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Five project management tips

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Taking on a big project can be intimidating. Most big projects are not simple to manage. There are many pieces to the puzzle, and the workflow is never completely linear. Projects usually involve multiple people and have several deadlines that have to be met in order for the next part of the project to move forward.

Here are five tips to help you successfully manage your next big project and keep the ball rolling.

Visual Project Mangement software, DropTask.

Visual Project Mangement software, DropTask.

1. Break the project up into categories or key components. More than likely there are parts of the project that can be worked on at the same time as others, and there will be other critical components that have to wait until others are completed. Let’s say you are launching a new product. One key component of that will be packaging design, and the other key component will be product design. Each one can be worked on simultaneously, but there are also certain aspects of the packaging design that can’t be completed until the product design is finalized. So, don’t let the completion dictate the start of one project when it can be started simultaneously.

2. Map out key due dates. Record every critical due date into your calendar. Going back to the product launch example. Many different things have to fall into place to get the product to market: product finalization, packaging finalization, turning in art work to the printer, producing the product, packaging the product, and delivering the product to distribution. All of these key time sensitive stages of the product launch have to happen at just the right time. So, recording down all the critical dates is crucial to a successful project.

3. Know who is responsible for what. Each key component of a project will have a person responsible for getting that done. It’s your job as the project manager to follow up with them and make sure things are moving forward. If getting packaging printed for your new product launch is a critical step you need to ensure proper communication is made with the printer to ensure they will be able to complete their end of the project on time. Frequent follow-ups are key to make sure a project happens on time.

4. Visual Project Management. I’ve mentioned KanBan in the past for visual task management, and I recently discovered DropTask for visual project management. I have been putting both of them to good use for the project I am currently managing. DropTask allows you to visually see each component of your project, assign deadlines, importance, and people to particular tasks. The white board method works well too in a small office, but the nice thing about DropTask is you can update it straight from your computer, make notes, and communicate with other internal team members involved with the project.

5. Communication is key. The most important component of successful project management is communication! As the project manager it’s your job to communicate with the team and make sure each aspect of the project is moving forward, and remind people of critical deadlines, and offer support if needed.

Project management can seem daunting, but as long as a bit of structure is put into place, managing the project will be easy. That doesn’t mean it still won’t be stressful at times, but with timelines in place, roles defined, and a visual course mapped out, your project is sure to be a success.

How to achieve Inbox Zero

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Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero. It is possible!

I used to scoff at the notion of achieving Inbox Zero. I thought that was only for extreme type A personalities that are also obsessive compulsive. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that having a clean Inbox isn’t just about keeping things tidy, it’s about being productive and getting more things done in a more efficient manner.

First of all I would like to clear up a misunderstanding about Inbox Zero that I think a lot of people have. I know it was one I had. Inbox Zero doesn’t mean you have checked and read every single email. It means that you have screened every email that has come in and moved it over to a designated folder that will allow you to attend to the email at the appropriate time.

Essentially, Inbox Zero is mastering control and organization over your Inbox. I used to sit down at my email and scroll through old emails in fear that I have missed something. This is what essentially pushed me towards email management. Being at a constant state of Inbox Zero essentially lets you control your email, rather than your email controlling you.

Here is how you can achieve Inbox Zero

First of all, you need to have at least five folders or labels in your email system. I recommend the folders: Needs Attention, Delegated, Waiting for Reply, Reference, and Archived. These folders are essentially holding places for your emails and allow you stay on top of every project and process you currently have going on.

Let me explain. You typically may sit down to answer email and start scrolling through your emails. The first one you read may require a bit more attention and require some research before answering, so you skip it and go to the next email. This one is a asking for a simple piece of information that will take you less than two minutes to reply to, so you immediately send off the reply. You also have several other miscellaneous emails such as newsletters, solicitations, and other emails that are not relevant to actual work. Several other emails may be items you can delegate to another team member, so you send the request their way and forget about it.

The problem with this method of checking emails is that you are constantly getting more emails, and important emails often get lost (like the one you skipped over), and emails you may have delegated to somebody else never get followed up on. Email management allows you to have better control over your email and ultimately helps you get more stuff done.

I mentioned five different folders earlier: below is how I utilize each folder. As emails come in I moved them to the appropriate folder, thus keeping the main Inbox uncluttered. At Inbox Zero and my other folders are essentially acting as a task/project management system.

Needs Attention: Essentially any emails that I don’t respond to right away, or that requires a detailed response I move to this folder. These emails range from simple questions to request to complete complex tasks. Any email in this folder needs to be responded to or acted on.

Now, lets say I responded to an email in this folder. My next action is to move it into another folder. If I’m expecting further follow up, I will move it to my “Waiting On” folder, if no further follow up is expected, I will have it to my Archived Folder. If it’s something I ended up delegating to another team member, it gets moved to the “Delegated Folder”.

This is perhaps the most important folder to have. Having this folder helps me sleep better at night and work more productively through the day because I’m not wasting time hunting through my Inbox to make sure there was something I missed.

Waiting For: The waiting for is the placeholder for emails that have been responded to and are likely to receive further feedback or correspondence, or emails that have been sent out and require a reply. Once the conversation related to that particular emails are over I will move the email to the Archived folder in case I need to reference it again at a later time.

Delegated: This folder is use to place emails that have been delegated to other team members. I will CC myself when I forward on the delegated task, and then move the email over to the delegated folder. This way I know who is now responsible for the task and I remember to follow up with that person a few days later. Once I know the delegated task is complete I will transfer the email to the Archived folder.

Reference: This is pretty much a catch all folder where I place newsletters, industry news, trade show solicitations, and other emails that I may want to read or look at later, but are just going to be time wastes at the time I’m checking email.

Archived: The graveyard for all emails that have been responded to! The nice thing about moving your emails to an archived folder is that you can reference them later if you need to. Simply put, any emails that are no longer active conversations go here.

You may find it helpful to have other folders as well in order for you to quickly access important information. I have a couple folders for some key accounts that we work with frequently, as well as one for invoices and receipts. The number of folders you will need to effectively manage your Inbox will depend on the nature of your work. The folders mentioned above are key to having effective email management.

You should make your system tailored to your specific needs. Email management is a way to achieve a higher level of productivity and get more stuff done. During the first week I started truly managing my emails I couldn’t believe how well it was working. It was working so well I kept thinking there has to be something I’m missing, but there wasn’t. The more I use this system the more my mind feels free, which allows me to focus on other more important projects.

6 productivity and time management tips

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Time is finite!

Time is finite!

You have heard somebody say it before, or you have said it yourself, “I wish there was more time in the day.” We all experience this at some point in our life. It doesn’t matter whether you desire more time in the day for personal projects, or work projects. Here are six practical ways to make you more productive and get more done in the day.

Baby steps: Realize your limitations

My first and perhaps most important time management tip is, realize you CAN’T get 10 things done in one day, much less an evening when it comes to personal projects. Come to grips with the reality that time is finite. Figure out what is a truly realistic amount of tasks that can be accomplished in a day. When it comes to projects, think in baby steps. Each day focus on a few things that help you get closer to finishing that project or task.

Utilize a project management system

I’ve recently touted the KanBan method of organization, and recently found a website that lists 10 different tools available for that system. I had only known about three of them when I started using this. But, it really doesn’t matter what system you use. Just use something that helps you stay focused and get more done.

I do recommend going beyond the typical task list. I have found that looking at a lengthy task list can just be overwhelming. It helps to at least break up your tasks in order of importance. Dave Ramsey recommends 4 quadrants; urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent and not important, and things that are not important and not urgent.

The advantage of the KanBan method is that it allows you to visualize your entire workflow, rather than staring at a long list of tasks and projects. You can visually see which things are merely a task that gets done quickly, and which things are a project that are ongoing, as well as projects and tasks that are pending; it essentially turns your laundry list of tasks into a workflow chart that is always moving forward.

Learn to say no

Time is precious. We have to learn to say no to things, especially things that fall into the Dave Ramsey quadrant 4, not urgent and not important. I’m probably most guilty of not saying no when it comes to meeting with people. My nature is to want to help everybody, but I have to remember it’s important to guard my time. So, now I make it a point to only schedule one meeting a week with people that are asking me to invest in them. I also have to be cautious about what calls I take. Too many times I’ve given in to taking a call that I know is a sales person, and 20 minutes later the sales person is still rambling and has wasted his time as well as mine. Learn to say NO, and you will free up more time for productivity.

Close your email and especially turn off notifications

Notifications are the king of distraction. And by king, I mean that annoying little kid that keeps throwing his toy on the ground and wants you to pick it up for him, all while giggling and stomping his feet.  Notifications are nothing more than a pointless distraction. My phone has zero notifications, other than calendar notifications and actual reminders related to life and work.
Turning off email notifications on your desktop email are also super important. It can be VERY easy to get distracted by a seemingly important email when you are right in the middle of working on a project that really is important. Better yet, when you are not emailing somebody, just close your email client completely. If you are able, I would even recommend only checking your email at set times throughout the day.

Delegation

This was hard for me when I first started growing my team. I was used to doing literally everything, and I wanted to continue to do everything despite my growing list of responsibilities. I always felt nobody is going to do this as well as me. This feeling is common amongst entrepreneurs and managers. But, I’ve heard it said, once you can find somebody able to do the job 80% as well as you can, it’s time to pass the torch. Some people will even go as low as 70% effectiveness.

Either way, you have to realize you are human and can only do so much. If having more time is important to you, you have to learn the art of delegation, and don’t be afraid to spend some time training a team member. The time you spend now will free up more time for you in the future. You just have to make it happen. Sure, there will be some bumps along the way, but when is running a business ever smooth sailing?

Cut the cable and kill your television

When it comes to finding more time in the day for productivity, one of the easiest things you can do is kill your television. The result is lots more free time in the evening that can be spent on being productive, as well as more quality family time and time for personal projects. Just about anything has more long-term benefit than watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad.

Literally adding more hours to the day is, unfortunately, not possible. But, you can make better use of the hours you do have. It just takes developing some time saving disciplines: realize your limitations, utilize a project management system, learn to say no, turn off notifications, delegate, and kill your television are the ones I feel are most important. Another great blog for time management skills I recommend is Time Management Ninja. There you will find loads of good content on time management – something we can all get better at.