I wanted to share about the approach I take to project management at my job. I am a Geographic Information Systems Specialist for Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. This means I work with maps and databases. There are many different kinds of projects I’m working on at any given time. So having a project management system that works for me is important.

The system I use is more or less based upon David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done”. If you’re interested in taking a deep dive into productivity and task management, then consider reading this book. Because there are many moving parts to Allen’s system, I’ll provide a brief review.

The “Getting Things Done” methodology consists of the following components:

  • Inboxes: electronic and paper-based tools where all incoming tasks, ideas, and notes go.
  • Projects List: a list of all your active projects. A project is anything that takes more than one action step to complete.
  • Someday/Maybe List: if there is a project that you would like to do someday; or an idea you want to revisit in six months, it goes here. This is sort of like a staging place for possible future projects.
  • Waiting For List: this is your reminder list for anything you are waiting on other people for. You left someone a voicemail and they need to call you back. Or you’re waiting on someone to give you the draft proposal. It’s a good idea to put the date next to the item (i.e., John Smith (township xyz) re: zoning map change - 02/05/17).
  • Action Lists: this is a list of the next action for each project. It could be as simple as call chiropractor to schedule appointment for next week.
  • Reference Material: anything that comes into your inbox and is not actionable goes here.

an example of a daily task list, based upon the 1-3-5 principle

While this system may seem complicated, I believe it helps you stay more organized and forget less things. And the point of this system is to get things out of your mind so you can focus on higher level work. If you’re out shopping for groceries, and you get an idea for a project, write that idea down in your inbox. If you don’t, that idea might keep popping up in unexpected places. In the middle of the night. On the train to work. During dinner with your family. Get that idea out of your head and into your inbox. Free up space in your mind for bigger and better things. I currently use Evernote for my electronic inbox. But I’ve also used Google Keep and some native note keeping apps on iOS.

The last part of the “Getting Things Done” methodology that I want to mention is the Weekly Review. This is a time to process everything and make sure all your lists are up to date. You get your inbox to zero; check the calendar for any new action steps; and review the Actions, Projects, and Someday/Maybe lists. Please check out this Weekly Review Checklist for a more detailed description.

In addition to the standard “Getting Things Done” approach, I make a few more lists to help guide my work throughout the year. At the end of the year, I make a rough list of major projects to work on during the next year. At the beginning of each month, I create a list of projects and tasks I want to accomplish that month. At the beginning of each week, I create a list of tasks I want to accomplish that week. And each day, I make a list of things to work on that day. And to be honest, these are more like bumper rails to keep me focused. I hold them all loosely, knowing other unplanned things will come up.

The monthly list is based upon items in my yearly and Projects List. The weekly list is based upon my monthly and Projects List. And my daily list is based upon my weekly list. You can see the master Projects List is the glue that holds all my lists together.

My weekly and daily lists are based upon the 1-3-5 list. The idea is to categorize tasks into groups of importance. So my weekly list has high, medium, and low priority tasks. If I get all of the high and most of the medium tasks completed, it is a great week. The daily list breaks tasks into 1 big thing, 3 medium things, and 5 little things. When I started working on things based upon priority, it helped me to feel more accomplished. The most important things were getting done.

an example of a weekly task list, based upon master project lists

Hopefully you’ve found this article helpful. I’m hoping you’re able to use some of these ideas to make your great ideas happen. It will take time to develop a system that works for you. And you may need to switch up the system from time to time. But the most important thing is finding a system that works best for you.

What is some advice you have for people looking to improve their productivity?