articles (Write down everything, Juggling multiple tasks) about techinques he uses for time management that works for him. Since i liked his title so much and since this is a problem im struggling with as well I thought to add.
So first lets describe my context (a solution is not relevant without the context in which it works/failed). being an agile coach means that a large chunk of my time I’m dealing with a few regular clients, some small gigs that pops up and of course the staff related to marketing sales and logistics. I’m also doing some academicals research and have a couple of pet projects I try to advance.
I started out by using old plain memory power , and to say the truth most of the times that worked for me. However, in time the amount of things i juggle between, caused me to miss things which should have not been forgotten. So I understood i needed to back up my memory.
Next step was to write everything down, I started out by using physical notes, however since most of the time I’m not in the same place I found the need to carry the notes with me to be too cumbersome.
next I rearrange everything into a big list (using excel), I’ve tried applying the “product Backlog” technique taken from Agile methodologies (well that’s a surprise). And to many extends that improved things a lot. Using a backlog allowed me to write down big things I wanted to accomplish (“stories”) and to break them into specific things I need to do (“Tasks”). It also improve prioritization, making sure that the important things got done first.
Lately however I recognized that a simple unified backlog is, well, too simple. when examining my work week i discovered that in most days, my work was dedicated to a single main thing (with some small interruptions to other things). I also noticed that if I group the backlog along the lines of my work days i can treat many of the things has there own separate project and I don’t really needs to prioritize between them. I just need to decide how much effort to allocate to that project i.e. decide on which day I’m where.
So finally my current scheme for handling things has molded into this:
For each “project” I do, which currently are:
- One per client.
- One per pet project.
I have a separate to do list contained in a one page plain text file. In all cases (and I think this is crucial) I keep the list less than a page long. Each list is sorted by priority and every new thing gets inserted into its proper place according to project and priority. When I finish tasks i just delete them.
I no longer distinguish between ’stories’ and ‘tasks’, since I found that after splitting the list into various files one page is enough to hold all the tasks.
At the start of each Month I do an initial plan of how to split my days, which get revisited at the end of each week (and any other time I feel the need to do it).
at the start of every day, when i get to the place where that days project is being done ( a client, home,…) i can just focus on one specific from which i decide the goals for that day.
and the rest is still left for “Memory Power”.
so far my last attempt is working ok for me. on the good side I managed to order my week into complete days and to some extend decrease the amount of context switching. I’m consciously limiting myself and when I can I don’t split a day between two projects or more. inside a day I’m keeping my focus and so far i managed to minimize the misses.
on the down side I think that overall my task list has grown and I’m starting to feel the pressure. I know that that’s probably because I’m taking on too much and I think that happens since I’ve lost to some extend the overall view. I need to find a way to improve on that (or find a way to to add more hours per day).