Julie Perrine explains how to make it simple to streamline projects
If you’re like most assistants, you have plenty of recurring tasks. These are things you might do on a daily or monthly basis, or even just once a year. But there’s no need to start these tasks from scratch each time. Anything you do repeatedly can be turned into a template or project plan, which can save you time and ensure it’s done correctly.
Anything you do on a daily, weekly, monthly, annual, or as-needed basis can be turned into a template that helps you better manage your work load. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Creating a template or project plan is a way to document your systems for yourself, your colleagues, and your executive. When you have a documented system in place, you set yourself up for success and ensure all the details are taken care of – regardless of how busy your day may be. You are better able to stay on track, and your system holds you accountable for completing the task correctly. It also provides a safety net and allows you to ask for help if something unexpected happens.
- Weekly, recurring meetings
- Event planning
- Travel planning
- Newsletter or writing tasks
- Accounting tasks
- HR tasks
- Marketing tasks
- Customer support
- Sales tasks
- Career planning
5 Steps for Creating Effective Templates and Project Plans
1. Write down every step involved in doing something the next time you do it.
- Weekly recurring meetings – Who attends, who creates the agenda, how do materials get distributed, who is responsible for the distribution, where is it held, does it include refreshments, what audio-video is required, etc.
- Event planning – What type of event are you planning, what is the budget, who is responsible for the event, what are the details for the venue, agenda, speakers, catering, registration, audio-visual, etc.
- Travel planning – Traveler profiles, travel research for flights, ground transportation, hotels, meals, meetings, time zones, etc. How do you prepare your executives for leaving the office, and keep them prepared for the travel and meetings on their schedule?
- Newsletter or writing tasks – What is included, who writes it, who edits it, what platform do you use, how is it published (in print, online, or both), what are the deadlines, etc.
2. Look for logical breaks in the process where you can batch certain sets of tasks together.
This allows you to do things in smaller chunks of time, and better manage interruptions.
3. Assign start dates and due dates to the specific tasks.
This is vitally important. Most task management tools default to setting a due date but leave the start date empty. The most important field is the start date. When do you need to START working on this item, so it’s completed by the due date? Changing the default view of your task or project management tool to show things by start date will help you with prioritizing your work, too!
4. Assign owners to the tasks.
As an assistant, a lot of times the main task owner is yourself. However, there are some tasks that require approvals from others or input from other areas, so those tasks should have a different owner assigned to them.
5. Find an electronic tool to help you track your progress from start to finish.
This maybe a tool you already have on your computer, such as Microsoft Outlook, Excel, or OneNote. Or it may be a third-party tool, such as Teamwork, Trello, or Basecamp. With the right digital tool in place, you should be able to see exactly what’s done, what’s past due, and what deadlines are coming up.
Template and Project Plan Examples
I write articles for different blogs and publications on a monthly basis. To keep track of each of these articles, and where they are at in the writing/editing/submission process, my team and I created a task list in Teamwork, our project management tool. Then we made a template in Teamwork that we can use repeatedly for each new article I agree to write.
Here is our basic template:
1. Discuss and determine topic for upcoming article submission.
Start date: Day 1 / Due date: Day 4
2. Write first draft of article and submit to copy editor for review.
Start date: Day 5 / Due date: Day 12
3. Review first draft of article and make suggested edits.
Start date: Day 13 / Due date: Day 15
4. Finalize the article.
Start date: Day 16 / Due date: Day 21
5. Submit final draft of article to blog or publication.
Start date: Day 22 / Due date: Day 28
I typically like to have 30 days to work through this process from start to finish. So, our template has Day 1 through Day 30 start and due dates. When we create a new task list based on this template and plug in a start date, the project plan automatically populates with current dates.
As a result, we now have a small project task list for article generation that we can view in combination with all the other things going on. This helps us prioritize our time and workload accordingly. You can do the same thing using tools like Microsoft Outlook Tasks, OneNote, or Excel.
When you use a digital tool to help you manage your workload, you can also setup auto-recurring task lists that repeat on a set schedule, so you don’t have to manually enter the project again next month or quarter. For instance, my social media manager creates the social posts in batches every Monday. As soon as she finishes and checks this task off in Teamwork, the next week’s task appears. This is a huge time saver, and by utilizing auto-recurring lists, you never risk something being overlooked because you forgot to enter the project.
For more complex projects, you may need a master task list with a series of sub-task lists that break down the project into smaller batches. Here is an example for managing live speaking engagements I participate in.
Task List Template Name: Speaking Engagements – In Person
There are nine smaller task lists, including:
- Event management tasks
- Event promotion and marketing
- Event handouts and materials
- PowerPoint presentation development
- Travel arrangements
- Promotional items
- Review event logistics with organizer
- Day of the event
- Post event follow-up
Each of the nine sub-task lists has 3-8 specific tasks with start and due dates. For example, the Event Promotion and Marketing list includes:
- Post a blog post promoting the event (if open to the public).
- Add event to newsletter speaking list.
- Prepare all newsletters and broadcasts for the week of travel.
- Add event to speaking and training pages on website.
- Add event to social media promotion list.
This is our master list that helps us plan for each event. Each task may not always apply to every event. In those cases, we delete the tasks that aren’t applicable, so they don’t create confusion. After each event, we evaluate if there was anything new that came up that we should add to our master template. This is how we keep it current for ongoing use.
Tips to Become a Better Project Manager
1.Become a power user of the software you already have on your computer.
If you’re using the Microsoft suite of products, take courses in Outlook, Excel, OneNote, and SharePoint. If you’re using the Google suite, find courses to help you master the project management features of those apps.
2. Focus on developing your project management skills.
You don’t have to be certified to be a project manager. But the more educated you are on methodologies and terminology, the more effective you’ll be in keeping things on track and moving forward.
3. Get in the habit of using your project management tool.
Start your day by logging into this tool, or opening your Excel file or OneNote notebook. Work primarily from that screen for most of the day. Move new tasks out of your inbox and into your tracking system so they get incorporated with the other tasks you’re prioritizing each day. I set my web browser to automatically open to Teamwork.com instead of Google. So, the first thing I’m prompted to do when I launch my browser is to login to Teamwork. It makes a huge difference in the way I manage my time and keeps me from getting distracted first thing in the morning.
Project management is a big job, and it’s not always easy to keep track of all the moving parts. However, when you create templates and project plans, everything you need is right at your fingertips – making it simple to streamline projects and check each box along the way!