Tasks & Deadlines

🤞Golden Rules

  • Basecamp todos represent work to be done by Cantilever. Todos should be actionable, or marked otherwise.
  • Todos should use our standard format, with a “Definition of Done”.
  • You should maintain a separate personal task management system outside Basecamp.
  • PMs should be careful with setting deadlines, and should ensure that all deadlines are confirmed to be realistic and reasonable.
  • Staff should respect deadlines. If it looks like they won’t make a given deadline, they should reply accordingly so the PM can re-negotiate and update the overall schedule or inform the client.

Overview

When you work at Cantilever, whether as internal staff or a consultant, you will have Basecamp todos assigned to you. They should look like this:

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These todos represent bundles of work that Cantilever must accomplish. If it’s assigned to you, that means it’s your “turn” to do something next.

Most of the time, after you have done your part, you should hand it back to the person who sent it to you for review:

Using the TextExpander shortcut "bclr" to add a label in a todo
Using the TextExpander shortcut "bclr" to add a label in a todo

Other times, you may need to pass a todo along to another person for a final step. For example, you may need to provide some data or background information as a the critical path of executing a given task. The person responsible will give you the todo temporarily while you put that together, to symbolize that you are accountable for continuing the task on a stated timeframe.

Basecamp todos encapsulate multiple actions. For example, you may have a todo to finish the initial wireframes for a website, for a client review. The todo encapsulates the necessary research, sketching, drafts, and maybe some meetings, which are all separate tasks in their own right.

Because Basecamp todos are so “macro”, you will need a personal system for your “micro” tasks, such as performing that research. Basecamp isn’t very good for personal tasks – it doesn’t do reminders, repeating tasks, geographic proximity, and it’s hard to find your tasks on your phone without a lot of tapping.

This means that in order to work effectively at Cantilever you will also need a solid personal task management solution outside of Basecamp. This can be pen & paper, TextEdit, OS X Reminders, Remember the Milk, Gmail todos, Todoist, OmniFocus, Things, etc. Don‘t use your memory for this.

Using Google Keep alongside Basecamp to track individual micro tasks to complete a Basecamp todo.
Using Google Keep alongside Basecamp to track individual micro tasks to complete a Basecamp todo.

For example, in the case shown above, Hiba has to keep a separate todo list in her system of choice to track all the little things she needs to do in order to check off the big todo. These may have their own dates or required details. Some things may even last after the todo is closed.

If you like Basecamp and want to keep your work in one place, you can create and use your own personal Basecamp project to manage your own scratch notes and personal todos. The most important thing is that your queues and conventions not bleed into the team‘s queues, which should be kept clean and unified.

Work does not have to have a todo if it can get done without it. For example, PMs should be sending a weekly update to each of their clients each week. They may want a Basecamp todo for this, but probably don’t need one.

Some people use their inbox as a pseudo-task manager. We do not recommend this, as there are many responsibilities that fall out of one's inbox, and most people have too many responsibilities to suitably manage this way.

☝🏽

Our system asks for a lot of self-reliance, which is one of our values. Establishing a personal productivity system will give you a super solid basis for success when managing work in the Cantilever ecosystem. Basecamp is not meant to be your only todo list – it works best when you are independently on top of your personal and professional responsibilities.

Todo-soup

Every todo in Basecamp must be clear and actionable. It should be formatted correctly, with a clear understanding of its priority and timeframe. Sometimes we have ended up with old projects or lists of items that are no longer important to complete. This creates distrust of the list. If we have a todo in Basecamp, we should truly intend to perform that work. If you look at your list of assignments, you should know exactly what that todo represents, why it matters, and when you need to get it done by.

Todo Formatting

By default, a todo should include:

  • Overview: An outline of the problem we are solving, potentially with some suggested solutions, and all relevant background information.
  • Definition of Done: A list or sentence describing what it will look like when the task is complete. This should specify what the todo holder should do when they are done.
  • Relevant Procedure: If the todo is something that can or has a procedure in our database, link to it here. For creative or dev work there often is not a clear procedure for each todo, but this is a good place for the PM to list relevant resources or assets the todo holder may find helpful.
  • Timeline: Beyond just the date, what is the full context here, time-wise? For example, if something is due on Friday, is that because we have a review on Monday? Or because we have to send it Friday EOD? If the task is going to one person for two days of work, then to another person, clarify that. Make sure that the person reading the todo can have no ambiguity around their role and due date.
  • Estimate: To the best of your knowledge, how long should this take? For project work this should correspond to our original estimate for this work. If you don‘t know, make a guess, and explain. If the todo holder hits that amount of time and still isn’t close to done, that necessitates a conversation and re-analysis.

You can apply this format to a todo with the TextExpander snippet bci, which is one of our most used snippets:

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It pops up in this neat little window so you can type within that and hit Return, or hit Return and then fill in the todo.

🚨

Special todos do not need to use this same format. QA todos have their own format. For small personal questions or requests for information/response, you do not have to use the format. But around 90% of our tasks should be in this format.

Deadline Management

A task deadline in Basecamp means “The team needs the current assignee to complete their part of the work by this date in order to meet overall project deadlines.” Therefore, the deadline represents the current responsible party’s internal deadline for completing the work.

For example, if we have a client review on Thursday the 4th, we should be having an internal review for that work on Tuesday the 2nd. Therefore, the todo to finish the work should be due Monday, the 1st.

Most tasks with deadlines should be provided at least seven days ahead of the deadline, so you have time to plan it in to your week. The DRI/PM should already have validated your ability to handle the deadline by that time. However, if you receive a deadline that you don’t think you can keep, you should absolutely speak up.

The responsibility for not allowing things to fall behind is shared between the PM and the person whose name is on the task. If tasks are falling behind that can indicate poor planning, poor communication, or that something went wrong. The PM and assignee are responsible for figuring that out, adjusting the plan, and setting up a new, realistic, actionable plan.

The DRI is responsible for maintaining an overall project schedule and keeping the client up to date on that, but as a designer, dev or QAer, you just have to focus on the dates given to you by the project managers. The DRI/PM are responsible for ensuring that the planned deadlines outlined in the task list are compatible with the overall project schedule.

This means that if you have a todo with a deadline, and the deadline is in the past, we’ve either missed a client deadline, or someone in the team is waiting on you. Deadlines are serious!

What Happens When We Are Late?

Of course, stuff happens! Everyone will be late on a deliverable at some point or another. Project managers may also err when it comes to laying out the original schedule. Adverse circumstances and surprises can derail a schedule as well.

But there should never be overdue tasks in our Basecamp. The presence of a bunch of overdue tasks causes everyone to stop treating task deadlines seriously, because they do not reflect actual urgency around a piece of work.

The next business day after something becomes overdue, it should be either renegotiated or completed. Leaving an overdue task sitting in place with no response is rude to the PM who planned the work, puts too much pressure on the team, and jeopardizes our good standing with the client. It’s ideal for us to plan well and get our work done on schedule, but when we can’t, we absolutely must renegotiate, for everyone’s sake.

What’s Overdue right Now??

Basecamp has a nifty shortcut to see all your tasks with dates. Go to “My Stuff” and click “My Assignments”. Then click “My Assignments with Dates”. You can even turn on an email alert to receive a dossier of your work each Monday morning.

Eek, something is late!
Eek, something is late!
Re-negotiating.
Re-negotiating.

Basecamp also has a global report of everything that is currently overdue. This list should never have anything in it that is more than 24 hours old. By the next day after we miss a date, the task should be completed or renegotiated.

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This report shows todos for all projects you have access to. As a DRI or PM, if you see items from your projects in this list, this is your problem! You need to address that right away.

Required Actions

If you have a todo assigned to you, and you can’t get to it by the due date, that’s typically not an issue, if you update the PM/DRI in that todo, informing them of what happened and when you will be able to complete the work by, if you still can. Try to do this at least 24 hours ahead of time. If you can give more time, even better.

If you are a PM, do a sweep of your projects every day to identify any overdue todos. If any are present, that should become your focus until that work is renegotiated or completed.

Tips

  • Do NOT try to “tough it out” and persist when your schedule gets too full. If you have 16 hours of work due tomorrow, something went really wrong in our process. Talk to the PMs involved. Be realistic and let people know as early as possible that you aren’t going to get to everything.
  • Keep an eye on your Forecast account. This will show the assignments that managers currently have on the books for you. All the PMs meet once a week to go through this and ensure that everyone is neither over- or under-booked. If you have an obligation that is not listed there, or the hours do not reflect your own expectations, please let a PM or your manager know.
  • PMs: Do not make “hopeful” assignments in Basecamp. People should only be staffed on projects when they have time in their schedule to do so. Often in order to take on even one more task in an already-busy week, something else has to give. That is a choice the
    Head of Production
    should make, along with the person.
  • PMs: If you notice overdue work in your projects, you must rectify it immediately – that is your top priority. You should be planning your project schedules with precision, which means that if someone misses their date, you will need to make broader adjustments. Do not fall into the trap of thinking “we can speed up later” – generally, if an initial task is behind, something has to change on the project, or we’ll miss the final deadline.

What about tasks with no deadline?

Deadlines express urgency (whether there is a date at which we suffer consequences by not doing the task), but they do not express priority (how important it is that we get the task done). Items can be high-priority, but not urgent: For example, cleaning your kitchen. Nothing specific will happen if you don’t clean it on any given night, but go on too long, and it will be a problem.

Tasks with no deadline may be high-priority or may not. The task contents should clarify this, and if there is a timeframe associated, even if there is no specific deadline. If a task without a deadline is a priority, it should be marked with a label:

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This concept of prioritization vs urgency comes from the the “Eisenhower Matrix.“ The matrix creates four types of work:

  1. Time-sensitive and priority.
    • Ex: Restoring a site that went down an hour ago
    • Do this right away.
  2. Time-sensitive but not a priority.
    • Ex: Canceling a software subscription by the renewal date.
    • Do this next after category #1, but if it can be deferred in favor of a higher priority, do so.
  3. Not time-sensitive, but a priority.
    • Ex: Refactoring a codebase so loads faster
    • “Not time-sensitive” simply means there is no specific date at which we fail. It does not mean we don’t want to do it quickly.
    • Do these as soon as you don’t have anything time-sensitive to do. If you can, re-negotiate or delegate unimportant time-sensitive items to get this done.
  4. Not time-sensitive, and not a priority.
    • Ex: Updating the emojis on a project to use cows and not horses
    • These are “nice to haves” which accumulate. We recommend setting aside some time to go through your “nice to haves” every so often, take care of ones that seem worthwhile, and abandoning the rest.

It is human nature to ignore things that are important in favor of things that are urgent. Whenever possible, we should not add due dates to things which are not truly time-sensitive, as this creates a false sense of psuedo-priority around them, when in fact another piece of work may be higher priority. However, at times it can make sense to add an artificial sense of time-sensitivity on a priority item in order to get it done faster. For example, you can invite someone over to your house, which motivates you to clean the kitchen before they arrive.

Labels

Basecamp does not have support for Tags or other metadata on tasks, so we use a little text snippet in the title area of tasks to record “status”.

They look like this:

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To type them, use these TextExpander shortcuts:

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