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.
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.:
- Top: needs to be done asap
- Med: something that can wait for now
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Low: Information about the project which can now be filed away in the relevant project folder.
Nowadays, a project seems to looks more like this:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!