Track discipline

I’ve mentioned a few tracking tools on this blog, and I wanted to write a little about what I am using at the moment: of all the things I have tried, which tools have stuck?

Burndown Chart

The most complex tool I have been consistent in using is the burndown chart. I use this both for my writing projects and my day job.

I find this tool useful for two reasons:

  1. it helps be more realistic about what’s achievable in the time available
  2. it gives me visibility of when I am running out of time for a task

I use two burndown charts:

  • for my writing projects, the OpenOffice version has lots of auto-updating formulae and load calculations. I need these features here because I’m only in this sheet for a few minutes a day – the writing projects are managed on scraps of time rather than great gobbets, so I want the lowest cognitive load to keep things current that I can manage.
  • my day job tracking is done in a text file burndown. This needs fully manual updates, but the benefit is that the burndown is right alongside all of my other tracking files, and the blank template for a new sprint is created alongside other temporal artifacts.

The single biggest improvement I’ve made to my use of this tool is to log time off as a task in the burndown, and more critically to include time spent not writing in the writing projects sheet. The usual issue I have had in the past with my writing is that I had not been making allowances for time when I would not, realistically, be able to write which leads to annoyance when I don’t complete my writing goals. I now have a category on the writing sheet for “not writing” into which I place time for weekends away and the like.

Word Count Goals and Other Checklists

When I am in word-mining mode, I usually have a spreadsheet with word count goals in it into which I write my current word count after each writing session. This helps me to see how I am doing per day, the average word count, and how far adrift I am from the nominal goal.

In other contexts, I use lists and tick things off as they are completed: when editing a manuscript I have a list of scenes to work on; for example.

Logging

Making notes of what I’m working on and how I’m doing it is such a fundamental part of my working style that it’s hard to imagine how I could function without it. The problem I am working to counteract is my poor conversational memory: if I see something written down or if I write it myself then it tends to stick (to the point where I may not even need to look at the note again to recall it) but if I don’t write it down then it’s simply gone. The bonus with writing this stuff down on the computer is that it is searchable.

Anyway, writing logs in the day job is something I have been doing consistently for a long time (I started in 1997 or 1998) and it’s tremendously useful.

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