Our university is embarking on a prioritization initiative, based off of Dickeson’s (2010) Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance. For those who have not participated in an undertaking like this, to say it is time-intensive would be an understatement…
I have been asked to be a part of the team that evaluates the administrative programs and services. While I will confess to being a bit disappointed to see some of the priorities I have been working on be put on the back burner for a season, I am pleased to be collaborating with such a competent and dedicated group of people.
Importance of a Current Projects List
As we begin this process, I am more thankful than usual that I have a continually updated list of projects that I am working on. In Getting Things Done (2015), Allen considers a project anything that takes more than one action to bring about a desired outcome.
Here are just a few of the reasons I have found that a current projects list can be useful:
- An unexpected commitment (like my recent involvement with the prioritization initiative at my institution) can be viewed in context with other projects
- When formulating goals, projects can be used as a starting point for reflecting on desired outcomes (Robert Talbert’s post on The Trimesterly Review is worth referencing regarding goal setting, as well)
- The weekly review can be enhanced by having a current list of projects, or even to nudge us in realizing that our list is out of date (Reference Robert Talbert’s post on planning)
- Each project can be brought that much closer to reaching the desired outcome by reflecting on what the next action is to get it to that point
It really makes a tremendous different to have a list of projects that is always being worked on to remain current.
Structure of the Current Projects List
I use a Mac app called OmniFocus for my project and task management. It is a good tool for those people who really want to dig into the possibilities for what a task manager can do, but not for those who do not enjoy that kind of exploration.
As you will see from my current projects list, I have two types of lists I keep:
Admin lists (1): Those tasks that only have one step to complete and are associated with the various roles I play in my life (mother, professor, Director of Teaching Excellence and Digital Pedagogy, etc.)
An example of a task I would put on my family-admin (2) task list would be to set a doctor’s appointment for our daughter. Please pause for a moment while my husband laughs out loud, since he is unable to remember a time when I have ever done that. Let’s just say he is the one who typically makes appointments like that for our kids, but I was working on an easy example of what goes on admin lists.
Project lists (3): Anything that requires more than one step to complete ideally becomes a project.
My family member with dementia now needs to be transitioned over to a new facility, since she has faced a significant health decline this past month. At first, I needed to make contact with the placement person who helped us the last time around went in my Family-admin (2) list. However, as I realized that we would need to (at a bare minimum):
- Contact the placement person
- Receive recommendations of possible facilities
- Schedule tours of facilities
- Decide on a place and put down a deposit
- Give 30 days notice at the current facility
- Pack her things
- Arrange for disposal or donation of items not moving to the new place
You get the idea (and now, so do I, since I had not yet started to write some of this stuff down). All of those tasks being listed under the general Family-admin (2) list would have started to get bogged down in there, mixed in with a bunch of other unrelated tasks.
OmniFocus does allow me to assign contexts to each task, so that all the calls that I need to make come up in a single list, even if they are otherwise unrelated. If I went to my @phone context, it shows me every task that can only be completed if I have a phone with me and am in a place where I can use it.
Projects can also be deferred (put off) until a future date in OmniFocus. The list of projects you see in the image are not reflective of all the projects I have identified. In fact, I know that with the addition of the prioritization work to my responsibilities, I need to go in and refine my current list of projects to have them represent ones I can realistically move forward in some way in the next 3-4 months.
Tips for Making a Current Projects List Most Useful
When creating a list of current projects, it can be helpful to structure them in such a way as to be able to quickly discern the kind of list being referenced and the desired outcome.
To that end, the following are tips for making your current projects list most useful:
- Name [admin lists] (single item tasks) (4) with square brackets, in order to quickly distinguish them from multi-step projects.
- Start all other project names with the verb that best describe your desired outcome for that item.
I have a project called Rollout: arc media (5). Once arc media is introduced to our faculty, they have had training on it, and we have transitioned over to regular maintenance and help desk support, we will have successfully rolled it out and this project will be marked complete.
Recruit: More faculty to use Canvas (6) – is a project that aims to have 95% of our faculty using Canvas in their classes. Once we achieve that aim, the project will be checked off.
- Keep projects on the list until every task associated with them has reached completion.
I recently attended the Digital Media and Learning (DML) (7) and OpenEd2017 (8) conferences. While the “attending” part of the project is over (which was my main goal for the project), I am still waiting to be reimbursed for the registration fees and other expenses. Once I receive those checks, each of these projects will be considered done.
- Include dates for items that have firm completion dates in parenthesis.
I did quite a bit of keynote speaking and workshop facilitation this Fall. Some of the events have already been marked as complete and do not show up on this current list of projects. As I was preparing for the talks and otherwise engaging with collaborators, it started to get really confusing as to when different conferences were taking place.
While the events were entered in my calendar, I then had to switch over to my calendar each time I was looking at dates for each of the tasks associated with these events. It made it much easier once I included all the dates in with the conferences and rearranged them in chronological order.
If you do not have a current list of projects, but would like to experience some of the benefits described above, just start. Spend some time getting a list of projects together that you are aware of and reference it regularly over the next week or two, as you discover more multi-step projects that you are responsible for. Reflect on what the end goal is for each of the projects and name them using a verb that represents that desired outcome.
How do you manage your projects and tasks? What tools do you find most useful in these endeavors?