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Task Management Workflows

Hype flow versus a defined plan

I've found two ways to work on my tasks: following a plan and following the hype flow.

The first one helps you finish what you started, and directs your efforts towards big goals. The side effect is that it achieves it by setting constrains on what to do, so you sometimes end up in the position of doing tasks that you don't want to at the moment, and suppressing yourself not to do the ones that you want.

The second one takes advantage of letting you work on wherever you want at the moment, which boosts your creativity and productivity. This way imposes less constrains on you and is more pleasant because surfing the hype is awesome. The side effect is that if you have many interests, you can move forward very quickly on many directions leaving a lot of projects half done, instead of pushing in the direction of your big goals.

The art here is to combine both at need, if you have a good plan, you may be able to start surfing the hype, and when the time constrains start to press you, switch to a stricter plan to be able to deliver value in time. This makes more sense in work environments, at personal level I usually just surf the hype unless I have a clear objective with a due date to reach.

Planning workflows

Task management can be done at different levels. All of them help you in different ways to reduce the mental load, each also gives you extra benefits that can't be gained by the others. Going from lowest to highest abstraction level we have:

  • Task plan.
  • Pomodoro.
  • Day plan.
  • Week plan.
  • Fortnight plan.
  • Month plan.
  • Trimester plan.
  • Year plan.

If you're starting your task management career, start with the first level. Once you're comfortable, move one step up until you reach the sweet spot between time invested in management and the profit it returns.

Task plan

The task plan defines the steps required to finish a task. It's your most basic roadmap to address a task, and a good starting point if you feel overwhelmed when faced with an assignment.

When done well, you'll better understand what you need to do, it will prevent you from wasting time at dead ends as you'll think before acting, and you'll develop the invaluable skill of breaking big problems into smaller ones.

To define a task plan, follow the next steps:

  • Decide what do you want to achieve when the task is finished.
  • Analyze the possible ways to arrive to that goal. Try to assess different solutions before choosing one.
  • Once you have it, split it into steps small enough to be comfortable following them without further analysis.

Some people define the task plan whenever they add the task to their task manager. Others prefer to save some time each month to refine the plans of the tasks to be done the next one.

The plan is an alive document that changes each Pomodoro cycle and that you'll need to check often. It has to be accessible and it should be easy for you to edit. If you don't know where to start, use the simplest task manager.

Try not to overplan though, if at the middle of a task you realize that the rest of the steps don't make sense, all the time invested in their definition will be lost. That's why it's a good idea to have a great detail for the first steps and gradually move to rougher definitions on later ones.

Pomodoro

Pomodoro is a technique used to ensure that for short periods of time, you invest all your mental resources in doing the work needed to finish a task. It's your main unit of work and a good starting point if you have concentration issues.

When done well, you'll start moving faster on your tasks, because uninterrupted work is the most efficient. You'll also begin to know if you're drifting from your day's plan, and will have space to adapt it or the task plan to time constrains or unexpected events.

If you don't yet have a task plan or day plan, don't worry! Ignore the steps that involve them until you do.

The next steps define a Pomodoro cycle:

  • Select the cycle time span. Either 20 minutes or until the next interruption, whichever is shortest.
  • Decide what are you going to do.
  • Analyze yourself to see if you're state of mind is ready to only do that for the chosen time span. If it's not, maybe you need to take a "Pomodoro break", take 20 minutes off doing something that replenish your willpower or the personal attribute that is preventing you to be able to work.
  • Start the timer.
  • Work uninterruptedly on what you've decided until the timer goes off.
  • Update your task and day plans:
    • Tick off the done task steps.
    • Refine the task steps that can be addressed in the next cycle.
    • Check if you can still meet the day's plan.
  • Check the interruption channels that need to be checked each 20 minutes.

At the fourth Pomodoro cycle, you'll have finished a Pomodoro iteration. At the end of the iteration:

  • Check if you're going to meet the day plan, if you're not, change change it or the task plan to make the time constrain.
  • Get a small rest, you've earned it! Get off the chair, stretch or give a small walk. What's important is that you take your mind off the task at hand and let your body rest. Remember, this is a marathon, you need to take care of yourself.
  • Start a new Pomodoro iteration.

If you're super focused at the end of a Pomodoro cycle, you can skip the task plan update until the end of the iteration.

Day plan

This plan defines at day level which tasks are you going to work on and schedules when are you going to address them. It's the most basic roadmap to address a group of tasks. The goal is to survive the day. It's a good starting point if you forget to do tasks that need to be done in the day or if you miss appointments.

It's also the next step of advance awareness, if you have a day plan, on each Pomodoro iteration you'll get the feeling whether you're going to finish what you proposed yourself.

You can make your plan at the start of the day, start by getting an idea of:

  • What do you need to do by checking:
    • The last day's plan.
    • Calendar events.
    • The week's plan if you have it, or the prioritized list of tasks to do.
  • How much uninterrupted time you have between calendar events.
  • Your state of mind.

Then create the day schedule:

  • Add the calendar events.
  • Add the interruption events.
  • Setup an alert for the closest calendar event.

And the day tasks plan:

  • Decide the tasks to be worked on and think when you want to do them.

To follow it throughout the day and when it's coming to an end:

  • Update your week or/and task plans to meet the time constrains.
  • Optionally sketch the next day's plan.

When doing the plan keep in mind to minimize the number of tasks and calendar events so as not to get overwhelmed, and not to schedule a new task before you finish what you've already started. It's better to eventually fall short on tasks, than never reaching your goal.

Week plan

The plan defines at week level which tasks are you going to work on and schedules when are you going to address them. It's the next roadmap level to address a group of tasks. The goal changes from surviving the day to start planning your life. It's a good starting point if you are comfortable working with the pomodoro, task and day plans, and want to start deciding where you're heading to.

It's also the next step of advance awareness, if you have a week plan, each day you'll get the feeling whether you're going to finish what you proposed yourself.

You can make your plan at the start of the week, similar to the day plan, start by getting an idea of:

  • What do you need to do by:
    • Closing the last week's plan.
    • Checking upcoming calendar events.
    • The month's plan if you have it, or the prioritized list of tasks to do, identifying the task dependencies that may block the task development.
  • How much uninterrupted time you have between calendar events.
  • Your state of mind.

To close the last week's plan:

  • Mark the plan items as done
  • Get an idea of what percent of objectives you actually met. With the mindset of seeing how much you can commit on the next one, not to think how bad you performed, you did the best you could, and nothing else could be done.
  • Clean the active tasks. Throughout the week, there will be tasks that you left unfinished. For each of them:

    • Decide if the task still makes sense and if it's actionable
    • Check if you can merge it with other tasks
    • Check if it belongs to an active objective
    • Remove the rest.

Then create the week schedule:

  • Arrange or move calendar events to maximize the uninterrupted periods, then add them to the plan.
  • Add the interruption events.
  • Decide the tasks to be worked on and roughly assign them to the week days.

Follow it throughout the week, and when it's coming to an end:

  • Update your month or/and task plans to meet the time constrains.
  • Update the people that may depend on you of possible plan drifts.

Fortnight, month, trimester plan

From the week plan you can increasingly think your roadmap, start with a fortnight plan, when you're comfortable go up to month and trimester plans. The idea is similar to the week plan but with less definition. You deal with bigger tasks that help shape your life in the long run.

The process of planning and reviewing each of these should be as short as possible, otherwise you'll soon get tired of it. For example, for the month plan you can:

  • Do the week plan review: Where you transfer the non planned tasks to the month plan.
  • Do the fortnight plan review
  • Do the month plan review:
    • Check the objectives you had and how many you meet, adding notes on your progress.
    • Analyze what to do with the new objectives, adding them to the trimester plan
    • Transfer the non planned elements to the semester plan.
  • Do the month's planning:
    • Review the semester plan if you have it.
    • Decide which big tasks you want to work on
  • Do the fortnight plan
  • Do the week plan

References


Last update: 2022-07-08