Project Organization Tips

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.

 

  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

Starting an Etsy Shop: Three Things to Know

Very, very recently I opened up an Etsy shop to sell jewelry and plushies.  My reason for doing such is simple: I had already made jewelry a few years back to sell at an Artist Alley, had lots of backstock left, and finally felt it was time to sell the rest off.  This is my first time selling online, so I would not claim to be an expert on it, nor am I an expert on Etsy.  However, the things I wish to talk about today do not require expert knowledge.  Rather, they are just things that, while researching starting an Etsy shop, were not mentioned or were poorly explained.

The goal of this post is not to instruct you on taking good product photos, how to tag your product to get it found, or anything of that nature.  There are already hundreds of other posts online about those aspects by people who would know better than I.  I, instead, wish to tell you of three aspects to starting your shop.  These are aspects that are manageable, but caught me by surprise when I started.  I hope that this article can help someone else be better prepared for starting their shop.

  1. Be ready to list items immediately when starting your shop.

I generally like to take the time to prepare and plan before fully investing myself in something.  For a site like Etsy, this would include starting a shop without listing items.  This would be done in effort to achieve two things.  On the one hand, I would get a chance to familiarize myself with the interface and not run around like a chicken with its head cut off when something first sells.  On the other hand, I could also better assess what customization options there are for the shop so I could quickly make the store look decent.

Suffice it to say, one of the shop creation screens flat out wants you to start by listing some items.  I certainly understand Etsy’s reasoning: they want to discourage people opening up empty shops that take up shop names.  However, as I was not expecting this, I had to hold off on my shop creation for a week, because I was just simply unprepared to list items at that exact moment.

So, going in, my suggestion is to set several hours aside when starting a shop.  Have your product pictures prepared and, just in general, be prepared to list at least one item.

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  1. If you are a US seller, Etsy can auto calculate the shipping.

Another aspect of my personality is I always think about what to charge.  Do I need to fold in shipping costs into the product price?  How much should I calculate for packaging?  While shipping is readily mentioned in a lot of articles, from my experience at least, a lot of the information is different from article to article.  Etsy itself also has articles about things like Shipping Profiles, but I feel it does a poor job tying everything together.  Inevitably, I started opening my shop with little idea about what was going on for shipping and decided I’d have to cross that bridge when I got there.

To my surprise and relief, you can just have Etsy auto calculate the shipping if you are a US seller.  That being the case, you do not need to worry about folding shipping costs into the product price.  This also makes it easier to sell internationally. Now, of course, Etsy does offer the ability to offer free shipping, and you CAN fold in the shipping cost into the product price, but the point is it’s not necessary.  Etsy even lets you set a handling fee, so you can absorb your packaging costs into there.

Keep in mind for calculated shipping to work, you do need to be able to measure your package, as well as weigh it.  However, if you can get those measurements, shipping aspects of product planning become a breeze and nothing to get in a tizzy over.

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  1. If you are going to sell to people in Europe, be aware EU consumer protection laws force you have to offer returns and to reveal your identity.

Now first off, I am no expert on the particular laws involved, so the specific nuances to them are out of my league.  However, upon creating my shop, I did read up on what Etsy provided about them, and was disappointed I had seen a severe lack of mention of them in my previous research.

To put it bluntly, regardless of where you’re selling from, consumers in Europe are given certain protections that you still have to adhere to.  One such protection is you must accept returns (14 day minimum from them receiving the item).  Now, before you panic, Etsy policies let you state the return shipping cost is on the consumer, so you don’t need to worry about that.  In retrospect, it’s not a huge deal since it doesn’t really cost you anything to offer returns, and returns will keep your customer base happy.

The issue that was more concerning for me was the second part: you are required to identify yourself with name and address so that the consumer knows who you are.  As someone who values a certain level of anonymity, this definitely made me nervous.  Though Etsy does state that anyone outside Europe cannot see that information, I can understand why that would still deter some people.  Now for me, I bit the bullet and decided international selling was more important than anonymity.  However, it is something to keep in mind if you wanted to maintain a more shadow presence while selling internationally.

Of course, you circumvent this by not selling to Europe, but that is of course potentially lost sales.  In the end, this is one you’re gonna have to decide for yourself about what you value more.  Keep in mind there are more EU consumer protection laws than what I have mentioned, but these are the two I felt affected me on a personal level.

 

That’s about all I have to say on the matter.  I’m sure there are articles that do mention these things somewhere out there and I probably just missed them.  Nevertheless, I also think the articles discussing tags and photos are more abundant, so it can’t hurt the world to have another article that talks about these lesser mentioned aspects of creating a shop.  I hope this has left at least someone better prepared to start, perhaps someone like myself who does worry about these sorts of detailed aspects to selling.  I also hope I haven’t deterred anyone from selling on Etsy either, because the process of setting up a shop is easier than it seems.

With that, I wish all future potential sellers good luck, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

 

Etsy is © to Etsy Inc.

Image 1: Screenshot of part of Etsy’s new listing screen.

Image 2: Screenshot of part of Etsy’s Shipping Profiles setup.