Testing Some New Systems

This is not a post about the WordPress block editor, which I loathe, but about the new strategy I am testing out for tracking projects.

A little background first. As I may have mentioned, I have been looking for a new job for quite some time. A little while back, I found one. I have spent much of the summer since I gave notice finishing off projects that I had accumulated in order to distract myself from my job woes. Then we went on vacation. After a week of unwinding, I sat myself down to figure out a few long-term plans. What did I actually want out of this job? Beyond the job, where–who–did I want to be in a few more years?

I mused, reflected, scribbled, and settled on a perfect-world vision of the goals I would like to achieve in the next three years. This is a personal plan. I am a person with a family and they are included in other sorts of plans, but this effort is mostly focused on things that are pretty internal to me. They include financial targets, creative goals, my day job, and our home (I initially had a category for self and relationships as well, but for me those are governed by daily habits rather than long-term strategic aims, so I moved it out of this project).

I carefully did not allow myself to consider the “how” at this point, only the “what.” It’s easy for me to get lost in the weeds of large-scale projects by getting too detailed too quickly. I let the list sit for several days and finally decided that I could live with it for a while. With these destinations in mind, it was time to figure out how to get there–and how to keep myself on track. I have been a goal setter for a long time, but indifferent when it comes to achieving them. It was time to try something new.

I sat down with my goal list and a piece of paper and figured out what I was going to need to keep track of for each of those areas. Savings goals are easy to chart, but what about my creative projects, or career satisfaction? I ended up with a sketched collection of graphs, Kanban boards, and calendars, and puzzled over what kind of system might deal with all of this gracefully. Finally I had a session with someone I practice coaching alongside, at which I hashed out my list of requirements.

Whatever system I adopted had to be flexible enough to accommodate these different types of goal tracking. It couldn’t take up much space, because we don’t have a lot of that to work with. I have tried digital systems and find that they are easy for me to ignore–just close the tab and whoosh, out of mind–so my preference was for something analog. On the other hand, while I love my bullet journal, I wanted something that offered more of an at-a-glance big picture view vs paging through my year’s accumulation of notes (let alone last year’s notes!) to figure out where I was. It would be better if it wasn’t something I could put out of sight if things got tough. Finally, it had to be cheap, because this whole thing is an experiment, and it might not end up working out.

Graph paper + moving some a few things to expose a little bit more wall proved half of the solution, or at least a good enough one to test. I might like a whole wall of whiteboard, but  lacking that, I boiled my tracked items wish list down to what would fit on one sheet per goal area. I hung them up across from the kitchen table where I spend 90% of my time in these blended work/home days. There’s a chart for financial goals, and a calendar for keeping an eye on my job satisfaction–keeping it simple, I put a sticker on every good day. At the end of the month I’ll do a more in-depth assessment, but I don’t need to track every metric every day.

Writing has a two-chart combo, one for revised chapters (only three to go!) and one for tracking the time I’m putting into it. A Kanban for home improvement projects rounds out the group. I am not overwhelmed with details, but I can see at least a one-month view of everything. It’s easy to update. As time goes by, I can retire old sheets and replace them with formats that suit the current task; for instance, once the novel revision is done, I’ll replace my chapter-progress graph with one for tracking queries. And as an unexpected benefit, everyone else in the family can see this stuff, too. In the Agile world we call this kind of thing “information radiators.”

The other half of the solution is in the form of a weekly check-in. I set a reminder on my phone, and so far have just tacked it onto my morning pages routine, where it only takes a few additional minutes. I’ve been using the What, So What, Now What format from Liberating Structures to assess how the week broadly went in each goal area vs the expectation, how I feel about it, and what I want to try in the week to come.

Is it working? I don’t know yet. I have been keeping everything up to date so far. Beginnings are the easy part. I told my coach that I would know it’s a good system if I’m still using it a few months from now. I do feel that it has enough potential to be worth a blog post. 

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