This is the fourth post in the Spotlight on Productivity series, in which I examine productivity challenges associated with academic/knowledge work and take stock of current thinking and tools to help us get things done.
I previously characterized knowledge work as centering around projects. Projects are time-bound, and involves a series of tasks. They often require coordination between individual. Often than not, knowledge-work projects requires a degree of creative; it’s hard to replicate the same steps for every project. Being flexible in coping with the demands of each project is key to maintaining momentum.
When doing any projects, it’s often helpful to:
- break down the project into sub-tasks
- Estimate and track time spent on the project
- Maintain a log of tasks performed
- Track the status of any projects.
- Remember what’s been done after a project has been dormant for some time.
In David Seah’s work, I found a solution. A graphics designer by trade, Seah has been producing a line of paper-based productivity tools since the mid-2000’s.
What’s Wrong with To-Do Lists
Prior to discovering Seah’s Task Progress Tracker, I used to create to-do lists. But this isn’t the best approach according to Seah.
To-do lists have their place as pre-flight lists and reminders. They are also workable for tasks that you know how to complete. When tackling something new, creative, or unknown, I don’t think they don’t work as well; they are like the untrained boss who bugs you every five minutes for results, without caring about how you get them. It’s oppressive!
Seah’s solution is to track the time spent on each task.
The TPT is designed to provide an overview of a project and its subcomponent steps, focusing on problem solving rather than mechanical task completion. It does this by tracking time spent, not tasks completed. This allows you to be mindful at the “intention” level as you work toward solving your problem, which is appropriate when pioneering new processes or doing fundamental research. So long as you’re working, that’s great.
At the heart of the TPT is the “Tracker Bar”.
How You Use TPT
1. Start a new sheet for each project. Note the Project Name and the Start Date. I staple the TPT to the front of a folder.
2. List any tasks down the left that you already know has to be done. Add to the list as new tasks emerge.
3. Optional: Estimate the time it takes to complete each task via tick marks.
4. As you tackle each task, pencil in the time you spent in 15-min chunks.
5. Once you finish a task, add up the time spent, and tick off the line.
It’s been about two months since I started using the TPT to track my projects. There’s something gratifying in filling those bubbles. I also feel a greater sense of accomplishment. Better yet, I now have a betters sense of where my time is going.
The best part? Task Progress Tracker sheets are available for free for self-printing. They come in B/W or colour. Or, you can buy them pre-printed on his site. Give it a try, and let me know how it’s working out for you!