Monday, April 23, 2007

paring down the laundry list

Its that time of year when you take stock of all the things you wanted to do over the Winter, but just didn't manage to get to. I look at Hapy, and I'm reminded of all the projects that aren't quite finished and the projects that I want to start. I made the mistake of writing down all the things that I haven't finished yet, or want to do, and it is incredibly long. It seems like the same thing happens when I think about the yard, or some house aspect. Before I realize it, the scope of the project gets so massive that it becomes completely impossible to fathom how I could even consider starting such a project. I thought I'd lay out how I take a list of considerable length containing projects of different scopes and priorities, and cut them down to managable bits.

First, you have to write it all down. It doesn't matter that some of the items are gnat's ass details and others are vague high level descriptions. You gotta write them down. Sounds simple enough, but once they're written down, you can shift them around on paper and it frees your head for actual thinking instead of list maintenance. Make sure your significant other's items are on that list or all of this work will be for naught.

Second, prioritize. Sometimes, that's really easy. Other times, I get to this point, and get stymied by "yeah but's". You know things like I have to wash the patio, but I have to clean the gutters and the gunk from the gutter cleaning will land on the patio..... yeah, but we're having some people over in a few days and the patio needs to be clean... yeah, but its supposed to rain... death cycle. Just put the same priority on both of them and move on. You're just trying to get to a point of seeing what's most important, if dealt with completely independently.

Third, define dependencies. Again, this can be really easy, but in the back of your mind, you have that voice in the back of your head that's squaking about how much time you have to do this or that. Tell the voice to be quiet so you can finish this. The rain gutters and the cleaning of the patio seem dependent, but they're really not. You'd like to only clean the patio once, but what you'd like to do isn't a dependency, its a preference. A true dependency would be having to buy a ladder before you clean the gutters. Think in those terms. For those projects that are just vague ideas, you can't do this part. Those vague ideas have to become something that can be defined at a detailed level, or you really can't go much further. If the highest priority item is one of these, sub-step it.

Fourth, estimate times. This is probably the hardest part. I never get this right when doing bus stuff. Most car work, though, has been done by someone else, and its probably documented on the web somewhere with a statement of how long it took them. For me, I take their estimate and add at least another 50%. I work slowly and deliberately and I have tiny windows of time to work, so that multiplier works for me. Estimate in hours not days and not minutes. If you can't think in terms of hours, your level of granularity is off: thinking in days means not enough detail, and thinking in minutes is probably too much detail. If you're doing something you've never done, make sure you have a step for learning how, and add some time for the actual doing of the work.

Fifth, calendar your work. Between lacrosse and baseball games and practices this Spring, I'll have almost no time to do anything. But there's always an hour here or an hour there that I can get something done. I like to pick a night or 2 of the week that I'll spend a couple of hours each doing something after the kids are in bed. Obviously, I can't do autobody work with the big hammers in the living room then, but other items on the list may be more suitable. Also remember there are lots of things that need to be done to keep a house running, so remember that laundry doesn't wash itself, food doesn't magically appear in the kitchen (or on a dinner plate) and lawns still have to get mowed. This sounds obvious, but my early project plans forgot about some of this stuff. Also account for sloth time as you will spend time surfing the 'net, reading a book or watching tv and you need that time for mental health - guilt free.

Last, execute your calendar. Things will go wrong, items will be dropped and you'll want to add others. To add items, you really need to start at step 2 (prioritization) and go through the rest of the steps. Otherwise, the new item will invariably get stuck at one end or the other of the list, messing up all the planning work you did.

I had intended to post my laundry list of things that I want or need to do to Hapy, but diagramming my process seemed more important. I'll put my list, and my following of these steps into the next few posts if for no other reason, so that they'll be written down.

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