In this issue:
I don't like multitasking at all. And, I have many projects in progress. How is it possible to jump from one project to another—and not forget where I am? My secret is focus time—small periods of time where I focus-and-finish work.
Secret 1: Write down the work you want to do.
As David Allen says, “Your head is a lousy office.” If you don't write down—sweep the work out of your head onto some form of paper—you're trying to focus with all your other work yelling at you.
I use paper, often in the form of a kanban board. You might use a legal pad or a whiteboard. Some people like apps. Whatever you choose, write the work down. Make sure that place is easy to access.
When you write the work down, you free yourself to focus on the one piece of work you choose to do now.
Secret 2: Define work small enough that you can finish something in 15 minutes.
I know, you're rolling your eyes. “15 minutes? Everything I do takes much longer than 15 minutes.” That's true for me, as well. That's one of the reasons we need focus time.
Think about your work this way: what's the first thing you can do to make progress on this work, without needing to remember anything? I often use this approach:
- Write down a couple of sentences about what I need to do. The idea gets out of my head and down onto paper.
- If I still have time, I create a list of deliverables for the project. If it's a writing project, I might explore a few ideas—again, using short sentences or phrases to capture the essence of what I want to say.
Here are two examples:
- For writing: I make a short note about what I want to write. Because I wrote it down, I can let my subconscious work on it when I turn my attention to something else. Later, when I have 15 minutes, I write about that. That might be enough time for me to finish. If not, I know where I am for the next 15-minute timebox. Yes, that's how I write my blog posts, newsletters, and books.
- For planning a project, I list the deliverables first. Then, I take the first deliverable and generate something useful. In the case of a workshop, I might list the simulations first, and create three deliverables: drafts 1, 2, and 3 for the workshop. Now, I have a list to select from, to decide what to do first.
Most of my deliverables, such as this newsletter, require more than one 15-minute chunk of work. Because I leave work in a finished-for-now state, I'm not using my head as my office.
Secret 3: Shorten your meetings to not more than 50 minutes.
Too many people have meetings blocked back-to-back, with no time between them. However, we are human. If nothing else, we need bio-breaks between meetings.
When we timebox meetings to not more than 50 minutes, we gain several benefits:
- We take our bio-breaks. Don't fool yourself: if you need to drink some water or coffee, or eliminate some water or coffee, you're not going to be able to think about anything other than that. You're focused on what your body needs, not the work.
- After the meeting, we can add new work to our todo lists. We have a chance to get the work out of our heads and onto paper.
- We have some free time for the back-of-our-minds to work on the various projects. I especially like the time walking back to my office to think about the notes I'll make to capture the ideas.
Even though I work primarily from my home office, I, too, have back-to-back meetings.
Let me summarize my three secrets:
- Write things down, so you don't have to remember.
- Plan your project so you can work in as small as 15-minute chunks.
- Shorten meetings so you can create more thinking time in your day.
Now, you've created space for your focus time. Let me know how it goes.
I'm working on revamping my Online Workshops workshops. However, I didn't want you to miss a Pragmatic Manager. I hope to announce the new dates next month.
In the meantime, if you are having problems with your agile project, please pick up a copy of Create Your Successful Agile Project. You'll learn how to select an agile approach that works for your project, facilitate a team who can work together, and create an environment that promotes the agile principles.
Are you new to the Pragmatic Manager newsletter? See previous issues.
Till next time,
© 2018 Johanna Rothman
Tags: Create Your Successful Agile Project, lean, meetings, project management tips, project portfolio management, tips