Project Resource Scheduling Is Hard

One of the challenges that I’ve never quite figured out is scheduling myself for projects at work. When teams come to me for help, they usually want to know when I can get to them (which usually turns into an argument over why I can’t do it that same day). As a result, I have to develop some method of keeping track of the projects on my plate, who they’re for, how long the various tasks are going to take, and when I’m going to do them.

Interestingly enough, this is one area where I’ve found GTD somewhat lacking. The framework is great for keeping track of ad-hoc “Stuff” that can be done whenever time is available, as well as the “waiting for” and “someday” lists, but it just doesn’t seem to work for the kind if date-based scheduling I usually find myself doing. If I just put something on the list without considering how long it will take to do (i.e. “Install SQL Server cluster (6 hours)”), then plotting out when I have time to do it, I wouldn’t be able to give even a whiff of timelines to the consumers of my services. Naturally, that wouldn’t work very well in a deadline driven environment.

What I’ve been doing as of late is simply blocking out time on my Outlook calendar as projects arise, then letting folks know when I’ll be taking care of their work. It’s fairly simple, and works decently. I would like to figure out a way to make it a little more transparent than it is (I obviously don’t want to share out my calendar to everyone in the company) and easily reportable.

Ultimately though, the biggest problem is that the damn thing just fills up too quickly. Even fully reserving Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for project work (I pre-block out my calendar to prevent meeting invites, or at least discourage them), I’m usually booked solid around two plus weeks in advance. Teams generally aren’t too happy about that, though I have to place some of the blame on their shoulders; you can’t realistically expect a skill resource like a DBA to be able to undertake 10+ hours of work on two days notice. But despite reminding folks of that nearly constantly, they still complain and don’t plan, and I’m left in a bind where either one of two things happen: 1) Their work gets done as scheduled, despite their continued whining, or 2) someone higher up gets involved, priorities are shifted around (which is its own headache), and their work gets done sooner.

If I’m having this much trouble scheduling my own time, I can only imagine what it must be like doing it with multiple resources. Thankfully I’m not there yet, though if this work volume keeps up it might just be the justification (along with the gradually increasing din of complaints) to make my “team of one” a little larger.

How do you schedule your time if you’re a project based resource? How to do handle the inevitable emergencies that arise as well?

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