How to keep yourself organized during a project

I’m proud of you — you’ve won some client work. You were smart and took your time. You asked the right questions and listened to the answers your prospect provided. You gave them options to choose from and turned their decision from whether to work with you or someone else into a decision about which one of your options best suited their needs.

Now you’re on to the hard part of the job — delivering the project on time with everything you said working just like you said it would.

You’ll often hear it said that 80% of software projects fail if you count those that are not delivered on time, and I totally believe it. Even looking at my own history, I have more late projects than I’m happy to admit and while that number gets lower every year, it’s not down to zero yet, so I have work to do.

When I talk with my coaching clients about their projects and hitting timelines they almost never can truly blame the client. The thing is, that even with padded timelines we don’t get down to work right away. We’re like the student that hears a test on today’s material is going to happen next week. They complain, and then when an extension is granted, they study the night before the test anyway.

We don’t use the time we have to finish a project well in almost every case.

Let’s look at a plan to stop that from happening.

Managing clients

Decent project management starts with using decent tools. Email is not a good project management tool — it’s way too cluttered with thousands of other things that have nothing to do with the project you should be focused on. I use Redbooth but you can use Basecamp, Asana, Trello…or whatever seems to fit your workflow.

Once you have a tool you like it’s time to use it. Put every task for a project in there and then break them down into milestones. I like one-week sprints because it lets me update the client at the end of every week on what has and hasn’t been done. I also update my clients at the beginning of every week so that they have a reminder about what’s going to happen in the coming week.

Managing myself

With your project managed you’re not done getting yourself up for effectively landing the project on the expected launch date. The big hurdle in most projects is making sure you handle you.

Are you going to get into the office every day and do the work that needs to get done? Are you going to check social media a bunch, or do other ‘fun’ work and sabotage the project because you haven’t put in the time needed to get the work done?

Unfortunately, many people fall into the social-media-checking and fun-work category instead of into the nose-to-the grindstone, crank-out-the-work category.

If you’re having trouble with distractions then use something like Self Control to block out access to those distractions. I use it because if I don’t, I’d check Twitter more than twice a day.

From there don’t check your email every five minutes all day. Use something like a Pomodoro Timer and block out three to four working blocks of time to make progress on your projects. With those done, check email before doing another three to four blocks of focused work on the things that are going to get you paid.

To stay on track throughout the week you should have a plan. I use Friday to review all the tasks in Redbooth and in OmniFocus to make sure that they are planned properly throughout the week. I look at my calendar for any times my wife would like me to be home to watch some kids while she takes other kids to an appointment, and make sure I’ve planned that into my week.

I don’t put specific client tasks into OmniFocus, but rather I schedule a single task for the day on a specific client project, with the name I use to identify them. No more than two client names get on a single day because I don’t have the time to context switch that much and still push the project forward.

At the end of every day, I review what’s on the schedule for the next day and make sure I’m ready to work on it when I come in the next day. I’ll take a piece of paper and write down my first task of the day and leave it on my desk. That way I don’t even have to look at OmniFocus and possibly get distracted by other tasks that seem to be more ‘fun’ in the moment.

Ideally you’ll follow these strategies every day, all the time, and be hugely effective every day, but even if you don’t all is not lost. If you can really stick to a plan like this three days a week, you’re going to be way more productive than your peers who show up at the office and work on what they feel like working on.

Sticking to a plan means that your projects are not going to become part of the statistics of failed projects. At least not because you put in poor effort.

Sticking to a plan means you’re going to stand out head and shoulders above your peers as someone who gets things done, and you’re going to have lots of clients who will want to work with you.

To get a head start, join thousands of other men and Stop The Struggle.

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