You really need a system if you’re going to make it work

Sometimes going through not just the day, but the week, I start really to sympathize with Leonard from Memento. If you haven’t seen the film I highly recommend it. As many of you know it’s about a guy who’s wife was killed, and he’s searching for the killer, but the catch is his short term memory is around 30 minutes max.

He creates a system to remember things, tattoos, notes, a polaroid camera and a sharpie.

“(For) just for day-to-day stuff, notes are really useful. Sammy Jenkis had the same problem but he really had no system. He wrote himself a ridiculous amount of notes but he’d get them all mixed up. You really do need a system if…you’re gonna make it work.”

For just managing yourself, it’s not hard. For a sysadmin, you’ve got Getting Things Done, Time Management for System Administrators. These are good systems, but I’ve always had a hell of a time making them work. This isn’t to say don’t read these books. If you’re looking at ideas for productivity, read them. Just don’t expect them to be the end all be all of task and project management. For me with weekly status reports I create, these methods don’t quite fit. Though the systems I use are heavily inspired from these systems. 

The systems tend to have days compartmentalized onto separate files. It becomes a pain to transfer tasks from one day to the next, to the next. Eventually it’s as if nothing gets done because I get very little done that I planned on that day. Quite demoralizing. Also since each day is separate, context from previous days needs to be transferred daily. That is the flow of the week is on each file, so I’m flipping between different notes for requests and things I did previous days.

Instead I have a list I just keep in Evernote that keeps track of the entire week. What do I want to do that week? What do I want my team to do that week? Then I have below the days of the week what I want to do, and what I did. Hey most of my status is one one page now, I can just format it. Taking the week in chunks, I’ve found I can get more things done. Realistically tasks will probably get done in a day or two, sometimes three. However a week as a nice even chunk of time to keep track of the stuff I’m doing. I have to report on the week anyhow, so it fits.

Of course you still need some sort of project management. For this I’ve been using Asana which so far is about the least fuss project management app I’ve been able to find. It’s free to boot. Again I’ve been able to track which projects are occurring, who’s doing them (even if its me). It doesn’t do anything fancy like gantt charts, but I’ve found I’ve been able to live without them. The hardest part is just following up on missed dates, and getting people to update it with their current projects.

That’s really what’s necessary for groups that are doing projects. They need to know who’s doing what, and who’s on point for which task. I’ve had a very hard time making project management files say MS Project working, because not everyone knows what’s going on realtime. You want to communicate to folks realtime with each update you make? You won’t get much done.

The last tool is simply for customer requests, Request Tracker. Though I’m careful this is regulated only to customer requests. It’s not a wish list, it’s not a task list, it’s certainly not used to track projects. You can probably make it do these things, but in my experience this is a bad idea, and not very easy. I try and make this very title apropos since its strong point is being a liaison where a documented conversation between customer and fulfiller can exist.