Monday, June 23, 2014

14 organizational tips for Project Leaders (and everyone else)

I have started my career in Communication and then became a Continuous Improvement Project Leader. Both roles demand a strict organization, as multitasking and unplanned tasks were key to succeed.

I have developed an organization that works for myself and may help you get more organized. Here are a few tips that should make your life easier:

At your work space:
  • Do not over sort: Pinterest should have a "do not try this at home" mention on their desk pictures. If your sorting system is too complex (even though it is allegedly pretty), you will quickly stop using it and start creating a mess. This also applies to your computer and folders (and at home!).
  • Be proactive: Sort your documents and clean your desk / computer / inbox less but more often. It will seem like it is a smaller and easier task and prevent clustering. 
  • Archive old projects: Once a project is completed, sort the paper documents associated to that project. Throw away what is not important and put the rest in a folder and in a carton. You can also create a CD with the project data and put it in the folder.
This is my desk at the end of the day. I use my laptop screen for emails and the second screen for everything else. I had to remove my sticky note for a board visit, but they usually are on the glasses between my colleagues and I.

Managing your tasks:
  • Use the 5 Whys: When getting assigned a task, use the 5 Whys (ask why until you reach the root cause) to make sure you understand what and why you will be performing. You will save time and avoid confusion, rework and frustration.
  • Lists & sticky notes: Write down the tasks you need to perform (lists), the information you can't forget (sticky notes). Review them on a daily basis and get rid of what has been done. There is nothing more rewarding than crossing every item of a to-do list!
  • Color code your inbox / calendar: Define a color by project (or type of task / department / site...) and apply it to your emails and calendar. You can then sort your emails by color to get a good idea of the workload for each project. It also applies to your calendar: you'll see instantly how your time will be used.
  • Create one folder per project: One folder in your inbox and one on your drive for each project. You can then create sub-folders for specific topics (and an "Old" one for previous versions of your docs).
  • Number your folders: By giving each folder a number, they will automatically be sorted by chronological order. You can also access them quickly by typing the number you are looking for. If you use a project management system that automatically gives a reference number to your projects, you can use them.
  • Inbox is for emails to work on: Sort everything that doesn't need (anymore) an action from you in its right folder. That leaves you with only the tasks at hand in your inbox.
  • Use rules to sort your emails: Emails generated by a system or information given to a number of people can be sorted automatically in the right folder so you look at them only if you need to. You can also create a "Cc" folder in which you send automatically every email for which you are in Cc (and not the recipient). That should clean your inbox (especially if you are a manager).
Quick access to my personal emails, to the folder where all communications go, projects sorted by number and color coding

Planning your time:
  • Put everything in your calendar: Make sure to have every meeting in your calendar, but also the tasks you need to perform on your own, planned phone calls, appointments, etc. That is the only way not to forget anything. Don't forget to use the Private function!
  • Be realistic: No need to plan 1 hour for a meeting when you know it is going to take 2. Planning more time than necessary will make it easier if the meeting runs late. It will also be less overwhelming if you are late according to your planning or can't do everything that was planned. 
  • Keep some free time: Unexpected events happen all the time. If you have free slots in your agenda, it will be easier to face unpredictable events / tasks.
  • Only one meeting at the time: This sounds like the dumbest piece of advice, though it is rarely applied! You won't be able to attend two meetings at the same time. Sort your priorities and make a choice. You will be more effective fully focused on one meeting than partly attending two.
Blue/Green is for training, red for mentoring, yellow for reporting and green for a data entry project

Any additional tip? Feel free to leave a comment, I'll add it in the right section!