Getting an insight into how I manage my tasks – which I have become pretty accustomed to – is certainly more interesting than reading about my content writing work, right? It’s something I’ve been tinkering around with for years, although it’s still not perfect. That said, however, I haven’t made any changes to the process for a long time, which makes me think that it must already be quite well developed.
The process begins with an idea for a task. I get my ideas from everywhere: when talking to someone, while driving my car or even taking a shower. These situations often have a single common denominator: that I am not sitting at my desk and the only thing I have at hand is my smartphone or a pad and pen.
Google Keep has become the best tool for me. The application starts quickly and works even when the internet connection is poor or completely absent. That is important to me. There are, however, umpteen Android and iOS apps out there that are just as suitable and can also be used.
I then delete my ideas and notes from Google Keep. I really just use it as a convenient place to quickly file my thoughts and ideas. My goal is to keep this container as empty as possible.
From there, my private tasks end up in Basecamp. Other people use Trello for this. Both solutions are good, quick and easy to use. I move my work tasks to our Jira system on a one-to-one basis and continue working on them there using the filters. The first filter is called “Vet These Issues.” When I do that, I make sure that everything that is not urgent is placed “On Hold.” Here, I usually set an automatic follow-up date. And then, similar to my emails, I simply set the tasks to pending first. That may not appear very efficient, but it helps me focus on the really important things first. And ultimately, I end up not having to tackle many of the things I put off for months or sometimes even years.
And what’s left over are the tasks I can’t postpone. This kind of task always exists in one way or another: “Prepare for the meeting tomorrow” is a task I have to do today or not at all. Because if I don’t prepare for the meeting tomorrow today, it will take place without me being prepared. And by then, my job of preparing for it will already be outdated. So, I take care of these tasks immediately. Sometimes I’m brave and deliberately don’t work on something. Then I just inform the others involved about my decision. But that’s not always possible, of course.
Luckily there aren’t too many things in my workflow that arrive so out of the blue they cannot be prioritized and scheduled properly. And this is the next step: prioritization. This is a pretty complex matter. It is said that there are people who get along with using just A, B and C categories. Or numbers from one to ten. I’m not one of them. And neither are our project teams. At some point, a mass of activities bottleneck in the most important categories and get stuck. And when everything is equally important, the system loses its usefulness.
A better method that many of our teams now use is the “WSJF” mnemonic from Donald G. Reinertsen (see “Recommended Reading”). This abbreviation stands for “Weighted Shortest Job First” and follows a pretty convincing logic: We start best with the small tasks that allow us to make the most progress. This allows us to make the best progress in the least amount of time.
At this point, I do not want to cover the impact of WSJF in any detail, because only peripheral aspects of it relate to intranet systems. But to be brief, similar to agile project management, we work on smaller tasks. We complete tasks more often. The system drives us to split larger packages into smaller ones, because this gives them a higher WSJF value.
In the second step, I assign the WSJF values for the following four questions: does the failure to implement this task generate a risk or cause us to miss out on an opportunity? Is its implementation scheduled and time-critical? How large will its business value be when it is completed? How complex is it to implement? The corresponding estimates have no dimension and are based on adjusted Fibonacci numbers (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100).
The WSJF value is then calculated by taking the sum of the first three numbers and dividing it by the last number. This results in values between zero and 20, which I can then place in a specific order if I want to use decimal places. This takes a real weight off my shoulders. It goes without saying here, of course, that the allocation process is quite arbitrary and easy to influence. But on the whole, priorities set in this manner almost always work for me. It is part of my nature that the number of ideas I have far outweighs the number of working hours in a day, so a list of this type is extremely helpful.
Once I have defined all my priorities with WSJF, I take a look at my “current tasks” filter. Ultimately, these are all of the pending tasks I have to complete that are not “on hold” waiting for a reminder date. From here, I often simply postpone the tasks using the “resubmission” filter until the list becomes clearer.
Admittedly, I still regularly face the problem of planning to do a lot more than I actually have time to do. And my work packages regularly end up being too unwieldy as well. I have to use WSJF to condition myself even better to keep the individual steps nice and small. I am still not 100% sure of the best way to handle the tasks I have to perform “today.” (There are apps for this – but I am sure this is also the reason why the Filofax still persists to this day). But the most important aspect is this:
What counts is what people do here and now.
If an intranet is going to be successful, it needs to have an impact on and improve the work that your employees are doing today.
Sure, you can always invest. But at some point, you also need to reap your rewards. And that is a challenge for a software application. Often, it annoys people so much that they come up with all sorts of avoidance strategies and pursue them until the end. We experience this in Confluence and Linchpin intranets a lot: As soon as people have got a grip on the basics, they misuse them just as much as they do email. It’s not good when your intranet is used as a CRM or ERP system, or parts of it are duplicated redundantly.
But back to how I use the intranet today. I confess that I regularly fail in the challenge of postponing a sufficient number of tasks until “later.” As a result, my list is always too long for today, and something is always left over when it comes to the end. This doesn’t feel good. But if I stay disciplined, I manage to work through the list from top to bottom. Which means at least I get the most important things done that come up.
If I want to plan something for the coming week, the rest of the month, the whole quarter or even the remainder of the year, I create my own filters. My “rotten lists” are important filters. In them, I sort my own tasks and those I have created but assigned to other users, with the most rotten ones at the top. (Rotten is a casual term for a recent update rollout which got left far behind.) This proves both awful and effective at the same time. Achieving transparency about what isn’t going to get done is a very painful experience. This is especially true for large companies, where transparency never ever takes on a tangible form for the entirety of the workforce.
I go through these lists of old issues every two to three months. I often find things on them that have already been implemented, and sometimes things that by simply waiting and sitting them out, have become obsolete. But this also helps me on my path to continuous learning.
And yes, your question is justified when you ask, “This is all well and good, but what does any of this have to do with your intranet project?” Well, you’ll have to find out the answer for yourself. As part of your project for introducing an intranet, you should consider whether a task management system that also works for a large number of employees should be part of your project or not. Because, without a doubt, a task management system of this kind represents a large and separate project complete with its own set of complexities.
The transparency I just mentioned that is so painful to achieve represents just the beginning. The works council also has a nose for monitoring performance (at least in Germany). You will have to deal with agile project management methods, such as Scrum and Kanban, and even agile scaling across the whole organization (for example, with the Scaled Agile Framework, SAFe). The world of project management involves huge areas that some companies we work with have to deal with much more extensively and in much more detail than they do with their intranet systems.
So be careful not to simply add item 201 “Task Management for All Employees” to your 200 criteria-long Excel table of dedicated intranet requirements! Yes, you laugh, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard of this kind of approach. And that reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what systematic task management is all about. (Incidentally, I have a fundamental problem with checklists of this kind, but we can discuss that again in detail later).
At this point I have sorted, prioritized and postponed my daily tasks as I see fit and am now in a perfect position to tackle the most important things left on my list for today. That sounds simple. But, in reality, for both you and me, the quick and uncomplicated coordination of tasks is probably extremely important and fundamental.
At our company, I am someone who has more experience than many others. My coworkers want to draw on this experience. And as a “servant leader,” as it is called in the agile context, I want to be approachable as well. But for the sake of a better understanding, I will put the brakes on complexity at this point and pretend that the processes we deal with are all nicely separate and not so terribly interwoven that you sometimes don’t know what you should really be working on first because of all of the multitasking.
Link to this page: https://seibert.biz/intranetbooktasks
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