пятница, 10 ноября 2017 г.

Use Trello as the good old day planner

In the old days of my first attempts to plan my work ahead instead of simply following the stream of life I used a paper-based personal day planner - a thing that everyone had at some point. It is a great tool that has almost everything that one needs to plan their days. But it's also another large and heavy thing, which you have to carry with you. Also, because it's pen and paper it becomes a mess for example when you have to adjust your plan because something went wrong, and it is limited in space. Thus, with time I switched to Trello as my organizer and followed the Getting Things Done methodology in it. It works great, but I always missed the ability to plan the following day accurately and to follow that plan closely, which I could do with the paper thing. Recently I discovered a way to fix that and it boosted my productivity tremendously.

My Trello board for daily activities is constituted of several lists, such as Incoming, Wait, Office - Do and Wilderness - Do. The latter two are action lists - they consist of the things that I am going to do at the office and elsewhere. During the day I go through the cards in these two lists, do them one by one, and archive each one when it's done.

When I first switched to this approach I lacked the ability to plan the next day - action lists could include lots of cards that would span several days and it didn't work well for planning. Sometimes I would make a kind of plan on a piece of paper, but in most cases I simply didn't do it. This made me miss the paper organizer. This problemm however, is easy to fix without leaving the comfort of Trello.

At first I simply added a card called "Day boundary" with a black label to my two action lists. I don't use black label for anything else so it is easy to spot this card among others. The meaning of it is simple: whatever is above it should be done today; what goes below will be done on any other day. This trick helped a lot: I could plan my day now. Whenever something changed I could easily adjust plans by moving things that do not fit the day anymore under that "Day boundary". The approach however was not perfect. Too frequently at the end of the day I would see a lot of cards above the black one, indicating that I failed to do all that I planned. While this can happen, seeing this every other day means I wasn't doing good job at planning.

I felt the longing for the paper organizer again. What I missed about it was the ability to see that between 13:00 and 14:00 I should be occuppied with one thing and also that if I don't finish it on time the things planned for later hours will drift by that much. This makes me more disciplined. Also, when laying out a plan in a paper organizer you have to fit its points into hour lines, which means you assess how long each one will take and whether they fit the day. In Trello I only had a list of things that I was going to complete over a very long period - one day - and it was very easy to make mistakes about how much I can put in.

So I made the next step and just added several more black cards to the action lists and labeled them with time: 9:00, 12:00, 15:00, 18:00, 21:00. It was enough to transform my Trello into as good an organizer as the paper planner. Now, every evening I fill the gaps between these black cards with action cards. Whatever falls between the 12:00 card and the 15:00 card is planned to be completed during that exact period of time. It also made my planning more realistic - I have to assess whether particular cards fit into a shorter period of 3 hours or not. To make that easier I made a custom of writing the amount of time allocated for every activity on its card (you can see the numbers in parenthesis).

During the day I still archive the action cards once I finish working on them. With the new organization this means that I can easily see how much I lag behind or how far I am ahead of plan. If it's 16:00 and I still have any non-black cards above the 15:00 one, then something went wrong. If all cards are below and there aren't too many of them between 15:00 and 18:00, I am likely good. It's 17:00 now, so you can see that I am falling behind a bit, but not too much. With these recent changes I returned to the state when what I planned for a day is actually done on that day. I may fail a little here or there, but generally it works well.

It doesn't matter much which tool you use to organize yourself as long as it makes you feel comfortable and allows to make a plan and see clearly how it is going while you're working through it. Trello's flexibility lets you achieve that easily and in a very visual form, so if you're not using anything specific right now it may be a good way to go.

If you have a different approach to preparing a plan for a day and working with it, please share it here! Maybe something about it makes you feel sick? If so, leave a comment and who knows - maybe we can find a solution together.