How do I: Manage Work Projects

In my workplace we get to work on many projects at once – this is one of my favorite parts of my job. I won’t go into detail about the many things I love about my work, but the ability to have variety is energizing.

Of course this means that there’s a lot to keep track of. Most of my work aside from teaching my classes heavily connects to the work of my other colleagues, which adds some more complexity.  So how do I keep track of it all and maintain progress?

Photos of questions I ask about new work and how I visually break down timelines

FIRST: Ask Questions

Before the “to dos” even show up in my planner, I do some pre-work.  I ask a lot of questions about the nature of the work so I fully understand what I would be signing up for.  This is NOT the time to blindly agree to iTunes latest privacy update – take the time to get the scope of what you’re responsible for.  Some of my “go-to” questions are:

  • What’s the main goal of this work and how does it support our overall work and priorities?
  • How should I be prioritizing this work? What do I put on the backburner in order to focus on this?
  • Is there a hard deadline?
  • Who else has background information? Have we done similar work before?
  • Who needs to be part of the conversation?
  • How much involvement do you want on this? (High-touch updates? Run with it?)
  • Other boundaries I should be aware of, like budgets, preferred partners or vendors, timelines?

Understanding the background, I am more equipped to agree or say no to a project.  It sucks for me to find out partway that there are a ton of other things that also come with the project. I’m also a firm believer in making expectations as explicit as possible, so everyone is on the same page not only about the work but about HOW it will be done.

SECOND: A timeline.

Since most of my work requires meetings with my colleagues, I make sure I have enough lead time to find common meeting time.  I break down the tasks into smaller feats to do every week to maintain momentum on the work.  Honestly it’s hard for me to explain because my brain works this way pretty quickly – but here are some strategies I use that might help you.

Example of what my work Calendar might look like
What a slow week looks like at work
  • Set meetings right away to claim the time, and begin by talking about the purpose of the work – there’s no point in going forward if you haven’t got the question or the work right!
  • Paper still beats out digital in this initial stage – When I have multiple projects running at the same time, I print out monthly calendars from now till the deadline and start marking the different milestones for each project so I can balance my time from week to week against existing office events.
  • Once I know what the work is, I usually work off of a Google Doc or Google Sheet – I can access it anywhere, it’s neat, and I can collaborate with my team on.  These documents usually lay out the deeper purpose of the work, individual deliverables, person responsible, and when it has been completed.
  • I put MANY events in my Google calendar in advance to remind myself to work on different phases of a project – “Send introduction email out” or “Get options for layouts”- You’re welcome, Future Jessica.
  • I block out time in my calendar ahead of time to work on these projects – it helps keep larger amounts of time from being broken up by meeting requests.
  • Respond to emails quickly, providing as many answers, suggestions, or options as possible. We all know people who only reject your suggested times to meet without offering other possibilities – momentum slows down quickly when that happens.
  • Include explicit deadlines in communication – “If anyone is interested, please let me know by next Friday at 4:00pm; otherwise I will work on other arrangements”. This way, you’re clear and you have clarity on your next steps if people don’t respond.
  • Always keep key stakeholders in the loop as you make progress.
  • In paper, I keep a separate page for the project to see the steps from a bird’s eye view – especially when I’m still trying to grasp what the project is.

THIRD: Do the work.

When I need to zone in, I put my noise-canceling headphones on, turn on my “Focus” playlist on Spotify (which I’ll write more about soon!), swig my coffee, and GO.

FOURTH: Reflect and learn

At the end of the project I like to sit down and write about how it went.  How did it go? What went well? What didn’t? What do I need to remember for the next time so I can get to the better part faster? Incorporate, and go.

What about you? Any tips that I should incorporate?




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