Yesterday, I reorganized my office and setup a new project management system system for myself. It’s actually a modified version of what I used to use years ago when I was self-employed.
This system has always helped me be more productive, but to make it more fun, I gamified parts of it. And to make sure I stick to it, and so that my goals and progress is always on the top of my mind, I setup some older computers surrounding my work area, constantly reminding me of my progress in real time. Since I am a visual person, this visual reminder helps keep me focused on the system and my progress.
Right now the system is a bit rough and much of it is not automated yet, but the system seems to work, at least for me. And I can say it works for me, because I have used this system before, years ago, although with a slightly different setup.
I find this system more useful as a business person or self-employed person, rather than as an employee, because companies usually have their own systems in place. This is especially useful when you work at home, and you mix personal tasks with business ones throughout the day. When working it home, it is easy to get distracted the household tasks and not work, and it is also easy to get distracted with work and neglect household obligations.
Granted, this is not for everyone, but for me, it seems to work.
The basic components include:
- Time tracking of productive time.
- Project management and tracking of tasks completed.
- Tracking how much of what I do is billable.
- Tracking of habits and daily tasks.
- Tracking my daily planning and the number of journal entries.
- Tracking number of sales made.
I take the above inputs and create:
- A scoring system that weighs everything together.
- A dashboard and graphs that display my progress and score.
Other thing I track that are not part of the scoring model include:
- Revenue from sales.
- Revenue from other sources (like freelance work or employment).
These get their own graphs, and are a metric by itself.
It’s hard to know if you are winning if you don’t have a scoreboard, right?
I’ve found that you have to create some sort of scoring model based on multiple factors, because measuring everything by itself can lead to a false sense of accomplishment. For example,
- If you only track tasks completed, it encourages getting a lot of easy tasks done, while avoiding the bigger ones that take longer.
- If you only track time working, it encourages working slowly, since actually productivity and results are not measured.
- If you don’t calculate time and tasks together, you can’t harmonize tasks that are important but take time, and tasks that are quick and easy.
- If you don’t track billable time or billable tasks, it is easy to lose focus on what is generating money.
- If you only track billable time or billable tasks, administration work suffers and corners are cut.
- If you don’t track the number sales made, it is easy to lose focus on generating new clients.
- If you only track the number of sales, it encourages cutting corners elsewhere, which can lead to bad customer service or poor product quality.
- If you don’t track habits, it is easy to fall into unproductive routines.
- If you don’t track daily planning and number of journal entries, it’s easy to skip over the necessary planning and reflection required to keep a clear head and stay focused on the prize.
- If you don’t track the actual amount of revenue coming in, you can’t see how effective (or not effective) you currently are in generating revenue.
So I basically create a consolidated score that includes the following:
- 1 point for every hour of productive work.
- 1 point for every task completed.
- 1 point for every project completed (as a small bonus for completing a set of tasks).
- 1 point for every journal entry. (Journal entries include daily planning, and daily reflection, as well as brainstorming and insights.)
- 1 point for every daily habit completed. (Only habits related to productivity; does not include things like bathing, brushing teeth, or other personal routines.)
- 1 point for every task that is billable (in addition to the point for completing the task).
- 1 point for every sale made.
Color Coded Tasks
Tasks are classified into categories, and each of them has their own color coding in the charts. There are also charts for time spent, in addition to tasks completed or points earned. This allows me to see instantly if I am spending too much time on a particular category of tasks.
Since I use this system for productivity in all areas of my life, I use the following categories for tasks and time tracking:
- Business – Includes anything related to the business itself.
- Writing – For writing projects not related to a client. For example, blog posts or books I am writing.
- Networking – General business networking and communications not related to a specific sale.
- Financial – Anything related to personal finances.
- Health & Fitness – Includes exercise, doctor’s visits, tasks related to our health.
- Household – Includes chores, automobile, shopping. Anything domestic.
- Personal Development – Anything related to learning and being a better person, including taking courses, reading books or listing to podcasts.
- Planning – Anything related to planning and organizing my life.
- Social – My personal and love life, including visiting friends or going on vacation.
- Other – Things that don’t fit in anything else.
Each are then color coded, and displayed in stacked column charts or pie charts, to visually show how the score was calculated.
The charts I mostly use include:
- Stacked column chart showing points earned per week.
- Stacked column chart showing tasks completed per week.
- Pie chart showing time spent on different categories of tasks per week.
- Revenue generated per week.
- Progress bars for particular projects (percentage of tasks completed).
I have some other charts, but those are the ones I look at the most.
The biggest drawback of such a system is that there is a lot of overhead. Part of that is because some of it isn’t automated, but even with automation, it requires you to track what you do every day. How detailed you are and what you track depends on you, but it still requires the conscious effort to track.
For me it works out well, because I have to use the project management system for my business anyway, and I am always logged in. So tracking my personal tasks just becomes part of the routine. But it can become tedious, and it does slow things down.
Even with the overhead, I have always accomplished more under such a system, despite the amount of time it takes to manage such a system without automation.
The biggest thing would be to automate as much of it as possible. For example, time tracked in apps like Toggl and tasks completed in Redmine and Habits completed in Habitica automatically show up in the dashboard and score. Things like Fitbit and other health related apps also automatically report to the dashboard and update the score.
It could also be modified so that less tracking is required, or certain types of tasks get more points. For example, if someone does not track all the of the steps involved in a complex task, they can still get the appropriate amount of points based on the effort put in and value produced.
I’ve found that such a system increases my productivity dramatically, and gives me a sense of accomplishment, even when I am feeling frustrated and depressed.
The reason it boosts the self-esteem is that it shows my progress in real time, and doing something now results in a visual difference in the score. This is useful when you have long term projects that may take a long time to pay off. Without some sort of display of progress made, it’s easy to start getting impatient on long projects. But if you see how much has been done, and how much is left, it is easier to be at ease that it will get done.
I have also found that seeing the color coded charts lets me know if I am spending too much time in a particular area, or not enough in another. It’s easy to get caught up with particular tasks and projects, but to be successful, you have to make sure everything is being managed. Seeing everything in the chart makes it obvious what is missing and what is present.
This is especially important when you work at home, like I do. Since I am responsible for both home and business, visually seeing how well I am juggling that is important. It also lets me know if I am not getting out often enough by showing a low social and networking score.
And, there is also the now factor. I tend to get the little things done that I have been putting off, just so I get points for them. Suddenly I am tidying up the house, or working on some project I am procrastinating on simply because I can quickly earn some points.
Overall, I get a lot more done and feel more accomplished by using this system.