8 Tips to Stay Organized and On Track from a Project Manager Who Helps Others Transform Chaos into Capacity Every Single Day

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Sam McDougall, Vice President, Social & Operations, Red Havas

Think about it: We are all project managers in some shape or form. On any given day, we’re accustomed to taking something bigger and breaking it down into attainable, bite-size pieces that help us more easily get from A to B. For example, we wake up, go to the gym, shower, make breakfast, get to work on time and get through our to-do list. Many of us must manage our children’s days, too. Or maybe we’re managing a home renovation, as I now am. It all comes together piece by piece, decision by decision, day by day. 

Whether you’re a project manager or not, taking the time to master some key project management practices can boost your effectiveness across your career and day-to-day life. The following tips may be especially helpful if you’re holding down more than one job and/or are a parent, mentor or coach. 

  1. Make your bed — every day
    You might think that your morning cup of joe is what you need first up to kickstart a productive day, but the true secret to starting off on the right foot happens when you first get out of bed. Making your bed each morning puts your mind into a productive mindset and can spark other constructive tasks throughout the day 
  1. Begin with the end in mind
    All successful plans have a specific start and end point. It’s good to think of it like building a bridge. You know the purpose of the bridge (your goal) is to get you from one side to the other. Envisioning that goal will help you stay on track and focused on the bigger picture. 
  1. Have a to-do list
    Whether it’s a tool like smartsheets, simple notes in your laptop, or good old pen and paper, jot down your to-do list and cross them off once complete. A lot of people struggle with getting things done, or even figuring out what needs to be done. The to-do list is, in theory, is the answer. It’s a time-honored system that’s beautiful in its simplicity: Work out what needs to be done and in what order. Write down the tasks. Do them. And then, one-by-one, cross them out.
  1. Make a plan
    Beyond starting with the end goal in mind, you’ll need to work backwards to identify all the steps it will take to get there, plus how long is needed for each of those steps. For example, how long do you need to research and write a blog post? How long does your editor need to proofread it? How long does your boss or client then need to review it? If you’re unsure, ask the resource, as different people at different levels require varying times to complete tasks. Once done, assign your teams/resources their R&Rs (roles and responsibilities). Now you’ve got your plan. 
  • Manage risks and remember that plans can be fluid
    It is important to identify the potential hiccups or roadblocks that may occur during a project or a busy workday. Not only do you need to identify the risks, but you also need to develop a risk-response strategy that can be activated in the event things do not go according to plan. Key is knowing that no plan is bulletproof; most of them will most likely change at some point. Where there may be potential for things to mishap, count for extra time or build in fat to your timelines. Think like people being unwell, clients taking longer than expected to respond, not nailing that big idea on the first attempt … maybe even a global pandemic. 
  1. Overcommunicate
    As a PM, it is your responsibility to communicate to your team about the scope of work and the deadlines and to lead them along the journey. (As a parent, mentor or coach, you do the same for a slightly different audience.) For some people, management and organization don’t come naturally. What seems like a day-to-day and simple task for you can be foreign to someone else. It’s always better to overcommunicate. “Dumb it down,” so it’s so simple a 5-year-old could understand it (no offense to the 5-year-olds!) If you’ve never heard of the KISS approach, check it out. To keep you and your team on track, schedule your milestones in calendars, have a kick-off call, have a daily status or stand-up, try a weekly WIP and proactively reach out to check in with your team.
  1. Reflect
    Look back on past projects. What worked? What didn’t? Where can you be more efficient? There’s always room for finding efficiencies or trying another method. A templated or cookie-cutter approach will not work for every project or team.
  1. Stay cool
    If you are leading a project (or a family, sports team or volunteer event), your level head sets the tone for the team. The way you manage a project ultimately can make or break your team’s experience of the work. There are bound to be ups and downs, but ultimately you want to ensure that you and others have some good times along the way.

Inspired by these project-management tips and tools? I hope you’ll put them into practice and let me know what you think in the comments. I also invite you to dig in deeper by listening to an episode of this podcast by Jay Shetty, an English author, former Hindu monk, and life coach who shares his principles for getting things done, even when you don’t feel like it. 


About the Author: Sam has over eight years’ experience working in creative and PR agencies across Australia and the Unites States. During Sam’s career he has been immersed as strategist, content specialist, social media marketer and project management. Sam has worked for clients and brands including Coca-Cola, KFC, IBM, American Express, Toyota Motor Corporations Australia, LinkedIn and UNICEF to name a few. Outside of the agency experience, Sam has built his own brand within the social media landscape as an influencer/ brand ambassador over the past eight years and continues to use his professional skills from both careers to help build and create meaningful brands that make impact.