Describing the Complex Systems that Influence & Guide My Workflow

Describing the Complex Systems that Influence & Guide My Workflow

I use a variety of systems to organize my work and try to keep myself sane. The thinking is that once I develop a system that makes sense, I need to just use the system and things will fall into place. Please keep in mind that I will not discuss the numerous online and face-to-face social networks and PLNs that inspire me. I’m not including my Twitter and G+ peeps, writing in Google Docs, or the super-secret Slack group I’m part of. I’m just looking at the systems that make things happen.

Understanding my systems

I first figured out how systems could work for me as I was trying to figure out how to use Evernote. I would carry around Moleskin notebooks and jot down ideas, or document research. I would also bookmark hundreds of websites to never return to them later. My Evernote system involves a simple process in which I create two notebooks (INBOX, ARCHIVE). Anything I’m currently working on goes into the INBOX, is tagged, and then sent to the ARCHIVE to collect dust. If I need it, I can search for it in Evernote and pull it back up.

Evernote works on my devices, and on the open web. My systems also follow many of the learning and design principles of the Connected Learning philosophy. As detailed in the top of this post, much of my work is guiding by social and collaborative needs. When I complete work on an individual basis, I try to follow the same principles I use as a socialize and collaborate. The reason is that I might choose to share a piece of my work, or the entire system at some point. To that end, my system of getting things done (GTD) involves a focus that is guided by the Connected Learning philosophies detailed below. THNX to Kevin Hodgson for the graphic below.

Using Trello for GTD

I recently discussed my use of Trello and Kanban as a means to focus on the things I need to get done. My system for Evernote would become too complicated if I added a to-do list to it. Evernote is where ideas go and I forget them…until I need to call them up again. The key behind all of these systems is that they need to be simple. Everything needs to be easy, clear, and agile. This means that it must be collaborative in nature, self-organizing, cross-functional, adaptable, and responsive. Trello allows me this flexibility.

Trello is a free, flexible, visual way to organize anything. Think of Trello as a white board and a collection of Post-It notes. I really love this overview of Trello provided by Justin Cone. The goal is to build a system of stacks and cards in which you assign goals and complete them.

My Trello system for GTD

You can read more about the basics for my Trello system on this post. On my Trello board, I have a series of stacks (Today [3], This Week, Research, Bloggable/Newsletter, Tickler, Grading). Keep in mind this system is agile focused…so the columns change. As guided by the Advanced Kanban badge, I added a limit to the items I can include in the Today column. I limit the amount of things I have to complete in one day to three. I’ll continue to experiment with this number…but I always have things that pop up in a day and I want to be able to address them. I also don’t want to dread looking at my to-do list.

The far left stack is for Today and this indicates the three things I want to complete in that day. The other stacks to the right indicate things I’d like to complete in the future. As I review content in the columns to the right, I continue to edit, modify, leave comments and links on the back…and move the card to the left. When a task is completed, I archive the card. Other individuals have recommended systems that include moving the card to a stack showing all of the work you’ve completed…or adding stickers to the card to motivate you. I don’t want to see the card anymore. 🙂

I also use three colored labels (green for low, yellow for medium, red for high) to indicate the importance for each card. As I move the card to the left and add it to the Today column, I want to quickly see the priority I have given the card. I don’t want to ignore an important task if things go sideways in the day.

On the back of the card, I include comments, attachments, and links to online content…including emails. This section allows me to document my thinking over time. In the case of a topic I’d like to research, I save links to websites or attachments to PDFs that I need to read. All of this information is automatically archived to Evernote so I don’t lose anything.

I don’t see the need to add collaborators to individual cards in my Trello system. I have experimented with the use of Trello to organize the LRA Research to Practice shows. I’ll post more about that work as it advances.

I also don’t use the due dates for individual cards. In my system, I complete cards as I move them across to the Today stack…and then try to complete them. In my system, cards can get stuck in the Tickler stack…which is meant to be a place that I leave things I want to accomplish at some point.

Wrapping up

Trello provides me with a powerful place to save my ideas and organize them in a way to keep me focused on being productive. This revision of my use of Trello as a to-do list has been motivated by Make Cycle #4 of the CLMOOC, the Advanced Kanban badge, and Doug’s post on setting up an agile school rhythm.

In this work, I’m focusing on the systems I use to ensure that I function effectively. At this point, most of this work with Trello has been completed to keep my own workflow sane. I would consider the use of Trello in this system to be a hack, but Trello is meant to be hacked…and this method has been shared by others.

I think we all need to take time in our work to look at our workflow and process and find opportunities to hack the system. Once you have the system developed, it’s time to use the system and see how it works. At that point you can modify and make revisions. But…now that I’ve detailed this system…I’ll use it and come back with more feedback at a later date.


Cover photo by orcmid shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Also published on Medium.

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