How To Visualize Your Work And Be More Productive

Take Control Of Your Time

Do you find yourself saying, “if only there were more hours in the day?” There’s plenty of high-profile articles and advice by industry leaders like Warren Buffet advising us to, “keep control of your time.” If only it were that easy, right? I know I could do a better job of managing my time, but over the past few years I’ve gotten better at it. I started applying some of the principles I’ve learned in Agile to help me keep organized at work and in life. Here’s my advice to those out there who may be struggling to keep control of their own time.

Steps To Take Control Of Your Time

  1. Wrap Your Arms Around Your Work. The first thing I started doing was taking an inventory of all the work I was doing. It started in a simple excel sheet. It was a mess at first, but I kept adding things to it as stuff came up and I started to get a handle on what my time was being spent on.
  2. Classify and Categorize. I started taking 15 minutes during my lunch break to identify trends in the spread sheet. I started putting different things into “buckets.” I kept these buckets fairly high level. I borrowed from a book I read called The Phoenix Project. One of the lessons it teaches is that there are only four kinds of work we do in IT.
    • Business Projects – projects that generate revenue and crosses other departments.
    • Internal IT Projects – projects that your organization doesn’t typically “see” but is impacted by; like upgrading that database from SQL Server 2008 to 2016.
    • Changes To Production – operations. This can be something like pushing out new group policies to end users.
    • Unplanned Work – a time suck. We know this work well. Fire-fighting because it’s extremely urgent and important. Those familiar with Stephen R. Covey and his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People know this as “living in quadrant 1.” 
  3. Find A Tool That Fits Your Needs And Get Organized. I’m a millennial, and keeping an excel spreadsheet up to date is difficult. On top of that, I prefer using tools that work on any device I choose. I use my iPhone, laptop, or desktop interchangeably throughout the day. I need a tool that works for me no matter where I am. That’s why I settled on two tools:
    • Microsoft Outlook – I use Outlook because it’s the primary calendar tool we use at work. It also gives me the ability to create separate calendars.
      Associate colors with projects, teams, or categories of work in Outlook

      I work full time during the day, I write, I blog, I’m helping a family member launch their business online, and I’m also taking 4 classes at the graduate level. Needless to say, I’m extremely busy. Not only do I have separate calendars for different parts of my life, I also color code things using the “categorize” option. I associate these colors with teams, projects, and my “categories of work.” Microsoft has a free app for outlook and allows you to connect multiple email accounts too. It’s perfect for someone like me who has 4 email accounts.

    • Trello – I use Trello because it allows me to organize my work at the task level. It has a simple and elegant interface on both desktop, web, and mobile. It updates immediately no matter where you connect. So I can add a task during a meeting and see it when I get back to my desk. The idea is to create “boards” for your projects and fill them with cards for your tasks. You can also add checklists, tags, and color code your cards too. My capstone group ran an entire software project on Trello and it worked like a charm. We created a drink recommendation app called B.A.R.T.E.N.D.E.R. — it’s still up but hasn’t been maintained since graduation. Trello also allows you to add due dates and to collaborate with multiple people. I set up my own personal board as a Kanban board and use it daily because it allows me to prioritize and keep my arms wrapped around my work.
  4. Start Saying, “No.” You are now armed with visual information about what your work load looks like. You’re likely juggling way too much that’s marked as “In Progress” and barely making headway on anything meaningful or important. You’re armed with empirical evidence that you’re over capacity and over committed. It’s time to start saying, “no” to things. Be respectful with your co-workers and managers and let them know that until you can start moving things to “done,” you currently don’t have the bandwidth to take on any extra work. Radical idea, I know. But did you know that your manager wants to hear these things? They may not take you seriously at first but you can easily show them. Let them know that if any new items land on your plate that is considered a high priority, they’ll need to move something else that’s “in progress” to the back burner and extend that deadline to accommodate the new task. If there’s a trend with things being swapped in and out of “in progress” and never getting “done,” then I’m willing to bet your manager needs some help staying organized themselves. That’s another conversation though. If you’re bombarded with meeting invites without an agenda, follow up and ask for one. If no one gets back to you, decline it. My philosophy is, “how can I come prepared and what will the action items be?” If I don’t get an answer, they probably didn’t need me. You can also ask if there’s anything that can be done without the meeting. A quick message on Skype or a few short email exchanges can make meetings avoidable all together.
  5. Find Ways To Streamline The Repeatable Tasks. Anything that is reoccurring can be scheduled around or automated in some way. You’ll need to research how to do this, but invest some time or find ways to cut out tasks that aren’t valuable. Eliminate the waste. If you’re a knowledge worker like me, using a programming language can help. One book I picked up a while back, Automate The Boring Stuff With Python, contains a wealth of information and ideas, and there’s an accompanying course on Udemy as well.
  6. Invest In Yourself. Many of my peers and colleagues think I’m crazy for how “busy” I am. But, I’m busy doing the things I enjoy. I’m investing time in myself and getting my Master’s degree. I write and I blog. I have a social life. I even mark of a few hours a week on my work calendar for training and development. I wouldn’t be able to do these things if I wasn’t taking control of my time and doing the things that truly matter.

Thanks for taking the time to read. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you stay organized! If you’d like to have a discussion, leave a comment below or contact me. I’d love to connect on social media as well!

Photo Credit: Pixabay






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