Project Management

Tips for personal productivity

From the The Money Files Blog
A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from

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Categories: general

The theme this month on Gantthead is personal project management: how we keep our own personal projects on track and organise our work. Here are some ways I manage this.

Action lists

I don’t use a PDA, or the task list in Outlook, or an online to do list app. I use paper. Lots of it. I have a notebook for my project – luckily I’m only working on one major project at the moment. If I wasn’t, I would still have just one notebook, with all project notes in it.

I take notes at the front, and any actions that need doing are marked in the margin with an A in a circle. That makes it easy to scan the page and see what is a record of the meeting and what is something that needs action.

At the end of the meeting, or when it is getting too confusing to flip through the pages, I copy all the actions to the back of the notebook, so that becomes my to do list for everything.

Other symbols

I organise my handwritten notes with other symbols as well. I in a circle means an issue – something that needs adding to my issue log. R in a circle means a risk to be added to the risk log. W in a circle is an interesting fact that should go on the project wiki. An asterisk next to an action or any other item means – you guessed it – the item is really important.

It’s not rocket science, but it’s a key that works well for me.


It is bad practice to use Outlook (or any email client) as a filing system. It takes up too much disk space and it means your files can’t be shared. The newer versions of Outlook have much better search capability but it still isn’t perfect, so it can be difficult to find what you need again.

I save copies of important emails to the project network drive (File/Save As). I also save attachments to the correct shared location and then the email itself can be deleted. Having said that, I do have a nested filing structure so that I can keep important messages.

I archive the filing structures for old projects so that the emails are saved for a rainy day in case anyone ever needs them for auditing or contract discussions etc. Archiving them means they are not automatically linked to my Inbox and other folders, speeding up the search results and making it easier to navigate through what is actually important right now. If I need to see them again, I can open the archive, and then close it when I’m finished.

Periodically I clear out my Sent items folder. Things that can be deleted include meeting invitations and responses (you can identify these in Outlook by the calendar symbol and you can also sort the Sent items list by that symbol so you can group them all together for easier deleting). I also delete any emails that just say ‘thank you’ or that are general chit chat. Items that are relevant for the long term are filed in the appropriate folder.

My Inbox – that’s where it’s at. My inbox acts as my to do list. Anything in the inbox is to be completed, followed up or actioned in some way.

It is also a way of keeping an eye on what other people are supposed to do. If I send an email to someone asking for something, I move the item from Sent to Inbox so that it is easy to see that I am waiting on a task. Equally, my inbox includes items on which I have just been copied in. There’s no action required from me, but it’s something important to the project so I want to make sure I have visibility of it so that I can follow up.

Those are some tips that work for me at the office. What do you do?

Posted on: June 08, 2012 12:13 PM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Hi Elizabeth

This is a fabulous system. For me, I tend to use an iPhone app called Things. I note down all my to-dos and action items, then enter them straight into the iPhone at the end of the day. It's great!

I use BlackBerry and therefore, the Note and Task functions in Outlook becomes very handy to me as they synchronize well with my BlackBerry. I carry my BlackBerry around so it serves both as a phone and a little tool to keep track of my notes and tasks. Furthermore, I color-code my notes and tasks which helps me to categorize my work. In addition, I always get a reminder from my BlackBerry whenever a task is due. I find this extremely useful to keep me on-track with my tasks.

Gary - I can't break away from paper, so an app isn't going to do it for me, but I know there are a lot of good ones out there.

Wai Mun - I used to use the Task functions in Outlook but I stopped. Maybe I should pick that up again as I agree that the synchronisation would be really handy.

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