Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Project management/Juggling: Self-taught lessons

Apologies for the long hiatus, and certainly I've been meaning to write more regularly, including my epic 2 week Australia drive from Sydney to Adelaide. There's been a multitude of changes, including on the family front, that required my attention first.

Side note, I've been also trying to find something to write about. January and December has honestly been quite quiet months, that there just haven't been.

So yesterday, my friend and I had this chat about how she can't cope like, her more experienced colleague, with the multitude of projects that seem to keep coming. No app or software can help her keep track of the pace of things that demanded her attention. She asked me how I managed to cope (she calls me an octopus for my seeming ability to multitask) with it all.

I don't have any "guru" tips, but I can share my experience with "multitasking" and what goes in my mind. How to switch gears quickly and shift tracks as soon as possible.

First and foremost, practice. It was cliché back in 1990s - the number of times I've been told that practice makes perfect - by the time 2010 came, that good advice has taken a backseat for innovation, thinking out of the box. Nevertheless, you become good at projects or managing a multitude of tasks because you have been doing it for a long time. With exposure to different types of demands on our time, we hit hard lessons and from those lessons we learn and become more efficient. The people we see who are "gifted" simply have years, starting from childhood (piano, tuition, social life, homework....) to get better at it.

Well if you've missed the boat there, you can always start now, which brings me to my next point.

Vision. You must have vision of where you end-game is. If life is a map, and the demands on your time multiple checkpoints and your attention the toy soldiers you use to move around on that same map, you start to think of time and attention as very scarce resources right?

It's the same, with a sense of urgency, that arises from scarcity, we become very picky or at least not so yielding to all the demands from us. It's also important to know what we want, because like every story, it must end, and we take the position of a director where we must know where your work will end up after all this work. So use your imagination and visualise where you want to end up. It's the same for small company projections (get 5% uplift in sales of product X) or big life decisions (do I see myself growing old with this person? What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind?).

Lastly, once you know where you want to go, what limited resources you have, you can then use the below pragmatic rules about juggling.

1. Task list or to-do-lists are crap (for me)

To-do lists makes you focus on linear progressions. It is great for homework but not so much for real-time stuff. In reality things move in parallel. By the time you finish your list, something has changed and you keep rewriting things over and over again but find yourself having no time to actually do them.

Instead, plan all your actions in a gantt chart, or for simplicity, I put them into my calendar ahead of time. It takes the worry off me that I'll forget something later and a nifty calendar alert 2 weeks before give me ample time to work on it. By blocking time, you also practice scarcity and force yourself to plan leisure in!

2. One feet in the pool, one feet on the grass

Always have an antennae permanently tuned to what's outside your 3m radius. Have one allegorical ear out for developments (or game-changing gossip "She's leaving!", "He's a new joiner and he'll be taking over this big client") that can potentially affect your work. Plan in your mind what options you have if it affects you. If you have no options and it affects you, at least you know you can't do anything about it and life carries on. No fret.

3. Allow new things to come in on a case-by-case basis.

Today got time for meeting? Let me check - see that the calendar has too much stuff, nope.

Today got time for CLIENT meeting? Let me check - new client worth 10 times more - YUP.

Reality is as such. Of course you don't have to go by monetary value, personal values come into play as well. Whichever scale you use, at least always have the right to say no when you are tapped out.

4. Stop being fucking nice

I used to be bristled by how some people are "rude" about their time. Just 5 minutes also cannot?

Yah, sometimes it's really cannot.

While I believe in rejecting people plainly and very politely, it doesn't mean you have to be nice by allowing people to trample on you. Bosses, colleagues or friends, be firm and polite. Being nice just gets you no sleep and poor performance.

5. Ditch the personal project management tool for some space to think

I have no qualms about.project management tools by the way, absolutely no reservations of a much needed system when you need to manage multinational projects.

In my style of working, those personal project management tools take up time to update, refresh and strike off. Personally for some of my friends it works - and if that's how you work by means go ahead. My point is don't force yourself to use something that doesn't feel natural.

Take time off to think and reflect on how you can work more efficiently, how do you make life easier for yourself. How do you increase capacity without increasing costs to yourself (time)?

These are just some of my WIP approaches to juggling in life, and like most humans I do fail from time to time. #notashamed As my best friend can attest, I actually suck at multitasking.

Just keep going and I hope this serves to help you in some way or another. In any case, like a wise aunty colleague once told me, "工作做不完的啦~" (Work is never-ending).