Organising the drowning girl

Why is it that some weeks make you feel like you’re drowning and in others you’re just driftwood in the sea of project management, bobbing along with not a care in the world?

This week has been a drowning week.  I have found myself with two miniscule projects to sort out, and the smaller the project the more work it seems to involve.  I have spent my time re-cutting Excel files, checking duplicate records in Access databases and other riveting tasks.  The big projects are going surprisingly well: despite all the operational concerns pulling my developers this way and that, replanning this week showed us we’ve actually only lost one and a half days of development time!  Hallelujah.

In the relentless ocean of database projects, a little piece of good news floated by like a liferaft: my book is now available to pre-order from the BCS, so if you like these little nuggets of PM advice, ask for it for Christmas – it’s published in November.

That was some compensation for the glaring foot-in-it moments I suffered.  When you get really busy on projects it is easy to make mistakes. Here’s my top two errors of the week:

  • Sending a mail to 30 application owners telling them the password system was temporarily unavailable, but with the wrong dates, the wrong times and even not mentioning the password system at all and referring to another IT system – yes, that is what happens when you copy and paste.
  • Not checking the recipients of a message destined for my French team and inadvertently sending it to my contact in Singapore – to which she replied saying she couldn’t understand it and could I translate it for her?  Yes, I just typed in the first few letters of the email address and waited for Outlook to automatically populate the rest.

And what have I learnt from this period of drowning?  That it doesn’t take much to be better organised and have more time – and here are my recommendations for doing it.
Keeping yourself organised is a step towards being more effective and being able to organise the others in your team.  I work using a paper list, but that doesn’t work for everyone.  If it’s not your thing experiment with some other methods until you find one that does:

  • Use your project plan to list your administrative tasks as well as project activity
  • Use your Blackberry
  • Keep the list in Outlook Tasks
  • Keep the list in your head, if you can!  This approach makes me feel even worse after a few days, but it seems to work for some people.

Knowing what to do is only half the challenge. Knowing when to do it is a separate skill:  learning how to prioritise.  And it’s prioritisation that will help you get the most out of your time.

Start with your list of tasks.  Work out for each one its relative importance and urgency in relation to the others.  Some tasks can be incredibly important, but not very urgent – at least today.  Projects and priorities shift so regularly that what is urgently needed for tomorrow may suddenly become less urgent giving you more time to focus on something else.

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