I have a confession: My name is Julia and I am a massive hypocrite. Specifically, I’m a product manager who prides myself in ruthless prioritisation, and I can’t prioritise my personal to-do list. Or rather, I can, but I get so far down into the weeds with busywork and interruptions and stuff that I rarely take a step back and apply the same discipline to my life outside of work that I’d apply to a product backlog. Talking to other product managers it sounds like I’m not alone.
Maybe it’s not all of us. There might be a few super-human Product Managers whose to-do lists, at work and at home, are perfectly prioritised and immaculately groomed, and who are always doing the most important thing they could be doing at any given moment. (I bet they’re the same people that get up at 5am to do 20 minutes meditation before their freshly-blended kale smoothie, weights session and morning pages. And who possibly don’t exist outside of Instagram.)
Example: Easter weekend
I’ve already blogged the positive angle on my Easter Weekend Craft Experiment. Now I’ll share some of the ways I set myself up to fail — before, during and after — and what I’ve changed so I might fail less often in future.
I started out with the intention to complete a craft project. But I started on a new piece of beadwork when I have a Work In Progress (WIP) list of at least three incomplete projects*.
I abandoned the beading project because I wasn’t enjoying it and it wasn’t likely to produce anything worthwhile. But that realisation came about more by luck than judgement. I can’t remember why I paused — maybe I was peckish and stopped for a snack — but it took physically stepping away to get perspective and conclude that I was wasting my time. But even then, inertia and sunk cost fallacy might have led me to continue. The moment I truly decided to stop was when I realised this would make a good post on Facebook.
I had goals for this weekend: to do some crafting and to learn something new. I attempted beading with a loom. I have learnt that loom beading is a lot more trouble than it’s worth.
HOWEVER! In a rare moment of clarity, I have binned the shitty project (yes, until writing this post there was every chance of me wasting another few hours on it, even knowing damn well that it’s doomed).
But at the time even that was a lie. I hadn’t binned the useless beadwork when I wrote the post. It was writing about it publicly that pushed me to actually do it a moment later.
The Facebook post went on…:
Instead I will write a work-related blog about how most product managers are massive hypocrites in our personal lives, and my brush with Sunk Cost Fallacy. HAH! IN YOUR FACE COGNITIVE BIAS (this one time)!
I had committed to writing a blog post, and I wanted to do it soon. The fact that this happened on Easter weekend I’m still finishing up this post in October will give you an idea of how well I delivered on that commitment.
Making time (or not)
I already had a Kanban board for discretionary projects like blogging and crafting. Most weekends I had at least a couple of hours to spare so in theory it should be easy to pick them off. (Right-to-left, top-to-bottom, minimise WIP, prioritise ruthlessly, all the things we do at the office, just a different set of goals.)
In reality the Kanban hadn’t been updated in months. So what actually happened was this: I felt vaguely guilty about not having started the post until about May, when I created a draft in Medium with a couple of lines. (Pro: this is supposed to help beat Blank Page Syndrome; Con: more WIP, agh!) Then I mostly forgot about it.
But here we are. It’s October and I completed one of two blog posts about my crafting misadventure last month, wrote most of this one, and scheduled slots in my calendar to finish and publish it.
Personal Kanban + Calendar time = Success?
The difference, I think, is the blocked-out time. Every Saturday I now have a two hour window booked in my calendar to work on discretionary projects. It’s not as regimented as it sounds; I’ll move it around as often as I need to that it fits in with whatever else I’m doing. If I don’t get to do it one week, it’s no big deal. The main thing is that most weekends I’ll make some progress on something from the list.
I’m wary of being too smug about this — I have the same high hopes and good intentions that I had every other time I started a new personal Kanban, and none of those turned me into a paragon of productivity. But I have done something different this time and the fact you’re reading this blog post is, at least, evidence that it’s helping so far. I’m even putting in a calendar appointment to update this post at the end of the year to let you know how it’s going.
My journey to personal productivity remains, somewhat ironically, a Work In Progress.
- one of these is a zpagetti bath mat I started in 2016 which is nearly complete but I never realised how fiddly and boring sewing in ends of zpagetti yarn would be. Clearly I need to either crack on with it or chuck it away. Being rational about things I do for enjoyment is hard, dammit!
Update: It’s now over a year later. I didn’t update the post at the end of the year as planned. I didn’t stick to my blocked-out calendar slots for personal projects. I didn’t clear my backlog.
I did finish the bathmat (yay!) and resume one of the WIP projects.
I’m now a Head of Product so I get to do a lot less hands-on PM-ing, but I am, sadly, still a hypocrite in applying what I use at work to my personal life.