Staying on top of tasks required to keep work moving can be daunting. We’re in a fast-paced culture and things are only getting faster; several parallel projects are run at once, all requiring various deliverables at different degrees of detail. Other than deliverable driven tasks, there’s recurring sponsor and Management Reviews, update meetings and planning updates. Then there’s just the “stuff” that’s non-value-add you’ve just got to do and those ideas you get in the middle of the shower or walking the dog you don’t want to forget!
I needed a process to help me manage my work load. It had to be: –
- Fast: I want to spend as little time as necessary in working the process. Recording and completing tasks, reassigning priorities, filtering, should all be as near instantaneous as possible
- Reliable: When relying on a process to drive your working day it needs to be there when you need it, whether it’s walking the dog or at my desk (maybe not in the shower)
- Subtle: I don’t want a desk full of post it notes, or a computer screen that’s messy – I have a little OCD when it comes to stuff like that
The most important thing, by far, is the ability to de-stress. The vicious circle for me in have lots of jobs on the go, is the time and effort involved in thinking “what now, what next and what’s moving”. Spending more time thinking about what to do instead of doing what you should do is not healthy.
So, how did I do it? Three wonderful little words; Remember the Milk.
Remember the Milk is basically a To-Do list, but it’s powerful. Create a task in seconds with it’s smart add bar. Give the task a priority, a due date, estimate time, tag it or add to named lists. The combination of these simple but effective tools works wonders. It’s available as a web application and has IPhone/Android apps for portability.
So here’s my process.
Adding tasks falls into two categories; at a high level, it’s when I’m either sitting at my desk (and have time) or in a meeting and take an action (and don’t have time). When I have time to think about the work, it gets its due date set to the day and time I’m going to start working on it. Other tasks of lesser priority may get postponed or re-prioritized as a result.
When I don’t have time to think about much more than the action and agreed due date, I throw the task into a named list “To Process”. This is a list of things I need to do but know I need to think more about when I need to do them – they also may not need doing any time soon. When I get back to my desk after a meeting, I check this list and work the new tasks into my prioritised task list.
The first thing I do in the morning is check my email, log any actions as tasks then move onto check the the task list. I take the highest prioritised task in a day and do it, complete it – rinse and repeat.
The only deviation to this is tasks which are associated to another process; such as a regular programme sponsor reviews. These tasks don’t get due dates, they just get tagged #sponsor. Before I go into preparing material for the review, I check this tag for things I need to escalate/update etc. Then they come off.
The key to it all – The only two things I do outside my task list (other than eat, use the toilet and drink tea) are attend meetings and check emails. That’s it – full stop. If I’m in a meeting and take actions, they go on the list. If I read an email that needs an action, the email gets marked read and I log a task. I’m dedicated to working the list; if I deviate from it and start doing work not on the list, it looses it’s power to focus and prioritise.
Log it, prioritise it, move on to the top task. This is the most amount of thought I need to dedicate to thinking about what I need to do; the rest of my thinking power can go into creative thinking and doing my job. As for adding a task; it’s as simple as this: –
Highest priority task [! symbol] at Tuesday, 9am [^ symbol], Do “it”. It’ll take 20 mins [= symbol] and is for project “a” [# symbol]
Do "it" ^tuesday at 9 !1 =20 min #projecta