Aug 17, 2018 3 min read

One Thing at a Time

Maintaining Balance by Limiting Work-In-Progress

  • Build
Curtis Blackwell

Curtis Blackwell
Manager, Digital Product Delivery

I’ve found my responsibilities overwhelming lately. It got so bad recently, my stress twitch resurfaced after years of dormancy. I found myself sitting in a dark room listening to the soothing sounds of Nails’ You Will Never Be One of Us, googling “sensory deprivation tanks downtown Chicago.”

I overwhelm easier than most and needed to reevaluate my now-defunct personal task management system. I discussed this briefly with a couple people in the office. They had the same response: Trello.

That groan is not directed at Trello. In fact, I love Trello.

Unfortunately, at Highland we already use [redacted]. So using Trello would mean that letting go of one of my old task management system’s most important principles: One tool to rule them all.

As much as I’d love to celebrate Festivus early this year, airing my grievances with [redacted] would prove unfruitful. Instead, I’ll suck it up, abandon my old ways, and just use Trello alongside [redacted].

That said, Trello is merely a tool supporting my updated philocessphy (bad portmanteau of philosophy and process): monotasking.

I know what you’re thinking, but no. It doesn’t mean making out with everyone in sight. It’s a term that’s been around for a while, and I’ve built my new task management system around it. Here be me manifesto:

  • Task: a self-assigned, actionable item in a clear state of done or not.
  • Work on no more than one task at a time.
  • Record the task in a persistently-solely-visible manner.
  • When distracted by something else that needs doing, add it to a list of tasks and refocus.

I intend to follow these tenets like-a dis:

1. Use a single Trello board for all work.

2. Daily plan the tasks I intend to complete before calling it a day.
Every day after standup, I have a decent-enough idea of my priorities and capacity. I move/add tasks to the leftmost column, which I labeled “Today.”

3. Write the current task largely so it fills my iPad screen.

4. As my brain nags me with off-topic tasks, I add them to the “Maybe do” column of the same board, then reread the current task.
If off-topic tasks come from a teammate, they may replace other tasks. #agile #WHATDOYOUWANTGREG

5. At the end of the day, reevaluate any incomplete tasks in the “Today” column.
Delete/archive or move to “Maybe do.”

I’ve practiced this for about two weeks now, and it works well so far. Sometimes I forget to update things as I complete tasks, but that doesn’t really matter. I just need a way to focus and fend off overwhelmingness. (Yes that’s a word. I looked it up.)

If you give this a go, adjust the process. It should fit your tendencies and preferences, not mine.

I should note I stole principles from / found inspiration in: