Four weeks ago a major project came through the marketing department like a tsunami. The rapid transition from projects that already were underway to something of this magnitude caused me to think about managing projects and tasks in a way that allows for quick redirection.
I strongly believe that as a project owner/manager, it’s important to take ownership seriously; to be invested, set personal goals and push it forward. I’ve also learned (the hard way!) that it’s important to keep a loose grip on that ownership. Every day there’s the possibility of something arising that is strategically or corporately more important than what I’m currently doing.
I’ve found that adjusting focus works best for me if I take a few minutes to set aside my current work and make sure I have something written down that shows where I’m at with each project and tasks currently on my radar. Because the very nature of my job means that I regularly get completely redirected, I’ve been working on a personal organization system that helps me do this quickly.
Getting Stuff Done
I like to follow the Getting Things Done (GTD) model of writing down all tasks in a way that is guaranteed to remind me to do them (I currently use Wunderlist). Otherwise tasks constantly bounce around in my mind saying, “Do me. Do me.” Or I’ll run into that moment when the task that I couldn’t get out of my mind disappears right when I’m trying to remember it. I started using GTD 3 years ago. It helped me increase my capacity significantly. I continue to use GTD because I’ve found that it helps me:
- Switch projects quickly without losing all of the momentum on the one I’m temporarily putting aside.
- Switch mental gears so I can pour my focus onto the current assignment
I do weekly recaps that are meaningful to me. My supervisor has asked for a weekly report. I could do it just because it’s required, but I see it as an opportunity to take a few minutes to get out of the details and look at where I’m at, where I want to go next week and what could get in the way.
1) I typically ask myself:
- Are there projects that are almost finished that I can wrap up with a little extra effort next week? If so, I add those tasks to my list for next week and identify a time when I’m hoping to work on it.
- Are the right projects in my do now/do later buckets? If not I switch them.
2) I go through and give a quick written (since I process best in writing) update on EVERYTHING I’m working on grouped by projects that are “on fire” “do now” or “do later”. I invest more time on the “on fire” and “do now” items. I use this time (normally 15-20 minutes) to set goals for myself for next week. I rarely reach all of my goals, but achieving them isn’t the point. The point is to provide me with direction/focus for what I should do if no other emergencies land in my lap. And by writing them down, if an emergency comes my way I can refer back to this update when I’m ready to move forward.
3) I highlight key items. I do this is because I send my weekly report to my boss with an even longer list of open discussion items and follow-up items for him. Highlighting draws attention to the stuff we really need to cover. I typically highlight things where I:
- Need his ok to proceed
- Need something from him to move forward
- Need his help to get around a road block
- Want him to be aware of
By preparing ahead of time, I can go over a 4-page list of updates in a 30-45 minute meeting.
After the water receded
After 3 weeks of intense and long hours, it’s taking a while to get back up to speed. My first day “back to normal” I couldn’t figure out where to pick back up. Then I realized that I could look at my weekly recap from three weeks before and start there. It was so useful! It didn’t solve the exhaustion but it helped make this week more productive that it would have been otherwise.