4/15/2014— Kelsey Breseman
As a company with six people and a lot of work to do, it’s a challenge to keep track of tasks and priorities. Six people is just big enough that you might not know what everyone is doing, and small enough that there are always more immediately important tasks to do than people to do them.
We’ve tried a few different ways to make sure things get done efficiently, and usually end up using some combination of all of these:
Post-its are visual and moveable. If you put them on a nearby wall, you’ll notice them. They’re some of our best productivity tools.
Jon came up with a really good graph:
Every yellow post-it represents a task to be done before we ship. The X-axis goes from low to high priority, and the Y-axis is completeness. A fully complete task can be moved to the top. The pink marks on some tasks are ripped pink Post-it denoting that the task is blocked until another task is completed.
This is much better than a binary list, because there are a number of almost-but-not-quite finished tasks, and so it more accurately represents the state of the project, and we move our tasks up the wall at the end of the day. Additionally, since they’re ordered by priority, it’s really easy to look at the wall and figure out what you should be working on. Ideally, your graph is y=x at any given time as you try to push up the lower right quadrant.
The blue and purple post-its are larger-scale categories of tasks, also ordered by priority.
We also tried post-its for public shaming:
The blog is important for all manner of reasons, but we still regularly neglect to write. We’ve tried various tricks (setting exact due dates, me personally reminding each person, etc.). This one is simple: everyone’s name is on a Post-it. The masking tape divides people who owe a blog post from people who have written recently. The objective is to get across to the safe side of the line.
We took this one down for fear of the tape bonding to the wall paint, but it’s intact in principle.
Bread o’clock is around 4pm, when we’re all kind of hungry. We stand up, look at and adjust the post-it wall, and informally discuss what we’re working on. This facilitates a “let me help you with your problem” exchange between team members so tasks get accomplished with a minimum of frustration.
Wednesday is “food day”: the company buys lunch and we talk about the bigger picture (where the company is going) and things that just take a while to talk about. This makes sure we continue to think about where we’re going as a company, and not just the day-to-day.
We eat lunch together anyway, but on Wednesdays we intentionally talk about work.
At the beginning of each day, in our company chat (Zulip), we each write what we’re planning to work on. At the end, we write what we’ve accomplished. This way we know what everyone is working on, and have a record of our own progress.
For the zillions of little tasks we need to complete, we use Asana. It lets you organize things into projects as a team, assign tasks to team members, and give due dates. Handy features include recurring tasks (I have one that reminds me to do accounting once a month) and emails/push notifications reminding you that your tasks are overdue.
The difficulty is, it’s a task in itself to keep Asana tasks up to date, and if you forget to check Asana or filter out the emails, it quickly piles up into a mess of outdated assignments.
We use Asana on-again, off-again. Mostly, I use it as my personal to-do list for company tasks.
It helps to have a deadline for any given task, and calendars are great visual tools to remind yourself exactly how long you have left.
We’ve found a giant calendar to be very helpful with long-term team milestones. Particularly last summer, when the founding team was still deciding whether they would continue when fall semester started back up, there were exact dates we needed to hit corresponding to board revisions– and if we didn’t hit them, the product wouldn’t launch.
This motivated us into more than a couple of all-nighters, because you can’t argue with a calendar.
All right, time to check the wall and see what’s next.