What time management can learn from software development

software develoopment and task management image currently unavaiable

The internet is full of tips guiding us as to how to manage our time.  Many of these are as simple ascreating daily plans or saying no to tasks.  All good tips, but it feels as though we’ve solved the productivity challenge in other areas of life already.

Instead of reinventing solutions, we’ve been spending time porting our trusty software development methodologies into our daily lives. 

Time management and Kanbankanban image currently unavailable

This is where software development comes in.  Many of us handle our time challenges by creating lists.  We have lists stuck to our fridge, our laptops, on our telephones.  Forbes has a great page dedicated to how to create lists, in case any of us are confused as to how to do it.

An article we read recently (sorry we can’t remember where) discussed using Kanban within our daily lives.  For many familiar with it, using a development methodology within our personal sphere may seem incongruous.  However, we’ve already started (being a software business, the transition is perhaps easier for us).  We’re pleased to report that it’s greatly improved our lives.

For the uninitiated, Kanban is a process where you organise work through multiple columns in a table.  The columns are typically headed something like to do, doing, done.  

You add your tasks as ‘cards’ into one or other of the columns, depending on where you are with it.  Cards move across the columns as you do them, giving you a visual indicator of what needs doing and what you’ve already done.

From top to bottom within a single column, e.g. to do, represents priority.  Something at the top of the todo should be the first on your list.  Something at the bottom may get done next century.

We use Trello, and it’s great.  However, you can get started with a blank board, some pens and some sticky notes.  Many development teams still run this way.

It helps keep a focus on what needs to be done, and it works across mobiles, desktop etc., so it’s easy to access.  Tasks can be assigned, moved, shared.  Check it out.  

How about scrum

It’s not all columns and cards though.

‘Scrum’ is basically a set of meetings which software development teams conduct in order to maintain momentum on development.  To cut a long story short, there’s a 15 minute session in the morning of each day to discuss what you did and what you’ll be doing that day, followed by end of week or end of fortnight meetings summing everything up.

Moving this into the more personal sphere, taking 15 minutes to plan out the day and think about what we did benefits us all.  It helps us nail down the essential tasks and leave the ones which don’t need to be done for another time.

Likewise, when tasks seem overwhelming, taking the time to review progress and all the things which have been done over the last week or fortnight can be helpful in giving a boost. 

Waterfall

Waterfall is essentially about building the whole of something in one go.  You start at the beginning and instead of doing a bit at a time, you release everything in a big bang approach.  

In software design, this method of development has fallen out of fashion.  It’s often seen as inflexible, cumbersome and doesn’t allow things to fail fast enough.

However, on a more personal level, we all have some tasks that if we drip drip, will never get done.  In these cases, it can help to take an waterfall approach, sit down and just get the whole thing done.  If it’s a card on that board, it’s about not letting the task get stuck in that ‘doing’ column

Sizing the task

In development, every task is often assigned an overall difficulty level.  The value is usual a set of points, 3 being an easy task, 8 being a bit harder, 13 quite involved, 21 extremely hard etc.  

Taking a a leaf out of the agile playbook, spending a few minutes reviewing the tasks we have and noting whether they’re time consuming or complicated, or whether it’s simple, but just not the type of thing which we want to get done, can help.  Knowing that something’s easy, quick, a three pointer can encourage a person to get it done, particularly if it’s high up in a column, and so is important.

Seeing that a task is really large can help to mentally prepare.  Alternatively, just like in software development, it may help to break the task up into smaller, more manageable tasks.

Time management and development

Perhaps the transition from software development to time management isn’t such a complicated one.  Any of these techniques can be taken together or individually.  Best of all, there are plenty of online tools to help with these processes, many of which span all the different channels, phone, desktop etc.

In reality, most software development teams work together to find the sweet spot between all of these techniques.  They look for that part of the process which helps speed things up, helps them communicate and understand what needs to be done, but minimises the bureaucracy involved.

We’re certainly enjoying the transition!