Lately, I’ve been struggling to keep track of multiple deadlines on multiple projects of multiple types. Yeesh!
Although I had everything listed that I need to do in a big text file, thanks to my earlier GTD pass, I have yet to overcome that feeling of paralysis that comes from knowing what to do next. Additionally, I find that I don’t have a good sense of how much time I have available in the future. This is really important for maintaining my pacing and for my work as a freelancer; if I don’t know what time I can book in the future, I may create problems
The ability to easily visualize available time is what’s on my mind right now. To that end, I’ve made a new two-part form called The Resource Scheduler Parts 1 and 2.
The Intangibility of Future Time
I read in Stumbling Upon Happiness that a bigger reward in the future doesn’t tend to seem as valuable as getting a reward right now. This got me thinking: if we’re wired for immediate gratification, perhaps this is one of the root challenges in developing discipline. I think the challenge can be met through visualization; if you have the means to visualize how far you have to go before you get the reward, the waiting is much easier.
I also heard an episode of The Infinite Mind, covering The Science of Winning. One of the interviewees, Jim Fannin, described how top executives not only visualize the steps to the goal, they also visualize the steps working backwards. The effect, Fannin said, was like illuminating a runway to the goal. The ability to work forward to and backward from the goal stuck in my mind. How could I reinforce this type of thinking in a form?
In my mind, I can picture time as a conveyor belt that flows continuously past me. For me to feel productive, I need to make sure there’s “stuff to do” on that conveyor belt at the moment I’m able to do something with it, assuming I’m ready to handle it. That suggest the following principles:
- Ensure that only one thing is at a given place on the conveyor belt at a time, because I can’t process more than one thing at a time.
Have some idea of what’s coming, in what order, so I can be mentally ready to handle it.
Maximally load the conveyor belt so I have plenty of things to do, but not so much that I’m overwhelmed.
Now what is loaded on the conveyor belt of time? Projects and tasks.
Representing Projects and TasksProjects are, in the terminology of GTD, merely a list of related things to do. The Resource Task Quantizer is essentially a project management sheet, and is a mashup of several earlier Printable CEO™ forms:
- A short Project and Deliverables summary, like a Task Order Up card.
An 8 week calendar based on the design of the Compact Calendar.
A Task List, much like the Task Progress Tracker, except with space allocated for the day of the week that the task was actually started.
Furthermore, the form is split into top and bottom halves:
- TOP: Project meta information such as the description, the specific deliverables, the timeframe, and the reference jobcode.
BOTTOM: The list of specific tasks related to the project. As you fill in bubbles, you create a record of how much actual time was used, relative to your estimate.
It’s pretty easy to estimate how long something will take once you have some experience. If you don’t, then just guess and keep track of it for next time. Each task is allowed to take up to 4 hours; if it’s longer, you should break it down further. It’s in your best interest to make the tasks short and concrete. Incidentally, there’s a reason why the project meta information is at the top of the screen; it’s designed to work with the second form that represents available time.
Representing Available TimeThe second form, the Resource Scheduler represents one week of time. Why one week? This is a useful limit, because it emphasizeswhat’s happening right now. I’m keeping in mind that it’s the imminent events that engage our sense of urgency. It’s also easy to plan a week in advance with confidence; two or more weeks gets more hazy. The idea behind this form is to represent and assign available time for a given person. I want to be able to see at-a-glance what’s been assigned, and whether or not I really have enough time to get it all done. Here’s how the form is laid out:
- The left lists key deliverables, labeled D1-D7. Each item allows you to mark a date when that deliverable is due. There’s also a bubble group that marks the day of a deliverable. The reason for this, rather than writing a date, is so you can see at a glance what is due earlier, on what day. Try it and see.
The right shows an available time grid, which uses the timeblock sizes that I first implemented in the Emergent Task Planner and Menu of the Day. I only list A-C blocks, which are 4HR, 2HR, and 1HR in duration respectively. Each day of the week has 12 “productive hours”, spread across 3 blocks. The blue blocks are 9-5 workday blocks, assuming an 8-hour day. The red blocks are overtime.
Using the Forms Together
You’ll notice that the key deliverables reference a jobcode. For me, the jobcode refers to an associated project. There’s a Resource Task Quantizer (RTQ) sheet for each project. The jobcode is also used for billing purposes and both paper and electronic filing. Procedurally, the “task assignment game” works like this:
- When you start your week, review each Resource Task Quantizer sheet (basically, this is a list of your projects and their associated tasks).
Pull the next immediate task out of whatever projects need to be worked on. This is up to you, but is also determined by any deadlines you may have noticed.
Write the task down as a key deliverable on the small Resource Scheduler form.
Count up the estimated hours for each key deliverable, due date if applicable, and write that down too on the small form.
Assign the blocks to the grid, and make sure everything fits.
p>The Resource Schedule is your What Should I Be Doing Now? sheet. You should track the individual progress on each project using its associated Resource Task Quantizer sheet.
Deploying the Forms
This is the part I really like: The two forms are designed to overlay on a clipboard, so you can keep your weekly resource grid visible in context with the actual project information.
The Resource Scheduler (the small form) covers the project meta information of the Resource Task Quantizer. Most of the time you’re not going to be referring to this information except during review, so reusing that real estate makes sense. When it’s time to review the project, just pop your stack of RTQs off the clipboard and browse through them.
DOWNLOAD THE FORMS
» Download The Resource Scheduler
» aka Resource Time Tracking Form 01
» Download The Resource Task Quantizer
» aka Resource Time Tracking Form 02
Enjoy! Please leave any feedback below.