I like being productive, which is to say that I like to get a lot of things done. But choosing and managing work can be difficult; I find it easy to bite off more than I can chew. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big to-do list fan! I live and die by Things and iA Writer.
But my to-do lists can be frustrating. I have well-defined tasks mixed in with huge, vague tasks. “Prep for user interviews” sits above “Revisit Tamar’s comment on that one Trello card…” To the observer, they sound equally weighted. They’re not.
Sometimes I break large tasks into a collection of smaller ones or even spin up a to-do list for the task. “Prep for user interviews” could be:
- Plan the interview goal
- Write a script
- Write the invite email
- Pull a list of emails for users within the cohort that I’d like to interview
- Find some note-takers
- Prep the note-taking documentation
- Set up Calendly
- Schedule the meetings
Sure, I have more granularity…but I also have more tasks. Even though I’ve completed this exact to-do list countless times, it feels overwhelming. Where should I begin? How do I fit in all the other little things that bubble up over the course of the workday? What if one task takes a lot longer than I expected? Do I need help accomplishing any of these tasks?
I’m trying a new method.
I’m borrowing a task management method from one of the guys behind Sprint. He’s a self-described “time dork” who wrote the book on time management. Here’s what it looks like, in some mildly artsy photos.
Find a long sticky note.
Block it off into thirds.
Turn the middle section into three blocks.
Turn the last section into two blocks.
Fill it with tasks.
Identify your one big goal for the day. Write it in the first block. Identify three mid-sized tasks for the day. Write those in the middle section. In the last section, put two of your lowest-effort tasks.
Assign each task a rough time estimate.
Note that I left time open for surprise tasks or meetings. It helps to keep me from getting distracted or misdirected when something pops up. It also narrows my focus.
And there it is. My goal for the day.
Okay, yeah…it’s still a to-do list. But it’s a list that puts the focus on completing one big goal each day. I’ve found that the size of the large top box helps me rank the thing that is weighing on me the most.
I’ve been doing this for a few months, and I’m loving it. I’m feeling more focused and productive. If you’ve felt a similar frustration, I’d love for you to join me in this little experiment! Either way, I’ll let you know how it goes in a later post.
Here’s to more productive days!
Originally published internally at Trello.
Chris Davis is a designer who’s actively trying to stick with some of the things that he’s curious about. The Obvious Unrest is a place for him to talk about his findings. When he’s not trying new stuff, he’s sleeping or designing at Trello.