I said in Part 2 that you have to get organized. This rule is a critical part of being a successful professional in the world. While planning can be sent askew quickly, especially in the world of endless meetings, you can organize your time.
There are many tools to use to accomplish this and a nearly endless number of ways to do it. I am going to explain my current process, as well as some software I use.
I am on version three of my organizational system. Before I cover that, I would like to touch on the first two versions briefly and why I moved away from them.
Early in my professional career, I started using Things, which is a Mac/iOS-specific tool to manage your todo’s. It worked well at the time when I was working as a developer, being handed work by other people, and just needed to manage my day. The number of projects I had to control was minimal, and I had very few meetings to concern myself with. This system served me well in getting my time in for the day and managing what I could get done.
Where version one broke down was when I moved to Nucleus Commerce and took on the role of Technical Consultant and Sales Engineer. Suddenly, I had a dozen meetings in a week to attend both internal and with potential clients, I had to sift through support tickets, provide estimates, update client tickets, and keep commitments. The Things app did not allow me to do all of those things, or at least not in a way I wanted to.
Enter version two of my process. I transitioned to using Trello and started following the Kanban system as established in Japan. This system allowed me to manage not just a day but an entire week by creating columns for each day of the week, while I was doing this, I trained the team on using the Kanban process. This system worked pretty well, but I still felt like my day would get derailed by unexpected items (one of the things I noticed about John Sonmez’s method). I could mark each item that came in with an estimate of how long the issue would take and quickly figure out what would or would not get done in a day.
I used version two of this system until early 2020. During the early part of the year, I became sick as many have this year, after the first few weeks when it started to subside I needed a new system to fill in the gaps of version two. I identified where my Trello system broke down.
- Unexpected or Unplanned things could derail an entire day.
- I was not productive as the tools did not allow me to quickly see what I had left or plan when new things coming in would get done.
- I missed the “inbox” system where everything had a home, and I would spend the first part of the day slotting where things belonged in my life (think projects).
- I did not have a way to track issues outside my workday without another board in Trello. So following Blog post ideas meant another application, tracking Jira tickets was another application, tracking reading lists was another application.
Enter version three, the current version of time management. I use Todoist today, and I sort everything by labels and projects.
The Inbox is where everything comes in, from email, from quick entry, from my chrome extension. Today is a list of everything marked as starting today (remember I track start time, not due date). Upcoming allows me to view what I have ahead of me. This Week is a project. It is what I need to get done during the week I am on. This method replaced my daily columns in Trello, I found by just assigning a start day/time in the This Week project took care of which day it was on.
Unplanned is an important project. It is where anything I did not initially plan on doing goes as long as it is not also Urgent. Unplanned & Urgent, this is a unique project; this is where anything goes that comes up during a day, which needs to be done immediately, on the same day I am on, or with a short timeline that I did not plan on doing when the day started. It is early in the morning, so this is empty, give it time.
Calendar Items these are all of my meetings from my calendar that I have coming up. This project is from my Google calendar, and this will add an item to Today when these things come up, this allows me to plan for scheduled meetings ahead of time. Future is anything I have that comes in; I will do at a later time than This Week; some of them have start dates, many do not. Every Sunday, I will go through This Week and see what is left that did not get done, and pull items in from Future that need to get done in the upcoming week.
Labels are a different beast in Todoist. Labels are used to sort items into small categories. So I use a label for every project at Weidenhammer, one for reading, one for writing, code review, finance. I even have one for my daughter, where I can add a label to keep track of commitments I make to her (like help her get her own house in Animal Crossing, which I did yesterday). I use labels very generously, and they create a way for me to reference later items based on how I organize things.
Let’s look at a typical day.
I have replaced any private data like client names with a description of what I am doing. So the image displays a pretty good view of a day in the life. What is not shown on the Todoist picture is that I have already marked off writing this blog post. As I started it, if I do not finish the blog post today, I will add a new item for completing it. I have a full day of eight hours billable work I will do at Weidenhammer today plus a myriad of other commitments.
Version three of my system has allowed me to convert written documents, Trello boards, calendars, Evernote entries, and more into one single fluid system. Everyone has a different way of getting their items done in a day, whatever method you choose to use, I support it as long as it is organized, makes you more productive and allows you the benefits of proper time management.
I have had several requests to put out a video on how I set this up, as well as how I do my morning SCRUM, and I will consider doing so in the future after I finish writing this series out.
I combine version three with the Pomodoro technique I have brought up in the past. I do everything in twenty-five-minute blocks. Some things like “travel” just take as long as they take. But, anytime I am doing billable work, writing on a blog such as this one, or working on an application, I will run a Pomodoro timer. Today so far, I have five Pomodoro’s done; that is a pretty good amount, and I am off to an excellent start to the day.
In part four of this series, I will cover how I set and keep commitments with others in my life—both professional and personal. You can use a system like this to help keep commitments; How to set aside time to reflect on your obligations of time to see if you are overcommitted.