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To Do Lists

If you're like me you have a million things to do. Oddly, none of those things happen to be writing blogs, but hey, I ticked off 7 items on my to do list today!

As outlined in previous posts, in addition to shooting and editing video projects I also am a project manager.

When I realized that 50% or more of my days were being spent project managing, I did some research on ways to improve efficiency.

For a while I listened to a project management podcast by Cornelius Finchner

He has some interesting ideas and conversations, however he also spends a lot of time on preparing for the PMI exam and certification, and a lot of things related to being a full time enterprise level project manager.

Having culled all I could from these podcasts, I turned to this great new thing which apparently existed even before the oh so revolutionary Internet: a library!

My local library in Woodbury, CT not only gets a lot of great new books on business subjects, it also has great organized stacks of useful resources. Having flipped through several of the old classic books from Tom Peters and some of the new classics from guys like Jack Welch, I stumbled upon one of the "who moved my cheese" style books, the On Time on Target Manager. This is what I call a 1 hour book, because you can read it in 1 hour or so, and it is written as more of a parable than an actual story.

The simple lesson from this book (skip this paragraph if you do not like spoilers) is the following:



Do things for the right reasons, in the right order, with the right people, and want to do what you do.




Ok you can start reading again if you skipped ahead.

Brilliant, yet simple. Oh sure, it sounds too simple, but when your To Do list resembles a take out restaurant menu, it can be overwhelming to keep your brain focused on the most important tasks.

Long before I read this little gem, I had been making to do lists. However these lists are often just a collection of unfinished, difficult to finish projects, rather than tasks.

Therein lies the difference - differentiate between a project and a task.

For example, here is a fictional Project To Do List:

1. Paint house

2. Clean garage

3. Organize tape library

4. Find the crystal skull

Obviously I will never check off any of these tasks in the short term, especially if this is a daily list. A list like this can be written on a marker board, well out of my line of sight.

A better to do list, let's say for the week, should be:

1. Assess condition of shutters - if they need to be sanded, take down and put in garage.

2. Sweep garage floor. Clean up recycling. Get rid of t-tops from old TransAm.

3. Setup excel file for tape library. Get buy-in from boss and co-workers.

4. Take weekend trip to Chile rainforest, contact local tribesmen, meet long lost son.

See what I mean? Divide and conquer with an overwhelming list makes it less overwhelming.

So lets say this 2nd list is my weekly to do list, then each morning I can make a smaller boiled down list. You may say, I can manage off the less focused list just fine. But in reality, I at least find that my brain can more easily deal with smaller manageable tasks. Plus I get a kick out of crossing out or checking off items with a magic marker. Maybe we really do learn everything we need to know in kindergarten!


1. Remove shutters from east side of house

2. Move clutter to one side of garage

3. Make a list of fields for the tape database

4. Check last minute airfares to Santiago International Airport. Find bullwhip and leather jacket. Make list of former girlfriends.

So how does this all relate to the price of eggs?


I know I talk like an old man!

Let's use a real world example:

Project List

1. Nursing Video - complete 1st edit

2. Whipple video (that is the actual name of an operation, look it up) - 1st edit

3. New Nursing DVD library - prepare for sale

Again, this may be the list of important project milestones, but you can't check off anything on that list after anything less than a few days or weeks of work. We humans need the occasional instant gratification. Hence the popularity of scratch tickets and tiny bottles of booze in hotel rooms (or so I hear).

Let's boil down this list to a week:

1. Nursing video - complete first pass editing raw footage to script, rough titles, intro montage

2. Whipple video - digitize raw footage, edit down to 1 hour or less

3. New Nursing DVD library - make DVD masters, packaging, labels, post-tests, catalog images and website.

Maybe, if nothing else comes up, I can do some of this. Remember, I am combining video production and project management tasks. While I frown upon multi-tasking, if you can set parts of your day aside for different tasks, that may be ok, but it may differ for everyone.

Here is a sample Monday list:

1. Nursing video - edit at least 5 minutes, rough in shots and temp titles.

2. Whipple video - digitize 2 hours of tape, more Tues

3. DVD Library - author 1st 2 titles on DVD, burn master discs - 2 more on Tuesday, pull stills for packages.

Ok, things are looking more manageable.














Some weeks the lists are not so organized. Lately I have been using brightly colored sheets of paper and a Sharpie, but I try different techniques. Oh, also I like pretty colors. And books with lots of pictures!

A neat work environment is certainly a goal. We can dream...!


In summary, if you manage a lot of projects and do some or all of the work on those projects, the key is to find an organizational system that works for you. If MS Project is something your organization uses, I am sorry for you. Actually it can be a good program if you do not micromanage every task, and if you have the time to manage the project files.

If you are lucky enough to have a scheduling person in your group, learn to follow the schedule, and avoid interruptions.

Avoiding interruptions, however, is another blog for another day.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 5, 2008 at 7:34:45 pm workflow, project, management

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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