• GSD – Task Management with The Cheesecake System

    by  • October 3, 2016 • Getting Shit Done

    Workflow and task management. Sexy words, right? I can totally feel you rolling your eyes at me. Even though these gross words aren't something any of us love to talk about or implement, setting up a system that works is customized to you can be a game changer.

    Before you can even think about workflow and task management, you need to do some digging into your own brain. We each have a particular brand of task related brain freeze - for example, I have ADD, an analytic mind and a creative soul. Having an analytical mind does not mean that I'm efficient or task oriented by nature, it means I can think through problems almost as fast as I can create them for myself....which is where the ADD comes in. While a more normal brain might walk through a series of tasks in a day like this:

    This is how my brain likes to flow through them:

    What I'm trying to say is this is not a one size fits all situation. Every system will need to get modified so you can wrap your brain around it. We all know that when you try to implement a system that your brain can't get a grip on, it's never going to stick.

    Part of being an ADD creative type means that everything needs to be visible to me. If I file something I am saying goodbye forever, because if it's not visual, it's not in existence. If I can't see my projects they literally are not a part of my world and are forgotten faster than my granny learning to use a smart phone. I also need my tasks to be manageable - small, achievable chunks that don't cause me to freeze and avoid.

    The Cheesecake System

    Cheesecake. Because cheesecake can really only be eaten in small bites, whether you are knocking out a slice or taking down the entire thing.


    *If you need a visual reminder of where you are at with your tasks, or are prone to not sticking with systems, I recommend starting with a physical version like I did. Once you are comfortable and consistent with your task management, then consider switching to digital. 

    Here's the main concept behind the cheesecake system - every aspect is broken into small tasks. When you look at your task list you should know exactly how long each bite is going to take you. For instance, if your project one day is to update your website, are you actually going to do that? Hell no you aren't, because that's a huge job and totally overwhelming. Will it take you all day? Where do you start? Is it going to suck? Meh, just put it off until next week.

    Instead if you look at your task list and it says:

    • Choose new gallery categories
    • Choose images for category 1
    • Choose images for category 2
    • Choose images for category 3
    • Resize new images
    • Upload images to appropriate categories
    • Remove outdated images

    That is a longer list, but all of those items are easy to tackle. You can now estimate how long it will take you based on each small task, and have the confidence to take it on all at once, or mix it in with your other work. Now you can actually update your website gallery when you need to, instead of hiring someone like me to do it three years later!

    I like to set up my cheesecake bites with mini sticky notes and a board hanging next to my desk (cork/canvas/burlap). Here are a couple examples of how my board has looked at various times over the last few months:

    img_9424   img_9425

    For the retouching, I include the client name, the image range for each bite (images 1-10, 11-20, etc), the due date, and the number of images in that set. My goal is to be able to bust out about 10 images in an hour, so visually I can plan my week. Each sticky note represents an hour, I can see how much I have in the queue (which shows how much more can be taken on or when outsourcing should happen), and where I am at with each person. As soon as a mini task is done, I crumple it up and dunk it in the recycling. Physical gratification, visual feedback, and as a bonus, it usually makes me laugh hard because my cat likes to sleep in the recycling box.

    Another great trick is to write how long you expect the task to take you on each square. When you are sitting at your computer refreshing Facebook and wondering what you should be working on, it's easy to prioritize jobs if you can see when it is due and how long it will take. Only have 20 minutes before you have to pick up the kids from school? Boom, grab a 10 or 15 minute task. Now before you tell me how this won't work because it takes so long to write every bite down, don't even bother. Because it doesn't. Get into the habit of cheesecaking every morning, or every evening, or every time new work comes in. The time it will save you from bouncing around and procrastinating will greatly offset the time you spend writing.

    Get out there and give it a try! Organize your life and save some time. I would love to hear what method you use, or any feedback you have on the cheesecake system! Don't be afraid to change it and try new things and tweak it until it's perfect.



    Jen Swedhin is a Denver-based photographer specializing in intimate male portraiture at Jen Swedhin Photography. She also owns a professional boudoir retouching and virtual assistant business, Jen Gets Shit Done. Jen is a workflow ninja.