By March 12, 2013 6 Comments Read More →

Track Progress–Are You There Yet?

Track Progress - Are you There Yet?“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?


image by ericmcgregor

Posted in: Time Management

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This blog is dedicated to share simple practices I that get me results.

6 Comments on "Track Progress–Are You There Yet?"

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  1. Lew Sauder says:

    A project GPS is a great analogy. I also like the idea of using categories in Outlook. That’s a great way to group items and find them easily. Nice post.

  2. Alik Levin says:

    Lew, thank you.
    Metaphors and catchy names help organize and apply best practices more effectively.

  3. Jeff says:

    Organization and goals.. definitely key. The older I get, the more I use both to a greater degree.
    Another great tool for the onslaught of online stuff is using Evernote. It’s definitely a fav of mine for staying organized.

    Great article, Alik. Cheers..

  4. alik levin says:

    Jeff, thank you.
    I heard many good things about Evernote. Chances I may spawn some effort to test it. I like how it is avail through any device and cloud based.

  5. J.D. Meier says:

    Mini-milestones are a powerful thing.

    We like to win, and the little wins add up.

    Sometimes, a lofty goal is worse than no goal, if we don’t believe we can achieve it. While I’m a fan of going for the epic win, I lace a bunch of little wins along the way to build momentum and keep me on track.

  6. Alik Levin says:

    JD, true that. and you were consistently showing how to do exactly that for a long time. Thanks for paving the path.

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