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Scenario

A few years ago, I managed to (pretty much) cut out any paper work from my life and all my work is digital now. I work as a contractor web developer and have several projects on the go at once. I usually work remotely for clients in London whilst travelling around the world. In order to do this more efficiently, I need to continue working to streamline my project management systems.


Structure

I have usually tried structuring files/tasks related to projects by priority, and by whether the asset still needs to change in any way (e.g. being ticked off on a todo list), or if it no longer needs to 'change' in which case it is 'filed' away.

I have usually used a system of 3 for this, e.g.:

  1. Top: needs to be done asap
  2. Med: something that can wait for now
  3. Low: something which can be filed away

I feel like this works pretty well for me, as it is often easier for one to think in 3s.

However, the challenge I always face is the one presented by how dispersed digitally everything is these days.


In the past

In the 'olden days' (before computers) I might have had one (physical) project folder for each of the projects I was working on. Using the same way of thinking, I could potentially use a system like this:

  1. Top: work is kept outside any physical project folder because it needs to be right there in front of me on my 'desktop' because it is urgent.
  2. Med: work that needs to be done for the project, but isn't so urgent and can be 'out of sight', maybe slotted into a project folder at the front.
  3. Low: Information about the project which can now be filed away in the relevant project folder.

Now

Nowadays, a project seems to looks more like this:

  1. Top: Priority tasks in Google Tasks, priority project tasks in Asana/JIRA highlighted with a tag or something, priority browser 'tabs' on my bookmarks bar, priority emails starred in my inbox, priority files on my desktop, priority notes in a 'main' section in onenote.
  2. Med: Medium project tasks in a backlog in Asana/JIRA, medium tasks in Google tasks before being moved to Asana (easy to add on the go and offline on my phone), medium priority emails in a project related folder in my inbox, medium priority files in project folders on my desktop (aliases to them actually), medium priority browser tabs in project bookmark folders. Medium priority 'notes' somewhere I just don't know anymore with them.
  3. Low: Notes filed away in onenote, files filed away in project folders, browser bookmarks filed away in project folders.

This drives me mad and sometimes I lose concentration and focus because my brain just cant decide where it needs to 'look' next. It is almost like there is no 'centralised' place to look for the priorities for each project. And no good overall management system for managing how much resource should be applied to each project and in what priority.


Questions

  • Is there a flaw in my thinking and structuring here, or do other people have this problem too?
  • Am I just 'digitally hoarding' and trying to micromanage too much?
  • Am I trying to squeeze everything into one system which just doesn't work (the 3 rule)?
  • Does anyone have any groundbreaking suggestions or good tool recommendations?
  • Why hasn't someone designed the 'perfect project management tool' yet (this is a joke question because I know this will look different depending on the organisation (or maybe there is a 'core' system which would work for any organisation that could have various plugins bolted in?))

I find that good separation allows me to focus a lot better, e.g. I have a separate login for my personal stuff and a separate login for my work stuff, which is so so helpful for my concentration, and I would love to be able to open one 'view' and see everything needed for a selected project right in front of my at once (or at least the 'top' priorities).

By the way, I love that there is a project management Stack Exchange site!

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The type of Project Management normally discussed in PM Stack Exchange focuses more on organizational level projects that involve many stakeholders contributing to project tasks. It sounds like your question is more of a personal organizational question -- however, I can see your rationale in its relationship to Project Management (because it's how you're managing your projects).

Clearly, you have stakeholders and contributors on your projects and communication within and between everyone involved is critical for how you deliver a satisfactory, high-value solution. This perfectly parallels organizational project management. But as an individual contractor, you have a set of challenges presented to you, such as each client may communicate requirements and participate using their own (different) in-house tools/resources (which may force you to normalize those requirements into your own system of tools). At the end, your clients will really only care about two things: did you deliver what you promised for the cost you promised and how much (subjective) value did you provide to the client along the way (i.e. how easy was it to work with you, translate their requirements into a working web solution, do the aesthetics of the work match their vision, and are their end-users happy with the provided solution). All reasonable and all match the goals of organizational project management.

Each of us, working independently or within a group, needs to develop a personal set of habits that allows us to work efficiently and matches "how our minds work". The group-supplied tools usually drives "how" the group organizes work to facilitate "how" the group communicates the work flow between them. Still, each person has to use their own tricks or habits to keep their tasks flowing. It's only when the results of those tasks have to be passed along to another co-worker that the group-supplied tool becomes important. It sounds like you don't have this constraint of the group.

Having said all that, there will never be a single tool or management system that will solve your problem (or even solve a group's PM problem) because just as "all politics are local" all workflows are personal. It's how your mind works and organizes bits of information. I've changed my own style and habits many times over the years from files/folders on the desktop to sticky-notes (real and software) to using to-do lists to flagging emails in MS Outlook to Excel spreadsheets. They all work -- to a degree. When they start getting crufty, that's when it's time to re-look at what's working for me at the time and overhaul my habits.

I think the questions you have are a perfect example of self-examination of your habits and trying to overhaul them. I wish I had the magic solution for you (and for everyone else, because I'd make a ton of money!).

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Try using the bullet journal method in Onenote. There is a good intro to the method using Evernote here:

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/use-evernote-bullet-journal/

and a sample Onenote implementation here:

https://www.lifewire.com/use-onenote-as-a-task-manager-notepad-and-journal-2378025

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    Link-only answers are discouraged on Stack Exchange, due to link decay. Please include the most relevant bits of information in your answer. – Sarov Jan 11 '17 at 15:00

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