Posts Tagged Productivity

My Weekly Personal Work and Learning Plan

In late April 2018 Helen Blunden wrote a blog post ‘Create Your Own Personal learning Plan.’  She included a downloadable template.  I wanted to try using her template, but was travelling at the time without ready access to a printer.  I hand-drew up her template in a notebook and started using it (I love starting fresh notebooks so this action gave me a burst of enthusiasm).  Each weekend I fill in the template in my notebook with the things that I feel are most important to accomplish in the coming week.

My first weekly template:

Of course, this template is incomplete as a planning tool for it does not include any scheduling or capacity management.  However, I’ve found it a useful part of my planning process.  It helps me to make conscious choices about what aspects of my work and learning to progress each week.  I supplement it with my calendar and to do list (for which I use the 2Do app).

I’ve evolved the template over the four months I’ve been using it to cover both work and learning.  It made sense to do this as the two are closely integrated for me (and many others, although not everyone recognises this).  I am constantly learning through my work, and find it important to have a project to apply new knowledge and skills to as part of my learning process.  In some instances that project is to create a piece of content (a blog, a video) that forces me to ‘sense-make’ and synthesise new knowledge with my experience and prior knowledge.

My current weekly template:

I tend to get very consumed by my work.  For balance I’ve included some categories specifically for personal, non-work activities.  Now that I’ve stopped travelling and am settling into a new city I will probably add a category for a hobby or relaxation.

I’ve had a couple of challenges using the template.  The first is that I put more on my list each week than I can complete.  At times I’ve simply extended the completion period to two weeks.  I may try to reduce the template to a single A4 page to force me to reduce the number of activities listed each week.

The second challenge is that having the weekly plan in a notebook reduces visibility.  Often I did not look at the completed template until late in the week, when I would realise that I had missed opportunities to focus on the items I’d listed.  In the past month I’ve started an informal ‘Mastermind’ check-in with a friend.  This session helps hold me accountable for the key actions I’d committed to in the previous Mastermind session, and to clarify what is most important in the coming week.  I now complete my template immediately after the Mastermind session, and am conscious of referring to it more frequently during the week as I feel a stronger sense of accountability to my Mastermind buddy.

New location for my weekly template:

 

Today I copied this week’s completed template and pinned it on a noticeboard that sits on my newly set up desk.  It’s definitely more visible, and I expect this will improve progress on the activities I list each week.

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Using Way Of Life App to Build my Routines

I’m working on embedding updated daily and weekly routine.  During 2017 I created a checklist in Excel to remind me of actions I wanted to build into my routine and to track completion.  At the start of the year I tracked completion directly in Excel, but found this inconvenient and my tracking was haphazard.  Then I moved to printing out the template and keeping it by my bed where I would manually check it off before bedtime.  This had the disadvantages of:

  1. not being mobile as I wasn’t carrying the checklist with me so couldn’t use it to prompt action during the day,
  2. reminding me of what I had not done immediately prior to going to sleep which was creating mental traffic when I should have been calming down for sleep, and
  3. slower manual calculation of completion statistics and trend tracking over time.

Manual tracking in bullet journal

When I started using a bullet journal in October I glued a hard copy of the template into the bullet journal.  I also used my bullet journal to list most important daily tasks so carried it with me and referred to it frequently during the day.  This addressed the first two disadvantages of having the printed list standalone, but not the third disadvantage which related to manual tracking versus electronic tracking.

In preparation for my year on the road (which starts in one week from publishing this post) I decided to stop using my bullet journal two weeks ago.  I had previously used an app called Way of Life to help build and track my Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and Networking routine.

Routine list in Way of Life

It was very quick for me to set up a list of the activities on my routine checklist in the app and I was able to start tracking them immediately on my iPhone.  I track completion progressively during the day using a visual interface.  Every item on the list is marked as done (green), not done (red), or skipped (grey).  The skipped entry is useful for actions with a weekly frequency rather than daily frequency.  Whenever I reach three consecutive days of ‘done’ against an action I get visual and audible feedback – reinforcement of maintaining a good ‘run rate’.  Skipped days are not counted in this run rate tracking.  While I like getting this feedback this feature can be turned off.

I can view completion trends over time in the app.  Time interval for this graphical reporting can be set at  6 weeks, 12 weeks, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year or 2 years.  The trend can be viewed for either all actions on my list or specific actions.  A image of the graph can be sent via email, but I don’t think the data can be exported for further manipulation outside of the app.

Reporting Options

 

One disadvantage of the app is that if I delete an action from my checklist I lose the data associated with it.  Hence there is an element of transience which I’m

While I’m only in my second week of using the app again I notice that I am completing more of the actions in my routine list.  Combined with ease of use and mobility this means the app is working to help me get into regular habits with my routine and fine tune it over time.

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Sort Your Task List by Start Date

Smart Work by Dermot Crowley

Last week I read Demot Crowley’s book Smart Work, which he describes as a practical productivity book.  He uses a systems approach to the challenge of organising yourself in the digital workplace.  His system consists of:

  • centralising your actions
  • organising your inputs and
  • realising your outcomes (i.e. ensuring you are putting energy and effort into the things that are highest value to you).

The structure of the system (and the book) is logical and easy to follow.  It is written clearly and offers practical tips.  I especially appreciated the emphasis on keeping things simple.  A simple system or process is easier to follow and maintain.  I’ve tried following David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ system, and found it too much effort to maintain.  On the other hand, Dermot’s approach strikes the right balance of practicality and relatively low effort with ensuring that you’ve got all your task inputs and actions captured and under control.

While I already have a reasonable solid, effective system in place for my personal planning and productivity, I’m constantly looking for minor improvements.  I was able to skim Dermot’s book and find a number of useful tweaks, especially in the ‘tech tips’ section at the end of each chapter.

One improvement that I’ve implemented is to organise my task list by start date.  I use 2Do as my electronic task management tool.  The default order for task display is due date.  I was using this default and got out of the habit of entering a start date for each task.  In order to figure out what to work on each day I needed to scan through all tasks due in the coming 1-2 weeks, mentally constructing a Gantt chart in my head.  I would use priority flags to identify the tasks I wanted to work on every day.  The flags would be used for a secondary sort of task display order.  Obviously this process had more steps, effort and time for daily task management than was necessary.  Based on Dermot’s tip I assigned a start date to all open tasks (as well as due date) and I now display tasks in start date order.  It’s much simpler and quicker for me to identify what to work on each day.

Consistent with my goal of a short daily dispatch I’m leaving this post with one key tip today.  I’m sure more productivity posts will appear in dispatches.  If your current approach to managing the flood of incoming tasks, emails, messages and meetings isn’t working well for you, I recommend you read and apply Dermot’s book.

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Personal Kanban Boards

I started using personal kanban boards about 10 days ago.  They are visible on the wall behind me when I videoconference with people, and many people have asked me about them during our calls.  So, here is a post about why and how I’m using kanban boards, and the value I’m getting from them.

Who isn’t busy, right?  I find it hard to resist a good opportunity or idea, so sometimes end up with a lot of projects on the go.  I’ve tried a range of ways to prioritise and manage my time across projects, business development, recurring tasks, administration and other activities.  I like the portability of electronic tools that synchronise across multiple devices, and have been using the 2Do app for a couple of years.  However, it can be time-consuming to enter and maintain all tasks in an electronic tool.  When I get really busy I revert to sticky notes and scraps of paper.  It’s quick to hand-write a new task on a paper note and easy to sort and shuffle them as priorities change – definitely quicker for me than with online tools.  It gets tasks out of my head, so helps me to concentrate on whatever I was working on when the thought of the task popped into my head.

However, there are still a lot of things on the list, which is now less portable.  The long electronic list has been replaced by a growing stack of notes.  Either way, they require regular review to figure out what I should do on any given day. I’m concerned to ensure that at any given time I’m working on my most important activities (I use the Eisenhower matrix to help identify what these are – but that’s not the focus of my post today).

In my search to efficiently managing tasks and be confident that I am focussed on the things that matter most I’m often drawn to online content about productivity.  A couple of weeks ago a post on Snapchat by Helen Blunden about personal kanban caught my attention.  What appealed to me about using personal kanban boards was:

  • the visual nature of it
  • high visibility of a physical board (as opposed to using an online variant)
  • ease of adding and updating tasks, and moving them from one status to another
  • satisfaction of seeing what I’ve done
  • ‘rule’ of not having more than 3 tasks in progress at any one time, to combat the downsides of multitasking

I decided to create a board for each of my top 3 projects (rather than one board with all projects mixed in together).  The 1-minute Snapchat video below outlines how I set the boards up.  I have since added a fourth board for a client project.

I’ve been using the boards for a week.  Every morning before I set down at my desk I check the boards and decide/confirm what I need to work on that day to progress my most important projects.  I add new tasks on a sticky note (1 task per note), and sometimes replace a high-level task with multiple more granular tasks.  I update the boards as I work too.  I’m finding the process very fluid and the boards are definitely assisting me to prioritise and progress my most important projects.  Importantly, using them also decreases my mental chatter about what I should be working on.

A downside of how I’ve set these boards up is that they are not portable.  I get around this in part by writing the 5 things I ‘must’ get done each day in a small notebook that I carry around.  (Actually, I write down up to 5 x Quadrant 1 tasks (Important and Urgent) and 5 x Quadrant 2 tasks (Important and Non-Urgent).  The quadrants are based on the Eisenhower matrix mentioned earlier in the post.)

Another disadvantage is that they cannot be shared with other people so don’t help with collaboration.  Some people in my network use Trello, which uses a board structure for task management.  I downloaded Trello several months ago, looked at it briefly, and deferred figuring out how to use it.  I suspect that the practices I’m using with physical kanban boards would transfer readily to Trello.  This tool is obviously portable and could be used with others.  I think I would miss the immediacy and visibility of the boards on my office wall were I to move from using them to Trello.  Of course, practices evolve so I may well be posting about my use of Trello (or something similar) in the future.

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