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Last updated on 1/13/20

Manage and schedule your time

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Approaching any big project can be overwhelming. The secret is breaking it down into digestible parts. Often it can be helpful to work backwards. There will likely be unexpected surprises in any project, but learning from each experience will be valuable.

Kanban systems for staying organized

Kanban means “visual system” or “card” in Japanese. What originated as a paper system of organization has been adapted by the digital tool. This approach involves creating overarching categories, which can be as simple as: To Do / In Progress / Done. From there you can add and move cards with tasks to help you stay organized and remind you of what needs to get done. Once something is completed you can drag it into the appropriate category. It's a clean, minimalist, and highly effective approach used by many in the field of UX because you can quickly view everything at a glance. You can manage your own boards and also use shared boards with teams.

Sticky notes divided into different categories in order do know what needs to be done, what is in progress, and what has been completed. This system works by hand without fancy digital tools.
Lo-fidelity Kanban board using sticky notes to keep track of projects.

Many of the project management programs have their own versions of Kanban boards integrated into their platforms. Trello is a popular stand-alone Kanban board and has a free version (there's also desktop and app integration!). 

Sample Trello board for a product development project where the categories are In Progress, Testing, Tested, and Code Review. Each category includes a series of cards with all of the related tasks.
Screenshot from Trello.com for a product development project.

The way you organize information is up to you! Check out some inspiring boards Trello has compiled for a sense of how the tool can be adapted in different ways.

Folder systems to stay organized

Folder systems are another way some people stay organized, using a tool like Wunderlist. The folders or categories you create to organize your work are up to you. What is most important is that you take 5 minutes each morning to look over what you need to do for the day. Block off 30 minutes at the beginning of each week to take the time to revisit the big picture of everything that needs to get done. These techniques can be applied to any system – figure out what works for you! While teams may often have systems in place, you'll have the opportunity to manage your own work in your own way.

Screenshot of folders used in Wunderlist app.
Screenshot of Wunderlist folder system with tasks. Does 71 tasks seem overwhelming? That's why it's important to focus on what needs to happen first. Some tasks may take 2 minutes, while others may take 2 days.

Managing your time

Time management is crucial in order to ensure everything you need to do gets done. There are lots of distractions in the world from social media alerts to people stopping by your desk in an open office plan setting. Even if you get distracted easily, there are some tools you can look into to help keep you on track.

Productivity consultant David Allen has developed a popular methodology called Getting Things Done often referred to as GTD (he wrote an entire book on the subject too!). It includes five stages:

  1. Capture – collect everything you need to get done

  2. Clarify – be clear on what you're doing (and why)

  3. Organize – put everything in its place

  4. Reflect – review what you're doing

  5. Engage – just do it!

There are different rules for tracking and organizing your tasks within the system. One of the easiest to remember is that if a task will take you less than two minutes to complete do it right then rather than waiting.

Another popular time management tool you may encounter is the Pomodoro Technique, which was named after a kitchen timer that looks like a tomato. 🍅 This is a technique designed to have focused working times with scheduled breaks to aid with productivity.

Sometimes distractions are all around us. Internet blockers like Freedom and SelfControl turn off the internet to ensure you don't get distracted while you work.

Numerous tools exist to help you document how you are spending your time. Just make sure you spend more time actually doing the work, instead of only trying to track it. 😉

Tools for managing projects

In addition to managing your own workload, you also need to consider how the teams stay organized. In terms of project management, some of the digital tools you may encounter in a future workplace include Basecamp, Asana, and JIRA. These are tools that help teams organize, communicate, and collaborate on projects, particularly in start-ups and large corporations. They help give a vision of both the overall project, as well as day to day tasks.

The tool used by teams is often determined by the needs of a team, cost, past experience, or the personal preference of the team leader. Here is a quick overview of a few different tools you may encounter in the "real world" to get you exploring what's out there.  This way, you'll be ready for anything that comes your way:

Basecamp is used for everything from marketing projects to digital project management with the idea that everything is organized in one place. It's a place where both internal teams and clients can collaborate regardless of location.

2-minute demo of how Basecamp works – this is just the start. [2:07 min]

Asana can be used for a range of activities including marketing projects, design teams, sales, and engineering. It has of a focus on teams, tracking work, and progress. Templates can be adjusted for different workflow uses including project management, agile, task management, reporting, work tracking, and program management.

Project management is about communication across teams. This short video shows how Peloton uses Asana to stay on track. [1:05 min]

JIRA is the most technical of the three platforms and tends to be used the most by product, software, and development teams working with Agile project management, and is often used alongside Confluence (both are by Atlassian). It integrates a lot of the themes and concepts we'll address in this course in a digital form. 

Atlassian has shipped numerous updates and additional sub-products since this video launched, but it gives a solid overview of how digital tools help teams collaborate on projects, providing documentation and a record to refer back to. Their YouTube channel  provides more in depth product demos and feature announcements [2:05 min]

Wrike is aimed at setting priorities and aligning team members. See their best practices for project management. They also wrote a free guide to project management.

Wrike focuses on prioritizing the endless requests that a team may receive so that they can focus on the work that needs to get done. [1:08 min]

There can be a learning curve with any platform, but they're worth exploring as you develop your own working style and can affect how you think about and approach projects. Additionally, these platforms often make updates and add new features. Watching tutorials on YouTube and Vimeo are some of the best ways to stay up to date, as is following the product blogs.

Working on a team

Ideally, you'll work on a team which also includes a project manager who will help keep you and the project on track. In most professional environments, you'll be juggling multiple projects at once, so learning to stay organized will help you stay sane but also help reduce your general stress, and make it easier for you to leave for vacation when the time comes. 🌴  🌞

Hard work also needs balance. Don't forget to take care of your health. Sometimes it's OK to disconnect.

Let's recap!

  • There are tons of tools to help with project management. It may take a bit of trial and error to find the right one to do. Test them out to see what works best for you and your needs!

  • Ultimately, you want whatever tool you choose to make your life easier so you can focus on doing the work.

  • Kanban is a popular technique used for organizing tasks and priorities. It is integrated into many different digital software platforms, but Trello is one of the most popular and easiest to use.

  • It's important to consider projects in terms of daily tasks, as well as the big picture and project goals. 

  • Time management is a crucial skill to ensure that work gets done.

  • Popular project management tools in professional workplaces include Basecamp, Asana, JIRA, and Trello. 

  • Get your work done during the work day, so you can enjoy your time away from the office and take a break sometimes.

We'll explore more tools for collaboration in part two of this course! If you're interested in learning more about budgeting and planning, you may want to check out the course Project Management 101, taught from a product manager perspective.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement