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It’s been almost four months since a fateful day in late January when I began an experiment to dramatically improve my sewing productivity.  I gave this experiment a grandiose name: the Getting Things Sewn Project Management Improvement Daily Challenge.  You can read about it here.

More than a hundred days into this experiment, I have learned so much about my work habits, learning style, strengths, and limitations that will forever affect how I design projects. Here is one lesson of many that the day-in, day-out experience of this challenge has taught me:

Documenting what I’m doing, consistently, in a searchable format, is worth the time it takes in the moment–and saves time and sanity in the end.

I used to think I was pretty good at recording notes for projects. Well, the Daily Challenge destroyed that illusion.  Monitoring nine sewing projects made me aware like never before how inconsistent I had been in documenting what I was doing and why. It is no fun to wade through handwritten loose-leaf pages of fragmented notes. No, it’s worse than no fun– keeping poor documentation discourages me from continuing.

The Daily Challenge prompted me to record all of my sewing project notes in OneNote. This has helped me in many ways:

  • I easily find previous notes searching by keyword.
  • I can highlight important information and reminders to myself.
  • Constructing a table to collect measurements or make comparisons is a snap.
  • I record links to helpful online sources like YouTube videos that could be useful for future projects, too.
  • I insert text-added photos of myself in muslins into the running record.
  • I record where I have to make judgment calls before taking the next step. Should I check fitting books or videos? Review a construction technique?  If I stop or change course I know why.
  • I can record “I’m not sure what to do next.”   Not knowing doesn’t mean I’m giving up but does mean I need to refresh my brain and approach the problem creatively another time.
  • I’ve established the habit of writing Next Time instructions to myself so I can pick up right where I left off.

This Next Time instruction-writing routine has been just invaluable.  In order to do this big favor to myself–leave the project in good order for my return–I’ve had to budget enough time, energy, and attention to do this vital little job well.  I now relish the moments spent writing out my Next Time instructions.  Sometimes the message is “Carry on,” but other times it’s basically  “You won’t want to hear this, but it’s what you have to do. Yeah, you’re welcome.”

And more benefits of writing out Next Time instructions just occurred to me.

  • Even just writing the words “Next Time” reinforces the habit of returning until I declare the job done.
  • Having to write down next steps to take means I have to think about what those next steps could possibly be. Will I be coming back to a fitting conundrum? Then my next step might be to scrutinize the photos I’d taken of myself in the muslin. Or maybe it will be comparing solutions in several fitting books.  At any rate, I will write out my prescription for next time–and then relax.
  • I notice when I’m hesitating to take the next step. Have I learned everything possible from the muslin but still don’t want to cut into the fashion fabric?  It would probably be wise to do an interim step of sacrificing a lower-status stash fabric for a test garment first. I may roll my eyes at the extra work, but a week or two later I’m usually fine with the decision. For me, it’s the not-deciding that ultimately siphons away time and enthusiasm and that leads to unfinished projects.

Documenting systematically, I’m realizing, is anything but passive, dutiful recording.

When I write my project notes I’m in a constant state of experimenting, observing, comparing, weighing, reviewing.

And I am deciding.

Through the Project Management Improvement Daily Challenge I am actively shaping the way I do the work and shaping my attitudes toward the work. I’m thinking inside one project in one day’s session and thinking across projects over weeks and now months.

All I did on that January day was tack some patterns on a bulletin board and create two rules to follow faithfully, but what I’ve gained has far exceeded my expectations. My closet has yet to burgeon with new clothes, but the groundwork is being laid. Will I stay this course?  You bet–it’s written down in my Next Time notes!