Organize. A proposal to control our life

“A “Life Planner” notebook on a wooden surface with a keyboard and a plant in the upper corners” by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

After having read about many other developers and other persons of interest around the web doing so much, I’ve found that I lack one thing. An organization system. This is important because it’s a representation of how I work, how I plan my own future and it helps me to understand my needs, limitations, and qualities. As such, no matter what I envision myself to be, I should have some baseline rules.

Well, I consider them more as stepping stones to reach an end and not the end itself. Sometimes I will feel like I’m the king of the world and maybe I’ll do a work marathon, other times I just need some peace and quiet. But, in the end, an organization system should do what’s it’s supposed to do. Keep my life under control. With no more delays here is how I envision myself in the near future.

Note: I’ve read some techniques like the GTD (Get things done) and many other articles so my proposition is my own, as a mixture of what I find to work best for me, and, as my life, it’s a work in progress XD

Units of work

To my mind, there are the following units of work:

  • Bucket list
  • Milestones
  • Projects
  • Tasks

The bucket list encompasses all the things (be it simple tasks to enormous projects) that I wish to do sometime in my life, but that I don’t have a proper date for them. It might be a place to visit, courses to take, long-term objectives like being the number one programmer on stack overflow. If I haven’t started it, consider it important, and want to do it, then it goes to the bucket list.
A Milestone should be medium to long-term objectives. They must be calendarized, measurable, reachable and should be represented by at least one project. In my case, I can’t say I want to be a data scientist without a plan. I need to know what it means to be one, what it takes and just do it. The way to reach the milestone might change but, if it’s being constantly delayed, something is wrong and I need to assess it.
The Projects are a set of tasks that have a start date and end date and can go from repairing the car to doing an online course. While the Milestone could be something like being able to cook, the projects that are beneath it would be more like “learn to cook pancakes” or, just to “learn to make dinner for friends”. Some projects might be more complex than others but they should only vary by the number of tasks and their duration.

Tip: Divide as much as possible. I’ve found that, in this times of instant gratification, the more checks we are able to do, the more satisfied we become

At this point, I think it’s important to note that some projects can exist without having any milestone. I think most things we do should have a purpose so that we don’t drift away without an objective but it’s also true that somethings happen and, as much as we like to do it, they aren’t a part of our milestones. An example would be to train our dog. If you want to take him to competitions, you could set a milestone. But, if you just want it to behave properly, you might consider that it isn’t important enough to be on your bucket list.

Finally, we have Tasks. These are the base unit of work, they should always fit inside a project and it’s allocated time. In the examples above, one was to learn to make dinner for friends. In this case, I would try to identify the minimum number of recipes I would need to learn and would many variables like which friends I’d invite home, and for each recipe, I’d create a task. Each task would be completed as I learned how to cook the recipe and would give the project as concluded when I had cooked and learned all the recipes.
I can be as thorough as I’d like going to the point of creating a task to serve my friends with each recipe. But sometimes it’s just overkill. Here comes our good sense.

Note: I don’t know where I’ve read it but if a task takes less than two minutes and I ain’t doing anything that can’t be stopped, you should just do it. At the end of the day, you get more things done than excuses.
Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

Moments to organize myself

Many things can happen in life that will make us reconsider our priorities and objectives but, most of the time we fall into some kind of routine. Right now I’m trying to follow this combination:

  • At the end of every year
  • When creating a milestone
  • When creating a project
  • When creating a task
  • At the end of every day
  • At the end of each week

I think that we are more likely to do an evaluation at the end of each year of our bucket list or milestones. It’s the season of new goals. In this way, I like to go with the flow and review my life at this point. What have I done correctly? What do I need to improve? It’s important to be objective and, although we have a tendency to want to make big changes, to be realistic. It’s better to set a goal big enough to make us grow and improve even more in the following year. 
After this, the projects and milestones can appear anytime. It’s important to stop and analyze if it’s worth of our time and to set a time to achieve them. We can only do so much.
Finally, at the end every day we should analyze what we’ve done and organized the next day. At the end of each week, we should do a high overview what our progress.

Note: Some days we can let this slip but I find that for every rule there must be an exception (emphasis on exception). We can organize the day sooner or even take a day off (that’s what vacation are for).
Let’s find time to organize ourselves, photo by Eugenio Mazzone on Unsplash

Tools to organize myself

This part is one of those I’m constantly changing because I haven’t found a perfect way to do it. The tools should suit the user and not the other way around. There are great tools like Asana or Todoist but I’ve mostly focused on this:

The excel is a powerful tool which I don’t see becoming obsolete in the next years, is a good tool to list the bucket list, my milestones, and projects. As each project can have multiple tasks and each one can have multiple statuses, I’ve had the need for another tool.

The trello has come to be helpful for my projects, organizing my tasks through a Kanban board. I mostly divide the tasks into Backlog, To Do and Done. In other cases, where I need a model more similar to the sprints of the Agile methodology, I add two columns, To Do in the current sprint, and Review.

Kanban Board, by Leankit

This might be enough but, for daily work, I’ve found that having a list of all tasks from multiple projects was more useful. At the end of each day, when evaluating my progress and what I’m gonna do on the next one, I like to take the tasks I want to do and put them in one simple TODO list. In this way, I don’t have to go through all my projects to look for the tasks I wanted to do that day. Right now, I move the tasks to a separate board on trello.

Finally, there’s Google Keep. I use it as a simple note-taking tool. If it starts to become complex I just move it to google docs (it has a migration option built in). But most of the time, to make quick notes it’s enough.


Future Works

In the end, this is a lifetime work. I know I have a lot to improve and that was one of the reason I wrote this post. If you have suggestion I’d love to hear them. If you found something useful even better! But there are many people more organized than me with even better tips and suggestions (like this article from lifehack).

To all organized freaks out there