Ah, hello again, traveler. I appreciate your company. Could you do me a favor?
That… highlighter right there. Yeah, that one. It’s just out of my reach; could you pass it to me? I was in the middle of something, and I need to emphasize a point.
What is it I’m working on? Well, I’m highlighting points in some articles, and I’m also putting together a project plan for all the things I have to do this week. I have many pages to get through, and I need to visualize in some manner what my progress on these tasks is. Project management isn’t just for the busy little corporate bee, you know. We spacefarers need to keep track of ourselves, too — lest we lose ourselves (and our work) to the void.
Would you like to discuss project management for a spell, traveler? Maybe hang on to that highlighter, then, hm?
The First Step in Planning Your Project Management Adventure
We busy corporate bees are all unique individuals, and as such we have different requirements and needs. The art of project management, luckily, has a plethora of methodologies available for utilization — all of which serve their own purpose, and have respective strengths (and weaknesses). Here are a notable few for reference:
Now that we’ve established them, let’s put them into perspective.
Select Your Weapon (for Your Project Management Adventure)
Above are just the most commonly known methodologies; there are plenty more. That’s great and all, you say (understandably), but are there even any tools that I can use to align my goals with a plan to make it happen?
Why of course, traveler. Anything you could ever think of or need: “There’s an app for that”. Didn’t you know?
As technology evolves and ceaselessly competes with itself, companies and corporations are now trying to be their respective end-all, be-all product and service. For a while, one of the apps below (Trello, specifically) was the paradigm for kanban-style project management. Well, paradigm because it was one of the first kanban-focused tools. Now, however, all of these below tools have kanban-style features and task views.
Since I’ve brought them up, let’s look at a few of the big-name brands and tools that utilize the project management methodologies previously mentioned:
Each one of these products has a free version, and all [just about] offer the same tools, organization, and experience as the rest (Trello’s the only one that’s stuck by its kanban methodology). It’s truly up to your personal work style and “aesthetics” on which to choose (unless your company has chosen for you). I ended up pursuing Wrike as a personal project management system to organize myself for my graduate class.
Weapon of Choice (Wrike)
I’ve used all of the above (save for Podio), but I happen to currently use Wrike for work (we also used Asana at work for department-specific tasks and projects, but we stopped paying for and using it after my previous boss left. With his departure came a new era. o7, RWags.). In spite of being familiar with it, I’ve never developed my own project management plan for work (I’m the “developer” in this scenario, as we’re given projects to work on) — so I wanted to dig deeper into its individualized functions.
As you can tell from the home screen in Wrike, it’s simplistic — yet incredibly robust. From this area alone you can helm your workspace(s), projects, and tasks. While AI Recommended tasks can be removed, everything else is more or less set in stone. This is a beautiful starting place, as it gives you top-level oversight without the overload.
Any mentions will show up in your inbox on the left, which can easily be ticked off as read and archived.
If you upgrade from a Free Base Plan*, you’ll gain access to the items listed from “Calendars” through “Reports” on the right, with the addition of things like “Timesheets” and “Workload” — which Wrike boasts as their solution to burnout. (Look at them, being all conscientious and self-aware!)
Furthermore, folders and projects that have recently been accessed show up in the conveniently titled “Recent” area, and can also be “pinned” to the bottom. Since I signed up with Wrike in order to organize myself for my graduate class, let’s take a look at the ICM501 folder.
Wrike boasts that it can “Power the Modern, Agile Enterprise“, but it can clearly be more than just an Agile management tool. Gantt charts visualize tasks and deliverables in a Waterfall-like manner, meaning that Wrike can also essentially function as a Hybrid model.
(Speaking of Gantt charts, Business Plan users can access a Calendar, which lists out all active tasks for a more simplified timeline.)
Let’s drill down into a project and see what Wrike has to offer there.
Another robust feature of Wrike is that nothing is necessarily permanent. Each of these views can be Privatized or Publicized. Columns can be added, removed, or even created. Statuses can be recolored, renamed, or even added. Tasks in List and Board view can be rearranged. All views have the ability to display a selected Task on the same screen, allowing for easily maintaining one task after the next.
“Upcoming” is a perfect example of Status creation, as I added it to help prepare myself mentally for the upcoming module. I also color-coordinated each project with its status to further keep myself organized. “Completed” and “In Progress” have preset colors in Wrike’s default settings (however, again, these can be changed!), so I set the previous modules to be green for “Completed”, and this week’s module to be turquoise for “In Progress”.
I love that Wrike has these myriad views, and for work I operate only in table view for projects. (My work view is actually a Report, since there are so many moving parts in our workspace, but the flexibility of Wrike allows you to have as many views as you want/need. Regardless, the functionality of table view is the same, as it gives me everything I need in an easily digestible way.) This allows me to keep an eye on project due dates, just like my personal Wrike setup gives me the ability to track self-imposed task due dates.
Task views are comprehensive hubs that allow you to maintain, edit, and add to a particular task at hand. Subtasks can be added or marked as complete, and dependencies* can easily be set up and kept track of. Task insructions and descriptions can be added and edited, and Wrike will automatically keep track of those edits and add them to the Task for posterity.
Due dates — and their visualization — are a huge part of any project management tool, and Wrike makes keeping track of them easy.
No view is without a due date, and a handy duration counter is also provided. You’ll see that these due dates are also color-coded, but are done so by Wrike’s inner programming. At the time of taking these screenshots, I had [intentionally] not marked one of my tasks complete. I have been notified to my email every day since that it’s still on my “to-do” list as an active task, and it’s even been highlighted in red for me in warning. Wrike (thankfully) doesn’t want you to fail more or less as much as you yourself don’t want to, and it’s very keen on helping you keep things in check.
The duration counter also gives you a sense of how long tasks are either projected, expected, or estimated to take. You’ll also see that some of my tasks have a counter of “1d” for 1 day, “2d” for 2 days, and so forth. One of the reasons I gave myself broader (2-3 days) is because I don’t always have the ability to stick to one assigned task — and that’s okay. That’s the purpose. I give myself those full days to either work on something else, or to work continuously on that one thing.
Before I continue, I must admit that transferring my module tasks for this week into Wrike was somewhat tedious and stressful. Granted, I put in a lot of extra work and thought into setting it up to be as presentable for this blog post as possible, but I’m still finding myself stressed about completing tasks. This may have been due to me setting up my project management space the week I needed to implement it, so I’m hoping that next week’s “Deliberate Practice” module will feel a little less stressful after I’m able to get the tasks into Wrike prior to the week starting.
In Cal Newport’s, Deep Work (a book I reference heavily in my first blog post), he touches upon a philosophy of deep work he has titled “rhythmic”. This is a methodology that relies on the creation of a rhythm (or an instilled habit) for beginning deep work sessions: that way one does not busy themselves with worrying about when and if they will perform this deep work. This habit-creation is based on two simple criteria:
- Do the work every day
- Remind yourself to do the work
Sounds easy enough, right? Well, make it so. Grab a calendar.
Don’t have one? Make one from scratch using a notebook.
Hell, get yourself a letter board for some inspiration. Inspire yourself to do the work, to get something done, to do something great — regardless of standards. Practice, practice, practice, and eventually you’ll have generated a pattern, a rhythm, a habit.
In an attempt to better myself post the initial Covid pandemic, I gifted myself a monthly planner — something I hadn’t done since my senior year in college. (As per the recommendation of a dearly cherished friend, I ended up choosing an Erin Condren planner — and I’m obsessed with it.) It sat pretty on my desk for the first half of the year, touched and used sparingly; that is, until I resumed my Master’s program at Quinnipiac.
Now it’s my bible.
Those weekly modules I’ve been referencing? They’re for my first grad course in about three years. Each module has a plethora of assignments (from readings, to video viewings, to PDF assignments and more), and I haven’t needed to keep track of that many intensive, hard-deadlined deliverables since about 2018. I’m the type of person who forgets something if I don’t write it down (hence why I have an “awful” habit of tweeting my every thought across various Twitter accounts), so I’ve thanked 2020 New Year’s Resolution me about every day for having purchased an hourly planner.
I bring up my planner because nothing beats the physical sensation of crossing a task off a to-do list, but also because I’ve employed Wrike’s project planning into my planner goal-setting, and vice-versa. For the first few modules, I mostly wrote down my assignments in the allotted left-hand margin of my planner.
This was great for that brief moment of reflection I’d indulge in when reviewing my to-do list, but this slowly became a source of anxiety as I found I was working on things for longer than I either wanted or intended to. I thought I was being smart by chunking my tasks into time slots. Not so much. Time waits for no spacefarer, and penciling something into a planner will not make it gospel.
That’s why I ended up giving myself such broad due dates in Wrike for certain tasks, and I’ve started allotting time throughout the week — instead of as I needed to complete something. In the same chapter referenced above, Newport also mentions that eliminating scheduling decisions will help reduce the paralysis inflicted when debating over if/when to perform deep work. This “elimination of scheduling” is a byproduct of replacing a visual aid — or reminder to do the work — with a set starting time for when you want to perform the work. Nevertheless, I applied this elimination of scheduling by scheduling.
By creating a visual aid for myself of the work I need reminding to do, I’ve eliminated the possibility of forgetting to do it or getting distracted by thinking my schedule is “free”. However, I’ve additionally eliminated the fret of “scheduling” by writing tasks into allotted days, and by using arrows (if/when needed) to transfer to the next day.
Illustrated by the weeks of Aug 30 and Sep 13, I tried to chunk my tasks into neat little hourly allocations. This, more or less, was a disaster. I felt pigeonholed into completing those tasks within those set times, and if/when I didn’t, I got frustrated and disappointed. The week of Sep 6, incidentally, I barely wrote anything at all. This was a “lighter” week in comparison to the previous and subsequent, but I very clearly only wrote things down on Sunday — the day they needed to be completed.
What ended up happening this week is that I allowed myself to work on a set amount of tasks a day. Although vague, you can see that I didn’t cross out the two “Annotate” portions of the two readings on Tuesday and Wednesday. That’s because I didn’t end up doing those until later (and still haven’t crossed them out! Yike!), but I ended up swapping tasks around — which I didn’t feel guilty about, since I ended up just crossing them out on their respective days.
Ironically, that “Look @ Cascade Online Template” was lost on me because I wrote that note down on Tuesday, and completely and utterly forgot about it on Wednesday. I told you if I don’t write something down, I forget it, but I didn’t have my planner with me in the office on Wednesday — so it wasn’t in front of me to remember. Hah.
My Ultimate Takeaway
Wrike was a lot of fun to play around with, and I may end up using it in the future to keep myself organized digitally in addition to traditionally (pen & paper, the traditional artist’s tools). However, I’ll have to see what the future holds, since — like I said — nothing beats the sensation of physically crossing something off a to-do list. My life is monitored and quantified by drags, clicks, and swipes, so I’d like to keep my personal project management in a different mechanism, thank you.
Nevertheless, I ended up generating a rhythm of task completing, which allowed me to get through the plethora of goals I had set (and added as they cropped up) for this week. That, and I stopped trying to chunk my time and instead gave myself broad day goals. I ended up getting much more done than getting discouraged for not finishing something in a when my self-imposed schedule told me to.
Now, traveler, if you still have that highlighter handy, let me emphasize the pinnacle of what I learned this week.
To each their own style of project management, just as to each their own methodology of working. For me, personally, a rhythmic, calendar-centric approach is best — as I need to fight scheduling with scheduling. Allow yourself the freedom to engage in tasks over a series of days with the leeway to swap certain tasks for others.