Software Design Blog

Journey of Rinat Abdullin

Note on the Productivity and Managing Tasks

Lately things have been really picking up pace around Lokad. For me, this resulted in a large number of incoming action items (thing-to-be-done) spread between:

  • Gmail inbox.
  • Internal issue trackers.
  • Public issue trackers for all Lokad open-source projects (esp. in Lokad.CQRS).
  • CRM records, activities, conversations and pending follow-ups.
  • Hand-written notes and planned things in the head (esp. in Lokad.CQRS area).
  • Article drafts, newsgroup conversations on the cloud computing, Windows Azure and CQRS.
  • Pending questions in community.

The hardest part is that these tasks just keep on coming and are never going to stop. It become a bit complex to get things done:

  • Keep an eye on really urgent things all across the company and projects.
  • Be able to schedule and prioritize important tasks and projects.
  • Review existing projects and tasks to keep them in sync with the reality, prunning whatever is no longer important.
  • Have bigger picture with the ability to drill down and focus on the context or work at hand.

Project here is some unique goal that requires multiple actions to be taken in order to be completed. For example it could be an open feature request from the sales that requires some follow-ups and actions.

When you get a lot of items, notifications and conversations coming from all these sources, email inbox natively turns into the big list of things to do. In my case it used to span pages with the oldest items dating back to the previous year. The hot issues (along with the dependencies and synergies) were kept either in Moleskine notebook or just in the head.

In such situation it requires a bit of effort to stay organized and just be able to figure the answer to a simple question: what is the next most important thing I should focus on right now? Is it conversation with Salescast customer’s IT, or Lokad.CQRS task or issue with the forecasting self-management?

While I was staying in Montenegro last weeks, I’ve invested a bit of time in learning how people manage to stay productive under the constant flow of incoming challenges in ever changing world. Getting Things Done methodology obviously came up to the surface. I was lucky to discover OmniFocus application for iPad that implements and enforces this methodology. There was even a whitepaper on this subject authored by David Allen. Although it covers OmniFocus for iMac, it has also a great deal of theory extracts to help understand the basics of the methodology. I strongly recommend to have a look at this paper.

iPad and OmniFocus

Basically this folds up like this for me:

  • OmniFocus replaces my Moleskine with ongoing task checklists.
  • Relenta, Gmail, Google Calendar, Evernote and all the issue trackers around Lokad are not reminders of things to do, but rather a way to document and collaborate on the process with the other participants.
  • OmniFocus holds references and links to all these meetings, articles, conversations and tickets. It allows to bring them together in one place, prioritize and see what are the most valuable things that could be done under a given circumstances.

I’ve spent half of the day today cleaning up my Gmail inbox, which mainly consisted of the tickets that were important enough to keep them in one place but not that important for doing right now. Oldest items go back to the previous year. With all the action items organized in one place (even though the details and collaboration context could be anywhere), it’s much easier to see the perspective and be able to focus on the things that are really important right now.

So far things are working out really well. This usage scenario couples quite well with the iPad for Enterprise Developer scenario and upcoming way to monitor and manage cloud deployments in real-time (Lokad.Cloud project already supports this via the web interface, Lokad.CQRS will support slightly different scenario). In the long run this results in higher mobility and faster decision making process.

NB: Unfortunately OmniFocus project is available only for the Apple products (iPhone, Mac and iPad), generally ruling out a lot of folks on the Microsoft stack. However there is a rather strong possibility that things might improve here in the next 3-6 months.