So, you’ve got your big project planned, but feel overwhelmed because there’s a lot to do. Or, even worse, you’re in the middle of the project and keep missing deadlines, keep forgetting to do particular parts, etc.. These are generally all symptoms of lacking organization.
From my experience, lacking organization for your project is the quickest way to kill it, whether you’re working alone or with a group. Even if you think you can remember everything off the top of your head, distractions in life will always pop up and prompt you to forget things. As such, in my opinion having good organization for any project is the first key to success. Surprisingly, though, few people ever seem to have a clear idea on how to get themselves organized. Thus, the purpose of my article today is to give you my tips and tricks for getting organized and staying on top of your project.
- Break down your project into manageable goals
The first step for any project should be to break it down into manageable goals. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed when one keeps in mind their lofty goal of creating a game, planning a birthday party, or anything else of a large nature. Generally, without breaking down the project, you will eventually become confused, lost, and unsure of the steps you need to take to achieve completion. You also run the risk of forgetting aspects until the very last moment when it’s too late to rectify. Thus, breaking down the project should always be a first step.
Certainly, breaking down a project is no easy task sometimes. However, there is a key question you can ask yourself if you’re struggling: “What do I need for this project?” Once you start asking yourself this question constantly, you put yourself on the track to think about the project from a more manageable level. Planning a party? Well, you probably need decorations, a location, invitations, music, food, etc.. Creating a game? You need art assets, music assets, an idea of what gameplay mechanics you want, and so forth. You can continue to ask this question to make the tasks even smaller, but as may be clear, the tasks suddenly become easier to accomplish. Yet, they all work towards your larger, lofty goal, so completing them is still progressive towards it; now, you’re just better organized and prepared to handle everything.
- Use a to-do list
Your project is broken down, but how can you keep track of it? My suggestion is to always have a to-do list. Whether you want to use a web-service that syncs across your devices or write it on old fashioned paper, the to-do list is how you keep track of what needs to be done and its status. Now I’m sure there are those who “ugh” at this point since to-do lists are, in themselves, work. They are also something that has to be developed into a habit so one can stay on top of it. There are reasons, however, to keep up with a to-do list.
To start, a to-do list again, helps keep track of the project. The larger the project, the larger the chance you will have to wonder, at some point, if you did something or not. As long as you stay on top of the to-do list, it only takes five seconds to check it (versus the many minutes you may spend checking otherwise). If you’re a paranoid person like I am, it’s also helpful for boosting confidence; in other words, your to-do list can help assure you that yes, you did indeed do that task you were supposed to do last week. A to-do list also helps ensure you don’t forget what tasks need to be done either.
At the end, this sort of organizational task, though work, helps make the project more efficient. As mentioned, it’s much quicker to check something off a to-do list than it is to keep track of everything in your head.
- Plan a conservative schedule
With to-do list in hand, the next task to organizing your project should be to plan a schedule. Even if you aren’t going to set a hard deadline, a loose schedule is still important. You may know your tasks, but the order you do them in can be pre-determined by the nature of the project. For instance, if you’re making an educational video on math, you can’t exactly edit the video before you shoot it. Even for the most hobby oriented of projects, make sure you know the order.
Of course, for less casual projects, you want to set deadlines with your tasks. Thus, we come to the “conservative” part of this tip. The unfortunate truth of life is that stuff happens and life does not always want to work with your plans. One minute everything is on track for your party, and then boom, your DJ cancels a week before because their parent is in the hospital. Or maybe the artist you hired to make game sprites for your cool indie game just suddenly dropped off the face of the Earth, leaving you asset-less.
Inevitably, when picking your deadlines, always give yourself an abundance of time to meet them. If you can draw two comic pages a week, promise to upload one every week. If you think your art piece will take one week to make, give yourself two. There are numerous scenarios I could rattle off, but you always want to give yourself extra time. This way, when life throws wrenches into your plans, your organization has given you leeway to deal with them and still stay on track. If you meet your deadline before then, that’s great! Start working ahead. Trust me, it’s a much better feeling to be ahead than it is to be behind.
- Communicate your butt off
While this tip is more oriented for group projects, it is still worthwhile to mention. Group projects can be a pain in the ass, and more people generally means more can go wrong. However, you can help the matter with organization and communication.
So let’s say you’ve done all the above tasks, but instead of a solo project it’s a group project. The next step to your organization should be to assign the tasks appropriately and make sure everyone understands the tasks and what’s expected of them. It may even be helpful to agree to check in with each other every week to monitor progress (i.e. hold each other accountable). Perhaps, if you’re really ambitious about your communication, you can start a group project page on Trello or other similar sites.
The point is, for group projects, organization and communication go hand-in-hand. One cannot stay organized and on top of their project if they can’t keep track of how things are going with other group members. It’s a stressful time for everyone, so the more you can assure people the project is going as planned, the easier everyone’s life can become. This will ensure the optimal efficiency for the project and keep it from falling through.
There are two things to remember though. For one, every group always has Dick, the person who will be a terrible member, never communicate, miss deadlines, etc.. Just because one person doesn’t care though, doesn’t mean you should strive to be Dick. Be better than Dick, and perhaps kick Dick off the project. The other thing to remember is that people cannot read your mind. You think Sally and Joe Bob know you’re working on the last character art, because you subtly hinted at it by saying you were almost done? No! They don’t know. They probably interpreted it to mean something else entirely. Sounds silly to you, of course, until you’re on the other end where someone expected you to read their mind. Always be direct, and always assume the other people don’t know. Even if it gets tedious and annoying, it will save you from miscommunication later.
In summary, though organization is work, it is an essential component to any project. Not only does it make you complete projects more efficiently, but it makes sure you do so with confidence. I have seen a ton of potentially great projects fall through cause it was clear the people involved weren’t organized. So please, do not be those people. Organize, do better, and you will have a successful project that comes together smooth as silk.