My Separate Management Space: Early Impressions

Last Sunday I instituted a separate space for my planning, based on a rambling analysis I did on my production workspace. I can summarize the main points as follows:

  • I am working inefficiently because my workspace tends to get cluttered.
  • My workspace is cluttered because too many tasks (and cats) compete for the same space.
  • There are three types of tasks that overlap: management (big picture), production (detail), and personal (food, magazines, etc).
  • The places where things get done are the computer screen and the desk space closest to my keyboards.
  • These surfaces are very dynamic, with new content switching in and out constantly. When either space is unable to simultaneously display all the pieces needed to complete a task, efficiency suffers because I have to root around to find what I was using, and this also burdens my limited short term memory (very quickly overloaded, leading to frustration).
  • Walls and other vertical surfaces can provide secondary information of a static nature.
  • Filing cabinets, shelves, and floor space provide useful secondary storage if the task doesn’t need them just at a particular moment. They are still relatively easy to retrieve and use, but you must clear your desk off first.
  • All this reminded me of designing an efficient memory system in computer architecture, so therefore the optimization strategies from this field could have analogies in the real world.

A second insight is that big picture tasks (management of all kinds for business, production, and personal) tend to be more stable, and it is useful to be able to see it all at once. That’s because it’s a map to what’s going on in your life. I hate having to fold and unfold maps…I’d rather have it nice and big on a wall, with a nice you are here pin showing where you are relative to your goals. And to me, that implies an area that doesn’t get overriden by short-term tasks, one that stands on its own and maintains its continuity separately.

The Management Space (First Pass)

the spaceMy first pass at creating this space involved clearing off my drafting table and using that. At first this didn’t seem ideal, since it’s actually some distance away from my chair and I thought I needed a “faster” surface. You can get an idea of where the table is from the photo, just keep in mind it’s a wide-angle shot that makes distances appear a bit farther than they really are; in actuality, the table is about two steps away from my chair. I found that I tended to go to this space between production tasks anyway, and it was relaxing to get away from the computer to reframe and reprioritize my tasks: an unexpected benefit.

The table itself currently serves as a place where I keep several lists. Right now they’re all done by hand, as I’m finding that this is fine for prototyping. And I was inspired by Phil Newton and his drawn task-tracking forms. Drawing rocks! Eventually I’ll create some interesting printable forms if that makes sense. Anyway, here’s what I have currently on the table:

  • A general daily schedule, which lists the times that I should be doing things, and has reminders to take 15 minutes periodically to do chores. I work at home, and I find it a challenge to work all day and keep up the house. It’s been depressing me for a long time, but I finally have realized that it doesn’t take all that much to keep things in order thanks to Dad’s recent visit. Also, I have been trying to regularize my schedule, so I use this to dictate what I ought to be doing around what time. I’m trying to get to sleep by 11PM these days, which seems ridiculously early to someone who likes to hit the sack around 4AM. This schedule will help form the habit (I hope :-)

  • A list of chores that I should do. This is not a list of specific chores, but just things I should be thinking of doing. I periodically scan the list to see if there’s something I’m forgetting perhaps a little too conveniently.

  • A list of electives that I can do if I have some free time. After 6PM, I’ve found that this time tends to get eaten up with dinner, socializing, and TV watching so it’s a bit unstructured. I’m calling this “Elective Time”, and I scan the electives list to see if anything piques my interest.

  • The Menu of the Day, which is sort of a ToDo list but more high-level. On the top of the page are listed things I need to get done, with the “first simplest step” to take to kick the task off. I allow no more than 3 to 5 items. On the bottom, I keep notes specific to the day. On the right side, I keep lists of tangential tasks that pop into my head, but aren’t related to the day’s work. I should probably do what fellow 9ruler Beth does and keep them all in one notebook, but for now I’ll just punch holes in them and put them in a binder for archiving.

drafting tableOn the wall is a clipboard with a Printable CEO form; sadly, I haven’t been keeping up with this because I kept losing the current form under the pile of desk crap. I plan to augment the wall with several shelves that can hold other planning material and clipboards, as vertical space is very handy for displaying continuity-related information like timelines and calendars, if you don’t need to change it too often. I also keep a pile of process notebooks (not shown in the close-up, but you can see them in the wide-angle) to the right side of the table. I’m using metal clips to hold them open to the right place, so when the cats knock them down they stay open to the right page. This is somewhat reassuring for some reason.

Impressions

So far I like it. I feel like I have a place I can go to that will re-orient myself with respect to work, career, and life. It’s nice to have a distinct production area and planning area. It’s only been 3 days, but I think there’s something here. John Zeratsky made an insightful comment on my original post: planning is an essential part of production; having separate spaces is a potentially bad idea. Agreed! Not all planning material is confined to the management area:
  • The “Menu of the Day” form moves from the planning area to the production area. It’s the only piece of paper I keep on my desk now related to overall planning. At the end of the day, I move it back to the management area.

  • For actual production task tracking, I’m still using TextPad, detailed To Do lists, Excel, and so forth on my docked notebook computer. I also maintain detailed “to do notes” on my production desktop machine, in the form of text files that live inside each project folder. They aren’t particularly organized, but it helps me maintain continuity on projects. They also help keep track of the decision tree; I’m careful to enter a timestamp before I make a critical decision. I’m not sure yet what parts of the project management will make it to the management area…probably gannt charts and deadline information, timelines, and other “big picture” tracking things.

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p>In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to refine and test this idea and see if it has staying power. It could very well be that the novelty of having a clean drafting table is the source of my buzz :-)