I am awful at a lot of things. Baseball is one of them. Fighting games like Street Fighter is another. The only thing I am awful at that has really bothered me to any extent is my time and project management skills.
When faced with a large project and a list of tasks, I used to not know where to start. I would jump around from screen to screen, working on one thing before the next, then maybe go back to the screen I was working on before because I forgot something. Eventually, I got fed up.
Tired of being so anxious all the time, I took everything bothering me about my misgivings and did away with the excuses. I asked myself, “what would a project manager do?” Here’s how I fixed (some of) my issue, made my life easier and covered my behind by applying our project process to my day-to-day life. It’s only five things, stay with me here.
Find a tool you’re going to use every single day
It doesn’t matter if it’s an app, a notebook, or a series of messages sent by carrier pigeons. As long as you have something that you can refer to when you complete a task, and you know it’s something you will use over and over again, you’re good to go.
I take notes in an app called Notion, which allows me to make task boards, lay content out differently, add images, edit from anywhere, the list goes on. While it’s not free, the important thing is that it has everything that I need to make a to-do list of sorts. If you’d rather use sticky notes or the same pocket-sized notebook that you’ve been using since college, that’s fine. Whatever works for you.
I’ve found that the easiest way to change your habits is to slightly tweak the habits you already have. It’s the same idea as picking up around the house as you go along to avoid a larger cleanup process later on. Baby steps.
What I do:
Every day I come into work, I open Notion. I have everything laid out on a calendar, and can add new pages for each day. I also have each page tagged with the project that it’s related to. If I am working on Valacta and I have a meeting with them, my page can immediately be attached to that project.
For EVERY task, write down the requirements. And then check them.
When you add a task to your list, make sure you write down or otherwise have a record of the requirements that would go along with that task. Designing a login screen? Write down the fields, text, and any visual assets that need to go into that screen. Need to take out the trash? Jot down each room with a garbage bin and get to work.
What’s important from this self-created inventory is that you have a detailed record of what was asked. Even better? Now, you can go over that list with someone else and verify that everything written down was accurate, asking questions along the way. In a work environment, you would go over this list with your actual project manager. At home, you could go over the list with your significant other, your roommate, your cat, or just read through it again and check for yourself.
What I do:
If you’ve used Trello, JIRA, or other project-based task management software tools, this might seem familiar. I start with a task board that has three simple columns: Not Started, In Progress, and Completed. Whenever I have a new request, I create a task card with a detailed description in the Not Started column, to be moved forward later.
Ah, the feeling of crossing something off of your list. Of moving the ticket to the Completed column. Of that distinctive checkmark motion. Very few things are as satisfying as completing a task. One of those few things just so happens to be crossing that task off of a list. Make sure you do so and take a moment to pat yourself on the back. No, really. Do it. It’ll feel great.
Something change? Back to the task board
Whenever something you’ve completed has been marked as complete, and then it gets sent back to you with edits or new requirements, that’s perfectly fine! No one gets every single thing perfect every single time (if you do, you aren’t reading this blog).
A trick I do to track changes on a task card is to add all the client feedback as a comment. Unlike descriptions, adding a comment will keep track of when they were submitted. With edits to an established task, knowing exactly when something was submitted is more important than I have space to type here. You want to be able to turn back time and see what comments were made by whom and why in case there’s ever a question of “why did you do this?” It’s happened before. It will happen again. Being ready for it is the best defense you can ask for.
Trust the process. When that doesn’t work, iterate on the process. Never beat yourself up
Like I said before, no one gets every single thing perfect every single time. Moreso when it’s the first time you’re trying a new process or tactic. Not everything will go smoothly. Heck, maybe everything will crash and burn.
As hard as it may be, it is worth it to step back and take a look at what worked, what didn’t work, and what you can do to fix it all the next go-round. If something I said doesn’t fit your style, but it inspired another idea? GREAT! Take that idea, run with it, and share it with the rest of the world. Why do you think I’m here writing this and you’re there, reading it?
Experience Designer Nelson W Johnson can often be found spending his time drawing, hosting a gaming podcast & hanging with his cats. With a passion for technology and an obsession with floral shirts, he loves finding design solutions to users’ technological woes.