A nearly completed Rubik's Cube, photo by KugelWhether or not you understand project management, you can still face a strategic plan full of assignments that all need to succeed. Getting all the pieces of your to do list to sync can be a talent in itself.

I’m not a designated project manager and can’t compete with the wealth of How To information already available. What I can offer are some of the things I’ve learned from my own non-profit balancing act.

Take time to plan and set milestones. When you’re pressed for time and energy, it’s tempting to just start and pray all goes well. I think it’s critical to pour some of that energy into some basic planning; think your project through from start to finish and set some key milestones to serve as critical check-in points.

Share the plan while you’re still flexible. Nothing in an organization happens in isolation – and nothing will cramp your style more than a last-minute collision with someone else’s deadline. Even if the only thing you anticipate is a bottleneck at the photocopier, make the effort to connect with your colleagues before you commit to anything.

Set a goal and fight for it. It’s easy to get sidetracked by great ideas -– especially your own. Define what success looks like and focus on that. Make note of any great ideas that come up; as you reach your milestones you can better-assess what might be realistic without derailing your progress.

Draw a map. This requires a bit more time than scribbling a few sticky notes, but it can be helpful -– especially if you’re juggling multiple long-term projects. Based loosely on The One Page Project Manager by Clark A. Campbell, I created a spreadsheet that included the following info:

  • the project name and due date
  • the project leader’e name
  • a list of major tasks and milestones
  • a gridded timeline that highlighted task/milestone deadlines
  • estimated hours for major tasks*
  • team members and who owned each major task
  • an outline of the budget and costs

* Even though this was just a best guess, it was helpful for anticipating bottlenecks and identifying where extra resources might be needed.

If you don’t have time to read an entire book, this One Page Project Manager presentation has a great overview of the template.

Finding a project management system that works for you is largely trial and error: test it and adjust as needed.

What have you learned about successfully managing your to do list?
Please share your experience in the comments!