managing self

Keeping ideas and juggling projects

This post is in response to Fiona Jones’ recent question about where to record brilliant ideas so they don’t go ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and how to create a visual way of keeping on track and not drop any balls with tasks and projects. My response is a little more than a tweet. I’ve actually been meaning to share what I do, so here’s my opportunity. 🙂

From Fiona’s blog post, I identified two goals:

  1. keep brilliant ideas within reach and sight
  2. a visual way to ensure no balls (projects/tasks) are dropped

I’ll start with a general statement. Whatever tool or method is used, the benefits are in how you (naturally) use the tool and how often you use it. Because you don’t want to force yourself to use a tool in a certain way. That defeats its purpose. You want the tool or method to work for you. If you don’t know how you use the tools you’re already using, I’d suggest keeping a note, or just pay attention over a two week or month long period first. Identify any trends and what you really need from a tool or method.

Goal 1: keeping brilliant ideas within reach and sight

There are a number of tools I’ve used in the past. Some examples are Evernote, Trello and Things.

I tend to use Evernote as a repository or scrapbook, rather than a place for ideas. I did try to use Evernote to keep ideas, and there are times I still do, like when I’m out on a Friday night (which sadly is not often enough, by the way!) and don’t have my journal or a notebook with me. Evernote in this way just doesn’t mesh with the way I like to work. And Trello kind of fell by the way side because I didn’t continue to use it. I might pick it up again one day, but as a tool, it doesn’t remain with me beyond a specific project or purpose.

I currently use Things as a task management tool. Things work with the ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) methodology I adopted in part about four or five years ago. If I was to use Things to keep ideas, I’d put these ideas either into ‘Someday’ or as a task under the relevant ‘life area’ without a due date. Again, these tools, or any tools are only as effective as how often you refer to them and use them.

What I currently use for keeping brilliant ideas with reach and sight is the ‘bullet journalling’ method. I don’t use this method as prescribed, down to the letter. This is the beauty of bullet journalling – you can take the bits that will work for you.

I always have my journal with me. I have recently adopted the bullet journalling method as a way to easily find my ideas and notes later on. I use the index and page numbering features. When I get an idea, I write it in my journal. If the idea is significant, I’ll add it to my index with the page number. I then review my index monthly to see if there’s anything worth progressing at that stage. There are a number of blog posts and resources out there for bullet journalling. Here are a couple:

Warning! If you’re a Pinterest user, do not, I repeat, DO NOT search for bullet journalling tips until you’ve read and grasped the basics. Images and ideas galore. Cue overwhelm and backing away.

Yes, the journal is paper. But I love pen and paper for ideas because ideas flow from my mind better that way. Ideas are not ‘final’ when written down. Ideas are raw. The laptop is for progressing or working with ideas.

Goal 2: a visual way to keep track of tasks and projects

I guess you could have the most whiz-bang tool out there for this purpose. Trello would also be a good option. But I find the basic spreadsheet an easy, blank canvas to work with. I love basic Gantt charts. I use them to track my projects and commitments over the year and manage my work load. Here’s an example:

project management

I’ve colour coded for life areas. Call me pedantic, but it works. I will also use this method for projects, personal and professional. Every week or two weeks, I’ll refer back to the Gantt chart or spreadsheet to see how I’m going. I like seeing the ‘big picture’ and doing so helps me to identify when I need to refine my priorities, as well as make any scope or schedule adjustments along the way. If you need this in front of you, I’d suggest printing out a copy and sticking it where you sit regularly. Or, input the duration of tasks or projects into an online calendar where you’ll see them everyday.

Some final tips:

  • less is more
  • keep it simple
  • there’s no perfect tool or method

Hope this helps!

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