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Strategies to get a handle on all your digital stuff: Project planning and management

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Admittedly, I spend more time thinking about project management than I would like, sometimes to the detriment of actually getting stuff done. On the other hand, I have realized that the processing through the organizational issues helps me to map out and articulate what it will take to complete a particular project. Since I've found the workflows and tools posts from other professionals helpful, I'll share my approach and hope that this helps someone else besides me.

Project planning

I tend to take on too many projects, mostly of my own creation, so I try to inject a dose of realism into the scoping process. This helps me to figure out if I can actually accomplish what I want and helps to determine the timeframe. This sounds more formal than it really is. Basically, I try to sketch out the following on a single page:

  • Objectives
    • What do I want to accomplish?
    • What is the need? 
  • Scope
    • What is included in this project? 
    • What is NOT included? 
    • Who is the audience/stakeholder group?
    • What will I be creating (if anything)?
  • Value (really, the WHY part of the story)
    • How important is this project to me? 
      • How central is it to my job performance? professional development/research? 
      • What is the balance between difficulty and feasibility?
    • How important is this project to the Library, University, my professional community?
  • Breaking it down into manageable tasks:
    • What are major steps or phases? 
      • Approximately how long will each take?
      • What resources (people, knowledge, infrastructure, funding) are necessary to complete them?
  • Identify potential barriers, constraints, etc.

 

Timelines & task management

My task management approach is a hodge-podge of various things I've read over the past 10-12 years. There's some of David Allen's Getting Things Done approach in how I process incoming information and do a daily/weekly/monthly review. There's some bits that I've picked up from reading Gina Trapani and posts from LifeHacker, as well as other productivity tips I encounter through Twitter. I don't follow a particular style and my approach has certainly evolved over time as I have transitioned from working on other people's research projects to managing my own, albeit much smaller and more modest, research.

I have too many systems, but for now, they seem to be working. Largely, this is due to my dislike of paper clutter, but the need to write things down to really process them. So, I use both digital and paper systems for calendaring and task management. Generally, I use my moleskine as a daily journal. I try to choose 2-3 big things to focus on each day, jot down notes about small tasks that come up, and monitor my daily balance (work, family, exercise, meditation, hobbies, etc.). I recently started to use Workflowy to manage projects. It's great for outlining projects and breaking them down into manageable pieces. What it isn't so strong at is task/deadline reminders. This doesn't tend to be a problem for me as long as I'm doing my weekly and monthly reviews. Some things are still getting lost in the translation from Workflowy to my daily planning, but I blame this on my mental fuzziness about my workflow, which is still getting tweaked.

I use a whiteboard in my office to keep track of quarterly deadlines, events, travel, etc. I also keep short lists of active projects there - data services projects, team projects, research and writing, consultations, and service commitments. I photograph it every couple of weeks as things get added so I can refer it to for weekly reviews and when I'm away from my office. It helps me track progress towards bigger goals so I don't get lost in the weeds, or end up going down a rabbit hole that sabotages other projects.

Microsoft Exchange server/Outlook are the standard email and calendaring system we use. I used to rely on Outlook far more (especially in implementing GTD and task management), but since there are a ton of mobile apps that do task management much better, I've transitioned away from Outlook for that function.  

In addition to the scoping I do for new projects, I try to keep a fairly attentive eye to what's currently on my plate. These are spread out across too many areas and groups right now, but my goal for this year is to pare down and focus on fewer, deeper projects.

Daily/weekly/monthly review

The weekly review takes place on Sunday evenings or Monday mornings, depending on weekend activities and the load for the week. I scan through all of my info buckets: flagged email, Workflowy (using timeline tags: #today, #thisWeek, #nextWeek, #[currentmonth]), Evernote folders. I review the quarterly timeline I keep on a whiteboard in my office, that photograph periodically. My weekly review is less thorough than it used to be, but it's largely because I am no longer managing projects for other investigators and there simply aren't as many projects to juggle. Email is also less overwhelming because I've gotten in the habit of flagging those that need follow-up and processing the easy ones right away. I am currently spending too much time on email and am trying to check it three times a day, rather than when I hit a rough spot in something and need a mental break. This invariably leads to distraction and makes my focused time less productive. 

Recently, managing my attention and setting aside uninterrupted time to write, read, and develop instructional materials has been challenging. Tips and more thoughts on that next month plus some thoughts on managing content.