What is your one game-changing tip to manage multiple projects with multiple timelines?
March 25, 2010 8:52 PM   Subscribe

What is your one game-changing tip to manage multiple projects with multiple timelines?

I've read GTD, I use a Google Calendar, I keep a to-do list, and occasionally I use OmniFocus for more than a week. But sometimes deadlines still slip passed me or I completely forget about an obligation. How do I stay on the ball with all of commitments to multiple projects in multiple organizations and in my personal life?

Rather than recommend an entire philosophy, what is one significant action I can take to solve this problem?
posted by jander03 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
A large physical monthly calendar, using markers to box out the days you will work on the projects. Make your boxes small enough for multiple things per day.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:06 PM on March 25, 2010

I could have almost asked this question myself.

Two significant actions will help.

Are you giving yourself enough space to re-assess your landscape and work with yourself by asking yourself what's going on and listening to your answers? OR are you focusing on dousing fires on a daily basis?

I've lived the former and the latter in the above and in the former you get peace of mind, in the latter you hunt for an illusive answer that can be found in the former methodology.
And the hands on addon to this is
Next actions organized by context. If there is a due date, it needs to get done, if there is NOT a due date, it just goes in the list without a due date.

The weekly review is a good time to assign that due date but watch out for assigning too many due dates and not being able to fulfill them.
Omnifocus or Omniplan (not a mac person) has a timeline layout view of projects I believe, that may help. Alternatively, try thebigpic.org for keeping track of how much time is spent on each project.

I'll be watching this one closely. Mefil mail me if you want.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 9:29 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I realize this isn't exactly what you want, but for me, it has been a huge help to get a sense of my limits. If my life were a restaurant that had a fixed number of servers and cooks, my game changer has been to train the host how to not seat more customers than those servers can serve. So, rather than say, "oh no, I let a deadline slip, I screwed up and need tools to work faster," or something, I try to say, "oh look at that, things are so chaotic now that I'm missing deadlines." Then I try to figure out what can go away or be delegated, and also to think about how I got into this situation of having more than I could handle.
posted by salvia at 9:55 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Forgetting about an obligation sometimes suggests avoidance behaviors, like filing tasks in a way that is theoretically "very organizationally wise" but not easy for you to refer back to because it feels like a mountain of stuff and is just psychologically overwhelming.

If you do that, you might look at the Autofocus system, which gives you a bit more freedom to have fun by discarding priorities and nurturing a habit of "productivity over priority."

I use the Autofocus system, and I love it. I still slip sometimes, but what I find is that it gets me to start working, when I might otherwise be making big calendars or engaging in other clever avoidance behavior.
posted by circular at 9:57 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

It depends a little on why you're missing deadlines.
Is it something you never put on your to-do list? Then you need a better capture method.
Is it something that was on your to-do list but you didn't see it/didn't realise the deadline was approaching? The 'action' to do this could vary
- a weekly review, where you refresh your memory of what things you have to do and decide which ones you will get done that week (roughly)
- priorities for your list, so that important tasks don't get lost among 'wash the dog'.
- scheduling tasks, if they have deadlines. You know you have to write the agenda for that meeting before the meeting, so make a calendar appointment for half an hour the day before where you're going to actually do it.
posted by jacalata at 10:05 PM on March 25, 2010

Centralize your obligations and sort by slack-time. Centralizing is simple enough; smart phones these days are spectacular PDAs. Calculating slack-time, however requires you to have a pretty good idea of how long something will take, and when it needs to be finished. The advantage is that since you have estimates of slack time, you know early enough when something's slipped to take corrective action.

Ultimately, though, this is the wrong question ask. The right one to ask is why obligations slip by you. Did you promise someone something and forget? Did you start on it switch to something else? Do you just surf the internet or play video games? Did you simply overpromise?
posted by pwnguin at 10:19 PM on March 25, 2010

I have a dry erase that lists deliverables in order of priority and grouped by project. I use "tags" to note where the current responsibility lies. This coupled with Google Calendar to keep track of the umpteen million meetings I have in any given week has served me well.

The items on the board are not static, nor is their state or position static.

I tried using a todo list on my phone, mirrored on my laptop and the system worked ok, but on the big white board it's hard to ignore any one line, besides, having the BIG BOARD means it is harder to take my work home with me, which Ms. Fuzzy Dog has come to appreciate.
posted by Fuzzy Dog at 10:30 PM on March 25, 2010

I am not, by nature, and organized person. My projects are not complex enough to require dedicated project planning software, but if your projects are more complex that might be helpful to you.

What works for me involves two elements. The first, disaster-averting part of my system has been to train, train, train myself to flag every incoming e-mail that establishes a work commitment (I use gmail, so just a simple star). And I train, train, train myself to check my "star" list a few times a day.

The other part of my system is not to think in terms of a "to-do" list, but a "when-to-do" list. It helps that I've usually got a very clear idea of how long I need to complete any given project when I agree to it. Indeed, figuring out the "can I fit this in, and when?" is a key part of agreeing to the project in the first place.

Again, my projects are simple enough and my work deadlines rarely stretch far into the future, so I've not found I need to physically block these out on a calendar, but that may be useful to you. In my personal life, though, I do make every effort to enter appointments and other obligations into Google Calendar, and set one or more reminders (usually an e-mail reminder the morning of, and a popup "you need to leave now" reminder).
posted by drlith at 4:37 AM on March 26, 2010

The one tip I have is to accept that
A) planning is per definition imperfect
B) projects and their deadlines are not uniformly distributed (for example, it is now Easter and many people want to finish their projects before major holidays, January 1 etc)

This means you will sometimes have to disappoint people and (my system) will work on a 'eat-that-frog' principle where you decide on a sub-task and then work until it is done.
The criterium to decide where to work on is real versus perceived deadline. For example: entering expenses or hours before a quarterly close is more important than on a weekly basis, because the consequence of NOT doing that task is more severe.
posted by Eltulipan at 9:04 AM on March 26, 2010

How do I stay on the ball with all of commitments to multiple projects in multiple organizations and in my personal life?

Rather than recommend an entire philosophy, what is one significant action I can take to solve this problem?

Commit to keeping all your to-dos in one place. Without a single place for everything, no system will work for you.
posted by MesoFilter at 2:31 PM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

« Older Take the job offer or stay?   |   What if you had to order your bread from a person... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.