I am often disappointed by my daily organisation: I discard many of my projects, and most of them do not live to my expectations. One thing that especially bugs me is to fail making progress on multiple projects at the same time. I am diving into one particular project and, when I emerge two weeks later, every other things have gone bad. This is especially true for development tasks, where I get bogged down, consistently. Here is the strategy that evetually works for me.
I combine a Kanban board with reactive planning! I picked ideas from various sources including David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) approach [Allen 2001] and Lean approaches, especially Kanban boards
One aspect of GTD I like is reactive planning: only decide on the single next action that will best contribute to your objectives, and only plan again once you are done with this action. Reactive planning, which is the name given by AI to this algorithm, works just fine for me: It forces me to review my objectives and to adjust my plans with respect to changes, be it new priorities, new objectives or just new ideas. It also reduces the number of tasks I put on my todo list. My workflow goes as follows:
- Pick up the most important and urgent task (see below);
- Carry out this action;
- Decide on what action could best move me closer to the objectives of the related project;
- Place this new task on the Kanban board;
- Rinse and repeat.
My Kanban Board
Despite reactive planning, my todo lists always get so long that I struggle to spot the urgent and the important. To visualise work instead of reading these long lists from top to bottom, I use a [Kanban] board. Post-it notes represent tasks, and the column where they stand represents their status, namely todo’, ‘on-going’ or ‘done’. As I process tasks, I move the Post-it notes from left to right, as shown on Figure 1 below.
To identify quickly the important and urgent tasks, I organise the “to do” column as an Eisenhower matrix. This matrix position tasks according to both their urgency and their importance. It helps me quickly spot the important and urgent, which I must process as soon as possible. These appear obviously in the top-right corner.
Another habit I developed is to create a diary for each project I engage in. Such diaries includes a project summary and a diary per se. The summary is just a brief statement of the what would be a successful outcome, possibly completed by a timeline. The diary simply collect the ideas and thoughts I have when working on the related tasks.
When I complete a task, I open the project diary and quickly check the relevance of both the objectives and timeline, and adjust them as necessary. Then I review the diary and decide on the next action that will get me closer to my objectives.
Here lies how I managed to get more effective and avoid procrastination—at least some. As I write, I realise that the Kanban board itself is probably overkill: the Eisenhower matrix is really the tool that helps me quickly decide on which task to engage next. But without reactive planning, the board get filled with obsolete or irrelevant tasks. I will let you know if I changing my board works as well.
[Allen 2001] David Allen, “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”. 267 pages, Penguin, 2001.
[Benson & Barry, 2011] Jim Benson, Tonianne DeMaria Barry, “Personal Kanban: Mapping Work, Navigating Life”, 194 pages, Modus Cooperandi Press, 2011.