(last updated on April 29, 2014)
Trying something new here: reposting a reader’s comment as a question that I thought would be interesting to discuss.
Todd writes (slightly reformatted/reworded by me):
I started using GTD – and found I am too hectic for it – though some of the rules and the tickler do work great for me. I have also started trying out the PCEO, and have a question.
Conversely I could use some advice from you or your readers on a new system. My issue is that I have weekly goals:
- I want to try and get everything into Moleskine notebooks. and I am concerned with running out of pages in a particular section.
For example a weekly goal might be to get a design project for a client completed. Tasks would be mockup, send for review, revise sub-tasks, followed by the steps to complete each of those – along with a few pages of notes from the client meeting […] giving direction on the next revision. Thoughts?
- Goals have tasks (top level).
- Top level tasks then have lots of subtasks.
- I also have random notes, and task related notes.
I’m afraid I don’t have any suggestions for hole to expand a Moleskine notebook. Do they need to be Moleskine? What is it about Moleskine that makes it an essential part of your system plan?
A friend of mine used to keep large art journals and he would number them; when one became full, he would just make a new “volume” and move on. Perhaps you could devote an entire moleskine per category, but that would mean you would have to carry around SETS of notebooks. Which might mean you would have to get an AWESOME MOLESKINE CARRYING CASE, but that sort of defeats the purpose of convenience. You could make a Batman-like utility belt and slot moleskines all around them, maybe. Or a Moleskine holster…that would be SWEET.
I used to have the same issues with having sub-catagories in a single notebook. I liked the IDEA of it from a “nice and neat” perspective, but in practice the exact same thing tended to happen: I’d run out of space. I tried using 3-ring binders for a while so I could add/remove paper, but they don’t like flat and frankly I hate the way they feel. I then tried those “clamp-style” binders, but they tended to be fragile in construction. I decided I liked pads of bound paper.
Right now, I tend to carry composition notebooks with me: they’re cheap, relatively small, and–most importantly–they are stiff enough to write on when you don’t have a desk handy. Moleskines also have this advantage, except they’re pretty pricey.
Weekly Tasks with Subtasks
It sounds like you’ve already defined the system, so I’m guessing the issue is that you want resolved is a “good way” to support it. A few additional questions come to mind:
- What system are you using now, if any, and what improvements are you hoping to gain?
- Is this for yourself, or for assignment to other people?
- Is it more important to capture the process trail (for accounting purposes), or to keep on-task and on-target?
For me, I like systems that are self-documenting that can start quickly. Writing down a big but somewhat ambiguous goal like “do project for client A” works well if you know exactly what that means; if the system is for yourself, that’s enough. If you’re communicating this to an employee, it may not be. In these cases, defining the concrete deliverable (i.e. what they’re responsible for delivering) becomes paramount. I emphasize the deliverable, not the task of making the deliverable, in these cases.
A little scaffolding doesn’t hurt either. I did an experiment a while ago where I would sit and THINK THROUGH all the steps that I needed to do to get something complicated done right, and then I made a flowchart that just listed those steps in very simple terms. The test was actually for cleaning the livingroom for the prototype task order up card, the insight being “I know I can clean the livingroom, eventually. But do I really have a process for it?” By writing down all the steps first, I could keep myself on target. It helped that I had a timer going that would BEEP periodically to keep me on task, but I digress.
From a tools perspective, I’ve heard anecdotally that people like using the Task Progress Tracker for project management, because it allows you to list your goals as they come to you under a broad task heading. You could pre-print a few of these out with the steps you need, but the time tracking aspect of it may not be necessary. Likewise, the Emergent Task Timer has a nice bottom-up approach for non-structured workers who nevertheless want to know what they’re getting done.
What you might look into is an index-card based system; I started designing one with the Task Order Up, but it’s not quite what you need. It sounds like you don’t need the time-tracking component, though, instead seeking a system that keeps the task information with support notes in one place. I can kind of see how this would work…it’s an interesting workflow design problem. I will have to try putting one together.
So that’s my off-the-cuff take on this. I know there are tons of other project management solutions out there…what’s worked for the rest of you? What “task management tips” are universal?