I will be, as they say here in the US, incommunicado, until February 6th. I’ll be enduring the hardships and perrils of being at sea in the unpredictible waters of the Western Caribbean. No, I am not bringing my laptop…
I have tried a number of ways to manage my work activities. I have always strived for a unified, preferably online, way to combine multiples types of information, tasks, etc, but experience has shown me that multiple methods and tools of varying complexities are really what help me keep my ongoing work activities, projects and initiatives organized.
One particular method I use to keep track of “things I have to review and provide feedback on” is printing out whatever it is and putting it in a pile next to me. Dates where things need to be reviewed by are on my calendar, but the asset itself just sits there on my desk until I get around to it.
Now, piles are tricky. Something might be at the end of a pile and you may never see if again. More problematic is when you find it again weeks later and need to crunch in some extra time to review something you didn’t really prepare for. Or you might find it later and realize it is no longer relevant or that you don’t need to look through it, but it’s been sitting there all this time contributing to the increasing volume of the pile, constantly buging you with the sense that “something is still left to be done!”.
I have seen a LOT of work about using piles on digital spaces and they are always informational and interesting, but the problem has yet to be solved. I think the challenge is the fact that we haven’t even solved the problem in the physical space. In my quest for better ways to manage all this, I’ve made a simple switch that completely changed the way I work with piles.
I believe that a large reason for having the job that I have is being able to identify solutions in unusual places, or saying that in a less elaborate way, identifying better ways to do things from experience. I say that because this insight with piles happened by accident. Twice.
First, a really huge pile of things to do finaly succumbed to its own weight and exposed everything that was inside it. At a glance, I picked out 3 documents I no longer needed to review, 2 that were overdue and a bunch of others I remembered I needed more information on before I could review them.
Then, at a later date, when I was re-starting my pile of “things I have to review and provide feedback on” I ran out of paper clips. I had printed out a variety of things, articles, requirement documents, wireframes, flow diagrams, you name it, but had no way to keep them distinct from each other once I put them in a pile.
So, after a big “Ah-ha!”, I started organizing these things like this:
Having a “horizontal pile” versus a vertical pile is a much better way to visualize *really* how much stuff is there to read through and gives a much better sense of what types of things are there. The lenght of the horizontal pile is much more “graphical” and helps me assess just how much stuff is left to do than the minimal increments in height you see with a vertical pile does. If the pile reaches the second desk, I know it’s time to start reviewing things. If it extends all the way to the window, it’s time to start reviewing things right away or I’ll fall behind.
I know, t’s not like I discovered a new planet, but the effect it had in boosting up my productivity and reducing my frustration was quite amazing. I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but decided to wait a couple of months to see the effect. It really works for me. I should say that it works with within my system (as you can see from the photos other types of things are organized differently – particular types of documents have binders, other things are pinned to the wall, etc) but for the “things I have to review and provide feedback on” it really hit the nail on the head.