A common issue I see in productivity systems is getting too focused on the details.
The old adage goes:
You can’t see the forest for the trees.
I for one have gotten stuck on this in the past, and have made many attempts to get over it. I’ve even gotten stuck numerous times.
Over time, though, I’ve noticed a helpful mindset to keep me on track – focusing on project managment over task management.
In my mind, projects are different than the classic Getting Things Done definition of a project: “any outcome which requires two or more actions”. While a two step process can be considered a project, my definition is broader.
A project is an end goal and usually resides in the big picture.
Projects are the “bigger things” going on in your life and work. For example, a project for me is writing these community posts on a regular basis. Each community post is not a project, but the fact that I’m writing them on a regular basis is. It’s an end goal – increase my writing on the community – which leads me to writing these posts.
To contrast, my definition of a task is anything at the day to day level of work. Sometimes these tasks advance projects. Other times, it’s trivial admin work that needs to be done.
In the example of writing community posts, selecting topics, writing, and editing are all tasks that help me further the goal of my project to increase my contributions to the community.
While it’s important to be able to manage the details of the day to day, it’s easy to get stuck in tactical mode and get overwhelmed by the tasks that appear on your plate. This is why I’ve started to rely heavily on project management over task management.
Personal Kanban is a project management philosophy where you visualize all the work on a kanban board. From there, you limit the amount of active work.
It’s no secret that people are not great multitaskers – we only context switch, and quickly. In this light, it makes almost no sense to limit the active “tasks” on your plate because you’re best served by focusing on one task at a time.
However, when working at the project level, it’s much easier to limit active work. You could easily apply the Personal Kanban rule of limiting active work to three items at a time. You’ll still work on multiple tasks pushing those projects forward, but you’re limiting your attentional capacity’s use to just three major end goals.
Additionally, projects serve as a natural batching mechanism. Traditional batching of tasks looks at grouping the same kinds of tasks together – writing with writing, email with email, etc. This is an effective approach, but from my experience you can achieve similar results by batching work in the same project together.
Where traditional batching focuses on staying in the same mode of work, project-based batching gets your brain to focus on a singular outcome and the related tasks to get there.
Where task management lives at the tactical level, project management lives at the visionary/strategic level of life management. I firmly believe not spending enough time at the vision/strategly level is a significant reason why you and I get overwhelmed with tasks and projects, especially new ones.
You can’t see the forest for the trees.
It’s hard to make decisions about what work should be on your plate when you’re overwhelmed with the work already on your plate.
Managing your work from a project level gives you the ability to more easily filter new things. When you’re clear on the big picture, it’s easier to say no to opportunities that don’t fully line up with where you’re going.
Delegation in collaborative environments can happen one of two ways:
- Managing tasks and delegating tiny pieces to others, or
- Managing projects and delegating whole end results
While some managers prefer to delegate individual tasks, project delegation has a stronger benefit for teams. Project delegation shows trust in those handed the project, allows them to manage how the work gets done, and reduces management overhead.
In essence, project delegation makes for happier workers and lets more work get done!
There is some nuance here, but the main point I want to draw across is project management allows for you to manage your life from the big-picture level vs. getting stuck in the mire of the details.
Have you come to any different conclusions than I have?