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We’ve mentioned it before, and for the GTD crowd out there, it’s become second nature. But everything you do that’s related to productivity in design needs to be broken down into micro-tasks.
Your brain is an excellent tool for organizing and task management, but only if you train yourself to do it the right way.
Edit the copy for an entire web site by the end of the week? Damn, that sucks.
So, what do you do? Set a date on the calendar? That means you’ll probably procrastinate.
No, break down the entire project into micro-steps.
“The person who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”
This concept is very similar to the GTD method of setting a next actionable step, but involves a bit more foresight.
You’ll want to analyze the entire task at hand, and break it all down into manageable chunks. The smaller these chunks are; the better.
For the editing example above:
Already these mini-projects are looking much more manageable. Of course, you could break these down into even smaller stones to make the work look easier.
Instead of editing 1 page at a time, edit 1 paragraph at a time on the pages that need the most attention. Small steps like this will have a huge impact on the final result. You’re also cutting out unnecessary work by not editing an entire page of content. (80/20 Rule, anybody?)
By the end of the week you can show your boss a moved mountain. And if there’s rubble still at the base of the mountain I’m sure he’ll understand that he set a nearly impossible task that you completed to a degree that most others wouldn’t have been able to.
The above was a great example of ”grunt work.” But the creative process for designers is much different.
Designers usually have a more fluid approach to tasks, even if they have a rigid overall structure. How do we adapt this micro-task process for design?
Easy: Mind mapping.
On paper or on the computer, mind mapping is typically the more fluid structure that designers need.
This is mostly because it’s more visual. Artists and designers see lists and they balk.
When they see an intricate web of thoughts spread out across a page, they can start on the outside and work their way in.
Even creating the mind map tends to be a more creative experience than simply writing a list. It’s like a spider weaving a web, then the thoughts are like dew drops the next morning. Maybe that was a bit poetic and extreme, but you get the idea.
When you mind map like this, you’re crafting, not drafting.
Mind maps also offer something else to a designer that a simple list doesn’t – the ability to change and add items without worrying too much about structure.
Have a random thought that’s relevent? Find the correct parent node and make a new child idea. Simple as that. Even the most structured lists can’t offer that kind of quick-scanning simplicity. Words in a list blend together too much.
Any other thoughts? Tell us about your ideas for task management. How do other designers out there break down the mountains and move them? Let us know in the comments.