Friday, November 18, 2011

RTM and conference planning

I am a member of an organization which runs an annual conference.  This year I was conference chair, so I had a lot of different components to manage.  Given the size of the conference (this year about 315 registrants), we have a small organizing team (less than 10).  This means there are a lot of tasks that don't have an obvious person responsible, particularly the last month when things are coming together fast & furious.  After the conference we get a ton of feedback (solicited and not) and of course, it all needs to be followed up on, and remembered for the next year.

This is where Remember The Milk comes into play.  RTM fits nicely in a Getting Things Done sort of system, but it doesn't have to be used only in that fashion.

First off, I have two lists - TBC 2011 and TBC 2012.  This lets me keep track if something is associated with this year or next year's conference, an important distinction!  (Shortly before the conference I also made a separate list - TBC Packing, this was meant more as a classic checklist so I didn't forget my toothbrush or socks.)

I don't use the Priority feature in RTM much, however, one cool thing is items with the highest priorities (those marked 1) live at the top of your list all the time, so I use that to have my goal(s) there, happily reminding me of what I want to accomplish.  Sometimes I will use lower priorities (2 or 3) to define smaller goals or more specific targets.  An example for this would be:

Main Goal: To throw an incredible conference that changes lives, welcomes everyone and still manages to financially break even.
Sub Goal: Continue improving our accessibility efforts
Sub Goal: Reach attendance of 350 people.
Sub Goal: Get 20 vendors

No, they're not really S.M.A.R.T. goals, but they work for my standards and keep me motivated when i see them.  It also helps steer me when i have a decision to make.  You could replace goals with a mission statement or whatever drives you.

Next up are specific tasks.  These are individual items that need to happen, and in keeping with GTD, are single step processes.  For example, Update bio page for Roscoe's edits, or Email organizers about art space.  I also use tasks as a way of tracking ideas, which may otherwise fall on a Someday/Maybe list (ex. Get an organization debit/credit card?).

RTM lets you associate all kinds of useful stuff with a task.  The first is a date.  Some i use as hard deadlines, for example, getting an ad to another group before their event.  Others help me create my plan for my weekly work sessions or what needs to go on that month's meeting agenda.  Ideas that are far our i may just date with the first day of the month they are relevant, so i can later refine when they actually need to happen.

Another helpful data piece is location.  This saves me a lot of stress because of smart lists, something i'll talk about more in another post.  Anything i need to buy is associated with the store i need to get it at.  Next time I'm at that store, i check my phone, see the list and get what i need.  It also helps me remember what items we have in storage, saving us from buying something twice, critical on a limited budget!  There are also things we can't do until we're at the venue, and those are tagged as such, so i can immediately set people to go do when we're setting up.

Although there are not a lot of repeating tasks with conference organizing, there are some, and RTM allows you to schedule them with various frequencies.  Since those are sometimes the things that fall off the radar, it's pretty helpful.

I don't always use the time estimate feature, but particularly when i'm deciding if i can do something that day or if it should wait until my weekly work session or the weekend, it's a helpful measure.  It also helps me decide if i need to delegate to someone else.

The most helpful feature are tags.  Here is where the brilliance of RTM really shows.  Say i've delegated a task to someone.  I tag it with their name and waiting.  When i'm adding my agenda items, i look for items tagged waiting, and can ask next time we meet for a status update.  I tag updates to the site with website so i can make multiple edits in one sitting, rather than in bits and pieces, wasting time.  Same with calls or emails, doing like with like tasks helps me be more efficient.  In classic GTD, i also use NA for Next Action for items i can do as soon as i have the time/resource needed.

There is also a notes feature, which i use sparingly.  When we get an idea, or have a concrete step such as "invite presenters we really want" i will use the notes to keep a list of the specific people we have in mind.  Likewise for "determine panels to include".  This keeps my list cleaner and lets me brainstorm a little clearer.

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