Being organised is a skill. It’s something that you can learn and refine but it doesn’t always come naturally. I have always been an organiser since a very young age. Today in my day job, that is exactly what I do. I plan and manage projects from start to finish and all that stuff in between. You may be lucky enough to have a specialist around you who will do this, or like many small creative businesses have to become a bit of a jack of all trades and apply this skill to what you are doing. Here are a few of my tips to help plan away.
Planning a project at the very beginning before you start the job/work can save a great deal of time, stress and unneeded work being done. It’s one of those things that you can put at the bottom of the list as there are so many more interesting or fun things to get your teeth stuck into. For many people it isn’t the most enjoyable part but is definitely something that I would recommend doing for most projects, not just the larger ones.
Plan the entire project
Define the scope of the project clearly and precisely, make sure you have set the parameters of what you agree to do before you start. Try and define this at the beginning so you don’t have what we call scope creep, doing things for free that you didn’t originally agree or quote for, unless they’re prepared to allow you to charge more for it. Knowing what you are doing at each stage is a massive time saver as you move through the project. This can make you more efficient and make your project more cost effective and possibly more profitable.
Don’t know where to start? Sit down and think about what you need to do. This may be by starting at whatever the end result needs to be and working backwards. Work out what you need to get done and in what order you need to do it in. Start by writing this down as a task list.
Gantt chart milestone plan
Creating a timing plan or gantt chart is common practice and is really helpful. It allows you to plan what order everything needs to happen, factor in supplier deliveries, client approvals and reviews if required. There are many programs that can make this easier for you such as MS Project and Merlin Project or some great free online ones such as TeamGantt. Take the above task list and start to add dates to it, if you have a deadline start from there and work backwards. A good tip that I learnt many years ago is to put any key dates or milestones into a diary/calendar as an additional reminder.
It is helpful to group tasks together under headings in a clear and logical order. Some tasks will be dependent on another task being completed, find these dependencies and pin point them out. Know when if one task is delayed where the knock on effect will hit.
When changes happen such as delays in approval or from suppliers, make sure you map the changes as they happen so you can see the knock-on effect. It’s not always possible to complete a project on the agreed deadline. If there are delays throughout, sometimes you can make up time elsewhere. This isn’t always the case so make sure you update the plan when they happen so it is a realistic completion date and doesn’t leave you stressed trying to do a million things right at the end.
Daily todo lists
A big part of project planning is not just mapping it out at the beginning, it’s following it. I’m a massive list person - I write a new one at least once a day. It keeps me on track with what needs to happen that day and it also gives me clarity and allows me to prioritise what to do when I am overwhelmed. Handwriting lists, using apps or your calendar are all good ways to do this. Start the day by writing one todo list, bringing items over from the previous day that didn’t get completed and add to it. Prioritise it and tick off the items as they are done. The satisfaction of each tick can motivate you to get working on ticking the next one off.
If you are working with a team, suppliers or clients, regular status meetings is a good way to keep progress of how the job is tracking. These don’t have to be too long - simply review your timing plan and check that all items for that day/week are on track. If not, find out why and try to address it or make a plan to tackle it. Make sure any task delays or early completion dates are applied to your timings so that you are keeping as up to date as possible. If it helps, apply a traffic light tracking system to each task, where green = on track, orange = at risk of causing delays and red = delayed / needs attention.
Thinking ahead can save you loads of time in the future. Understanding this and putting the time into this can be boring but it is worth it in the long run. Just remember to be realistic and allow yourself the time to do what you want to do as best as you can do it.
Jes is a ‘practical creative’ and a very busy lady, doing the business in a digital agency, being an artist and an university lecturer, who can creatively be found cutting up a storm at paperchap.com. Follow Jes on Instagram.