Roadmap

I’m working one for the evolution of our intranet/digital workplace. I need to think about all the activities people do online, all the tools that fulfil those needs and what development is being thought of for the tools. For added fun, quite a lot of these tools aren’t strictly speaking my responsibility.

Roadmap sounds a bit buzzword-y, but a roadmap is just a high-level plan that sets out the major steps on the way to a strategic goal. It might cover more than one project and indicate dependencies, it should show phases and expected release dates. A technology roadmap will lean towards process steps, and it can be used to communicate across project teams for all steps in the all projects.

My need is a little different, I want to communicate with a wider audience, for stakeholders and end users who are outside the project teams. I’m trying to bring clarity to a diverse group who haven’t got time to read a lot of detail, but need something more specific than a beautiful  vision. It should convey what they can expect to see and when – and give some idea of where they can give input. A roadmap has the right level of detail, and if I can make it visually appealing people will understand what to expect almost at a glance. For a project like putting a new publication environment in place for digital channels it will look something like this.

I used to joke about how my answer to any work question could be given with boxes and arrows. It’s time to bring out those boxes and arrows in a big way.

Image via pixabay 

The Tyranny of To Do Lists

To Do List

Does your To-Do list look like and endless scroll? Is it a table of incompleteness that makes you feel guilty?

There are some better ways to work. There are tools out there. But first: What if you stopped using a To Do list?

They Don’t Work

Or at least, they’re less use than you think, research quoted in the “Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List” by Bailey Adams says that.

  • 41% of to-do items were never completed.
  • 50% of completed to-do items are done within a day.
  • 18% of completed to-do items are done within an hour.
  • 10% of completed to-do items are done within a minute.
  • 15% of items added as to-do items were already completed.

So we’re not using them as a list of things to do, but as a way to make ourselves feel better about things we’ve already done.

A to-do list doesn’t rank your tasks. All tasks appear equally important, and there’s no distinction between what will take you the most time. They don’t help you structure your work.

They can also be a creativity killer – when we feel under pressure to complete a list of tasks we focus on that at the expense of doing creative work. We can also focus on the small stuff and lose track of the important stuff.

Caveat: Sometimes They Do Work

You don’t want to forget something you’re responsible for, and that’s the rationale for creating to do lists. But you can do it in a smart way.

In my current job I have a responsibility for managing content on an intranet site, the requests can arrive at any time, but usually there isn’t a precise publication deadline. I have a standing appointment in my agenda on a Friday to do this work, when a request comes in I add it to that appointment, usually just by adding the email request to the appointment. Effectively I’m constantly building my Friday to do list.

But here’s why it works:

  1. I know exactly what I need to do during that Friday appointment
  2. I don’t have to think about those tasks for the other days of the week
  3. The appointment is 2 hours, if I don’t need the two hours I get the time back, but I never spend more time on the to do list than I have scheduled.

Other methods aim to make you focus on the strategic goals, the important stuff. Or to limit the number of things on your to do list (for a start, don’t add tasks that you’ve already completed).

Methods and Tools

There are a slew of methods and tools out there to help people be more productive, try them, pick one that works for you.

Pomodoro Technique

Named after a tomato, in this technique you break your tasks into 25 minute periods, and take a five minute break at the end of each.

I find 25 minutes annoyingly short, but I do use the “plan task + break” concept, with the niceness of the break in proportion to the focus needed for the task.

Bullet Journal

A paper-based system that combines a to do list, a planner, and a diary. You use symbols to indicate what different items are, and you can add more description to any item, develop a habit tracker, colour-code your entries and instagram the whole thing. My inner stationery queen loves the idea, but being realistic I don’t have time to document in this detail or to decorate my to-do list at work.

ToDoist

Todoist is an elegant task list online and on app. I like this tool, particularly because it can be used across devices and across projects. I’ve only used the private version, although I included work tasks on the list, but there is a business version.

Microsoft Planner

If you work for a company that uses Microsoft then this is probably available. It lets you create tasks, add details, and assign them to other people, there are some options to sort and prioritise, but it doesn’t act as a true project management tool. As a colleague said “where’s my Gantt chart?”

Paper and pencil

My favourite tool, and I keep coming back to paper and pencil, it works for me. I write down things I need to do per week, and group them by project, plus a category for admin and one for personal tasks. I draw a box next to each task, and I check them off when done. If I haven’t done them I draw an arrow next to them as in “send to next week”. I tick off most things each week but I just move stuff if I need to; it’s a tool not a rule.

My half-baked theory is that “to do” lists work for things we need to remember to do, but destroy creative thinking, after years of trying all sorts of options I’ve come back to pencil and paper. I keep a list on paper for the week with the tasks grouped by “project”, “admin” and “personal”. I put down things I shouldn’t forget, tasks and follow ups I need to pick up adding a check box and a two letter code for the day it needs to be done. Creative tasks don’t get listed unless I need to send some output, instead I block a chunk of time on my calendar “PPT for team meeting” for example, giving me freedom to think in that time.

 

Image: Checklist via pixabay  |  CC0

 

The Productivity Map vs the Procrastination Trap

When you have a “real job” your productivity is driven largely by external demands, appointments and deadlines. When you start working for yourself it’s entirely up to you to drive your own productivity; on one hand it’s great to be free of those external demands, on the other it’s harder to maintain momentum without them. So I’ve been reading up on productivity, the consensus is that there are three elements to high productivity.

The Productivity Map

1 Clear Goals and Priorities

The first step is knowing the big picture of what you’re trying to achieve, defining what are the important steps you need to take to reach that. With your priorities defined you can move to planning.

I have a month by month set of goals, which can be broken down into activities to be completed each week, and from that I can build a daily plan.

Knowing your priorities will also help you say “no” to all those requests that can derail your good plans, here’s how Kristin Muhlner, CEO of NewBrand Analytics thinks about saying no to things at work.

This is about sustaining focus on results over the longer term, not about boxing yourself into a single path. If it turns out that priorities need to change, then change them. But make the decision and then change, don’t just drift onto a new path.

2 Plan

Set out a plan for your month, week or day. Find a system that works for you and stick to it.

There are all sorts of techniques out there, from productivity planners to the Pomodoro technique, to Get Things Done or the Seinfeld method.

Which method you use will depend on your personality and your business needs. Back when I had a company job the Get Things Done method worked because there were enough external deadlines to drive me forward.

If you need an easy way to time activities Google spreadsheets and calendar offer a free add-in that will help, I made a timesheet video guide on how to set that up.

I now use an adaptation of the productivity planner and I plan a week’s overview and then plan priority tasks per day in 30 minute chunks. I do a weekly review and plan session on a Friday morning which lets me relax over the weekend with the feeling that everything is under control (ha!).

3 Monitor Progress Honestly

Productivity is about what gets done, not just following a timetable so you need to monitor your output. Be honest with yourself, and remember that part of this is to refine your planning process. Look at what got done as well as what didn’t. Acknowledge any disruptions that put you off your game.

I check at the end of each day what I got done, and make adjustments for the following day. On Fridays I review the week and give myself an arbitrary “productivity score”.

I have a wide optimistic streak which has a big upside, but the downside is I tend to somehow thing I can do five 3 hour tasks in a day so right now part of my monitoring is around the time taken to complete tasks so that I can get better on these estimates. I am timing the writing of this post, for example, it’s not strictly necessary but in creating estimates for a client accurate time estimates are important so it’s a good skill to learn.

The Procrastination Trap

Ellen DeGeneres gives a perfect example of what procrastination looks like, I’m sure  you’ll recognise it.

If you watched it you may be one of life’s natural procrastinators, welcome to the club. There are lots of reasons we procrastinate, sometimes we talk ourselves out of the hard tasks, sometimes we just get distracted – like a cat seeing a lazer light.

Setting goals and monitoring them honestly will help you build productive habits that will edge out the procrastination habits. But there are a couple of things to do in addition to this.

1 Remove distractions

Close email and social media sites, and remove notifications. There’s nothing more likely to distract you than that little flag saying “read me, you know you want to”. Checking email/status updates is a known productivity killer.There are lots of tools to help you focus when working online.
I’ve taken the simple step of putting all my work stuff into one browser (Chrome), and all my personal stuff into another (Firefox). Of course I can still fall down an internet rabbit hole, but it is a psychological help.

2 Listen to music/Don’t listen to music

Whichever helps you focus, I know lots of colleagues who find listening to music lets them focus. Sometimes it can also be a welcome way to block out office noise in open plan offices.I prefer not listening to music, but sometimes it can help my concentration if there is a lot of other background noise.

3 Tackle the hardest/easiest thing first

Some advice suggests that you should plan to start with the easiest task or a pleasant part of the overall task. Maybe that will work for you – try it.

I prefer beginning with the hardest “biggest” task, and plan the easier or more fun tasks as a “reward”.

4 Reward yourself

A reward could be a break, a walk outside, 10 minutes of facebook time, a good cup of coffee, a trip to the gym. It could also be one of the more pleasant tasks you need to do, for example, some online research for a conference to attend. Once you’ve defined your reward you can tell yourself “I’m going to finish this blog post by 11am and then I’m going out for coffee”, it’s a good way to trick yourself into focusing.

Productivity is about outcomes, but the way that we get there is by having a system that works and building productive habits. All the research I’ve found states that you need to maintain your own health, know your own goals, plan tasks against goals, monitor output, and break the procrastination habits. For me it’s a work in progress.

Image:  time via pixabay

New Year’s Resolutions

What do I want to be different in 2010? I don’t make big “resolutions”, my world view is that life is a journey so you can take a step forward, or backward or change direction on any day. But the new year is a great opportunity to reflect on whether  I’m still heading somewhere I want to go, and determine whether some adjustments are needed.

Work

  • More balance in which goals I focus on, in 2009 I was very absorbed with one big goal, in 2010 I need to spread my time across all the goals of my team more evenly.
  • Learn more about communications, online communications, managing technology, managing other people and managing “up”. The first four of these area a continuation of what I’ve been learning for years, I know I like these subjects. The last one is more difficult for me, I know I need to “work the politics” more, and make sure I have buy-in before acting. I’m getting better – but it’s still a learning point for me. Mind you, having a manager who knows the online world is helping me a lot!
  • Keep delivering, I want to deliver more smaller results this year. This means better planning and speeding up our development cycle. We’re in a good position to do this in 2010.
  • More fun with my team, we’ve had a tough year, and 2010 will also be extremely busy as our company goes through a lot of change. I’m lucky to have a great team to work with, but I need to find some more ways to pull us together throughout the year.

Personal

  • More Writing, I started working on this blog seriously at the beginning of 2009, that’s going to continue, but I want to try more fiction writing. So short stories for a creative writing course, and another attempt at NaNoWriMo.
  • Learn to rollerblade, I’ve had such fun trying to ice-skate I’ve decided that the fun should continue in summer.
  • Travel somewhere I’ve never been before, I have two cities on my must see list; Istanbul and St Petersburg. But I’m also thinking about India, an online friend lives there and the superb photos she posts have got me inspired. She posted about the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, which led me to look up Ganesh (pictured above). He’s worshipped as the god of education, knowledge and wisdom. He’s also the destroyer of obstacles, sounds like a handy guy to know.

image Ganesh 2009 /Pranav Yaddanapudi/ CC BY 2.0