Woman diagramming on transparent window

The most important part of getting everything done is remembering what “everything” actually is. We haven’t re-branded as the Dumb Obviousness Blog; proper project management is often overlooked, especially when you’re not actually a project manager but only organizing your own things, and double-especially because it’s the sort of problem that creeps up on you even when things are going well. You’re getting more clients and tasks, you’re making more money and items, and suddenly your heart’s stopped by an e-mail asking “By the way, where’s the [3 MONTHS WORTH OF WORK] that was due yesterday?”

We’ve already looked at the importance of lists (short form: more important to your office than the floor), so now we’ll look at how to track and share them with others in the office. Scraps and stickies might motivate you in the morning, but if your have to engage an ENIGMA machine to decipher them the next day (assuming you can find them at all), there may be ways to make things clearer.

Make a note: too many notes

1. The Wall Whiteboard

It’s an unbelievably effective item in any company (even if you’re the only one in it) and making a massive whiteboard couldn’t be cheaper. Office supply stores might charge hundreds of dollars for huge panels, but Home Depot supplies the exact same material for only a few bucks. Cool Tools has an excellent outline of what you’ll need to be the master of a massive communal planning space and Chris Metcalf provides even more valuable advice for the actual user.

Whiteboard

White shower board is the secret, backed by plywood and leaned, nailed or framed absolutely anywhere you want. Important points to consider are humidity (not a problem in air-conditioned offices, but if you’re in a more vulnerable location, you’ll need to make sure you buy decent plywood backing which won’t warp) and who’ll pay for the markers, because you’ll be surprised how much they’re used once they’re in place!

The whiteboard is an excellent space for group meetings to bash out the plan, write it in place, then tick them off as the group chews through the project (or identify the logjams if they don’t). For the freelancer, it’s an unavoidable lodestone loudly proclaiming your state of play throughout the day… and making sure you don’t miss things too. The physical prop feels a lot more accessible than online systems and the simple fun of erasing and rewriting attracts everyone to engage.

PROTIP: Using your own digital camera, take a dated photo of the whiteboard at the end of every day. A quick slideshow will reveal your work’s progress and problems in an animation with more lessons than a G.I. Joe episode.

BONUS: Curious Inventor shows how using the same material to panel a whiteboard desk is an excellent idea for anyone with a work surface. No more scrabbling for pen and paper when you want to make a quick note or remember a number.

Curious Inventor

2. Ideapaint

An incredibly obvious extension to the whiteboard, but that wonderful “obvious” you only get after someone actually does it, Ideapaint turns any surface into an erasable whiteboard, from office hallways to your child’s playroom walls.

Ideapaint

It’s an astonishingly effective solution for scribbling, strategizing or simply setting things down where everyone can see them. We discovered this while researching this article and are already researching local painters to get our office coated.

Ideapaint

3. The Panic Status Board

For more active feedback (the other end of the spectrum from the whiteboard, where the only response is from the people you’re presenting to), you can’t beat the Panic Status Board. That’s not an instruction or a Hitchhiker’s reference, but rather it’s the tracking tool built by Panic Inc. to stay on top of their projects. And since they’re a group working on multiple releases of multiple applications every hour of the day or night, they need to know what they’re doing.

Panic Status Board

The board is tied into the group’s project management software and shared calendar, and it even updates their Twitter accounts as a scrolling text bar and displays the next arrival time for the bus routes employees take to and from work! It all runs on the monitor’s embedded Windows XP computer (a Samsung 460 UXN-2) and is glorious to behold. Right down to the cartoon staff member faces, it’s a true essay to how a company’s tools should be: tuned to the staff, not the other way round.

Just be warned it’s a non-zero investment of time and expertise to set it up. They include an overview of the software on their page, so if you have a resident tech-head or active IT department, it’s well worth the work. However, don’t sit down with a desk and a chequebook thinking you’ll be able to “work it out.” (That is, unless you’re prepared to spend a few weeks on the project board instead of the project!)

4. QTask

Completing the transition from physical to virtual, you have the entirely online communal QTask software.

QTask

An all-in-one project management solution, QTask is constructed to take over all the administrative functions and let your team get on with the actual action. This extends to maintenance of the software, since it’s all off-site and on-line, backups and technical glitches need never bother you again.

The Voltron-like aspect of the e-mail, calendar and to-do lists mean the more you use, the more powerful it becomes. Each automatically updates the other so that nothing slips through the cracks, and little things like the recipient having to click “accept” on assigned tasks put it past entire generations’ worth of excuses. The only downside is that this means shuttling everyone into the new system, and it’s a paid service, both of which mean taking it to the office manager for review.

With these tools at your disposal, you’ll never feel the cold flush of “that was today?” again.

Image credit: TommL / iStockphoto

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