Of all the things you have to do, some can be done in one go (classic to-do-tasks), while other things need to be regarded as larger projects.
These projects can be long, large and extensive with numerous different activities, but they might as well consist of a rather simple to-do-task, but which needs to be completed in several steps, that you are working on during a longer time-period than a single day.
It can involve classic development-projects in the concept’s most generally accepted connotation, and it can concern matters we normally don’t classify as projects, for instance working though the process of identifying a company as a prospect, making them you client and at that, making them a returning customer.
Alternate between focusing on details and on the whole picture
If you have many of these kind of ”balls floating in the air”, or projects in motion, it is easy to only focus on the task with the most urgent status. You spend your time and energy putting out fires and easily forget to also keep track of the other “balls” or projects in which the situation isn’t critical, but which still require your attention.
To make sure you are progressing in all the projects you wish to complete, you need a comprehensive overview of what you are juggling at the moment. At least at some point during the week, you go though the overview and make sure you have at least one next step (a to-do-task or something you are waiting for from someone else) for each active project.
But where should you keep the overview and in what format?
Here are six options to choose from depending on your personal preferences.
1) Project-list, quite simply
The easiest form is definitely a plain old project-list, that is, an inventory of all your ongoing projects. If you keep your to-do-tasks in a list-format, this is a good format for keeping track of your projects as well.
Create a Word-document and write down all the projects or record them in a spreadsheet. If you wish to work physically, write the project-list on a paper and hang it on your office-wall or write the list on your whiteboard, making it easily accessible.
2) Tasks in Outlook or Lotus Notes, categorized as a project
- Enter each project as a to-do-task in Outlook’s “Tasks”-feature or Lotus Notes’ “To Do”-feature.
- Create the category “Project” and tag all the “project-tasks” with this category.
- Now when you group the task-list by category, you will be able to easily distinguish the tasks which are projects from those which are to-do-tasks.
If you do this, you won’t need an extra list for projects since you store them in the same list as the to-do-tasks, only separately.
3) To-do-list grouped by project
An alternative to the previous suggestion is that you in Lotus Notes or in Outlook tag each to-do-task with the project it belongs to.
- In Notes you enter the name as a category and in Outlook you can for instance use the “Company”-box.
- When you then group the tasks by “Category” (in Notes) or “Company” (in Outlook), the software automatically generates an inventory of the projects you are working on at the moment, given that you have at least one to-do-task active for each project.
- If you want to be independent of this requirement, create an empty task for each project, so that you don’t check off the project as done until it actually is.
Create your project-overview in the form of a mindmap; on paper, in a software such as MindManager or with a web-service like Mindomo.com. The mind-map gives you a terrific overview and you can easily split the project into smaller pieces before you begin defining to-do-tasks.
If you are managing your to-do-tasks in the great software Things (available for Mac), you simply add your projects in a list which is always visible in the main window. You will immediately clearly see which to-do-tasks you have defined for each project.
6) Plastic pockets in a pile
But, you might as well work completely without a computer.
- Take a transparent A4-plastic pocket for each project and write the project name on the front of it.
- Put all papers, notes, and so on, which belong to the project in the plastic pocket.
- At the very front, so that it shows through the front of the plastic pocket, put a cover page where you gradually write down the next step (the next to-do-task) in the project.
- Put all project-plastic pockets in a project-pile (a pile of plastic pockets containing only these project folders).
- When you want to determine what the right thing to do right now is, flip though the pile and choose the to-do-task from the coversheets which has the highest priority.
Make your choice
What format you chose is up to you; the suggestions described above or something else. Just bear in mind that the project-overview needs to be accessible enough for you not to think twice about taking it out. Unless you are stationary at your office the entire day, it also needs to be portable, so that you can bring it with you easily.
If it also happens to be available and visible for your colleagues who need to be aware of where you are at in your work, it is even better.
If you get yourself a clear project-overview which you review at regular intervals, you can work more efficiently with the detailed tasks without worrying about a project being neglected since you easily can confirm that all projects are progressing in the desired direction.
What’s your way of getting an overview?
How do you make sure you are moving all your active projects forward at the pace you wish them to move? Leave a comment to let me and others know your thoughts.