If your job involves doing projects for other staff – such as posting online content, IT tech support, or database management – you may find it challenging to manage your own daily To Do List and to plan farther ahead. Juggling competing deadlines and projects, you may often delay your own assignments to make way for more immediate needs or to keep your “clients” happy.
Here are a few tips for setting and sticking to your priorities while also getting done the work you need to do for others.
1) Determine Your Short-, Medium-, and Long-term Priorities
The first step toward making your projects a priority is to know what you want to get done and when. You’ll need to get specific here, going beyond a list of goals you’ve promised your boss for the year. Start with your long-term priorities for the year, create timelines for projects that will take a long time, and use them to create your priority list of specific tasks and timelines for the next 2-3 months. Then regularly integrate this list into your short-term To Do List. This combined project list will set you up to keep an eye on your own work while also staying on top of assignments from others.
2) Keep an Organized Project Priority List
It may be easy for staff to notify you of their projects through individual emails, but the accumulation of these incoming emails can be daunting for you. Keeping track of all those requests works much better in the form of a chart. Regardless of the kind of chart you choose, this format will allow you to get a clear overall picture of work to be done. With a glance at your chart, you can better balance these requests with your own job and capture both on your combined To Do List.
In my office we formerly used an Excel chart which we filled in with information we received in email requests. Now we have an even better system that eliminates all that inputting. With suggestions from our staff, we developed an electronic “case submission form” that each individual submits to our department giving us the specific information we need to organize and complete the work. We’ve connected this to a password protected database that our staff can access online. This provides all of us with a list of cases and deadlines in an easy-to-use chart format. It also links to pages with more detail – all the information that was submitted with each project, and fields indicating project status, who is assigned to the case, and any case notes.
3) Get the Information You Need For Each Request From the Start
Moving from email requests to our electronic case submission form saved us lots of time, energy and confusion. In the old system, key information – particularly deadlines – was often missing, sending our department searching to fill in gaps and prioritize only by educated guesses. We now require key information be included in project submissions. We make this easy through a simple online submission form, and we have what we need to know from the beginning.*
To standardize the requests coming from your co-workers, some key information you’ll need may include:
- Draft due date, if applicable (provides time for editing before final deadline)
- Preferred final due date
- Must be final due date (to help prioritize when you have too many projects at the same time)
- Details about deadline, including any promises made
- Attachments with supplementary materials
- Who should be Cc’ed throughout the process of filling the request (to eliminate unnecessary email)
- Indication of urgency on projects needed in the next day or so
You can customize this list for your particular type of cases. For example, our system is for web projects, so we ask what the page title, description, and friendly URL should be.
4) Conquer Your Inbox
Most of us have a hefty amount of email constantly demanding attention, and it is easy to get distracted by it. When that happens, the latest requests arriving via email may be getting done first when they may actually be less important than something else on your combined To Do List.
How to remedy this? First of all, only check email marked urgent right away, then set aside blocks of time during your day to read non-urgent email. Second, don’t automatically respond to or do the project right away. If it doesn’t require an immediate response, add it to your prioritized To Do List and file the email away for later where it won’t distract you. Third, ask staff to send emails with clear subject lines and cues that can help you stay organized, particularly by marking urgent emails.
5) Don’t Forget to Communicate
In addition to organizing incoming jobs, communication is key to making your “clients” happy and to keeping yourself informed so you can manage your priority list. Develop patterns for regularly checking in with staff on a broad basis, not just on a particular project. In these interactions, find out if they need help with anything, solicit feedback on your process, and ask them for updates on their projects, including cases they expect to submit soon so you can set aside time for them. We hold monthly meetings with each department to exchange this kind of information. We’ve formed an advisory committee to our web department, too, and this group’s ideas helped us develop our case management system.
Sharing information with all key players openly also helps projects flow more smoothly. Here in PHA’s web department, we automatically send a copy of each case submission back to the person who sent the request, inform them of who is assigned to their case, and provide a login to the system online where they can see all the cases we are managing, check the status of their cases, and read case notes.
6) Keep a Positive Outlook
The way you look at situations at work can also affect how well others follow your lead in being organized and productive. Be positive. Don’t dwell on negatives like how swamped you are and what you can’t do for them. You certainly want to explain obstacles when they arise, but focus more on how you are working to meet their needs. Promote collaboration, and always have an open door to hear others out. Even when you are getting their projects done and meeting their deadlines, relationships can still suffer if your co-workers have the impression you are not receptive to their needs.
How do you manage projects from other staff? Share your ideas below!
For almost seven years now, Diane has served as the Director of Web Services at the Pulmonary Hypertension Association, a small nonprofit serving a rare, underdiagnosed and incurable disease community. She originally began her career in political advocacy working at NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (now called Legal Momentum), the ACLU, the Alliance for Community Media, the Feminist Majority Foundation and Moving Ideas Network. Diane has focused her work for the past 11 years on using the web as a tool to reach constituents with education, support and ways to get involved. At PHA, she trains and works with staff on how to best use the web and e-communications channels to best serve PHA's community of patients, caregivers and medical professionals. She is always looking for better ways to organize and juggle the many demands on the web department.
If you would like more information about PHA’s case management system, feel free to contact me at web@PHAssociation.org.