All Projects Great and Small: Creating a Task Analysis Tool

Readers,

There are few things I love more than having a good project. I love projects with the keenness of Fame(US), the border collie who won the Westminster Kennel Club agility championship recently:

Maybe I was a border collie in a previous life.

But despite my love for projects–sewing and other kinds–I don’t have a stellar track record for completing them–hence my reading books like Finish, by Jon Acuff, for insights.

And now I’m working my way through The Productivity Project, by Chris Bailey, in the hopes of picking up pointers from someone who spent a whole year devoted singlemindedly to the pursuit of, basically, project management.

My project management has had less in common with Fame(US) the border collie and more with Olly the Jack Russell terrier at Crufts last year: excited but prone to distraction:

But recently I came up with a new tool for myself that just may advance me in the project agility class.

I was noodling around with my favorite tool–a mind map– while I was waiting for the dryer repairman to call and then show up the other morning.  While I had one ear cocked for the phone and then for the knock on the door I wanted to answer this pressing question:

How come some of my projects get done, some get only half-done, and some are never started even though they retain a tantalizing glow of possibility?

So, what is a project, anyway? I asked myself. I started listing every aspects of a task–a single unit of a project–that I could think of.

Take space, for instance.  Every task requires space.  But different tasks have different space requirements:

Space

  • Amount needed
    • A lot
    • Not very much
  • Type needed
    • Work surface
      • Floor space
      • Tabletop space
    • Clean work or messy work
      • Clean work
        • Sewing room
      • Messy work
        • Workshop
        • Garage
  • Fixed location or movable location
    • Fixed
      • Example: cleaning the fridge can be done in only one place
    • Movable:
      • Example: sorting papers can be done in several places
  • Amount of time the space is needed
  • Amount of disruption while the space is used
  • Amount and type of lighting needed: task lighting? Natural light?

And then there’s time:

Time

  • Can the task be done all in one go, quickly?
  • Must it be done all in one go and take a long time? (I was thinking about writing posts, there.)
  • Can the task be broken into several sessions?
    • Example: organizing papers over a few afternoons
  • Does the task have to be broken down into several sessions?
    • Example: painting furniture and waiting for each coat to dry

Wow–this was interesting.  I continued:

  • Can the task be done entirely at home or do parts have to be done elsewhere?
  • Is the task limited to a certain season or weather condition?
  • Frequency:
    • Once and it’s done
    • Frequently
      • And that’s okay
      • But it’s a pain
    • Once in a while
  • Does the task require wearing certain clothes?
    • Messy work–yes
    • Clean work–no
  • Is the task highly related to other tasks?
    • Highly related: needs to be coordinated, maybe in a sequence
    • Not highly related: coordination not necessary; little or no sequencing
  • Batching:
    • Can the task be batched with other tasks?
    • Is there an advantage?
      • Save time
      • Keep momentum up
      • Get more done on one errand run

So far I’d captured objective, quantifiable aspects of tasks and projects.  But what do various tasks require of me?

How about:

Attention level

  • Can it be done with low attention
    • and I could listen to a Craftsy class or a radio talk show in the background?
      • Example: ironing
  • Does it have to be done with high attention
    • and I could listen to instrumental music or opera in the background?
      • Example: writing

Energy level

  • Requires high energy
    • Example: major painting projects
  • Doesn’t require high energy
    • Example: filing papers

Skills

  • Do I have the skills for this task?
    • If so, do I want to use my skills for this task?
    • Do I have
      • the time?
      • the experience?
      • the equipment and supplies
      • the instructional resources?
      • the motivation?
    • If I have the skill, will the task or project put me right at the edge of my present abilities–my challenge edge?
    • If I need to learn the skill
      • Do I have the resources already? Do I need to budget for resources?
        • equipment
        • tools
        • supplies
        • instruction sources
          • online, print, or in person?
          • individual feedback necessary?
        • time
          • to learn, including making mistakes
          • to perform the actual task
        • space
        • money
      • Do I have the motivation, interest, desire?
      • Do I have the aptitudes?

Can I (or must I) do it all myself?

  • I can (because I have the skills and resources)
  • I must (because nobody else knows what I want to accomplish)

Will I need or want help with this?

  • A helping hand from a friend or relative
  • Expert help
    • Repair people, installers
    • Knowledgeable salespeople
    • Designers
    • Pickup and delivery people

Now for a big aspect of task and project management: what repels me:

Aversion level

  • Does the task involve things or activities I loathe?
    • Dealing with electronics
      • computers and software
      • computerized equipment (like sergers)
      • smartphones
      • TV remotes
    • Driving
    • Shopping in stores with
      • bad music (I’m talkin’ ’bout you, Jo-Ann Fabrics!)
      • ugly merchandise or displays
      • unhelpful salespeople
    • Using aptitudes I’m low in
      • structural visualization, which is a must for patternmakers
    • Feeling I’m imposing on others
    • Making phone calls (sometimes)
    • Decisionmaking
      • When I don’t have reliable advice
      • When I haven’t defined
        • the problems
        • the solutions
        • my vision
        • criteria

On the other hand, what draws me in?

Fun level

  • This task or project lets me work with my favorite:
    • Aptitudes
      • dexterity
      • memory for design
      • verbal abilities
    • Skills
      • organizing
      • planning
      • cleaning
      • sewing
      • cooking
      • writing
      • research
    • Equipment and tools
      • Sewing equipment and tools
      • Cooking appliances and tools
      • Mind-mapping tools
    • Supplies
      • Office supplies
        • Mechanical pencils, colored pencils
        • Labeler
        • Graph paper, tracing paper
        • Rulers
      • Paint
      • Fabric
      • Food
    • People
      • Individuals
      • Types of skilled people
  • This task lets me produce my favorite results:
    • Painted surfaces
    • Sewn items
    • Food
    • Organized spaces or plans
    • Blog posts

I thought of still other factors: Consequences, Aggravations, and Rewards:

  • The consequences of not doing the task:
    • How bad would they be?
      • Increased risk
      • Compromised quality or safety
    • How soon would they occur?
      • Soon
      • Not soon
    • How certain would they be?
      • Certain
      • Not certain
  • The aggravations related to the task remaining undone:
    • Inconvenience
      • Size
      • Frequency
    • Embarrassment
      • Size
      • Frequency
    • A feeling that something is off, (like a paint color or a floor plan):
      • Size
      • Frequency
  • The rewards I could experience if I do the task or project:
    • Creating or adding functionality, beauty, or enjoyment
      • How great an increase?
        • Dramatic
        • Small, but
          • Still noticeable
          • Cumulative
      • How frequently would the reward be experienced?
        • Every time I see or use the improved thing
        • Once or twice; then I’d be used to the improvement
    • Eliminating or reducing pain or worry
      • How great a reduction?
      • How frequently is the relief felt?
    • Creating a positive trajectory
      • What advantages might compound?
      • What opportunities might open up?
  • What could I miss out on if I don’t succeed with this task or project?
    • Rewarding social connections
    • A higher level of skill
    • The ability to accomplish more sophisticated tasks or projects that lie beyond my present ability
    • On the other hand, maybe nothing much

As I mind-mapped as many aspects of tasks as I could think of, I realized as never before how there are objective components–like space and light requirements–and subjective components–like what I avoid whenever I can, what aptitudinal weaknesses and strengths I’m working with, what I gravitate toward and find fun, and what I find rewarding.

Now I’m thinking that if I account simply for the objective components of a task, my work is only half done–and my task may very well remain discouragingly half-finished.  Without understanding all the subjective components–the ones that could sink the ship, and the ones that could be my life-preservers–my odds of succeeding are very small.

These days I am applying myself to fitting a pants pattern.  (Well, some days I am, and other days I’d rather do anything but.) So I was curious to test my rough draft of a tool on my pants-fitting project.  Here are the main insights I gained:

  • Fitting pants requires a high attention level.
  • This is difficult to achieve, because I have a low aptitude for a key skill needed: structural visualization.
  • The aversion level is high:
    • my low aptitude
    • trying to follow instructions I don’t understand
    • trying to decide what to do next when I’m not grasping a concept
  • My aversion level could definitely doom this project as it has doomed previous (admittedly halfhearted) attempts in the past.
  • The consequences of my not getting pants to fit? Low. I wouldn’t be breaking any promises, and the world doesn’t care. I have to be careful, however, not to let these thoughts sabotage my efforts.
  • The aggravation level if I don’t get a pants pattern to fit? High!
    • I’ll continue to wear pants that fit badly or not well in every way.
    • I will be frustrated not being able to sew as many great coordinates for my tops, jackets, and coats
    • I won’t get to design as many interesting outfits and capsules for my wardrobe
    • I’ll be subject to the vagaries of fashion: fit, color, style.
  • The rewards of having pants that fit? Also high!
    • Comfort
    • Style
    • A feeling of control over my wardrobe choices that I don’t have now
  • The fun level is something I need to leverage conscientiously:
    • Using my high aptitude of dexterity
    • Using my favorite skills of research, writing, organizing, planning, and sewing (if only muslins)
    • Using favorite supplies: mechanical pencils, fashion rulers, tracing paper
    • Enlisting help from Jack, to take snapshots, and Cynthia, to take studio shots, of me in muslins to analyze fit.
  • The time required will be many sessions of short duration–short, better to keep my aversions and aggravations in check.
  • My skill level in fitting is low, but I do understand some pattern-drafting and alteration, and pants construction will be a comparative breeze.

Interestingly, looking over the data I’d collected I wasn’t discouraged, and I can think of several reasons why.

One is that there have never been so many good learning tools for fitting pants, written by very experienced teachers, as now.  I own my share of them but only recently gave them the full attention they deserve. I have been viewing online classes and DVDs and reading books and articles by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto, Sarah Veblen, Sandra Betzina, Kenneth King, Joyce Murphy, Kathleen Cheetham, and others. I am gradually absorbing some fitting principles as I see different ways they are described and illustrated and test them in my muslins.

Another is that a pattern-drafting company, Fitography, got me closer to a good fit right from the start. I am fine-tuning the Chloe Pants pattern now.  Ideally, the pattern drafted from your measurements fits you perfectly the first time, but due probably to errors on my part that wasn’t the case. However, it was the prospect of a pattern drafted to my measurements and style and fit preferences that inspired me to take up the pants challenge again.

There definitely is a sizable gap between my abilities and knowledge and the well-fitting, flattering pattern I want. But I feel as if these fitting teachers are reaching out as far as they can on their end to close the gap. Judith Neukam has a new approach to pants-fitting in the April/May 2018 issue of Threads that looks really interesting.

My last reason for not feeling discouraged is I have important new insights into what it will realistically take for me to succeed in any project I undertake. Even if I have time, a well-lighted, well-equipped work space, and all the tools I need, my aversions can hold sway. It’s often easier to imagine the frustrations of failures than the satisfactions of success.  I’m seeing that success will not come without vividly imagining the rewards. I also have to incorporate my natural interests and strengths deliberately into my plans. I can even employ my aggravations on my behalf: Do I really want to keep shopping for ready-to-wear? No!

Some projects, it’s occurring to me, are just plain difficult. Other projects are difficult but have a benefit beyond the immediate result: they can be a gateway to a higher level of ability, creativity, and productivity. Fitting pants could be just such a gateway project for me.  I’m going to remind myself of that possibility, because I want to give myself the best chance to make that statement true.

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6 thoughts on “All Projects Great and Small: Creating a Task Analysis Tool

    • Thank you! I think that once I get the hang of fitting pants I’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. And yes–learning to sew stretch wovens is going to get onto my to-do list!

  1. Wow, that was some quite indepth thought and analyses! But I think if it helps you progress – brilliant! Sometimes I think we stall when we know our end goal (for you, great fitting pants), we can see the path (apply X adjustments and then construct in Y manner), but we stumble into the roadblocks of the gaps in our knowledge (what does our crotch curve REALLY look like? What is the effect of sewing the inseam before the outerseam, and WHY? What is the consequence of choosing this over that? What wrinkles do we permit for function, and which non functional ones can we eliminate?). The lack of knowledge, or confidence in our knowledge, makes us hesitate. You’ve identified some great ways to overcome this – getting your support crew (Kenneth King/Sarah Veblen/fitting experts galore etc) onboard to help you. Face to face is my favourite way of conquering these mountains!
    The big risk when I face a fitting roadblock is I’m quick to give up (after 2 or 3 muslin attempts). I get dejected easily when perhaps with every failure I’m closer to success. My emotions/affected self perception weigh heavier than my optimism to succeed.
    Personally, I have been thinking a lot about productivity lately. What makes someone more productive when sewing? Should I only have 1 project in motion, or does having multiple allow me a chance to mentally rest and ruminate over a decision I need to make on one, while I enjoy another? I’ve definitely found that you can’t avoid making decisions (that can be a BIG hold up!). I also wonder sometimes if I just really enjoy tracing, cutting, pinning, basting etc more so than finishing garments, and will happily take longer during those tasks.

    • We sound like kindred spirits! I’m thinking about productivity not only because I want to dress myself but also dress this house. I’ve made draperies (thanks to Craftsy instructor Susan Woodcock) and want to make Roman shades, (I’ve made them before), and very possibly valances, slipcovers, bedskirts, even pleated fabric lampshades. There are tons of classes I want to take at nearby Ohio State and a few languages I want to learn. Given those aspirations, I thought I would do myself a favor by choosing a handful of patterns to perfect as wardrobe basics. I expect pants to be my biggest hurdle. I certainly understand about the dejection. The big reason I started Getting Things Sewn was to make myself more accountable and more creative in problem-solving. In some cases I simply don’t have the native talent and have to devise work-arounds. In coming up with my task analysis outline I realized how easy it is to default to the aversions and cave in. I realize I have to be downright strategic in incorporating fun elements and strengths into the design of my project, and paint the rewards quite vividly, because the aversions can take the upper hand. Thank you for writing, and I hope you stick around!

  2. Oh this post is DEFINITELY getting bookmarked! I love how you’ve limned out all the unconscious bits that we all tend to ignore. Really a lovely piece of critical thinking. Thank you for sharing it!

    • Thank you, Helen! My brain was absolutely buzzing when I wrote down those ideas and saw them linking like I had never seen before. (Oh, and the electronics gods were none too happy with my saying that I had an aversion to computers and TV remotes–we had to replace my computer this week, and the TV remote has to be reprogrammed because I unwittingly messed it up yesterday when I was cleaning it. Coincidence???)

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