How I Track My Projects and Time
Managing your time well isn’t generally easy. It wouldn’t be such a popular topic if it were. Many strategies to manage your time better work really well when you are dealing with the things in front of you; with the priorities, errands and tasks that are taking your time right now. They may even work well when you are managing someone else’s time.
These strategies (time blocking, power hours, paper planners vs electronic schedulers, etc.) don’t work as well for complex tasks (large projects with multiple tasks and deadlines within it) or collaborative tasks (projects where tasks are divided between people).
I’d like to share a tool I use for complex tasks and collaborative tasks. It helps keep track of progress and loose ends, it’s a visual method for checking in on the project, it prevents you losing sight of the project once a task passes to someone else, and helps manage competing priorities. This tool is called a Kanban board. The Kanban method was originally developed by engineers at Toyota to improve efficiency and reduce waste in manufacturing.
The basic premise of a Kanban board is that there is a process or flow to the work being done. A board has several columns, with each column representing a status or a step in the process. You can only do one thing at once, so other things wait in the queue until you get to them.
The most simple Kanban board would have three columns: to do, doing, and done. Items or tasks move along this process until they are completed. Items that haven’t started yet stay in the to do column so they aren’t forgotten.
A more complex board could have any number of columns, with each representing a stage in a process or a person that is responsible for a tasks. For example, a column for incoming requests that is handled by the admin, a column for a consultant conducting an intake, a column for preparing a training event, a column for executing the event, a column for following up with the client to ensure goals were met, and a completed training column. With this model, a team of consultants could look at the board and determine their tasks, and where they are in the process for each client/training event.
For managing my business, I prefer to use 5 columns. Here are the columns I use, and how I use them.
To do: this is where I brain dump everything I am working on, or all the steps for a particular project.
Priorities: I set a limit here, I can’t have more than 4 items in this column at a time. In this column, I put the four major things that need my attention at the moment, or the four things I should be making progress on.
Focus: I set a limit here, I can only have 1 item in this column at a time. In this column, I put the major thing I am working on right now (at the moment, that would be writing this blog post).
Waiting: This is my favorite column. In this column, I put the things that aren’t completed, but are currently out of my hands. The magic here is while they are out of my mind because it’s someone else’s task, I won’t forget about the project, and I know where it has left off (at the moment, that would be a proposal for a training I sent to a potential client that will stay in limbo until the client responds).
Done: Once tasks are done, they move to this column. You can keep them here to track or celebrate, or you can take these down as you please.
For managing my business, I use sticky notes on a window. Different colors represent different projects, project categories, or clients. Using lined sticky notes allows me to list subtasks neatly, and I can literally move the sticky note to the appropriate column.
For collaborative projects, I use an electronic version. Using an electronic version allows individuals to update it from anywhere, and all team members see the most current version. Most electronic versions also allow you to upload attachments, set deadlines and reminders, and assign tasks to different people. With electronic versions, I love the capability to “drag and drop” tasks from column to column as that tasks moves along its process. I’ll generally still use the same five columns because tasks can be assigned to a person, then the “waiting” column can be used when we are waiting on someone outside the immediate project.
Note: for electronic versions of this board, I use Asana and select the board layout. Asana has some neat features that allow me to use the Kanban model electronically. The free version has a lot of features. The paid version has better tools for larger teams and more complex project management. I have not received any benefits from Asana to say this.