Notes on my way of managing things

With overwhelming amount of stuff to do at work and home, and to do it on time I found myself struggling with managing my time. It made me think about how effective is my work and how I can do better. Time management and getting things done are covered in endless books, but I was looking for simple and effective way to accomplish(and set) goals without reading too much thick books. Here I’m writing down my thoughts and way I manage projects and ongoing errands.

It started back in the army, when I learned that the opposite of “forget” is to “write down”. It’s not easy to keep things in mind, when you’re running, crawling, doing push-up and expected to learn. Notebook and pencil became my good friends.

Back than I used simple to-do lists, on not-too-much-regular basics, but techniques I used evolved with time. When technology became more accessible (and I’ve done with my service), I moved to Google tasks, than to Google Keep, to Evernote, to Microsoft OneNote and eventually to Trello to manage my tasks and projects.

When It was about managing only tasks - simple list in app was good enough. Synchronization and accessibility became a criteria for choosing tool I wanted to use. This is where cloud services came in handy.

I found out that I need to be able to review and edit tasks in a simplest possible way around on every device(I almost started to use text files synced directory). Every morning I try to review my current tasks list. Review process is a simple procedure: for each tasks I see if it is simple and written in this way that I can execute it. When I end the review process, I have a list of tasks to do. I usually do not manage due dates. If I see that task is not completed in couple of days, this task needs splitting in smaller tasks or reformulating.

Making tasks as small as possible (atomic) and defined well is a key to completing them.

When I started to make projects for fun, I felt that I need to manage them. Using a Trello, which is described as a tool for managing lists of lists, exactly what I needed. It’s a bit heavy for my taste, but does the job.

For keeping the information, which is not lists, I use the OneNote, which I started to admire as a great tool back in 2010. I switched to it from Google Keep mainly because it have a desktop application in addition to web and mobile clients.

For everyday errands, I’m organizing tasks into 2 lists - To do and Done. Task should be small enough not to take some “In progress” state, otherwise it should be split to smaller tasks.

Moving at least on task daily from ToDo to done status really helps with motivation.

For larger projects, I keep 3 lists - Backlog, for projects I want to do, in progress, for things, I’m cleaning tasks from them right now and done projects - for a reference.

Each project have same task structure, as ongoing tasks - ToDo and Done (and may be additional lists, which are easy in Trello). I also manage parallel OneNote section for each project’s notes, planning, and additional information.

I limit number of ongoing projects to 3. Each of them have clear definition of what needs to be done to finish with it. Whenever I’m done with the project, I archive all notes, lists and boards. I use some time weekly to look over the list of projects in the queue and if I’m done with any of current projects. There are also “always ongoing projects” - like list of books to read, movies to watch and games to play. Future blog entries to write are also in these lists.

Examples of projects with “end condition” are home renovations, software development projects (until they’re supported forever), travelling.

Another concept I borrowed from GTD books is noise removal. This includes cleaning inboxes, disabling interruptions (bye-bye twitter notifications) and silencing the phone. It helps to concentrate and actually do some work.

Some discipline is needed in order to succeed with this approach. Ordering tasks daily, following rules, and keeping backlogs running requires time and effort. But the result of these practices is clearly seen - tasks are closed, projects are done and I’m happier than before, when I was struggling with overwhelming and unknows things to do.