You are noting things in your task planner, and you’re setting yourself objectives and tasks; trying to fit things into a short-term, medium-term, long-term plan, fixing goals and then doing things on a daily basis.
You’re firefighting, doing essential things, responding to the accountant, responding to customers, filling in the forms.
Based on the current direction
Invest time in your strategy, but get a handle on whether things are going the right way. Measures help you to determine this.
You don’t always know which way to go. You should determine the way things are going now and then reaffirm the way you want things to go.
Sometimes it is easier to know the way that you don’t want to go. It may be harder to express the way you want things to go. Base your objectives on the way things are now and your desires for the future.
This flowchart maps out an elementary management cycle
Start with a baseline description of your system which says this is the way things are; this is the way things work, this is the process, focusing on the function of the system. You may wish to analyse functional requirements to map the future system.
Try to improve the system, make it more profitable, to configure it in a particular way. It might not just be about money, but about specific things to achieve, things you enjoy doing more than others. Set your objectives towards those things.
The objective is to improve processes
I use GTD to set myself tasks in colour plans, at different horizons, different levels of focus: short-term, medium-term long-term.
The objective may be in a particular direction, but also for things to be easier to achieve. There is no point in things being difficult per se, so take the path of least resistance where possible.
The objective is to operate more smoothly, be more efficient, and thus make more money.
Do measure analyse
The idea of a cycle is to do, measure and analyse how things have gone (based on measured indicators).
A simple case is in translation. Measuring the time to do orders, the number of words done in an hour, helps to make reasonable estimates. On-time delivery improves relationships with customers. On-time deliveries are based on correct future estimates of time taken.
In the translation market, I developed a translation and terms database to measure translation statistics. This helps me to do measure, analyse.
This measurement helps to fix costs, prices, and to know what the rate should be. The result helps to improve performance and makes work more comfortable. Productivity may also improve by focusing on just one job rather than two.
So, this cycle goes around; the baseline management system described in a system diagram. The idea is to do for a while, measure, look at the results and find opportunities for improvement.
I discuss Todoist, but the Eisenhower grid keeps coming back as a very simple representation of choices, about what’s important and what is urgent.
So if you’re thinking about your activities, what’s important and what’s urgent, you can choose the things that are both important and urgent. Some things are neither important nor urgent, which you shouldn’t be doing at all.
This type of planning is a way of thinking about your activities, your hopes and desires, what you should be doing now and in the future.
The PDCA (Plan Do Check Assess) Cycle allows you to review your way of working.
The Trusted System
The Trusted System is a collection of tools, so here I’ve listed the ones that I use.
Todoist, Ayoa, Sortd, and mind maps are the main things which help me, sort of, fulfil this PDCA cycle in terms of planning, doing, checking and assessing what’s going on.
So plan Do Check Assess is the framework for everything. It helps you to think about your activities in a more structured way.
If you’re planning things, you’re setting objectives, and you’re trying to aim to get to those objectives, you do this by actually doing the work.
So there is a specific planning phase, you’re doing, and then you’re checking the quality of your work, really to make sure that what you’ve done is indeed in line with the plan.
And then the assessment phase is to go back and sort of replan and start your next cycle of doing.
I’ve found that the more you repeat the cycle, the more you get used to this idea of feeding back from the last cycle. So whatever you’ve done, continually improving both your process.
GTD – Getting Things Done
GTD requires more than a mention – it’s the doing phase of the Plan Do Check Assess, in reference to the trusted system, which I discuss later in terms of tools.
There are a few key concepts here: next action, inbox, the trusted system and mind like water.
Measuring the distance from your trajectory is about assessment as part of the PDCA. Here we’re looking at where we are now, where we intend to go, our future position and correcting our trajectory through checkpoints.
But the inbox is a pretty important concept here.
This image is the inbox from Todoist, which allows that buffer of saying well, things are coming in, I don’t necessarily have to do them now.
The inbox is an opportunity to assess the new things coming in.
Next action is a concept which rather than necessarily thinking about the objectives, here you might be working towards your objectives, but you need to do things now.
So next action is a way of saying right fair enough, I can see that objective far off but what do I need to do next?
Mind Like Water
Mind like water is a great little catchphrase from David Allen. It means that once you’ve planned things in your trusted system, your mind is calm, because you know that you’re managing.
And if you’re associating priorities and importance to these things, then, all you need to do is fill the system, and you should get to a point where you’re happy about your plan.
Five Planning Horizons
So the last thing is the five horizons from now to the future below.
What we’re saying is there are essentially five horizons of time.
So there are the current priorities that we’re dealing with now, and our objectives in the future.
Checking quality and the plan
Now checking, as part of PDCA is going back and assessing the work in terms of quality and planning. Quality avoids reworking.
Measuring Your Trajectory
This assessment is really about your objectives. So that’s sort of before your assessment.
If you do establish your trajectory, your future position, your desired outcomes, you can look to see whether you’re going in the right direction or not. You can make some decisions about the direction that you need to go, that you want to go.
You can see about coming back onto your original trajectory or deciding that your objective is no longer appropriate, and moving off in another direction.
Tools to implement Plan Do Check Assess (PDCA)
So how do you go about doing these things in this PDCA cycle?
Well, here are some suggestions:
Todoist and Ayoa
Todoist is my favourite. I used Ayoa a lot because it has this great function building mind maps and then link tasks to the mind maps. Unfortunately, Ayoa is not fast enough to use everyday use. So, I use Todoist to manage the operational stuff.
Sortd for Gmail
Now also I’ve got a lot of email coming in as has everybody, and I’ve found that it’s important to have a good email management system.
The one that I like is Sortd which overlays Gmail with a kanban, which, I say, protects the inbox.
I don’t necessarily want email automatically coming into my to-dos. I want to be choosing what I do, a conscious choice to put an email either into Todoist or just manage it within the Sortd kanban.