At ResponseSource our services including the Media Contacts Database and Journalist Enquiry Service are developed in-house by our fantastic development team. We asked our Development Team Manager Adam Palmer for some tips on how to manage tasks, improve productivity and meet deadlines.
Life is full of tasks. They can come in all shapes and sizes: big, small, important, urgent or just something to do later.
You will be assigned tasks at home, at work and probably keep your own to-do list. Your collated task list may be quite long and daunting. At this point, it’s hard to know where to start: most recent task, simplest, most fun? But even when you do begin the challenge, it’s hard to stay focused as more and more tasks are added. Sound familiar?
To be productive you need to be in control of your time. I’m not talking in a Dr Who or a Marty McFly kind of way either. Remember, being productive doesn’t mean working faster, it means working smarter. Your time is fixed; you can’t change that. But you can change how you use it.
To work smarter you need to be more agile:
Get control of your task list – it’s important to get everything in one place. There’s only one of you, so have one place for managing your tasks.
Analyse the tasks and prioritise the list so that the most valuable tasks are at the top and the least valuable (or low priority) tasks are at the bottom.
Change your working mindset to see your time in blocks, like weeks on a calendar.
Work out, from the top, how many tasks you think you can complete in the first block of time.
The end date of your first block is the deadline. Apply this to all the tasks in your first block.
Repeat this process for the next block, and so on.
We use many of these Agile principles in the ResponseSource Dev Team. We’re responsible for developing and maintaining all of the ResponseSource services: from the Media Contacts Database to internal Content Management Systems (CMS); email systems to blogs (including this one!). When combined, there are hundreds of tasks to manage – which is quite a long list! But by analysing, prioritising and estimating for each time block (or Sprint as they’re called in Scrum) we can confidently produce long-term estimates. The end date of each block becomes the task’s deadline.
It may feel a bit odd setting yourself a deadline at first. But you improve over time and as you realise your velocity, you can assign deadlines with confidence.
Once you start working in this way you’ll benefit from:
Improved focus – only looking at your closest deadline tasks and ignoring the tasks assigned to other time blocks
More confidence – your starting at the top of your list, which has the most valuable tasks. So you’re working on what should be done first
Steady velocity – you set the pace. Don’t overload your time block with more tasks than you feel comfortable with
Increased vision – the more blocks you complete, the better at estimating you will become. This will help you provide long-term estimates to stakeholders
Being flexible – as you’re assigned new tasks, prioritise them in your time blocks. You may need to move an existing task into the next block down to make room
Always improving – at the end of each block, take time to retrospect. Ask yourself what went well, what problems you had and how you can improve in the next block
Deadlines shouldn’t be set blindly, they should be assigned based on past performance. Changing how you think about deadlines and adopting some of the principles above can help you be more productive with your own task list.
Why not try this out for the next 4 weeks and see it helps you regain control of your tasks?