Tag Archives: Projects

Trending Upward to Exhaustion

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I have written before about measurement and time management. These two concepts are essential for anyone in a leadership position to understand and practice well. However, as leaders, do you ever ask yourself how much is too much? Or, how much time is enough time? When does my job end, and when does my life begin? Are those two things (job/life) the same, and should they be the same?

I believe most people want to work more efficiently, and have more time to focus on things outside of work. Changing focus is where I find inspiration and the energy needed to solve problems, and I have to be believe other people are similar. Change is difficult, but achievable.

Trending Upward

This graph represents the lives of many people I know. Regardless of what they do, and how well they do it, time is always a problem. Based-on this diagram, a person would never finish solving problems. The result is their life is Trending Upward to Exhaustion . The wheel never stops, and the demand is never met.

The goal  should be to achieve something known as a backward bending supply line. A very cool concept from economics.

If your work life and personal life reflected this graph, it would indicate you are completing more tasks/projects in less time. This indicates that the longer you are involved in a career, job, etc. your efficiency improves.

The long term effects of reaching this goal are substantial:

  • You leave work on-time
  • You can take time-off sometimes for personal needs
  • Vacations, are vacations
  • There is time to innovate and experiment
  • Professional networking can be weekly and not just the big conferences
  • This list…can be endless

Achieving a Better Balance

The only tools needed to achieve a better balance are a clock, a spreadsheet or journal, and an alarm/calendar. The process is simple:

  1. Every day at the contractual end of the work day, set an alarm or calendar reminder.
  2. Look at what work is still pending, it does not matter if that work is pending from the past, or if the work is new. Look at the work, and type of work. Record each unique task that is pending.
  3. When you finally leave to go home, make a note of the time.
  4. Continues this process for about two weeks.

You will start to notice things fall into a few categories:

  1. Tasks you have started on your own initiative
  2. Tasks someone else has given you
  3. Off plan tasks created either internally or externally

As you begin to look at and categorize data, certain trends will emerge.

First off, you will immediately identify people who are outliers. These people will either be always requesting or always complaining above the norm. For example, I once found one person accounted for 12% of all IT Support Requests. Once I had that data, I spoke to their line manager and the problem was sorted. Imagine 12% of all last minute noncritical requests being eliminated.

In another case, I found that one employee in a weekly meeting hoarded problems. They left the problems off the agenda, and sprung the problems like a trap. Because there was an agenda, only a small percentage of problems could ever be addressed, and thus problems spilled-over into another meeting, another day, etc. I started managing my time in the meeting. Since there was an agenda, if the items did not pertain to me, I would asked to be excused. This forced the person in question to schedule a direct meeting with me, and thus, I was able to insist on all issues being in writing, in advance. The result was that 90% of the issues were dealt with outside of a meeting, and via email. Sometimes, I could delegate the issues to another team member, and avoid direct involvement.

Next, you will notice tasks that you have volunteered to do. Those are simple enough to manage. Volunteering is a choice, and doing it too much will shift from choice to responsibility. Moderation is the key.

Finally, within your team/department you will notice inefficiencies that are spilling-over. If your team is supposed to complete jobs A-B-C, and they only complete A and C, who is going to do B? You cannot do B. You have to figure out how to help them do A-B-C and properly meet their responsibilities.

When I started finding the daily issues caused by spillover, I knew something needed to change. I solved most of the spillover issues after discovering the cause was within the human resources policies my team was following.

The solution is in the trend. To find the trend you need the data. Use time in its various forms as the benchmark and boundary for the data. Be diligent in the routine and if you cannot be objective, find someone to help with the analysis.

Find the balance, your life and your school will appreciate the outcome.

What is Important is Seldom Urgent


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Presidential Planning

Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was an American politician and general who served as the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. (Source: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Dwight_D._Eisenhower)

In terms of project planning and time management, history yields few masters equal to that of President Eisenhower. There are many methods used for time and project management. President Eisenhower grouped things into simple categories so that he could efficiently and quickly prioritise his tasks/goals. Because of Eisenhower’s great success as a leader, a model was developed from his methods and applied to the business world. The model is known as The Eisenhower Matrix.

The original model is reflected in the four quadrants above. This is a model I personally use and advocate.

Although I am no Eisenhower, I did take it upon myself to alter the bottom right corner. Instead of using it to DELETE tasks or to categorize tasks as “useless”, I use to to track personal projects or 20% Time Projects. After all, if something is useless, it stays outside the box.

My box looks like this:


Reading the Matrix

The most important thing to remember is that everything cannot be urgent and important. If the majority of your day-to-day work-life is in the upper left quadrant, then something is wrong and out-of-balance.

Most tasks that fall into a person’s normal set of responsibilities should be in the upper right quadrant. Tasks or jobs in the lower left quadrant are often things assigned by a superior, that fall outside of the normal set of responsibilities or they are favours you might be doing for others.

Examples From My Personal Matrix
Important Not Urgent:

  • Develop a new class schedule before March 20th
  • Create a new html template for PowerSchool effort reports by March 18th
  • Review email branding process before April 15th

Notice all of the above have due dates that fall within a 7-30 day period. I have had them in the list for awhile. The deadline is approaching but these are all planned.

Important and Urgent:

  • Buy music software for upcoming performance
  • Develop new Sharepoint email workflow for Human Resources

These items are IT support items which have been assigned to me from other departments.
These need to be completed immediately. I am required to do these tasks, but they were not planned, and the notice was short.

Not Important but Urgent (Delegate):

  • Telescope delivery
  • Hand out ID cards
  • Document archive packaging for accreditation team

These are all jobs anyone in my department can do. All are very time consuming. I need to make certain they are finished, but I should not be doing these myself. Occasionally this quadrant contains a task I am required to do, but is outside of my job scope.

Not Important / Not Urgent /Ideas / 20% Time

  • Redesign interface for PowerSchool Parent Portal
  • Improve code for iTunes based video streaming

These are projects I enjoy doing. If they never get finished, the impact at this point in time will be minimal or nonexistent. The systems impacted are already fully functional. The skills learned from working on projects like these often transfer to other areas. 20% time projects are excellent for professional development and often lead to exciting random discoveries.

Tools for Getting Started

A simple way to apply the Eisenhower Matrix is to use Evernote or OneNote. Office software, such as Excel of LibreCalc, will also work. However, keeping a record of all the data and reflecting on it after the school year can be tricky. I recommended using software like Priority Matrix. The interface is simple, and the software links to Evernote.


Appfluence Priority Matrix

Last year I produced a list of all the scheduled items I had completed from January to June. I was amazed not only at the variety of projects and jobs I had been involved with, but also how many should have been placed in that lower left quadrant (Delegation). I have used that data to consciously delegate more tasks.

Before beginning, I recommend organising your team together to discuss what types of projects, jobs, etc. would fall into each quadrant. Have each member bring a list of everything they have been working on for the last thirty days. Use that data to fill in the box by reaching group consensus.

If nothing else, the Eisenhower Matrix makes the mind slow down and focus. The matrix forces reflection and constantly reminds users that most things are not urgent, nor important. Stress and circumstance can often cloud judgements and shift focus away from where it should be- Students & Learning.

And remember – Important is Seldom Urgent.