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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.

Tips to help you avoid distractons and achieve greatness

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Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero. It is possible!

Recently I wrote a post titled, Distractions are the Enemy of Greatness. Although I did not coin the phrase, it has really been sticking with me lately, and my smart phone lock screen displays this quote, which is a great reminder to be great when I’m tempted to waste time on Facebook or Instagram.

What the post lacked was some practical tips to help you stay on task and avoid distraction. So, here are nine tips to help you rise to the top and stay on the path to greatness.

1. Get to Inbox Zero and stay there! I used to think Inbox Zero was only for anal retentive type A personalities; but now I realize it’s much more, it’s a way to keep your inbox organized and stay on top of important tasks, and to never let emails that need follow up fall through the cracks.

2. Only check your email twice a day. On average there are two times during the day I’m going through emails, categorizing them and responding to them. The rest of the time I keep my email closed unless I absolutely have to send an email.

3. Limit time on social media. This one is a no brainer; social media is a HUGE time waste. There are tons of apps out there that will help you limit your time spent on these websites. I also make social media harder to access on my iPhone. All social media apps are buried three screens over, and as mentioned above my lock screen displays the quote, “Distractions are the Enemy of Greatness.” I can’t tell you how many times that has actually forced me to put down my phone and get back to work.

4. Organize your paper. I have four paper trays on my desk. Each one serves a specific purpose: Inbox, for things that need to be processed, Outbox for mail or memos that need to go out, In Progress for projects I’m currently working on, and Waiting On, for items that I have put on hold or are awaiting information from others to move forward. This system drastically helps reduce clutter on my desk.

LeanKit KanBan

LeanKit KanBan helps you visualize your workflow.

5. Use a visual task management system. I highly recommend KanBan. This system for visual task management has drastically changed my life. It essential puts your to-do list into several categories. For me it’s: To-Do, Today, In Progress, and Waiting On. The system can be as complex or as simple as you would like.

6. Activity batching. For example, I used to record payments and make bank deposits 2-3 times a week. Entering payments in Quick Books is a repetitive task that is better done once a week at the same time every week. Rather than spending time doing this task multiple times during the week you only do it once, and end up saving time as a result. I also try to block off large chunks of times for meetings if I know I’m going to have a lot in one week. I would rather get multiple meetings done in one day, than have them spread out over the course of the week. This eliminates the start and stop of other projects throughout the course of the week.

7. Guard your time. Learn to say no, delegate low priority tasks, avoid meetings, and learn to spot a salesman a mile a way (they will waste a lot of your time). It’s easy to fill our schedules, but learning to say no, batching meetings, and delegating are valuable skills to learn to help guard your time.

8. Listen to motivational Podcasts. I start nearly every morning with some sort of motivational Podcast. A few of my favorites are: Entrepreneur on Fire, 48 Days to the Work You Love, Entreleadership, and Startup. Startup School is an old one by Seth Godin that is a great listen that I often go back to over and over.

9. Store frequently accessed information. Keep an Evernote or Google Document of information you frequently need access to, such as trade references for credit apps, and key information about your business such as Tax ID Number and login information for websites you access on a regular basis.

Ultimately avoiding distractions comes down to being organized and having systems in place to help you be productive. I think it is safe to say that disorganization is the king of distraction, and anything that causes you to spend more time than necessary on a given task just wastes your time and keeps you from high value tasks that lead to greatness!

Distractions are the enemy of greatness

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Distractions are the enemy of greatness

Smartphone Background (Optimized for iPhone 6, click on image to download)

Distractions are the enemy of greatness. We live in a world FULL of distractions: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and games on our smartphones are just a few that come to mind.

Distractions do the following…

  1. Keep you from meeting your goals, or at the very least hold you back
  2. Hamper your ability to serve your customers well
  3. Get you out of a productive workflow (productivity killer)
  4. Prevent you from doing bigger and better things
  5. Stifle your creativity
  6. Limit your ability to think and come up with fresh ideas
  7. Keep you from solving problems and working through challenges
  8. Hold you back from breaking down walls and doing amazing things

Those are just a few of the negative outcomes of allowing distractions to creep into your workday.

Focus is key to bringing about success and great things, so it only makes sense that distractions are the enemy of greatness. So, turn off that smartphone, log off Facebook, and get to work accomplishing amazing tings.

References: Entrepreneur on Fire Episode 733 with Jon Gordon

Why you must make your big projects a priority

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Prioritizing your work is one of the most important things you will do at the start of each day. Those big projects you have will never get done unless they are first on your list to do.

I love the illustration David Allen provides in Getting things Done. A professor fills a jar full of rocks and asks his class if the jar is full, they reply yes of course. He then takes tiny rocks and fills in the gaps between the larger rocks. He asks the question again, is the jar full? His class then replies, of course, now it is full. Next, the professor pours in fine sand and fills in all the gaps between the smaller rocks. He repeats the question again, and this time the class is unsure. Next, the professor pours water into the jar that takes up the extra space be tween the rocks and grains of sand.

The point to the story is not, that there is always room for more, it’s that if you don’t get the big rocks in FIRST, you will never get the rest in! The jar is your schedule, the larger rocks are your major projects, the smaller rocks are the daily tasks necessary to run your business, the sand is the little things that always seem to pop up, and the water is every thing else you didn’t expect. If you don’t make room for the rocks first, then you will never even get them in the jar (on the schedule). Had the water gone into the jar first, not even the sand would have made it in.

The larger rocks are your big important projects – they are the things that will have the biggest impact on your company when it comes to growing your business. If you don’t take time each day to make those a priority, they will never get done.

I make it a point to work on my rocks every single day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Your day will always be filed with unexpected things that fill your jar, so make sure you have the rocks in first, otherwise they will never get the attention the deserve and need.

The Forced 4-Hour Work Week

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It’s a bit ironic that I have been forced into my own 4-hour workweek as I’m reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. I have been enjoying the book quite a bit, but at the same time I think a lot of his ideas are far fetched, stupid, and immature. I do however see a lot of value in things like, automation, limiting the time you check emails, and empowering employees.

I have long wanted to find a job where I can work limited hours and have more time to enjoy life, and not just WORK. Since starting Bearded Brothers I have been very disciplined to limit my work to around 40 hours a week on most weeks, but I still dream of working remotely in Colorado during the summer to escape the brutal Texas heat. Yet I have not seen this as possible for several reasons, until now.

These past few weeks have been a forced experiment of a 4-hour workweek. Three weeks ago my wife and I welcomed my son Joshua into the world. I took paternity leave the following week. The week after that started with a holiday, so the week was short, and I limited my time in the office to be with my wife and newborn. The week following my wife got sick, so I was spending yet another week away from the office.

I never stopped working completely during this time, but my work was limited. I only really checked my email a couple times a day – although force of habit had me checking my phone on occasion, but far less than usual. I only took phone meetings if absolutely necessary, and I put a couple projects on the back burner and spent a limited amount of time on them.

This experiment has taught me several things:

    1. I don’t have to be in the captain’s chair at the office for things to flow smoothly. I have known this for a while now, but after three weeks of being absent, or having a limited presence in the office, it is even clearer…. My team ROCKS! This wasn’t always the case, but the main lesson I have learned is to hire slow, and spend time finding the right people. You don’t want crazy working for you – THAT will stress you out and you will never feel like you can step away for a long period of time.
    2. Checking email several times throughout the day is NOT necessary. I’ve recently achieved the infamous “Inbox Zero,” and having a well-managed inbox has helped with this. During my time out of the office I limited my time responding to email to a couple times a day. I did however glance at it several times a day, out of habit, but even that I began to see was unnecessary. Moving forward I plan to only spend time in my Inbox a couple times a day.
    3. My business is much more automated than I thought. It took a long time to get there though. There was a point in time I was making the energy bars, delivering them, cutting checks, placing orders, getting new accounts, and running the payroll. Now, I’m more of a backseat driver. I’m not outsourcing anything, but I have put into place my own “in-house automation.” Bearded Brothers has built a solid reliable team that can be trusted in the absence of management.
    4. The concept of Lifestyle Design and Mini Retirements are not out of reach. My dream to spend my summers working remotely is a very likely reality next summer. Being away these past few weeks has shown me that I have a solid crew working for me that needs very little supervision. Any problems that arise can be solved with a simple phone call or text message.

When I first started reading the chapters in Tim’s book about outsourcing and automation, I was thinking there is no way my business can run like that, but in a way it already is. Just not in the sense of foreign outsourcing. I honestly have to say in the most humble way possible, it feels amazing to have built a business with the help of my amazing business partner that can run in our absence.

The only hard part about pulling the trigger on more remote working is being absent from my team. I love the relationships I have built with them, and love being available for them. But, the reality of it is, I’m more than likely using that as an excuse to not do something bold and exciting. More than likely, I will walk back into the office next week, my team will be happy to see me and things will continue to operate the same as always, which is the same with me in the office or out.