[productivity] tasks, projects and prioritizing

In my line of work, and I’m sure many others, there are often conflicting
interests between day to day things that need to happen and bigger, more
interesting things that are important. Sometimes it feels like the difference
between unclogging the toilet and building a swimming pool … yeah, the pool
would sure be nice, but nobody wants to see the toilet overflow.

In the end it comes down to conflicting priorities and over the past short
while I’ve been contemplating the difference and relationship between tasks and
projects.

  • short and autonomous
  • large, complex and dependent on others

There are a few people who have written about this topic, for example Task
Management vs Project Management? what’s the
difference?

does a nice job at clarifying that not everything deserves the project label.

Personally, I try to break it down in the following way:

  • a task is something I can do in under 8 hours
  • a task I can generally take care of autonomously
  • a project normally takes me 3 or more days
  • a project often requires me to work with others

As you’ll note there is some gray area between the length of a task and that of
a project. Additionally, I think of the time as actual time I’m working on it,
rather than clock hours. The often makes the real time to get it done longer,
but it allows me to think in terms of the work itself and deal with other
interruptions, which inevitably occur. The above is just something I’ve noticed
as rules of thumb rather than hard and fast gospel.

I also often think of a project as consisting of tasks. That helps break
large and complex things down into smaller manageable chunks. It also allows
for visible progress and successes rather then working endlessly at something
abstract.

That brings me to prioritizing. How do I pick what to work on? Again, there is
a lot of variety and if everything has clear, I’d just write a script to do it
for me. As it stands here are the things I think about when choosing what to
work on:

  • is the work a true emergency? (think: “the toilet is backing up”)
  • have I been told that this is the most important thing for me to do? (think: “the boss needs this”)
  • is someone else waiting on this before they can continue their work? (think: “others can also make progress, while I work on my stuff”)
  • can I get it done in under an hour? (think: “it’s great to eliminate little things that become a distraction when they linger”)

Asking myself those questions has served me well. Of course this doesn’t help
answer the question of “Should I work on this at all?”, but that’s a topic for
another post.

Anyway, this is just how I like to think of tasks and projects and perhaps it makes sense to others as well.

Cheers,

\@matthias

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