One of the joys of running contract work in parallel with company work is the feeling that I’m sometimes being drawn and quartered between competing interests. As I’ve mentioned before, requests never seem to line up and trying to make sure I accurately capture and track outstanding tasks has been a full job in itself. In order to help keep track of up to 6+ separate jobs, I’ve developed a few tools to help me organize client work and Prologue projects.
Once I find my rhythm of juggling incoming messages, the next task is to figure out where to put them so I’m not bouncing between 4 different email inboxes and searching for old messages to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing. I have gravitated to a combination of Google Docs and Asana to organize incoming projects (depending on their level of complexity). For some clients, work tends to be lots of little tasks that need to be juggled over the course of weeks while others are more heavy programming projects that need focused effort against large systems.
Google docs works well when there are a series of individual tasks that don’t necessarily have dependencies between them. I use a basic color coding system to track what I have pending, in progress, and recently finished. Initially it would seem better to just remove completed tasks but I found that since client communication could be periodic (and they have more projects than just what I’m taking care of), it was nice to have a list of things to refresh their memory on the status of previous requests. A spreadsheet for one of my clients might look like this:
For some of my programming contract work, it can be more helpful to have a list in a more fluid tool like Asana:
This allows me to quickly sort features that I either stumble across or have requested into buckets. This is *not* a comprehensive backlog of everything that needs to be done, but rather a triage system bracketing items into things that need to be done this week, next week, and some indeterminable time in the future. If the task list gets to more than a page or so, I’m either not keeping up and need to set expectations, or being way too detailed in my task writeups.
Finally, there’s the little matter of keeping up with Prologue work. (that is the reason this whole thing got going anyways) As with most indie companies, this involves wearing a lot of hats including overall production schedule, business operating documents, marketing/community, and squeezing in a little game dev too. This can seem like a mountain of work to conquer so I try to take progressive passes at this and just build a series of lists that I can then follow up and focus on one at a time.
For this blog, I knew if I had to stare at a blank document every week I’d go crazy. Instead I took an evening and tried to plot out a list of blog topics that would be interesting to me (and hopefully, you) and make sure there’s a good balance of topics.
Here’s another situation where I’ve kept completed tasks on the page instead of wiping them out. There’s a lot of times where I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything since the business started. Leaving myself a little trail of breadcrumbs often helps lift me up and realize that I have been busy and time has not been wasted. In addition, you’ll probably notice that lots of original posts ended up getting bumped by more timely topics that arose throughout the process. This brings up one of the most important points around all this:
Planning does not require knowing all things ahead of time or locking you into a set of tasks forever.
Good planning allows me to not have a cloud of anxiety hanging over me that I might miss something. I know that I’ve taken a reasonable amount of time to think through what I know, and I give myself the permission to go off script when I want. But when I’m just worn down, I can merely glance at my pre-planned tasks and tackle whatever is at the top of the list. Anything that can reduce the number of decisions I have to make minute to minute is invaluable.
Finally, I keep a personal hotlist (similar to client work) and a high level schedule. Again, these things do not dictate life to me but merely provide me with familiar markers so I can understand where I am when life overwhelms me with too many things to process.
So there you go. While there are always strong internal and external forces pulling me in each direction, with a little personal structure, I can (usually) keep my limbs from being ripped off.
How about you? Any great organization tools that give you a personal firewall against the craziness?