Alignment Management Not Time Management

Gray Place ObligatoryI’ve got to get back to better project management practices. Notice, I don’t say time management. Time is rarely the enemy. It’s a shorthand we created along the way to cover our mistakes. But it’s not time we fail with. It’s alignment. Here are some ideas on how to rework your alignment.

Make the Main Thing The Main Thing

I am a HUGE fan of Dr. Stephen Covey’s 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE, and even more enamored of The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, simply because of it’s reworking of how to consider the habits. (I don’t really read much of the spiritual stuff and the wisdom stuff at the end of the book, but the seven habits redone is where it’s at for me).

As a quick recap of the ideas around the habits, here you go.

  1. Be Proactive- Realize that you’re the guy writing the story.

  2. Begin with the End in Mind – Write out what you want out of life (aka your roles in life, and your goals for each.)
  3. Put First Things First – Organize and execute around those goals. Make the main thing the main thing.
  4. Think Win-Win – The best solutions come out of leading yourself in a way that works well with others.
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood – If you can empathize, see the other person’s mindset, and deeply learn their perspective, you’ll go further.
  6. Synergize – Work hard to make one and one equal three. Can you make creative solutions that enhance everyone’s need?
  7. Sharpen the Saw – the law of maintenance and regeneration. Work hard to keep things up to snuff. (Remember my wake up post? That deals with Habit 7).

So the first thing we often do wrong when thinking we’re using our time poorly is that we forget what the main things are. We worry about the things that rush onto our plate (urgent), whether or not they’re important. And then, when we feel too tired from managing fires all day, we roam off into things that aren’t important.

Front Load Your Priorities

Gandhi said that everyone had the same amount of time in a day. It was how we chose to use it. If we go after the important things in life BEFORE they become urgent (like deadlines crashing into us), we’ll get the most return on the time we spend. Of course, we have to manage the firefighting that comes up (important plus urgent).

Figure Out Your Main Things. Build Projects that Align

For those of you who are huge David Allen GETTING THINGS DONE supporters, I salute you. There are some GREAT tricks inside there for keeping things in order. For instance, learning how to break things down into Next Actions is KEY to working on projects in a useful manner. Looking at the larger goals is daunting, and shuts most of us down. Remembering to go back and keep tabs of things by doing information dumps and check-ins is very important, too.

But it starts with making your goals align with your roles, and then figuring out what most needs to get done.

In my case, I have a bunch of roles that need addressing:

  • Nourished, Creative Me– People often forget to put themselves first, but if you fly on a plane a lot, you’ll notice that the directions for the oxygen masks say to put yours on first, and then help others. Know why? Because without a properly nourished and cared for self, you’re not all that useful to others.
  • Father/Husband– I’ve gotta keep my family high up there. They are the benefactors of my efforts, and they get the best me when I’m doing my best work. But I can never lose sight of why I like to come home at the end of a day.
  • Community Developer– I own this role in several organizations (PodCamp, Video on the Net, Network2), but it’s a role that is integral to what I do, so I keep it high on the list. To that end, I do lots of actions in a day that are more community focused than they are directly related to the bottom line (until you realize that community builds your bottom line, big businesses).
  • Show Director– I’m responsible for building Video on the Net, a huge conference where I gather the most engaging speakers and thinkers from traditional media, film, and entertainment, and mix them with the innovative disruptors of tomorrow. I have a budget to consider. I have team members to educate about what we’re doing. Lots of copy to write.
  • Network2 Guy– I am rewriting the user experience, user interface requirements for Network2, making it easier to use, better, understandable. I’m working with the team to figure out what to do next to get us funded, figured out, to make a difference.
  • PodCamp Co-Founder– Christopher Penn and I are working on several things for PodCamp, hoping to keep the experience alive, make it easier for others to organize the events where they want, and we’re working on the couple of PodCamps we have direct responsibility for. And with the PodCamp Foundation, we have even more to consider (thanks, Whitney).
  • Fitness– This is part of role one, but I give it its own column, because I’m really behind on this. Without paying attention to this, I’ll really have problems shortly.

Okay, I went on and on, but there’s a point- without looking closely at what your roles are, you can’t clearly define the goals you should set out.

Building projects to those roles is how you go further.

Align with your principles and habits

Without a hard look at what matters to you and how you intend to do things, you can fall out of alignment really quickly. For instance, in my role as Show Director for Video on the Net, I might just want to get something done in a hurry, and I don’t want to take the time to educate the team around me. But what good is that from my mindset of community development? How can I take what I believe from PodCamp- empower, empower, empower, and NOT do that when I’m talking with my Video on the Net team mates?

I can’t. I have to use the same principles as best as I can, and apply my beliefs and mindset to everything. Otherwise, it will fall out of alignment quickly.

Project Lists and Next Actions

The super-secret way to get things done in a manner that works is to start at the biggest shape- the project, and then work down to the next shape – landmarks or milestones, and then work that down to the smallest shapes- next actions. If you were looking on a big-to-small graphic, it’d look like this:

Role>>goal>>projects>>milestones>>checkins>>next actions.

For my role as Show Director, I have a goal of increasing attendance and engagement on my events. The projects I have are the various components of upcoming shows that I think will move those needles (for instance, I want to bring more gaming to the expo floor). The milestones are little waypoints I use to determine I’ve made any progress. Checkins are scheduled reviews of what I’ve done so far, and next actions are all the little bitty things I need to do to move the other things forward. They should tie very nicely in a line such that the smallest makes sense when I get to the biggest.

Organizing Tools

I’ve come to the realization that I’m not interested in using an online tool for doing this. In fact, I’m not even interested in using software at all. I’m going to use paper and pens. The reason is that most of my project work is solo work that affects others, but rarely does it tie to other people’s missions, especially not on a time thread. My stuff is about getting something done and adding it into the collective (for the most part).

In my case, I’m going to do one project per page, with the largest details up top, and with the other stuff rolling down the page (once I make one to share, I’ll post a photo).

But YOU, use the tool that matters to you. Don’t listen to me on this. Do what you like. There’s tons of tools online that are good. There are plenty of collaborative project tools (In fact, share a few favorites in the comments). Use what works for you.

Your Improvements

I’ve laid this all out, but you know me. I love to hear your ideas, thoughts, additions, disagreements, and your own versions. Want to tell me what you think? How do you work on your projects? What are your methods or systems? Let me know.
(clock photo credit zen)

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