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Work Planning and Review Print
One of the most important items in your repertoire as a Project Manager is your ability to stay on top of things, your ability to plan and to implement those plans on time and within budget. I’m not talking here about the wizardry of project planning software packages, but rather the down-to-earth, ‘quick and dirty’ methods for keeping your focus on the things that matter.


Great ideas are still just that – great ideas : until they are put into action.

I am as interested as any one of you in playing with the latest bells and whistles in that software package just out of its cellophane wrapping but I have learned the hard way to "Keep It Simple, Sam!" The battery never runs out at awkward times in my pencil. Don’t get me wrong though. What I am proposing here is a practical work planning and review method that can be linked to and managed by an electronic diary.


Let’s start by outlining the basics of my system and then we will look at ways in which it might be linked to your electronic diary.

You will require the following:

  1. Clear plastic document holders in the following colours and quantities

    • Not more than seven red
    • Ten yellow
    • About twenty blue

  2. Three desk-top document trays (red, yellow and blue look pretty together and will reinforce the message of the plastic document holders!)

    • Top tray = must be tackled before the end of this week

    • Middle tray = waiting for a reply, for someone else to provide an input, or holding just to get the timing right,

    • Bottom tray = not started yet, but don’t lose sight of them


  3. A "To Do List" with three categories for listing tasks:

    • "HOT" (Red!) – Priority #1, must be done before the deadline, or else----!!!!!

    • "KEEPING IT WARM" (Yellow) – Priority #2, review daily and take follow-up action if necessary to get the required inputs;

    • "COOL" (Blue) – No assigned priority yet. Good idea but its day hasn’t yet arrived, no hassle, just keep an eye on it.


First Steps

Start from where you are! Remember that this is a practical system and you can fine tune it later to the way you work. We are not talking about ideal solutions here, nor about an academic approach to a real life problem. Sit at your desk and look at what is in front of you. This is the mess that has to be sorted out!

Begin by making a list of all the tasks that need to be done.

Note whether they are once off or repetitive. The once off items should be given a realistic deadline. Think in terms of the results of each of these tasks, what will be the output? Don’t worry about priorities at this stage, just list what has to be done, in any order.

List tasks and not activities.

Activities are the individual things you do to complete the task. If you get involved at this stage in the fine detail of activities you will lose the perspective of the larger picture.

Allow about one hour for this stage

Resist the temptation of becoming engrossed in individual items. Just group the relevant bits of paper, diagrams, charts, et cetera, together.

Base Camp One

We are now ready to muster our resources for the next stage in the climb to the dizzy heights of WORK-PAR (remember? WORK Planning And Review!).
Now is the time to review your list of tasks and select not more than SEVEN priority one tasks.

Why do I pick seven?
You may have already identified twelve or so priority one items!
I pick seven because all through human history the number seven has had particularly magic connotations. I joke you not, well, not too much.

More seriously though, seven is about the maximum number of independent variables that the human mind can manage without beginning to generalise and combine items into sub-groups.

Whatever other reasons I can dream up to support my proposed seven, the main reason is derived from experience.
Seven is about right – a handful of tasks, achievable, and satisfying when achieved at the end of the week.
You can maintain a clear focus on individual items by sticking with not more than seven.

  • Assign the relevant papers for each Priority #1 task to a red document folder.

  • In a similar manner select not more than TEN Priority #2 tasks and assign the associated paperwork to the yellow document folders.

  • The paperwork for the remaining tasks is assigned to the blue folders.

Making it to Base Camp 2

We must now decide on deadlines for each of the priority #1 and #2 tasks.
These deadlines refer to the completion date for the whole task. Note these deadlines on the To Do list.

The final job to be done is to take each of the Priority #1 tasks and decide what needs to be done next.
Here we now move to the level of ACTIVITY.
What must be done or can be done to move each task forward towards its completion?
You should also set a target date for this activity.

Repeat this process for all the Priority #2 tasks as well.

We have now reached Base Camp 2 and are ready for the final assault on the Mountain of Paperwork!

The Final Assault

Collect together all folders that relate to an activity to be completed within the coming week. Place these in the top tray. There may be a mixture of priorities in the bundle but that does not matter.
What they have in common is a target date in the coming week for completion of a related activity.

In a similar manner assign those tasks with an associated activity whose target date is later than the next week to the middle tray.

The remaining tasks are put in the bottom tray.

The Routine

Each day check the top tray.
What can you do for each or any of these today? When an activity has been completed, the task can usually be dropped down to the middle tray.

When a task is completed just file the relevant papers and upgrade another task to Priority #1.

I review my task priorities each Friday afternoon while my Zip drive is backing up my data.
This gives me the information I need to pencil in blocks of time for the coming week’s work.

There it is!

You now have a system for managing your priority tasks and a way of scheduling them so that you achieve your goals.
I use this system myself in conjunction with Lotus Organiser. The Day Planner View allows me to schedule my daily activities in the diary section and view the To Do List adjacent to it.
There is also space for logging phone calls and making notes.

2001 © Tony Pratschke

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