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I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.

Revisiting the Task List

I've written a few posts in the past about time management, and thought I'd post an update with some lessons from the past few weeks. Typically I do pretty well with keeping up with what needs to be done and when, but there are times when I struggle - part of that is the real world, part of that is not sticking to my system, part is needing to tweak the system from time to time.

My most recent challenge came as we finished up a phase for an internal project, but decided to invest more time in some administrative tools now rather than later. That came at inopportune time, but still seemed like the right thing to do. For the better part of 3 weeks I was immersed in understanding the next step, figuring out what should be done now versus deferred until later, and then building the table design and specifying the UI tools to support it. Not the hardest work in the world, but it does require concentration. Concentration doesn't work well with answering email, so all of that was put off until end of day, and by then I only handled the ones that were really important.

Three weeks later I finally reach a stopping point (which isn't the same as done) and have a definite feeling of lack of awareness about what needs to be done and when. I spent a few hours working on the inbox to clean stuff up and creating tasks, then another hour scanning and updating my task list as some things could be dropped for various reasons. I also modified my task categories, ending up with this:

  • Article Ideas. Things I want to write for SSC as time permits
  • Blog Fodder. One line entries that will get expanded to a few paragraphs at one my once a week blogging session
  • Books To Read
  • E2E. Stuff I need to do for our training business.
  • Long Term Ideas. I've got a few ideas that might or might not be interesting, but no time for them now. Better to at least save them here.
  • Networking Tasks. Not sure this one will stay, but it's a category for things related to networking - updating LinkedIn, visiting user groups, etc.
  • Office. Things I need to do to keep the office going - check on insurance, order coffee, etc
  • oPASS. Things I need to do for our SQL group. Typically not many of these other than arrange the meetings.
  • PASS. Things I need to do, or that I've submitted for some kind of action/reply and want to make sure they don't fall through
  • Professional Development. Things I need to do or read to stay current, typically no deadline
  • SQLSaturday. This is for the web site, and is all the things we want to do to help event leaders succeed. I have to implement a separate one for SQLSaturday Orlando soon!
  • Video Ideas. Things I want to do (or have done) for JumpstartTV.

Right now the hardest thing for me to do is manage the due dates. Many of the tasks in the list have no real due date, they will get done as time permits, probably in batches, and some will just never get done. I check the list about once a week to see what I have to get done regardless of due date, but I definitely wish for a more sophisticated system.

The lessons? One is that I can't afford to go dark for more than a couple days without pain. That means reading it all, and then doing it or tasking it. The other is that better organization of the tasks in a way that fits the way I work definitely helps, and has to evolve as the work changes. For a while I had networking, blogs, reading, article ideas all grouped under Professional Development.

I keep thinking a better way to make this work would be to do less!


Posted by Brian Knight on 21 April 2009

Hi Andy,

I enjoyed this post.  I was wondering - do you keep your tasks for your "work life" separate from those for your "personal life" or "home life".  I am trying one system, based on the assumption that a chunk of free time can be spent working on my "honey-do" list or on a work project.  I've had mixed results so far.  I'd be interested to know your thoughts on doing that.


Posted by Andy Warren on 21 April 2009

I will add personal things to my calendar so I don't double book time, but I've always kept my personal todo list separate. In practice my personal list is a whole lot less complicated and usually just exists in my notebook or in my head, no need for anything more complex. I can see it working either way, for me it was just important to focus on work tasks when I'm "working" even if that means working at home, and when I'm not working to only thing about things that have to do with personal things.

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