Project Management: My Tools & Techniques

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about all the projects that I’m involved in at the moment, and how I manage my workload. Some projects are more involved than others. Some have deadlines, and some don’t. But, all of them require some of my attention some of the time. Right now I can easily count more than ten projects I’m heavily involved in at the moment. This fact gave me pause today – since I’ve also been moving into a new house and managing the holiday season.

I think it’s easier to juggle multiple projects now than it was five or even ten years ago. I attribute this to more and more people being used to working asynchronously on more than one team and/or project. Often now we communicate with texts, e-mail, cloud apps, and task management portals – much more than via phone, live meetings, and brainstorming sessions.

My reason for writing this post is to elaborate on how I use these tools – and why I feel all of them have a role to play in making my projects successful. I’m also going to try and make the case for more use of phone and face-to-face communication as a focus for getting things done and shipping awesome stuff.

  • Texting: I use texts for carve time out of people’s schedules fora  more in depth meeting, or to convey a quick status update.
  • E-Mail: I use e-mails to write more long-form thoughts, or to send information to people who don’t use my other tools. A note here is that I keep my e-mail box very clean. The only things in my inbox are critical tasks I need to perform (project related or not). Wherever possible I archive items and move the needed information to cloud or task management programs.
  • Cloud Apps: I was an early adopter of Google Docs, and I’m a huge fan of Dropbox. Google Docs are awesome, but only if your collaborators are in the same ecosystem. Thankfully many of mine are, and managing brainstorms and information in a real-time document is amazing. The latter I use more for myself since I work off multiple devices, although I occasionally use it to share files. Dropbox is capable of far more, though – it depends on what kind of projects you’re working on.
  • Task Management Portals: I am a huge fan of Trello, after trying many task management apps for iOS. Trello is web-based (although the iOS app is amazing), so I can send an invite to people who can view, edit, and add tasks and not worry about what ecosystem they are working under. I use Trello for projects with lots of deliverables or action items. I also use it for my day-to-day client management. What’s great about Trello is I can bounce from board-to-board (and therefore project-to-project) very quickly. My only gripe is that it’s calendar/due-date functions aren’t as robust as I’d like – if I could click a button and see all my due dates across all boards cleanly, I’d be a happy guy!
  • Phone: Believe it or not this is the one tool I wish people would use more. If a conversation will require more than 2 or 3 “back and forths”, phone is WAY more efficient than text. It’s also better for when issues get very detailed, or there is emotion involved. Often when using a cloud document or other tool, I like being on the phone with the person at the same time to discuss what we’re looking at. The phone’s main drawback is its immediacy, work doesn’t get done when you’re yammering on.
  • Face-to-Face: I love to collaborate on creative projects. I love it even more when its in a social environment. Often times in order for me to work past a blockage on a project, or to brainstorm a new one, I prefer to meet with a person. I am VERY opinionated that such meetings be respectful of a person’s time, so I don’t let my cell phone, iPad, computer, etc… be a distraction. I try to be completely there as much as possible, to get the most of this precious form of interaction. We’re all so busy these days that face to face time becomes a big commodity. I usually prefer to meet up at a coffee shop, since it’s usually more convenient to find a place halfway between the parties, and I also find it makes the interaction unique and a break from the normal routine.
  •  Skype/Facetime/Google Hangout: I consider these different from the last two points since it’s a limited interaction. It’s halfway to face-to-face, since you get convey visual information and facial cues in real time – but users can also be doing other things in the background (split windows on a PC, building IKEA furniture, whatever). For this reason I don’t prefer to use it often, I primarily use it to keep in touch visually with family and friends who I can’t conveniently visit. I should note that I don’t use these types of tools much for my “day job”, which is odd considering most of my co-workers live in Canada.
  • Peer Groups/Meetups/Conventions: These are wonderful for making new contacts, getting outside influence on a project, and for holding face-to-face meetings. I try to attend them whenever possible, since they are an incredible breeding ground of new ideas, inspiration, and motivation for finishing projects. Every project I work on becomes instantly better as I grow from every interaction of this type. The only drawback to them is usually travel time & costs, and the collective time/scheduling commitment necessary. Meetups and other “micro-cons” where members are geographically near each other are one of the great resources you can have since they are perfect for building strong networks of trust and often friendship.
  • The Infamous To-Do List: As much as I use all these fancy tools and interactions, my go-to technique for project management is putting pen to paper for a good old-fashioned to-do list. I will often make a list for each day (either early in the am or the night before) on everything I want to accomplish across my projects/responsibilities/desires so that I don’t lose sight of important deadlines. I won’t lie and say I keep those those tasks rigidly, since many times new issues will crop up and demand my attention – but I find the pen and pad a huge resource that’s become second nature. No amount of tools seem to tear me from this practice (and believe me I’ve tried)

Anyway, hope this insight is useful.