Tag Archives: Bernice Niel Ruhland

How to Keep Yourself Organized

At some point in our careers, we may get into a situation where we feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of projects and tasks that need to be completed. We might be juggling testing tasks (such as writing test strategies, reviewing testing approaches), recruiting and training new Testers, writing performance reviews, planning for upcoming releases, and working on special projects.The focus of this article is to discuss methods to identify important tasks and to organize them in order to stay focused on important priorities. Finding a manageable system can help you make decisions on where to allocate available time wisely when the workload outweigh the time available.

Take an Inventory of What You Think Needs to be Done

Create an inventory list of everything you believe needs to be completed. This can be projects, a listing of tasks, or a combination of both. At this point it is not necessary to get too granular such as a project plan instead this is an initial start to understand what needs to be completed.

What Are Your “Real” Priorities and Timelines?

A laundry list of projects and tasks can be overwhelming. Review the initial inventory list to determine what really needs to be accomplished and associated timelines. A few questions to get started in understanding the priorities.

What projects and tasks:
  •  are associated with hard‐deadlines?
  •  must be completed in the short‐term?
  • can be re‐negotiated to provide more time for the most critical
    or  time sensitive projects and tasks?
  •  have longer term deadlines that do not require immediate
    attention?   (Move them to a different list leaving a
    placeholder  in your laundry  list of projects so you do not
    forget about them.)
  • are nice to do but if not addressed will not have a big impact?          (Move them to a different list for future projects so they are
    not part of your daily review.)

Organize What Needs to be Completed

Whiteboard:

Using a whiteboard is a low-tech solution that is helpful when you prefer to have the tasks visible without needing to open a notebook or electronic organizer. The downfall of this system is you cannot take it with you; however you can always take a picture with your mobile as a work around. Start with first understanding how you want to logically group the tasks to allocate space for each category. The categories can be based upon the type of tasks to logically keep them together or by priorities or due dates. Another approach is to list all the tasks vertically and then along the top of the whiteboard indicate the timelines (such as September, October, or Quarter 1, Quarter 2) based upon the deadlines. For each task place an “x” under the appropriate time to indicate when it is due. Using symbols, acronyms, and different color markers can help track the progress and priorities of those tasks.

Spreadsheets:

Spreadsheets are a great way to organize tasks with the ability to add columns and sort the data based upon any of the columns. Using Google Drive Spreadsheets is great to access that information from most any device or operating system. It is easy to add and remove tasks, then re-sort the spreadsheet to keep tasks organized by priority or category. Columns that can be helpful include:●  Status (Not started, In Progress, On Hold, Blocked, Completed)

●  Deadline

●  Priority

●  Category (such as administrative, testing, special projects)

●  Effort

●  Task Description

●  Notes (Add the date before each note to keep track of the progress)

Moleskin Notebook and Bullet Journal:

There are different types of notebooks that typically come with their own planning system. These are great systems for those who prefer paper systems and like the ability to take them wherever they go and not be reliant on technology.

Applications:

There are a lot of apps that can help organize tasks. iPad has a nice app called “Everyday” that has a “To Do” list that you electronically cross off a task and any tasks not completed automatically moves to the next day. This is nice for immediate priorities but it is a listing of tasks with no organization.

OneNote is a digital notebook that can be used for many purposes from organizing tasks, capturing notes including using a camera, voice, drawings, while providing storage in the cloud for easy access to the information across devices.

There are a lot of “To Do” apps that range from simple to complex with many of them being free. Download a few of them to find out which one works for your needs. Consider if you want the information stored in the cloud to make it easier to access across operating systems and devices.

Symbols, Acronyms, and Color Scheme:

Use different symbols, acronyms, and colors to visually see your priorities and progress. For example, start each task with a small box and when that task is completed place a checkmark in the box to indicate it is done. A star might indicate the task is top priority; a question mark might indicate additional research or questions need to be addressed; a triangle indicates a change has happened with the task; and so on. Incorporating color can be a quick way to understand if a task is on track (green); slightly off schedule (orange); or is in trouble (red). The color scheme can be used to identify the tasks priority as an example red might indicate a top priority. Acronyms can be used such as:

IP – the task is currently in progress
BL – the task is blocked
CL – the task has been closed

Immediate Priorities

When there is a lot of demands on your time, keep your immediate priorities visible to ensure they do not get missed, which is easy to do when you are busy. Every day either in the morning or at the end of the day, re-review the top priorities for any changes. Understand any upfront work that needs to be completed for a future deliverable to reduce the last minute rush. For example, if in two-weeks you are facilitating a meeting, what do you need to do now to prepare for that meeting.

Best Use of Time

Utilizing your time wisely is important as a general rule; however when you are juggling a heavy workload, this rule becomes critical. Understanding the tasks’ effort is helpful for when you have a small chunk of time available – you can easily select a small task to complete. For example, a meeting is cancelled freeing up an hour, which is not enough time to work on a larger project but might provide time to complete a smaller task.

Meetings can be scattered throughout the day. If possible, organize meetings in a manner to provide a larger block of working time. Scheduling time to get work done is helpful, which might be accomplished by allocating uninterrupted time by closing an office door, putting out a Do Not Disturb sign unless it is an emergency, and working from home (based upon the company’s HR policy). Often people do not want to go to these extremes, but protecting time will help with utilizing time wisely. This also includes not constantly checking email and your mobile that breaks your concentration. Review your typical work day to determine where else you can make changes to protect time.

Different approaches can be effective based upon the type of workload and deadlines. Test out different approaches to determine what works best for you based upon the situation.

About the Author

Bernice Niel Ruhland is a Director of Quality Management Programs for a privately-owned software development company. She provides strategic oversight and leadership of a Software Testing Department using context-driven and agile approaches and techniques. She participates in company-wide quality initiatives and programs. The opinions of this article are her own and not reflective of the company she is employed. You can connect with Bernice at: LinkedIn; Twitter: bruhland2000; or her blog: TheTestersEdge.com