My Personal Mission-Oriented Management Model

I know that GTD (Get Things Done) is a big buzzword in the last few years. The guy (David Allen) that wrote the book about it is making lots of money. There are many people following his methods. Dozens of software solution were created to help everyone get things done…

I’m not a religious person, so whenever I see people imitating the behavior of a Guru with such a passion, I become very skeptic, even disturbed.

I believe in learning from other people, but I also believe that behaviors should be adapted. People are not the same. Everyone has it’s own context that affected his way of life. Our ways of life are not science: There is no “right” model. Even in science there isn’t such a thing.

Besides, most of Allen’s methods are common sense, others are common knowledge. I don’t know if he is the most efficient person on earth, but he is a great salesman, that’s for sure…

Anyway, I’m glad to share my model of getting things done. It’s a model built on my experience and things I’ve learn and ADAPTED along the way… my advice to you is – read, understand, and adapt it the right way for your context.

Mission Model

There are only 3 big parts to consider in managing your efficiency (we won’t be talking about other important things like managing your feelings here…)

  1. Mission Management – this is the “starting point” of the model. This is the part in our life when we think about what should we do: our tasks,  projects, goals… no matter how you call it – they are all missions. You should manage all your missions – short-term and long-term, your own, your family’s, work missions… I prefer to pack into one big list (the “Projects & Tasks List”). This list will be helpful only if we really use it – update it, prioritize it, and derive your daily tasks from it.
  2. Time Management – missions without allocation of time to do them – are just lists. I know only two main concept of managing time. First concept is the fixed timeframe (a week, two weeks, a month). This means your life are cut into constant time slots, cycles or iterations, which you fill with tasks prior the slot starts. I have a weekly plan session, and I place tasks with actual time to work on them in the free slots. This is actually how most agile methodologies work (SCRUM, XP). The other, is the project oriented concept. This concept consists of breaking down the big work into small tasks and connecting them together. This method can build a coherent plan for days, weeks, months or even years. The preferred tool for this concept is some kind of a Gantt editor. Although this is a good way to have a rough estimation of work, I find it hard to really manage my life like that. Working with fixed iterations make it much easier for me.
  3. Do – This is actually when we do things: think, decide, create, calculate, produce, etc. Working on something produces two kinds of information – the product (deliverable) itself (report, slideshow, sketch, schema, etc.) and the thoughts, decisions (and the logic behind the decisions). Unfortunately people rarely document these things, especially when they work alone on a project. It’s important to understand that DOING doesn’t always happen in formal situations. Sometime you think of a great idea related to work when you’re in the bathroom.

It may seem this scheme is over-simplified model. but actually it worked for any situation I tried. To answer the obvious question: “what about collaboration?” I can tell that the collaboration and sharing space is really perpendicular to this flat image. Other people, using a model similar to that, are above and under your image, so you have a “stack” of this models. According to this model you can share and collaborate on any issue: You can share, delegate or get tasks and projects from other people, you can invite people to events (meetings), and be invited, or you can manage human resources (in a Gantt). And of course you can share and collaborate in doing stuff: writing collaboratively, documenting what happened (in a blog) and get commented about it, exchange ideas (through emails, instant messengers) and even just talk to people (via phones or software… and face to face).

Let’s make a simulation of an iteration using the model (counter-clockwise):

  1. I look at my list of projects and tasks, prioritize it, and decide what will be the next tasks I will deal in the next time frame. I also estimate the time I will need to complete the tasks.
  2. According to the time estimated for each task, I look at my future schedule and place my tasks in the calendar.
  3. After I get reminded of a task I need to do, I start working on it. The product of this work are documented as the output (slideshow, report, scheme, etc.). I also document thoughts and decisions (blog is a good tool for that).
  4. I update my mission list (create new tasks, sign off completed tasks, break tasks into several tasks, etc.)

And back to step 1, again.

There is also the other direction (clockwise), which is the control cycle (control over what is done, and the time spent)

If you’re a knowledge worker – this model covers all the relevant situation of your professional life.

What do you think about this model? Do you have any questions? Suggestions? I would like to hear about it.

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The Unwanted Journey

My last month was so chaotic.

It all started with being unsatisfied with the task management tools I had (I used a Word document, that is very flexible, but is badly integrated with any management tool I have).

I’ve started an exploration that went out of control. I’ve spent dozens of hours to find efficient tools, in stead of doing my tasks. By searching a way to become more efficient I’ve been totally inefficient. You can start your personal chaos here http://simplespark.com/, or here http://www.listio.com/web20.

The real problem was I didn’t spend any time in planning (isn’t that always the problem?). I thought I’d check 3-5 tools and after test-driving the trial version, I will find my holy grail…

I was so wrong. My exploration exploded from 5 tools to dozens, maybe even more than a hundred! The picture I got was so big, so fuzzy…

The worst thing was that I felt no tools gave me the integration I wanted between my missions, my time, my work products, etc.

I was confused already, but than came another headache – I found that MS Outlook had add-ins that have some great features, that can transform this big application into something really useful (I use Outlook at work). I found that some tools I’ve checked integrate with Outlook too. This, of course, swept me into another painful round of exploration: I’ve checked dozens of add-ins. God…

Finally, I took a grip. I started by writing my model of mission-oriented management. I know there are theories; I also couldn’t miss the buzz about GTD (Getting Things Done). Some people referring to this model even scared me – they were so fanatic about doing things "by the book", I thought another religion was born and I wasn’t informed about it.

I’m not very excited about the GTD. I’m pretty happy with my model, and I always learn more methods to improve it. I really don’t want to become a part of the GTD fanatics.

I used my model to map the gaps – the places I’m not satisfied with the solution I have.

Only than, armed with clear requirements, I went back to check the tools and applications.

I decided to advance slowly and document the tools I check. To make sense in all of it, I prepared a feature table and mapped them all… well most of them.

Sure, it took more time, but I felt in control of the process.

The great thing is that after mapping the tools I could find patterns, resemblances between some of the tools. I found distinct categories. So from a chaotic exploration it became rather organized research.

Never the less, at the end of the process I was pretty tired of checking applications. As a UX designer this is not a good thing… The main reason I decided to write a post about it, was my desire to finish what I started, to document the knowledge for myself, and share it with other people who search for software solutions to manage themselves and others better. Otherwise, all the hours I spent in the exploration would be a big waste of time.

Later I will post my mission-oriented management model, and the things I’ve learnt about the applications in this area. Finally, I will describe my own tool setting.