Sunday, February 20, 2011

Getting it together

About a month and half ago, I started keeping a log book that contains entries every 30 minutes to track where my time actually goes when I'm in the shop. And at the end of each day, ideally, I've been logging how many hours I've been putting in at the shop, where they go, when I'm slacking off, etc. The general idea was that if I can see what I'm doing on a given day, and how many hours I'm really working, it'll give me a better idea of how I can improve.

About a week ago, I looked at the accumulated list of numbers, and realized that it wasn't really telling a story. It was just raw data. So, I pulled out a book that I found a few years ago on Gantt charts. It was written circa 1930's, and published by a British publisher... and it's straightforward, to the point, and incredibly usable.

Most of my engineering friends know about Gantt charts, for planning work, and tracking progress. I'd never heard of them. But then again, I was an English major. We weren't really taught much about project planning... which is a shame. I really could have used some help in planning out some of my longer papers.

For the uninitiated, a Gantt chart is a straightforward visual way to track machine or personnel usage, track project progress, plan out projects, etc. In short, it's the solution to the problem I was having... at a glance, I can see how my work habits are improving, or not. But there's a lot more. It's also going to be a huge help in keeping things on track, because it provides something that all of my 30-minute logging doesn't do: it shows where the time is going, on what part of the project, and it will show whether or not I'm actually on schedule. If I fall behind, or something takes longer than planned, I can see just how far behind I am, which will help motivate me to work even harder. And in the future, I'll be able to look at previous charts, and use them as experimental data, to see where my time estimates matched up with my theories, and where I was way off, so I can get better at providing an accurate time estimate to myself and my clients. Small adjustments, gradual progress... good stuff.

Friday afternoon, I sat down with the book, and planned out the remaining parts of the project I'm currently working on. The project has been winding down, but there are a lot of details I've been trying to corral and pin down to get this thing out the door. I didn't realize I had about a week's worth of work left, but I do. And now I have the tools to see what's going on, and try to keep it on track to be done in a week.

The joy of being self-employed is that I get to be my own boss. But it also means yelling at the employee when he's not working. Now it also means making sure the shop foreman has a clue about what needs to get done, so he can keep on top of the employee and make sure he gets everything done on time.

At least I have other people to talk to when I'm working. 

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