Episode 152: April 24, 2012
by Stever Robbins
Listener Mahin writes,
"I am a self-employed owner of a bellydance company. I always have multiple projects--some are time sensitive like event hosting, while others are maintenance like administrative and marketing. I keep them in a multi-pocket notebook so everything’s sorted. But I how do I track each project’s progress?"
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Melvin was in my office when this letter came in from Mahin. Taking one look at Mahin’s project file, he jumped up and down in excitement. You can imagine what that did to the open fountain pen he had absent-mindedly clipped to his shirt. Bernice is out buying him a new shirt while he tries to convince the office staff that an Argentina-shaped birthmark can appear on his chin overnight with no warning. I told Bernice: no more chocolate-covered espresso beans for Melvin before lunch.
How to Manage Multiple Projects
Mahin has taken an important step. As I discuss in Step 5: Stay Organized in my book , the key to organizing is having a place for everything and everything in its place. Mahin has done that. She has a folder with transparent sleeves, one for each project. When she has a piece of paper or idea related to a project—say the construction of a 30-foot tall belly button to advertise her business—she knows just where it goes: into the Big Belly Button project sleeve. Then when she needs to know the tensile strength of paper machine when used as Belly Button sculpture foundation, she goes right to that project file.
That’s great for reference information, but it doesn’t tell her anything about the state of her project at any given moment.
Use a Project Status Card
A project status card pulls together all the important information about a project so you can know how it’s doing at a glance.
Along with collecting all the reference material needed for each project, Mahin needs a place to know the status of the project. If she were a robot with cybernetic eyes in every nook and cranny of the business—and I’m not saying she’s not—she could just scan her monitors to know how everything’s doing. Instead, she needs to scan her notebook.
First, she needs to decide what’s important to know about each project: what was the most recently completed step and what is the next step that needs to happen?
These pieces of status are brief. For each project, she can make a project status card to put into the project envelope. A convenient template is included in this episode’s transcript. I use a 3x5 card or a half-sheet of paper. It always belongs at the front of each project folder. A simple glance gives the project status with no searching or hunting needed.
How to Manage Stalled Projects
Sometimes projects get stalled. If Mahin is waiting for her local airport to deliver air clearance certification for her sign, she can’t do much else until she hears the result. That could take weeks or months. By then, she’ll be so engrossed in other projects she may well have forgotten what to do next. For stalled projects, the important information is what she’s waiting for, the next steps to take while waiting (if any), and the next steps to take once she gets what she wants.
Update Your Project Status Card Often
The status card is only useful if it’s up-to-date. Use a half-sheet of paper and write in pencil, so you can easily erase and change the information. You’ll do that a lot. Every time you access your project file, you’ll either be taking something out and eventually putting it back in, or you’ll be putting in something new. Either way, when you put something into the file, always spend a moment reviewing the project status card. If it’s up to date, you’re fine. Otherwise, erase the incorrect information and update the card.
Or, if you prefer, as part of your end-of-the-day ritual, flip through your project book to the pages of the projects you worked on during that day. Review and update your project status cards, then put the notebook away for safe-keeping.
How a Project Status Card Helps
Bernice’s project status cards tell her when to expect Melvin’s shirt back from the cleaners, and her next steps, quietly getting his shirts Teflon coated. The next time this happens—and there will be a next time—cleanup will be a breeze.
A project status card pulls together all the important information about a project so you can know how it’s doing at a glance. Use a half-sheet of paper, with spaces for current status, last completed step and next step. If the project is stalled, note why. Also note the next step you can take while it’s stalled, and the step to take once it’s unstalled.
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!