Managing a project, especially as a self-employed individual, can seem daunting and there can be many obstacles that impede your project from staying on track, stemming from both internal and external factors. Here are ten project management tips and tools you can enlist to help ensure your next project is a success.
Stop making lists and start time-blocking
If you’ve ever felt like you can’t escape a cycle of daily to-do lists that grow as the day progresses, you’re not alone. Good news: There are simple principles you can employ to remedy this and alleviate your stress. Enter time-blocking.
Time-blocking is the process of dividing your day into slots based on your most pressing priorities. Not only does this approach drive you to be more effective with your time, but it provides you with a better understanding of how you use your time. For instance, try slotting several smaller, quicker-to-attack tasks first and save longer stretches of time for focused projects. Some experts advise beginning the day by tackling your most pressing priority first and then checking off lower-tier items second (see next section).
One caveat with this principle is to not be so married to it that you think you have to obey your schedule at all costs. Block out your calendar so that you have a full, intentional plan for the day, but also be open to slightly shifting your time blocks to make necessary refinements along the way. It’s all about balance.
Apply the “First Things First” rule
A common mental trap that most of us fall victim to is the belief that you are only as productive as the number of items you can cross off your checklist. Wrong!
A much more effective strategy is to define and perceive productivity as working on the most important item or items first each day. Given a certain amount of time to complete a given task or project and a certain amount of resources, by doing the most important things first, you’ll ensure that you’ are delivering the most value to yourself and your team members. You’ll also help yourself avoid leaving that important item unchecked due to unexpected tasks or calls that pop up at the last minute or loss of steam as the day progresses.
This is not to entirely banish the practice of multi-tasking, as this is more often than not unavoidable. Focus on progressing several items at a consistent, rhythmic speed to advance the ball, while being diligent enough to tackle the highest priority items first.
Psssst: Want to prioritize your most pressing tasks without even thinking of it? Try AND CO’s automated Task Manager tool. It bumps up the most urgent items and lets you (strategically) procrastinate the rest.)
Adopt a “Done is Better Than Perfect” mindset
We all have perfectionist tendencies whether we are proud of them or not. It is a simple fact of life. Though we might be unable to “cure” ourselves of this habit, we can certainly manage it.
“Done is better than perfect” is a simple adage that reminds us that the excessive amount of time searching for and fixing flaws can stand in the way of progress. This is not to argue that any efforts with respect to quality should be neglected, but there is an important balance to strike to avoid growing discouraged when working towards a deadline and risking turning in a project late or worse, not completing it at all. An additional risk can be identified when considering the law of diminishing returns. Eventually, your continual pursuit of perfection will yield less and less value and detract from your momentum.
Rather than sitting down to start a task with the ultimate goal in mind of a perfect work product, instead, devote your time and energy on showcasing your skill set and what you bring to the table. The big takeaway here: Focus on finishing and passing along something that you are proud of, and accept the inevitable iterations to follow.
Take scheduled mental breaks
Taking breaks throughout the work day is easier said than done. We convince ourselves that by taking a break we are disturbing our productivity at the risk of not being able to focus after having taken a break. In reality, this is one of the worst things we can do for ourselves, as it actually prevents us from being productive in the long term.
Research supports the notion that short breaks, taken periodically throughout the day, have positive effects including decreased fatigue and enhanced productivity. A single micro-break—defined by a period of 30 seconds up to five minutes—can increase your productivity by 13 percent. A 15-second break every 10 minutes can reduce your fatigue by 50 percent (Source: Lifehack.org).
Our minds and bodies desperately need rest and relaxation at the expense of feeling entirely depleted, so let go of that guilt and allow yourself a break. You’ll feel more motivated, energized, and ready to crush it when you come back to your work.
Define your project milestones
When attacking a project, you should always define a set of milestones referring to substantial components of your project. Frame them as specifically as possible and align them to scope elements to be completed, so as to avoid any confusion as to what has to be accomplished before attacking the next milestone.
A good milestone should always have attached an expected time frame including start time and due date. This will help ensure you stay accountable from the start of the project to the end. Finding a balance is key when deciding on the timing of your milestones. Setting milestones too close together may result in the milestones losing their distinctiveness and significance. On the other hand, placing milestones too far apart may negatively impact the momentum of you and your team. When identifying your milestones, it is most useful to organize them such that they follow a linear path. This will help you stay organized and prioritize the right deliverables at the right time.
One of the major benefits of taking the time to set your project milestones is that you will have an accurate gauge of progress along the way to your deadline. In a team setting, milestones unite every individual to a common goal, providing rallying points throughout the entirety of the project.
Use tools to help
Block interruptions with Do Not Disturb
Interruptions are productivity-killers. Managing them is one way to keep projects on track and maintain productivity. Here are two free tools to help:
Do Not Disturb: Do Not Disturb is a useful Apple feature for those of us that can’t help but glance over at our phone screen the second it pings, vibrates or lights up. Specifically, it allows you to silence calls, alerts, and notifications while your phone is locked. You can either decide on a whim you want to turn on Do Not Disturb, or schedule it for a certain time every day that you know you can’t afford to be interrupted.
There are two types of exceptions in Do Not Disturb that you can choose to activate depending on your personal preferences. The first is contact-based, where you can select which groups or individuals in your contacts can call you while Do Not Disturb is on. The second is the option to allow a repeated call to ring through.
To turn on Do Not Disturb, simply go to Settings and either select “Manual” to turn on Do Not Disturb at that moment, or schedule a time for it to activate. You can also turn on Do Not Disturb by swiping up from the bottom of your phone screen to open the Control Center and then tapping the crescent moon icon.
Self-Control: For when you just can’t help yourself, there’s self-control. It allows you to block websites that you might find yourself mindlessly wandering to throughout the day. Active self-control for when you’re focusing on a project and cannot be bothered with the latest meme to take over Twitter.
Get organized with Asana
If you’re looking to minimize your email clutter when working with multiple people on a project, look no further than Asana. Launched in 2011, Asana is a web and mobile application that has brought new meaning to the word “collaboration.”
Serving as a collaborative information manager (AKA a to-do list on steroids), this app seamlessly helps individuals and teams track their work in an organized fashion through features including categories, dependent tasks, and sub-projects.
For working with teams, Asana’s dashboard provides a convenient one-stop shop to capture and access details about your colleagues’ deliverables, such as relevant documents or files and any notes or conversations providing updates in real-time when there is any activity. Team members are also able to assign each other tasks within Asana, and mark items complete once they are finished.
Don’t forget with Evernote
Evernote is a mobile app that takes the concept of note-taking to a new level, making it super easy to “capture what’s on your mind,” as the slogan states. Within the app, notes can be taken in a variety of formats including text, photo, audio, video, PDFs and more and be easily organized through searchable notes, notebooks, checklists and to-do lists.
In a team meeting and taking notes? Evernote can be used as a digital notepad and easy-to-format word processor for jotting down thoughts and ideas and sharing these with team members. Crafting agendas, memos and presentation materials is also a breeze in the Evernote platform, helping to boost productivity in the workplace. The app also comes equipped with a camera for easy scanning, digitizing, and organizing of physical documents (ahem, that pile of Post-Its on your desk).
Evernote also provides users with the ability to sync content across devices, including computers, phones, and tablets, providing enhanced flexibility when completing tasks.
Collaborate with Trello
If you were a visual learner in school, Trello is the project management tool for you. Sometimes referred to as the “Pinterest” of project management tools, Trello uniquely allows users to see the entire scope of a project in a single view on a visual board managed through a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface.
Once relevant team members are added to a given board, they can be dragged to items within the project they are responsible for owning. By clicking on a list/card, you can add comments, checklists, attach files and more to easily keep track of the progress of your teammate’s work. The app also allows for the creation of separate boards for different projects, with the ability to set deadlines for each specific card or set of cards providing enhanced organization for everything from the big picture to the small details.
Streamline ops with AND CO
If you’re a freelancer or solopreneur, you know how much time it can take to keep your business running. From being diligent about expenses to creating and tracking invoices, the hours spent managing the operational aspects of your business are many. Using a technology to streamline all of these tasks will not only save you the headache, it’ll also help automate your role as “COO” so you can focus on the work.
Whether you’re focusing on limiting interruptions, improving your productivity, or becoming more organized, we hope these tips and tools help you spruce up your work style habits and effectively tackle your next big project.
AND CO is a proactive app to help you manage your business from proposal to payment. Within the mobile and web app, you can easily track and log your hours, sync your expense reporting with your spend within bank accounts, customize sound freelance contracts and pull business reports on the present state of your finances. The app is free to try.