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How do you properly balance project vs. task work? Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
I find that my projects are getting neglected. I have way too many individual tasks to get completed (and am starting to move more to someday/maybe project that is "On hold"). I'm doing tasks that are marked for today, but what I think I need is more "project time" where I carve out a larger chunk of time to work on a project. Drucker stated that effective executives need larger blocks of time to be effective; not everything can be timesliced.

How do you do so? Do you block time on the calendar (ie. two hours for this particular thinking-required project)? Or does your thinking come during your weekly planning?
I would say that this is what I do during the project review, which I sometimes reserve time for, and other times do as the inspiration strikes me or the need arises (usually when I have the opportunity to work more alone and have a bit of freedom in what I have to do, or when I'm up to my neck in things to do). At the beginning or at certain points of a project, I will spend a bit more time figuring it out, ordering the actions in the right sequence, thinking about contexts, and after that I'm good to just "work" on it, with the project review being more just a quick validation that I'm not forgetting anything or that something should get more attention.

Also keeping the size of each "project" within some limit helps me. For me I try to have a clear sequence and priority within each project, so it is easy to sort and manage, and similarly that projects have also a clear sequence and priority compared to the others (in the same folder for example). It can be also that they all have a similar priority and you can round-robin through them. For me between 5-20 tasks is usually a comfortable size for a project. Larger than that, I will probably break it down to be able to review / think about it in "chunks", and then compare those "chunks" between themselves.

Two questions:
How much time do you spend in planning mode?
Do you block out larger chunks of time to work on projects?

I'm finding that just processing email can take 2 hours at the end of the week (2 mins to handle or create a task and move on).

I'm also finding that simply round-robining any available task doesn't seem to get the big projects done. Kind of like thrashing a disk, too many little tasks make it hard to make serious forward progress on the big projects.

I don't have "hard rules" for now, I find that depending on the project or area of responsibility, and also the stage a project is at, it will vary. For a newer project, I will spend more time in planning mode, at least 1-2 hours a week, usually at the end or beginning (to wrap up my week or be ready for the week to come). If nothing changed much and the project is moving forward normally, it might be just 5-15 minutes to quickly check that everything is on track, if I have to change some action from "waiting for" to a "follow up" context, etc.

Regarding emails, I try to go through all my emails every day (morning or evening), and try to set a goal to read every email only once, then turn it into an action or a project and file it right away. Doing this removes for me a lot of overhead and also allows me to focus by removing the "unknown" factor of unread emails or emails not completely processed. Similarly, new ideas will go to OF inbox if I think it will be benefical to review it at the end of the day / beginning of next day (something unusual or unexpected for example, that I feel might need a bit more thinking, but without interrupting what I do at the moment).

To work on projects, I find it useful when I have a lot of projects going on to decide to work on only 1-2 projects on some days (knowing that there will be emails and other small tasks for the other projects), ideallly blocking 2-3 hours for each project as if it was a meeting or something like that. I think it definitely help to do that to "dive" in a project. But that is to work or think about a problem, rather than doing the "project review" in which I will not work on project tasks or solve project problems, but rather plan the project and think about project organization (I hope that makes sense!). For example, in the project review, I will think in terms of "this block must be finished before this block", "who can help for this problem, ok I will contact him next week", risks, etc. When I'm working, if something like that comes up, I will add an action to think about this when I'm in review mode; otherwise, I complete actions. So during the review I think of all the actions, their sequence, risk, things to do; and when I work, I just "do".

One way that works well as far as contexts go for my job (computer, hardware/software development), is to use contexts such as:
- VPN (things I must check on client's servers, support, etc.);
- analysis / troubleshooting (more open-ended);
- documentation;
- persons (manager, people I assign work to, etc.)
- etc.

Then, if I connect to the VPN, I will do all the VPN tasks, but nothing "beyond" what requires the VPN. For example, if I need to check some data in order to perform some other action, I will just check the data, and then move to the next task for this project, which needs the VPN. That's what I mean by "round-robin", it's not so much that it is random, but that I go through potentially a lot of different "action paths" for different goals, but I do only a little part then move to the next. Most of the time, because "connecting to the VPN" represents a high "cost" (when I am connected I cannot run certain software, sometimes the connection itself requires that I call someone to get the authorization, etc.), by connecting once and moving forward on many fronts at once.

And similarly for other activities, if I'm all setup to code, compile, my logs are readily available, I might as well do that for a few different tasks/projects.

So as you can see, the emails, new ideas, etc. that come get quick pushed into the system, and at the end of the day/week (or beginning if you're a morning person), I do the review process. This cuts on the cost of "context switching" (in the "computer" sense, of getting a project in your "RAM").

Some things that I'm still incorporating and I find help a lot is during the review spending time to really break down things into "atomic" actions, and order them properly. The more I do this well, the more the "work part" becomes just going through a list, with a good focus. By selecting a few projects for the day / week, I make sure those move forward. By pushing new ideas in OF, that I know I will review within a reasonable delay, I don't break my focus and don't affect my productivity.

I hope this helps at least a little bit! :)

During my weekly planning, if I see that a particular project needs some attention, and this will take an hour or more, then I block that dedicated time in my calendar.
I'm confused about the distinction between projects and tasks, because to me everything should be in actions, and therefore they should both be addressed as part of the same process.

Is the distinction about tasks that are of indefinite length, and those that have a clear start and end point? My strategy is to transform the first into the second, as in:

- Spend fifteen minutes brainstorming about Gadget Database design.
- Spend two hours outlining Gadget Application requirements document.
- Select one item from Whatsit Site issues list and give it two hours. If not done, Next Action the stopping point.
- Document at least ten coding tasks for Thingamajig Application, to "crankable widget" status.
- Spend four hours working on one Thingamajig "crankable widget". If not done, Next Action the stopping point.


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