Balancing a Day Job, a Startup, and Family

2016-01-29-1454074494-7058864-CoyYonce.pngCoy Yonce is the Founder and CEO of Mantis Digital Arts, a UX/UI Designer for rich data applications at EV Technologies, and is an experienced Product manager who has managed development and marketing for multiple technology products - some generating as much as 42 million annually.

Every so often, a friend, a colleague, or someone who I've recently met becomes interested in learning about how I manage to run Mantis Digital Arts, work as a UX/UI designer at EV Technologies, keep up with my family and also homeschool my daughter. The answer I give them? Trello and Agile project management.

Throughout my 20-year career in software, I've tried many methods of keeping track of my life. I'm extremely forgetful -- I've gone from pen and paper to software and back to pen and paper many times. In addition to the tools required for my work at SAP and EV Technologies, I've tried almost every app or software listed in this Zapier article. I've tried using the GTD method, the methods described in this book from Julie Morgenstern, and read every article I could find on effective time management. Nothing seemed to fit my needs of having something simple to use, familiar, and easy to manage.

Learning Agile

During my 13-year career with SAP, I had the opportunity to help introduce Agile development using Scrum to our large team of developers. At the time, I was a Senior Product Manager and, ultimately, became a certified Scrum master. Agile is a project management strategy that uses a continual evolution of requirements, rather than defining all requirements up front. It's meant to provide a framework for handling development and service delivery in a more efficient way that forces a team to focus on the minimum viable product rather than a full-blown solution at one time.

Learning to not only manage Agile teams, but to implement large scale Agile, was one of the best things that I've done during my career. I use the concepts for every work-related endeavor to ensure that I'm managing projects, teams and companies efficiently.

Using Trello

I happened upon Trello after searching for a new platform that we could use at Mantis Digital Arts to implement Agile, but wouldn't be time-consuming to learn. We first tried JIRA. This was overkill for our small team. I then tried Redbooth, which worked for a few months, but when I stumbled across Trello I realized it was the perfect fit and was much more cost effective.

Trello is a project management platform that lets you manage as many projects as you want, add as many members as you want and upload attachments to tasks. It integrates with Box, Dropbox and Google Drive, and offers upgrade plans that allow for larger attachments, better team control, priority support and more integration opportunities. In Trello, each project is a board full of tasks that are called "cards." You can create a new card, assign it to someone and prioritize it in seconds.

The Basic Process

Staying true to Agile, I have a series of backlogs that relate to my work for Mantis Digital Arts, EV Technologies and for home life. These three backlogs help me keep track of every game idea, every contact that I need to make, every UX/UI design element I need to create, and all of the things that I need to do at home. Keeping multiple lists of everything is better for me than keeping one big one. I can prioritize each individual list separately, which makes it easier to pull items into my current working list.

I then ensure that every task for every list has an estimated time associated with it. This is useful for two reasons: it gives me the ability to figure out how much of an impact that task will make on my day, and it lets me track and improve my estimating capabilities. Estimating correctly takes practice: I still make plenty of mistakes figuring out how long a task I've never done will take to complete.

In addition, I label every home-related task as "personal." The ones for EV Technologies get an orange "EVT" label, and the ones for Mantis Digital arts get a green "mantis" label. This is useful when I pull tasks into my current working list, as the colored labels help me more easily prioritize my day if something urgent pops up.

I start my day by spending 15 minutes populating my "today" list, which includes six to 10 tasks that I want to complete that day. I pull them from the Mantis Digital Arts, EV Technologies and home backlogs. I categorize tasks by priority in the "today" list so  I know which one(s) are the most critical. For example, if a particular task for EVT takes priority over everything else because it's late or absolutely must be delivered that day, then it goes at the top of my "today" list.

I keep a "blocked" list for tasks where I'm waiting on someone else or which I can't get to immediately. I review this list once or twice a week and follow up if I need to, and wait to prune my "done" list until the end of the week, simply to experience the feeling of accomplishment I get from seeing that I completed 60 to 100 tasks in that time span.