There’s an interesting hole in the task management and productivity literature. The situation is when you know more or less what needs to be done, but not exactly how to do it, and from where you’re starting, it’s not clear in what order and how long each particular task will be.
And the whole thing needs to be billed.
You have two choices. The first is do what everyone else does and just get ‘er done. The second is to write down everything you do – as you go – and sort it out later.
If you know you’re going to be doing the task in the future, or that you’re going to outsource it or pass it downstream, method two will pay you back.
Edgewall’s Trac is a pretty good tool for untangling a messy project. For example, I’m prepping the Blog Maintenance Challenge for pre-launch, and I have an extensive number of small tasks to accomplish. The normal thing to do is write out a task list up front, then check everything off. In this case, I’m not sure exactly what needs to be done at a task-based level.
Task-based productivity is the notion that at the scale where things actually get done, productivity is linear. The vast majority of people can do only thing at a time, and a task is one of those “things” that get done. Typically, a task should be something taking between 15 minutes to perhaps an hour and a half. If it takes longer than 90 minutes, consider breaking it into two tasks.
As it turns out, implementing what’s described in this blog post is almost multi-tasking.
It is doing two separate tasks in the same billing period, but these tasks are closely related by context.
Given you treat your task lists as intellectual property assets, when you’re faced with a messy set of “things to do,” creating a set of tasks will pay you back the second time you do them.
It’s pretty simple:
- Open your task management system and create a ticket or issue or whatever you call it. In Trac, it’s a new “issue.”
- Fill out the ticket as best you can, including as many steps as possible.
- Now start the task. At each step, update your ticket (or issue, etc.)
- When you’re done, mark down the time it should take to complete the task. This may not be the same as billable time, but that’s a different blog post.
- Test, if applicable.
Now you have a linear, stepwise procedure for duplicating this activity in the future. You could even make a checklist out of it. Once you have the whole project written out in steps, you’re in a better position to bid for future work. You know, add up all the time for the steps, add in the overhead, multiply by hourly rate, $profit$!
Summary, and useful links
For what it’s worth, this blog post was written while untangling a set of tasks for the Blog Maintenance Challenge. Namely, developing a fast procedure for getting into and out of Paypal for increasing prices (the Challenge starts off at low price, increase price as material is added).
Is that triple tasking?
If you found this useful, check these out:
- Why Your Todo List Is One Of Your Most Valuable Assets
- Using Edgewall´s Trac Effectively – Customization is the key
- Log Your Work: Writing It Down is More Important Than Writing It Right
- Log Your Work: Tracking Your Time For Fun And Profit!
- Log Your Work: Should You Lump Or Split Your Time?
- Tasking into hour long chunks
Are you logging your work? If not, why not? If so, what’s the biggest benefit you have found?