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If you’re a professional who uses the agile methodology for project management at work, you know what a backlog is; and how to go about personal task management through such systems. If the above sentence seems out of a boring presentation to you, just read our previous blog about getting shit done and get on the same page before you start planning.
A disclaimer of understanding before you read on: This is a suggestive piece and not the ten commandments written in stone. You are an adult responsible for your own tasks and this is your first step towards a system that helps you keep on track. Rules are meant to be broken, provided you know them in the first place.
Since we are talking about getting shit done, taking inspiration from the professional world we can refer to the Slangbusters Branding Process to understand the next step better. We have divided the whole process into three phases- Knowledge, Understanding, and Action.
We are a generation that constantly rejects ‘the plan’ and believes in carpe diem, to live in the moment, to face problems with a ‘come what may’ approach, and Hakuna Matata tattoos on our wrists. But we are also the generation that knows of these pop culture references through Instagram; with the daily average of an atrocious amount of hours spent scrolling and going to sleep with the regret of not having shit done. The entire day.
To both- skeptics and procrastinators, planning might seem like a waste of time, given its probability of failing. But the probability of failure is more in the absence of a plan. Although, strategic planning must be done in a moderate amount with breathable time gaps that allow flexibility, just in case.
To understand the importance of planning, imagine ‘grocery shopping’ as a task. You realized that you need to go when you saw an empty refrigerator ( a situation avoidable, if you planned). You decide to go to the grocery store and waste time going through unnecessary aisles and ended up buying cute stationery along with fresh veggies. Wasted time and wasted money, again, avoidable- if you planned.
Step 1: A landfill for tasks
Just like basically every goal ever, reaching it begins with small but significant steps. For planning, the base is knowing what all tasks have to be planned. The backlog is like a landfill where all the tasks are accumulated, for segregation later. Just like the waste is treated in a landfill to create a beautiful landscape, task accumulation, and categorization will give us a beautiful plan that you can work on.
Step 2: Using the dimension of time
Planning is an evolutionary process that you won’t get right at the first go (just like everything else, unless you are a planning prodigy). It is a trial and error process that you need to master over time, with more and more experimentation and constant reflection. But, for the first time planners, you need to learn about a cognitive bias called planning fallacy. Underestimation and overestimation of time is something even experienced planners sometimes fail to avoid.
Consequently, what you can do is after you have all the tasks in your backlog ready, you put a time estimate to every task. These estimates could range from 30min, 2h, 4h, 8h, 16h to a day or even a week. We suggest you break down tasks that last more than a week to weekly sprints otherwise it can get too overwhelming. You try to complete all the tasks within the estimated time, or even less. Don’t worry if you take more time, consider that as insight when you estimate the next time, in both cases- for better planning.
Step 3: Categorize like it’s your own business
Now we move on to the next step- Categorization. Categorizing the tasks can be a task in itself (meta hehe) but it will become easier if you take into consideration aspects like your interest, the telicity (for meaning, read on), time estimate, priority and other environmental reasons like what time of the day can you do it. Remember, this classification must be based on personal conditions and choices and not any ‘ideal way’ that the internet suggests.
Telicity refers to the deadline of the tasks. Registering for your voter ID is a telic task that has to be done within a deadline, whereas going to the gym is an atelic repetitive task that can be done any time of the day and doesn’t have a deadline.
Your interest matters too, and if you are someone who likes to have the sweets before the meal, plan the interesting tasks before the boring ones. This will allow you to check off a lot of chores at the beginning of the sprint and getting the ball rolling by motivating you to complete the rest.
Environmental factors come as an obvious aspect. You cannot plan a stationery run at midnight. Although, some tasks like writing can be adjusted to a time when you feel the most creative. (However, studies suggest that having a set time for creative writing or painting or any form of creative skill sharpening proves to be useful rather than waiting for that creative spark.)
The last dose of learning you want to consider before you begin your backlog is knowing about the goals vs system theory that Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert™ addressed in his book titled “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”
What he has to say is achieving goals is good but goals are for losers. He further adds, accomplishing goals gives a momentary sense of achievement followed by the feeling of a purposeless existence. Or, you set new goals to re-enter the never-ending loop of pre-success failure. It is basic human psychology. So, what you do is make system-based plans. If you are doing something regularly, it is a system. If you wait for them to happen, they’re goals. An apt analogy Adams states in his book is, running a marathon is a goal. Anyone can have that goal. A system is exercising and running daily to prepare for that goal. Systems are for reaching a better place in life.
You went through the knowledge phase- here is a reward for you to get it started- A custom planner for you.
This planner includes a backlog and a sprint sheet, made by Slangbusters with love❤. We also have a task for you to add - Buy a Sharpie, a sticky notepad and get the backlog printed on an A4 sheet and the sprint sheet on an A3 one. Backlogs are to list down tasks and we're sure you will figure out how to use it. Move these tasks from backlog to the sprint sheet on sticky notes. Sprint sheet can be used until it wears out and doesn't need to be reprinted every week.
Every weekend, all the sticky notes must be in the done segment of the sheet and when the task is completed, mark it as Done in the backlog. If not, don’t worry, just review! And be ready for the next week.
Gimme It (Download the planner💾)