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Vibes-based project management


Confession: I have tried almost every task and project management tool in existence. Trello, Jira, Asana, bullet journal, Roam Research, sticky notes, you name it.

I read extremely dry books about queue theory for fun, and I consider “refactor todo list” to be a relaxing weekend activity.

It’s not actually a quest for the perfect system. I suspect the perfect system involves changing the system itself on a regular basis, according to your schedule, focus, energy levels, and degree & complexity of collaboration.

All that said, I’ve been experimenting with Vibes-based Project Management™ for a couple months now and it’s the best approach I’ve ever used.

What it looks like

This is my only task management view:

screenshot of "flow states" with feelings and loom links

There’s no mention of recording YouTube videos, or fixing the CSS on my blog, or emailing a potential collaborator about a project, or planning my exit from Twitter, or writing up the description for my book on Amazon - even though all these tasks are listed here, somewhere.

Instead, I’m faced with a list of feelings, or mental states - vibes. I pick one, click the link, and get a short video from Past Me with gentle instructions on what to do, and why.

Let’s say I’m feeling unmotivated (it happens). So I click the unmotivated link, and I see this:

screenshot of a Loom video called "revisit desires scapple, u worked hard on it"

It’s a 30-second video in which I remind myself that at some point, I took the time to create a moodboard of things I want to manifest in my local community.

I finished that task and found it centering, and inspiring, but I was unclear on what to do with it next.

So … I recorded this video, and left it as a task for Future Me Who Happens To Feel Unmotivated. I’ll leave it to him to review the board, recover some motivation, check in on progress, figure out what’s next.

Imagine instead that I’m feeling bold (it happens). If I click on that link I see this:

screenshot of Loom video called "upload manuscript to kdp ftw!"

This is Past Me noting that at some point, I’ve got to upload a maybe-not-yet-perfect PDF of my book to the Kindle Direct Publishing platform in order to … see how it goes, and figure out what’s next.

I’ve never published a book before, and I’m still not confident that the PDF is ready to release. I don’t know what I don’t know. I find that discouraging.

If I tried to compel myself to do this task while feeling anything less than bold, I’d have a terrible time of it. Self-doubt, hesitation, distraction.

And if I placed this task as the next item on a list called “Publish Book,” I’d get the added bonus of feeling vaguely guilty every time I looked at it.

But if I just set it aside for Bold Future Me, it gets handled exactly when I’m best suited to handle it. No guilt or self-doubt. Minimal hesitation and distraction.

That’s Vibes-based Project Management™.

Try it yourself

To implement Vibes-based Project Management™ you just need two things:

1. A coy way to leave tasks for Future You

I’m a big fan of Loom for this! The free plan limits you to videos of 5 minutes or less; this is fine, because my videos to Future Me tend to be between 15-45 seconds long. And the URLs are long and inscrutable, which is perfect.

That said, there are probably affordances in whatever tools you currently use to embed hyperlinks or hide nested details. Lots of approaches could work, as long as you don’t see the task itself, just the vibe it requires.

2. The habit of creating those tasks

Remember, you won’t be spending time making lists of all the steps for a project, and your projects don’t move forward if you don’t have a next step somewhere. So cultivate the practice of sending messages to Future You, anytime you have something to say - but especially as you wrap up a work session.

What about deadlines?

An added bonus of using Vibes-based Project Management™ is it forces you to make a distinction between tasks that must be done by a particular date and … everything else.

Your situation may be different, but I found that the majority of my work falls under that “everything else” category. I’ve spent plenty of time and energy inventing deadlines for myself in the past - once upon a time that “Publish Book” project would have had an arbitrary due date set by a tyrannical Past Me.

Not anymore.

I trust Future Me to be productive, and creative, and conscientious, and to do good work. I don’t worry about holding him to a schedule unless it’s absolutely necessary.

For tasks that do merit a deadline, here’s what i do:

I’m guessing Vibes-based Project Management™ isn’t a good fit if you’re faced with lots of urgent tasks and pressing deadlines. Extricating yourself from urgency culture is probably more important than trying a new project management system.

That said … if there’s room to separate your tasks into “vibes-based” and “urgency-based” … and devote time to each work mode, separately, every day … it might be worth a try. And maybe over time you can arrange to spend less time on the latter, and more time on the former. Until one day, all you do is vibe.


    © 2023 Brian David Hall