Things that work: Juggling multiple tasks

In the last couple of months, I’ve been doing some hefty juggling. Being a very disorganized person naturally, doesn’t really reconcile with managing multiple suppliers, following up, and making sure I don’t become a bottleneck.

For my agile viewers – I’ve tried post-it notes. I found out that this didn’t work when working with external resources that needed synchronization between them. The “done” definition was “done the sub-task”, not the “task completed”. If a post-it was for a “complete task”, the task could be in progress for a long time, sometimes without any way to move it forward. I decided to drop this method, although I like moving notes around.

Before that, I tried the “top three things for today” but it was either too granular or not enough granular. So I dropped that as well.

But it wasn’t just technical stuff. I’ve diagnosed my disorder (of not having any order) awhile back, and tried to find different cures. All looked good on paper (or virtual paper). But what was missing was discipline.

Discipline is at the core of agile practices. TDD is just a practice, but it’s useful only if you persist. Stand up meetings are just a couple of people talking, unless you persist. Discipline brings persistence. Not just personal discipline by the way – As more people want to play, it’s easier to persist because of peer pressure.

But back to my lone backyard – I needed to discipline myself. And for this to work, I needed the easiest way, the less imposing method.

I got me an empty word document, which I divided into columns. All my tasks are there, divided to who is the target of the task. Most of tasks are mine, don’t have a target person.

The trick here is to have a single page containing all the tasks. If it slides into a 2nd page, I’m in trouble. I should be able to look at all of them together.

Whenever I have a new task, it goes on the page. The neat part, is when I’m done with a task, I erase it (just like moving a post-it to a done bucket). If the result of the task is passing the responsibility to someone else, it goes up on a separate Excel file, with target person and date.

The discipline is is to review the lists everyday in the morning. Each morning I review the list and mark the ones I intend to do today in bold. When I’m going over the page during the day, deleting and adding items, I can’t escape the bold ones.

And that’s it. I think it’s working because:

  • The cost is low. Entering tasks, deleting tasks and reviewing daily.
  • All tasks are in view. I don’t miss them.
  • The success feeling of deleting tasks.

When does it not work? When I fall of the wagon. For example, if I come late to the office and decide to go through my emails first, there’s a good chance I’m working on urgent stuff, that may not be that important.

It’s all about discipline. Persistence. Successful juggling.

Gil Zilberfeld

2 comments on “Things that work: Juggling multiple tasks”

  1. TalD Reply

    I couldn’t disagree more;). First I’m still looking for the Share or tweet button, and it’s nowhere to be found on your blog. I genuinely wished to share this post. However, the reason I wanted to share it, is to demonstrate the distinctions between what one think about himself versus the way others’ see him.
    I have been working with Gil (as a team ) for a bit over eight months. And I’m not about to write here a reference letter, but to comment on a blog. So the bottom line is that YOU were THE symbol for Agile! As much as I despised your post-it, the white boards and the tasks listings. You were efficient enough, not only to deal and juggle with the overload of tasks that you had, but also to help everyone else with their duties including myself. You guided me on how to prioritize, and helped me finish my tasks and upkeep my integrity. You were managing the outsource companies, in a way that amazed even them… They admitted more than once, that the only reason they managed to keep up with the tight schedule was the way you managed them. And instead of being upset with you putting pressure on them, They adores you for the way you do it. For me, it was only one more thing to admire. So let me tell you what should be your tasks list now: first add a share this button to your blog, then you can write a best seller on how to manage, multitask, delegate and juggle successfully the impossible missions!
    Tal Druyan
    http://twitter.com/tald

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