Defining the Work : My plan to reclaim the weekend

Project management isn’t about reminding people to work – it’s about clearly defining the work so that it’s actionable.

How do we know project management is working?

Well, turns out, we can measure it.

Project management can be measured by how relaxed everybody is on their days off 🙂 That includes clients.

Project management is the defining factor of Maple Creative, and the ability to guide an idea through a tested and reliable process of design, development, and then completion.

is the about reducing friction, managing the schedule tempo, and harmonizing communication.

Project management defines the work so everybody knows what it is, why we’re doing it, how to do it, and who is responsible.

But alas… we don’t have time to re-arrange our lists!

For years I was stuck in this place… using a bunch of different to do lists and reminders scattered around. I didn’t have time to so much as read about project management…

But when I did, when I read Getting Things Done by David Allen I had this breakthrough.

There’s a reason lists aren’t working

The reason most to-do lists don’t seem to work is because they are just lists – they are just naming the work without providing a complete definition.

All the things I was listing out… that’s just a capture exercise. This by itself, with no system to organize and resolve things is going to overload far too often.

Turns out there are some best practices to get the most value from lists.

The next, and most critical step is to process all of those ideas, to dos, notes, phone numbers, etc… in a system that organized those items on the axis of actionable to un-actionable.

Most Actionable to Least Actionable

Turns out, there are best practices for lists. And once you know them, listing becomes even more effective – more than you can imagine.

Fun Fact… A group of related lists is called a Board. A board can be used to show the progress of a particular item as it moves from the “inbox” list to the “in process” list and then finally the “done” list.

Organizing your work – AKA – stress management

By skipping these details the work cannot be “put away”, which causes unnecessary stress and overwhelm. Inevitably things are put off or lack completion. 

In Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about the three kinds of work;

  • Doing unexpected work
  • Defining our work
  • Doing Defined work

It’s helpful to acknowledge that the process of defining our work is a type of work in of itself. This helps us get it on the schedule.

Soon this process become habit – the kind of habit that leads us to make more effective decisions and to think strategically about what we invest our energy in doing. 

Because as you know, staying aimlessly busy can be overwhelming and a form of procrastination.

So let’s get to it. What does it mean to define work? 

Defining our work is a creative process of listening, decisions, agreement, and mutual understanding. Everything from a larger project to a small task need clear defining so that the work can be “put away” as mentioned above. 

Of course there is still going to be unexpected work, new stuff that shows up throughout the day (emergencies even), but with everything else tracked and under control, it’s easy to shift gears and do what needs to be done.

No need to use our attention and brainpower on remembering everything.

We aren’t stressed out wondering who we’re letting down because we can just go back to our team board and see what’s currently in-process.

Defined work can be easily put away, or deferred to a later date.

Since it’s defined, we’ve decided how important it is and when it needs to be completed. 

A project dashboard with most of the work defined is like a map, and maps prepare us for adventure. Yay! 

Adventure is defined by participation – and true participation is improvisation bursting at the brim with ideas, solutions, and helps us create our best, most authentic work. 

Okay, I’m getting a little excited and off topic. So signing off now.

So here’s to creating a habit of defining our work, so we can improvise, respond effectively, and get more of the right things accomplished. 

Check out the standard project template document we use to gather key details for our retainer client work orders.


Ryan Clover

Designer and founder of Maple Creative, providing technical wizardry for activists, educators, and small business owners who are out to change the world.