Progressive Disclosure: A Design Principle Turned Project Management Tool

The Principle of Progressive Disclosure states that by presenting small, manageable amounts of information at a time instead of large buckets of information all at once, a designer can dramatically reduce the amount of confusion and frustration involved in using an interface. This principle has other benefits as well. Applied to project management, progressive disclosure means it's easier to get more done when you focus on the immediate next step, instead of focusing on everything that needs to happen over the course of a project.

When people are presented with an abundance of options, it creates an overwhelming feeling of anxiety: what psychologist Barry Schwartz calls the paradox of choice. The interactive industry commonly applies this to website users (i.e. keep your design and calls to action simple), but the same thing happens to project managers.

When you're working on a project and you split your focus between what needs to happen now and everything that will need to happen ever, it's easy to be affected just like a confused, frustrated consumer. It's not that you shouldn't ever think about future deliverables, but they can often be a psychological distraction. A good project manager knows when to not bother thinking about them, lest they should become like the customer choosing between fifty products: paralyzed and all-together incapable of making a quick, accurate decision.

Managing a project starts with managing your own time. So, what can you do? One solution is to keep your task list limited. Put tomorrow's task list out of sight and don't add to today's list once you've created it. Focus on making progress, not on completing entire projects. This article from Behance and some words from a coworker recently drove these ideas home, and they've helped me be more productive.

What helps you be more productive? How do you handle your to-do list? We'd be interested in hearing your ideas, and, as always, feel free to drop a note in the comments orĀ shoot us a tweet.

Written by Chris Allison on November 8, 2010

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Written by
Chris Allison