Forever Tasks – How do *you* handle them?

Andy raised an interesting question last week commenting on my post “Bending OneNote and Outlook to Fit my GTD System“. His question relates to something I like to call “Forever Tasks”. These are basically projects that have no real end date that you have to continually track and execute. Here is an excerpt from Andy’s comments:

I’ve got a couple of very ongoing projects. But they are so big I don’t know whether they really are a project. For instance I help set up and run a design group called Coalition. I think of this as a big marketing project… but it doesn’t really have an end as such, like a project “run company” would be a bit daft! How do you think your setup should deal with this kind of thing?

I’d like to hear everyone else’s thoughts on this… How do you handle continual on-going “projects” like this? Please share your thoughts and post a comment below. To get things started, here are a few options/ideas to consider…

IDEA 1: The idea Andy suggested in his original comment was a pretty good adaptation. He suggested creating a separate tab in OneNote for this “project” instead of a page. This keeps the pages from getting too long on the bigger projects.

IDEA 2: Use a single project page, and then archive that page monthly. Basically, move the page into the completed projects section of the @DONE tab, create a new project using the template, and copy any active tasks across. If the project was “Manage the XYZ Design Team”, then you could have project pages like XYZ Management AUG’08, XYZ Management SEP’08, etc.

IDEA 3: Divide your role into major areas and track each area or zone of responsibility as a separate project. It really does help, and it forces you to focus on the critical few things that are key to your success. For an excellent instructive talk on this, I would suggest downloading the Manager-Tools podcasts on Time Management. In the first cast, Mark and Mike stress some of Peter Drucker’s principles from The Effective Executive: Ask not what you want to do, but rather what the role requires of you. Every 3-6 months re-ask yourself what the role requires of you now. Those things that the role requires of you are likely to be the same things your boss will measure you against when it comes time for your annual review. That brings up another good suggestion from the Manager-Tools podcast: Chances are that your job description is out of date. Draft a new job description for yourself and review it with your boss. There are some suggestions for how to do this effectively in the podcast. Force yourself to boil it down to 5-10 key priorities. If this seems difficult, consider Drucker’s perspective: If you are trying to juggle five priorities, you’re wrong. Effective executives and managers do one thing very well, and the other things are delegated. Few people are brilliant enough to do two things well. Trying to do three things well is a circus act. I would suggest downloading the entire Time Management series from and listening to them at your leisure. If you are not already a Manager-Tools listener, I would suggest starting with their collection of basic podcasts first to ground yourself in the Manager-Tools principles and lingo.

IDEA 4: Stir a little bit of 7 Habits into your GTD each week… I know, it’s kinda like that Reese’s commercial, “Hey you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”. Anyway, what I’m talking about is defining your “Big Rocks” and then reviewing them each week as part of your weekly review. When I was using PlanPlus, there was a tool called the Weekly Compass for doing this. The screen shot below is my weekly compass from a few years ago. Here is what the help from PlanPlus has to say about Big Rocks:

When scheduling big rocks, remember to ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I can do in this role this week?” It’s not mandatory that you schedule big rocks for each role every week. Focus on those roles that need your attention. Maybe it’s all of them or perhaps just two or three. You’ll know.

You could follow this same process by creating a OneNote project page or a recurring Outlook task called “Big Rocks”. Check it each week during your weekly review, just as you would your GTD project list. For each role (aka Big Rock), determine the next actions for the coming week and create individual tasks for them.

IDEA 5: Make the project page as bare bones as possible. Just track major tasks on the project page, and let the notes go into your DROE page. Any emails related to the project can >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

Manager-Tools Rocks!

I just wanted to give a quick shout out to one of my favorite podcasts: Manager Tools. I’ve been listening to this podcast for over a year now and found lots of useful nuggets. Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne present the material in a straight-forward and compelling manner, and cut right to the parts you can actually apply today. Here’s how they describe it:

“Manager Tools is a weekly podcast focused on helping you become a more effective manager and leader. Each week we’ll be talking about new tools and easy techniques you can use to help achieve your management and career objectives. If you’re tired of a lot of management theory and would rather learn specific actions you can take TODAY to improve your management performance, we think you’ll enjoy the manager tools podcast.”

For anyone who is a first-line or one-over-one manager, or is hoping to be a manager, I’d recommend subscribing to this podcast.

Good Interview Practices

One of the most important things that a manager does is building his or her team by bringing in new talent. The most critical step in this process is the interview. Here is a collection of tips/techniques that I usually send out a few days ahead of time to anyone that is helping me conduct interviews. Some of this stuff may seem basic, but it’s amazing how often people overlook these points.

Good interview techniques:

  • You represent your company or business when interviewing candidates. Recognize that every person who interviews for a position forms an opinion of your company based on how they are treated. In addition to selling the advantages of being an employee, every interview is an opportunity to give potential or current customers a positive view of the company.
  • Read the resumes ahead of time. Don’t cram 30 minutes before the first interview.
  • Create your planned list of questions prior to the interview. You don’t have to follow it verbatim, but you shouldn’t be fumbling to come up with questions during the interview.
  • Numerous studies have shown that past behavior is the best indicator of future success. As such, questions should be behavior-based. Behavior-based questions ask candidates to give specific examples of what they did and the steps they took to accomplish their results.
  • Ask follow-up questions.
  • Turn off your pager/cell phone and close your laptop. If interviewing at your desk, you should turn off your monitor and forward your desk phone directly into voice mail. Remove all possible distractions.

Fair Hiring Practices: >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>