Work Smarter, Not Harder: Tried-and-Tested Tools Used by a Project Maven

By Emily Bouchard


A lot of the ‘management’ in ‘project management’ comes down to solving challenges. Sometimes those challenges are an expected part of the territory, such as communication, competing deadlines, scope creep, etc. Sometimes, however, we create challenges for ourselves - as much as we’re loath to admit it! 

Let’s explore 5 common challenges I face when I’m trying to manage a project and tools and strategies to deal with them. 


Blog Post - Lukas Blazek

Image courtesy of Lukas Blazek


1. Time Management

First, if you’re just getting started - plan for the unexpected. Always add more time than you think you need for each task.  Building a buffer into your project management timeline provides you a little wiggle room to respond to unforeseen issues that pop up during the course of the project. 

Second, although it may feel that your clock moves at a different pace than the rest of the world, you do in fact, have the same number of hours as everybody else! If it’s more an issue of unrealistic deadlines, expectations, or scope creep, take a moment to communicate with the people you’re working with NOW, not later.  Reset those expectations or redefine the project.


Tip: Rather than a to-do list, try a ta-da list! 

Instead of just marching to the orders of your endless to-do list, create a “ta da” list; a list you add to when you get something done! This will create a real sense of accomplishment and shows all the tasks you’ve really accomplished in a certain time period!  When you see how much you’ve taken care of, the affirmative feedback helps you to understand that you’re likely underestimating what you’re handling, and that you might also be trying to manage too much.


2. Not Knowing Where or How to Get Started


Get started at the end. By working your project backwards, you’re solving for the desired outcome.  Keep in mind the elements you need, versus those you’d like, or are possible. Everyone speaks about scope creep; don’t allow your own inner “creep” to undermine you before you start!

Write down these needed steps into discrete components to highlight the pieces that will make the end product a success. Next, compile a list of what must be done to attain each of these components.  Finally, put the list in order of priority - things that need to happen before other things can happen, etc.

Identify critical milestones; define steps through the life of the project, from initiation, planning, execution, to closure. Often, these milestones have goal dates, key deliverables, and reporting scenarios which help to fine tune the plan. Write supporting tasks with accompanying deadlines for each of those milestones. Finally, fill in the gaps for all the smaller, ancillary jobs. By defining the small steps - you’ll be able to conquer big things!


3. Repetition - ugh!

If you have to do something more than once, consider how you might be able to:

(a) automate it, or 
(b) make it a little easier on yourself.

This could look like creating email templates that you can reuse to address common inquiries. This might also look like creating a checklist for a project or drafting project templates to create standardization and efficiency. 


Tip: Many of these templates already exist online as Excel or Word documents, so you don’t have to create your own. Added benefit – they’re free! Here are a few to get you started:


4. Communication

Remember that not everyone knows the plan that it’s in your head. Proactively communicate with others involved in the project about the work you want them to contribute and the deadlines. 

Not only will you need to communicate with the other worker bees on the project, you’ll need to schedule periodic calls with the key stakeholders. This isn’t a one-time communication; it should be consistent (daily calls, weekly team calls, milestone related calls, etc.). This is the time for listening, discussing problems, receiving new information, bridging gaps, addressing changes; a general relay of information. 


5.  Tracking Tasks and/or Relationships

Project management depends on you tracking and holding a lot of pieces of information related to tasks and people. Apps are definitely handy, but I hesitate to share just one as our brains all work differently. You have to find the right tool for you and the way you think!

  • Trello: With Trello you can create titled lists that you can move tasks in between to track different types of tasks or stages of completion. You can also assign deadlines and people to be responsible for them. 
  • Workflowy: Workflowy is a classic to-do list app. Big tasks can easily be broken into checklists – like a game, complete the little ones to get to the big papa!
  • Hubspot: If you’re service-based, a CRM is definitely worthwhile. Hubspot is a great and free one.


These are just some of the knots that I unravel in my daily project management. I’m curious: what are your knots and/or solutions? Share your struggles, secrets, strategies, or tools that help make your life sane! We can use all the help we can get!