Workload Management: How I’m Doing It

There are many balls in the air, but I don’t feel overwhelmed by my workload. Not even close. It’s weird. Normally, I’d be all over the place, panicking, or so stressed out that I felt the need to bury my head in a book and pretend that “it can wait until later.” Which was never true. Not now, not then. I’m crediting two things, the first being the switch in my ADD meds, and the other being in how I have kept myself from jumping around and leaving projects half-finished. It’s been revelatory.

The Current Workload Landscape

First, there’s my freelancing biz. I have two major clients, one minor client, and a couple of side projects I want to tackle to help get my name out there. That’s a lot.

Then there’s work, family, the novel I’m writing, the CX frame that I really need to finish, my ongoing 3D printer build, household maintenance, and a dozen other things that have been trying to crowd their way in to my head. (My first line of defense is to keep work and personal projects completely separate.)

There are two problems with this: the first is a behavioral issue of prioritization. When you have ADD, you tend to chase the newest shiniest object in the pile to the detriment of the other tasks. The second is time constraints — putting one task as “okay, I’m going to spend 8 hours today working on X,” means that Y and Z get neglected for the day, and with that comes guilt, anxiety, or the risk of them being pushed aside because you found this amazing groove with the writing that you want to carry into the next day.

That’s a lot to worry about.

How I Cope

I decided to reach into my bag of project management experience on this one. Because all these various tasks are important to me, and I don’t want them to languish, I need to find a way to tackle a bit of them each day, in such a way that I still have time to address everything and don’t overfocus in one location.

So I create a spreadsheet. (The nerdy/organize-your-way-out-of-it types are probably clapping your hands right now.) I have a line for each project or major area that is currently commanding my attention. With columns for Project and Task.

Each project is allowed only one line. I use nifty little codes for each project ENVS is my first major client, for example, and BTAP is my second. Etc., etc. You get the idea.

Each project is allowed only one task, and that is it.

Now, here’s where it gets ugly. The only tasks in your workload that you are allowed to accomplish are the ones on the current list. You can’t finish one thing for the CX frame, for example, and then move on to something else with it. It’s done or it isn’t. This has the effect of making me mix list tasks that are a variety of sizes, and limits the number of generalizations that are on the list.

Once everything on the list is done, then I’m able to make a new list.

Today’s List

ENVSrecap email
BTAPhomework email
TYLRserver setup
B612fix nginx configuration
PUTNlook at Pinterest layout
CXFRemail Alex
PRNTparts audit
FAMLsmall gift for kids
MISCread Chasm City
As you’ll see from the attached list, I have a lot of shit going on. Which is fine. Because when you look at it, there’s a variety of tasks listed. As you’ll see there’s a bunch of 5-minute tasks — recap email to the ENVS client, homework email to the BTAP client, email Alex about the CX frame (CXFR), etc. Easy peasy, right? Right. Then there’s the generalities — for B612 I need to fix the nginx configuration, which could be easy or tough, depending on how quickly I find the bug and how much work it takes to resolve it. Also generalized are “write” under the book, and “read Chasm City” under MISC. The thing with both of those is that I’m okay if they vary wildly in amount — I have a personal goal of 750 words a day when I write, but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t make it that far. And as for the reading, it’s something I do anyway. Even if it’s just a little bit, I’m happy.

So ultimately, we have a mix between big and little tasks, which gives me the ability to capitalize on little bits of time as they become available. But I cannot move forward with new tasks on a project until everything on this list has been addressed. And if I’m religious about sticking to that rule, it works. Moving on to doing other things is a the carrot. The interdependency rule is the stick.

Weaknesses in the Plan

This isn’t the end-all/be-all of ADD coping plans. It just happens to be what works for addressing my workload. And there’s going to be snags when you try to implement it. First, if you have a family (and a honey-do list), you’re going to bump up against reality quickly. Make sure you have buy-in from your significant other to enact this and make sure that they understand your goal. Maybe you have a HONEYDO project line, and you accomplish a big task on the weekends, and smaller tasks throughout the week.

I haven’t defined whether it’s okay to have a blank line for a day. I think it should be okay.

It likely doesn’t work in a modern workplace, given the frequent requirement to multitask, shift priorities, or put out fires. If you’re going to use this at the office, I’d use it for long-term projects that aren’t super high-priority. Use it to tackle things like personal development, a side project that you’re working on, and things of that nature.

Because this is a plan that manages day-to-day workload, it doesn’t give you a 50,000 foot view of things. What big stuff do you have waiting in the wings? It might be a good idea to get a master list of everything that needs to be accomplished in one place and then when you go to build a new list, you seed it with items from your 50,000 foot view.

What’s Your Organizational Trick?

Let me know in the comments below.

Image Credits: Michael Schwarzenberger/Creative Commons Zero (CC0).