From Developer to Manager Difficulties: Task & Time Management

One of the difficulties I found when switching from developer’s to management role was certainly task as well as time management. As developer you get used to pretty quickly to (relatively) wide blocks of time which you have for coding. Usually everybody understand that developers need focus and so that teams use different techniques how to provide that: no-meeting zones, do-not-disturb-when-headphones rules and similar tools. When I was working in the product team I found those quite efficient and usually found myself having at least few hours every day for focusing and coding.

When I switched to management role it got much more complicated. Management tasks are by nature much smaller and rather you have much more of different activities for the whole day rather than sit for 3–4 hours trying to debug that difficult bug you found yesterday. Instead you have two One on One meetings for 30 minutes each, one sprint review for 45 minutes, one hour call about support model for one of the products, 3x quick sync about who knows what not to mention quick discussions which are not even necessary to schedule. All together my common day is split into slots with size ranging from 15 to 60 minutes. It was really hard for me get focused on anything during those slots and move actually anything forward. Sometimes I was not even sure where to start. So I just went through my emails to fill the gap until the next meeting.

I need a ToDo list

I realised I need a todo list so I know what to do and quickly get into what I was thinking about before. I didn’t want to install anything and since I have all my devices from Apple Notes were a quick choice. This is how my Notes To Do List looked like:

Simple task list with what I want to do so anytime I have some spare time I can check it and maybe finish something from the list. Everything was great until the list grew into probably few hundreds of rows and I couldn’t possibly work on anything important but rather a thing was the newest — at the bottom. This was inefficient and also unreliable. It took me a while to realise that this is not a good way to track anything more complex than a shopping list.

I need to order things based on priorities and see with which items I’ve already started and which are still in todo

That sound’s familiar…YES, kanban board. I realised that’s might be the next step. But what exactly do I need?

  • Mobile access for being able to log things on spot — on the meeting, in the bed, anywhere
  • Ordering of the items
  • Multiple columns

Jira doesn’t have very good mobile access so Trello looks like a good option. Trello has a great features perfectly fitting my needs such as super easy and user friendly editing, nice mobile app, checklists, comments, tags and so on. This is how my current setup looks like

I have five columns:

  • To Do — Obvious backlog of things I want/need to do
  • On Hold — Something I thought might be a good idea or needed to be done but not anymore. Something which I want to come back later and either continue or discard it. There is a risk that this column will grow in size but it’s fine for now.
  • Blocked — Something which I can’t solve. For example waiting for a response from someone else, decision etc.
  • Doing — Also obvious, what’s on my plate right now
  • Done — What else to say :)

Top priority items are on top. Anytime I have an idea, request or task I log it in the backlog. When I have time and brain capacity I do a quick mental refinement. I split the item into a tasks — checklist of things which needs to be done. I found this exercise extremely helpful because I can use any amount of time I have whether it’s a half an hour or three minutes, check my backlog and see what “needs to be refined”. I pick the item and start thinking what needs to be done. This even helps me to form my thoughts and focus on the problem. So I create checklist. Anytime I finish something I either check the item in the checklist or move the whole card when it’s done. Checklists also help me to start where I finished really quickly. I regularly open items on top of In Progress to see which tasks need to happen, which of them I’ve already done and what I can do now. One more bonus to that is that our weekly standups with other managers are easier than ever. I just go through the In Progress column and easily can say what are my plans.

Next improvement I am planning to do is to connect my Trello To Do list with some tracking/dashboard app — maybe http://rotorapp.com to see how long my tasks sit in To Do or In Progress. I want to try to have my own personal SLAs for managing tasks.

In summary Trello helped me with

  • logging ideas and tasks I want to work on
  • prioritising them
  • refining them and defining what exactly need to be done
  • continuing where I ended up before
  • reporting of what I want to focus on in upcoming time