“Are we there yet?” is the question my kids keep asking me the minute we get in the car. It is the same question I keep asking myself when driving project to its completion. In both cases it drives me nuts when I don’t have precise answer. The root cause to the lack of the precise answer is either not knowing the destination or the route to it or both. To solve this problem during the driving I use GPS. For project and time management I use simple lists of goals and list of tasks that lead up to achieving the goals. Using this approach I can quickly assess my current state, specifically:
- I can instantly see the end goal and where I am going.
- I can instantly see progress or lack of it.
- I can Instantly evaluate time budget to what’s left to accomplish.
- I can quickly re-prioritize to make sure I am invested in high impact work.
These are the lists I use:
- Projects or themes. Sometimes when it’s hard to define the project I fall back to themes. For example, security or performance. These two are ongoing activities in software engineering usually without specific endgame dates or deliverables. It’s about continuous improvement. To make it a project I force myself to establish actual timelines and deliverables mapped to the timeline. This approach helps me turn vague themes into projects I can act upon and measure success or failure. I have usually 3 to five projects running simultaneously to keep it manageable. I use Microsoft Outlook’s categories feature to mark all related items so when I filter the items by categories I have immediate picture of my project list.
- Goals. For each project I specify goals or deliverables. I use Microsoft Outlook’s Post feature (Ctrl+Shift+S) to post notes to my Inbox, I write three goals for a project and then mark it with the project’s category. Every time I filter all the items by the project’s category I immediately see the project’s goals and related items.
- Backlog. It is a list of action items for each project, usually emails. The emails are marked with a project’s category. When filtering for specific category both the goals and project related items are surfaced. If there are many items in the project’s backlog it’s either there is plenty to go or there is plenty of low priority junk work accumulated. In either case the next step is to skim quickly through the project’s backlog, while keeping an eye on the goals, and purge items that are done, obsolete, or less important. Once the sweep is done the picture should be pretty clear how much is left to go. I do such sweep for each project every morning for 15 to 30 minutes to get re-focused.
Are you there yet?
- Backlog, Your Smart To-Do Checklist
- Getting Results: From Annual Commitments to Daily Execution
- Task Management Using Microsoft Outlook
- Defend Your Time Using Outlook Calendar
image by ericmcgregor