Dear Ronnie – On project management

Thanks for all your lovely comments on my time management post last week – I’m genuinely glad it was helpful for some of you. You might remember from that first post how I talked about dividing all my tasks and jobs into five different categories – the last of which was projects. This post, therefore, will be all about projects but never fear my friends, this will be a much shorter post!

Then and now

One of the things I loved the most about working for myself in those early years before kids was that I was the master of my own time. I had all day, every day to work on my business (my primary ‘project’ so to speak) and all the other projects that I wanted to do. Back then, I had a long list of things I needed/wanted to do and every day, and I just made my way through the list. I could work at my own pace, as there was no one else to make demands on my time. (Naturally, some days I procrastinated and would kick myself for getting nothing done and other days I would be the most productive person alive and crank through pages worth of tasks. )

Every mum/parent knows how demanding (and sometimes crazy) it can be to look after a young family. Little children constantly need attention and looking after, and there is virtually no time in the day to think about (much less do) much else when the little ones are awake and running around. As a result, in order to make time for projects these days, I have to be much more structured with my time – all day, every day. This is why my last post was all about habits, structure and routine.

My projects these days…

As I mentioned in that first post, the banner of ‘projects’ these days captures all the ‘big’ stuff in my life. These include:

  • big tasks that actually consist of multiple smaller tasks (e.g. upgrading a hard drive)
  • jobs that I know will take a bigger chunk of time than just 15 minutes (e.g. purging my closet, preparing and lodging tax returns, updating our wills)
  • household jobs that might take more than one day (e.g. setting up the boys’ room)
  • design jobs (when I was still working)
  • organising events (eg. birthday parties)
  • all my memory keeping projects outside of my weekly and monthly PL spreads

My monthly projects list

My main method for managing my projects is simply to keep a running projects list in my Simplenote to keep me on track as to what I need to get done or what I want to get done in a certain month. So for example, working on our family’s 2011 Project Life album was the main project for January. However, I’d also had written down purging my closet, upgrading my hard drive and organising my shoebox photos.

It’s a simple method for keeping track of my projects. I can easily add or subtract from my list, and I can easily shuffle projects around as circumstances change, or as I realise I’m running out of time in a certain month, I can simply ‘move stuff forward’ to another month. The vital key here for me is flexibility.

For some projects, I will use the Things‘ functionality of creating ‘projects’ and being able to create tasks within these projects. When I was still running my design business, I used this ‘projects’ function quite often as it was perfect for organising and scheduling client projects. Nowadays, I will typically use it to organise projects like the children’s parties.

My project time

My allocated time for working on my projects is primarily in the evenings, after I’ve ticked off my two daily habits of publishing that evening’s blog post and doing my physio exercises (though obviously things like re-organising the boys’ clothes needs to be done during the day while I have access to their rooms). This works well for me because I am, by nature, a big night owl, and I find it easiest to focus when I know that there are at least a few hours stretched before me of child-free time. Sometimes, a project might take one night to complete. Other times, a project might take up to a week from beginning to end. All this is taken into account when I create my monthly projects list.

Even though I mostly work on my projects in the evenings, being able to work on my projects starts at the beginning of each day when I start working my way through all the ‘routine’ stuff and all the other tasks I need to get done that day. Doing that means that I can sit down to my desk in the evening without clutter on my desk, in my inbox or on my to-do list. I can just dive straight into my project work.

My tips on managing projects

  • Set aside a daily block of time to work on your projects: It doesn’t have to be a huge block of time. As long as it’s regular so that you don’t lose momentum.
  • Break down each project into smaller tasks so that you can visually see the steps that will lead you to complete the project. Based on these smaller tasks, try to set a mini goal for yourself at the end of each block of project time.
  • Plan mini breaks from projects. if you find you are getting stuck in a rut and not going anywhere with a project, take a break, move onto your next project and come back to this one when you’re feeling more refreshed. This is what I had to do for our 2011 Project Life album. I was stressing myself out so much about not making enough progress on it, that I ended up getting nowhere with it. So I took a break over Christmas, worked on other projects, then came back to it during our recent holiday and finally finished it with a bang. The break was exactly what I needed.

A quick recap…

  • Differentiate between regular ‘tasks’ and ‘projects’.
  • Turn ‘tasks’ into ‘habits’ by developing a routine (and sticking to it).
  • Work out which habits are daily ones, and which habits are weekly ones.
  • Know when you have time: ie. Work out when you have ‘free’ time to do things in (e.g. when the children are asleep), allocate tasks to that time-slot and then do your best to stick to it.
  • Allow for monthly/quarterly jobs: set aside a block of time in the calendar for them.
  • Keep a running list of monthly projects. Review and update this list as circumstances change.
  • Allocate a regular amount of time each day to work on your projects, if possible. Don’t be overwhelmed by the immensity of any project by breaking it down and setting mini goals.

* * *

And that’s it! (I did promise you this one would be much shorter.) If there’s anything I’ve missed or if you have any questions, simply leave a comment below.

15 comments

Emily @ the Beetle Shack September 25, 2013 at 10:09 pm

we just holidayed a gerroa. best. place. ever.

xx

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amber September 25, 2013 at 10:09 pm

omg, i’m so glad you wrote this. i find it so hard to manage my time! unless i get paid work, i really only take a couple hours a day (3 or 4) if i’m lucky to do any business work. it’s so hard with kids! sometimes i find myself longing for the days when i had ALL day EVERY day to myself, lol. but my kids are worth. and I know some day they’ll be in school and i’ll have more time to work, so i just enjoy it while i can. also, i’m really new to freelancing, so i’m still learning the most effective way to manage my time. again, thanks for writing this! it’s always good to hear how other people manage with kids!

hope everything is well with you :)

xox amber

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Pink Ronnie September 25, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Hi Amber,
I totally understand – it’s hard freelancing at home when you have children. It takes a while to work out the rhythm that works best for each one of us.
Ronnie xo

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Fiona September 25, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Brilliant tips, Ronnie. I think I need to sit down and work out a routine for myself and work out which projects I want to focus on each month. I find that I’m often exhausted by the end of the day, so it’s harder to get stuff done, especially when it’s so dark. I’m looking forward to longer, lighter evenings soon! Hugs xoxo

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SassandSpice September 25, 2013 at 10:10 pm

I really need to plan and manage my projects better as opposed as crashing on the couch after work from exhaustion. Keeping a list and a routine sounds like simple task I can do immediately.

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vitaminA September 25, 2013 at 10:11 pm

wow Ronnie! what an inspiring breakdown on managing time. something i definitely need to work on. i really like the advice on turning regular tasks into habits. i must try these. i love making lists but rarely does everything get crossed off! i get too ambitious then quickly overwhelmed :P

ps. thanks for checkin in on me over at my blog! its been so awesome having two lil boys, as you know well. some days are definitely harder than others but reminding myself , constantly, not to sweat the small stuff. so with this new mentality, things dont get too overwhelming. (like when both boys are crying at the same time, needing mommy who has only two hands! lol!) and at the end of the day, i look forward to catching up on your blog :) you are looking so gorgeous throughout this pregnancy. cant wait to meet little Edward through your blog! xoxoxoxo

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Pink Ronnie September 25, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Oh Amy, I remember the first time I was home alone with both Angus and Pete about two years ago and they were both crying at the same time, and I just broke down into a teary mess myself because I was at a total loss as to what to do! Those early days with more than one child are hard, but over time, somehow we manage to adapt…. take care of you!
Ronnie xo

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Pink Ronnie September 25, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Correction: three years ago, not two. Baby brain :)

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Elizabeth September 25, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Love your organizational skills and ideas! I often get overwhelmed about the amount of things to do; writing it down seems to make it so much more manageable. I especially loved this “Turn regular tasks into habits by developing a routine”…so important to make your routines! Thanks for the inspiration!

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Nicole September 25, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Love this post and your time management post. I also have young children – a 2 and 4 year old – and try to work much the way you do with daily tasks and making time for bigger projects. I’ve been in a bit of a funk this month and you’ve totally inspired to rethink my schedule, etc. Thank you so much for sharing!

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Mary September 25, 2013 at 10:13 pm

So very helpful – thank you! I work away from home full-time and have a 3yo and a 4mo so by the time they are in bed and the house is tidied I am worn out, LOL! Setting smaller, manageable goals and writing them down will help me get back on track. I tend to a be a bulk doer which worked great when it was just my husband and me but not so realistic now with the girls. You’ve given me lots to think about how I can achieve some of my more creative goals without feeling lost and overwhelmed right from the start!

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Pink Ronnie September 25, 2013 at 10:15 pm

I am the same Mary! These days I just feel like crashing once the boys are in bed, so those smaller project goals make it possible for me to still be able to accomplish something creative over the course of the month. :)
Ronnie xo

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Maria September 25, 2013 at 10:14 pm

This is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing your insights on this. You have great managing skills!

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Pink Ronnie September 25, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Hi Maria,
Thanks so much for your lovely comment and for stopping by and reading.
Ronnie xo

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I love hearing from you!

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