Long-term strategies for project productivity
Immersion versus partition
If I could choose my way of working, I would reduce my project load to just one project and immerse myself entirely on it, ramping up in every aspect to become extremely knowledgeable and influential with design, roadmap, adoption, and more.
However, the financial reality of most companies is that a single technical writer handles more projects than he or she wants, and is fully consumed with a never-ending list of content updates and other tasks. Most of us have 3-4 projects going on at once, partitioning our knowledge and time such that it’s nearly impossible to become the knowledgeable expert we might strive for.
I often pause one project one week to focus on one with higher priority, and then pause that project the next week to switch my focus to a different project, and then pause that one the next week to switch my focus yet again to some other project. Wouldn’t it be better, more efficient, more pleasant, to stay the focus on one project continuously and immersively?
Since that single-project focus is rarely possible (count yourself lucky if it is), there’s another alternative for productivity: extending out the timelines. Extending out timelines for work in a long-term way rather than short-term requires us to think in unfamiliar ways. The inability to think long-term is why so many of us rarely see harm in eating poorly or continuing in some other bad habit — the effects aren’t seen for so many months/years into the future, it’s hard to connect them to the immediate present.
But long-term thinking and strategy is a valid way to tackle the multiple project problem. In my project strategy plan, I have a diagram like this:
I identify two main projects at work and at home that I want to do well on. I then try to identify 1-2 tasks per day for each project, writing the task in the dashed square beside the arrow, and then symbolically coloring in a block for completing the task each day. This focus gives me some larger direction and focus and helps me prioritize the work.
I don’t always keep on track, unfortunately. When an immediate crisis presents itself and requires my full attention until a release or deadline passes, my larger focus gets derailed and I lose this slow, methodical progress on these larger efforts. But when the dust settles on the crisis and my days return to normal, I resume the slow plodding towards these long-term projects. I find that this long-term project map helps clarify my direction in what is otherwise a chaos of tasks and errands each day.
Additionally, knocking out one task here and there each day on the project keeps my mind relatively fresh on the project and reduces the time typically lost when context switching.
- How to avoid inefficiencies even with context switching
- Is it inefficient to frequently switch contexts among multiple projects?
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.