FMPUG Presentation: Managing Your Projects to Success [Video]

In this video, I give a 101 Project Management Overview to the Austin FMPUG. This presentation was also shared with the Dallas and Minneapolis FMPUGs in February and March, respectively. I talk about how to manage your projects to success including milestone setting, changes and setting expectations.

Please find a full video transcript below. Please find the presentation slides here

Susan:  Hi everyone. I’m Susan Fennema. I am the Chaos Eradicating Officer for Beyond the Chaos. Beyond the Chaos offers operational and project management system setup for FileMaker developers and other small businesses. I target businesses that are really small. Like five employees or less. I work with even a lot of one person shops to help them hone their processes and their project management and their operational processes to run their business a little bit better. Works great for the single developer and all of that. My background is I worked in advertising for 10 years as a operations director, managing project managers and then I also worked for a platinum partner for seven years as the project manager there in a virtual environment. So I also know virtual business and how to set those things up too. That’s really what Beyond the Chaos does. We also offer project management itself. If you’re looking for that, beyond the process we have a fantastic project manager on staff. I can tell you also if I can make my slides advance, I can.

Few other little details. I am non-technical, non-certified project manager but I love technology. I don’t have a piece of paper on desk. I don’t have a pen on my desk. I love technology, I use it for everything. The whole household is paper free. I am a Texan and I know this is going to be tough in Austin but I’m an Aggie, class of ’88. I am an FBA reseller, not a developer but a reseller. I also am a home chef. It’s a big deal for me and if you have ever tried to serve a seven-course meal to 12 people in a small one bedroom condo, you’ll understand that project management plays a role in that too. I get to combine both of my passions there.

All right, let’s go to the next slide. Okay, here we are. Also, wife of a mechanic, mother of two cats and a dog. So if you hear noises in the background it is not a baby crying, it’s probably a cat or the dog. ‘Cause they only want to interrupt when I start talking. Another big thing is that I’m the daughter, the sister and the best friend of entrepreneurs. I’m a huge small business fan. I’ve been around it my whole life. And I love how it’s really the backbone of America and what makes America run. That is who I am if you have not met me before but I have met several of you.

I will move on to, enough about me but what about you? And please feel free to unmute yourselves and chime in throughout this interaction. This isn’t meant to be a boring presentation. Is meant to be interactive so chime in. Let me know what you’re thinking. How many of you struggle with finishing your projects? I mean actually finishing. Kind of looking to see if I see anything in the chat too so feel free to chime in there. What about problems managing scope? I know that’s one thing that gets out of whack real fast is the changes that take you off of your ability to finish the project. You might also be getting pulled in multiple directions and not knowing what to do next. That can be a huge challenge when working in the project management world. I’d also like, and if you guys could unmute this and answer this question, I would like to know who I’m talking to. Am I talking to mostly people who are subcontractors or do you have other people to delegate to? Or other team members in your group?

Will:  This is Will. It’s all of the above for me.

Susan:  Okay, okay, that’s good to know.

Bill:  I’m running a very small operation and delegating to one and delegating to several and trying to keep it all together.

Susan:  Okay.

Daisy:  This is Daisy. Same as all the above.

Susan:  Okay. Okay. So it sounds like we have people who mostly have that challenge of how to delegate, how to stay on top of things and all that. So there will be some stuff in here about that.

If you wish you had a way to keep things organized a little bit better, this is where we’re going to get to. The bottom line of all of this is, is your business running you? Or you running it? We want to get to the point where you are managing like you mean it and you are really in charge.

Let’s talk about the root problem. All businesses have the same challenges. You’re not alone. You are not doing something wrong. Everybody’s dealing with the same thing. And that’s not just FileMaker. That’s all businesses. The goal with all of this is that we want to be able to repeat our successes and avoid disorganization. We’re going to add structure but we want to avoid bureaucracy. ‘Cause that’s when people start to hear, oh put process in place. They start to think, this is just going to put a layer of paperwork that’s going to be a nightmare. And that’s not what we’re talking about. That’s not what we want to add. We want to just add enough structure that it allows you to get those successes repeated and yet you’re still avoiding a layer of bureaucracy that makes it harder.

Let’s talk about some of the basics here. There are different terms that we’re going to use throughout this. One is policy. Policy works with multi-person teams. If you are your own person and you don’t work with anyone else you probably don’t need policy but I will tell you even before I hired someone I did set a few policies. I’ll talk about what policy is here in a second.

Process and procedure is another part of this. Process can help you get structure put together and then a procedure’s really kind of a checklist. We’ll dig into what they are next. Also project management. We want to make sure we’re talking about how you’re doing your projects and how you’re consistently taking the same steps. And then lastly we’re going to talk about interruption management ’cause that’s a big one for everyone I know.

Starting with the difference of policy versus process versus procedure. Policy is the rules. Again this is for multiple people. This might be, you must submit your timesheet every day at 5:00 o’clock. It could also be Good Friday is a holiday for the company. And I’ll tell you that’s one of the things when I started my business that I put policy in place for me so that I set my holidays as a policy so that I didn’t give them up just because I was too busy. So that’s a way you could even make a policy even if you’re just one person. But the policy is the rules.

The process is your system. This is usually a written out prose type thing, numbered or bulleted. And it’s how you do things. It’s the order you do things in. And it’s what you want to make sure that you’re repeating as part of your system. And then a procedure is a checklist. This might be how to install FileMaker server and all of the things that you go through every single time so that you don’t have to reinvent that wheel. Having this in place means you don’t have to remember what went wrong last time because you forgot a step. Think about it like an airplane pilot getting ready to take off. He doesn’t have to remember to check the flaps, it’s on the list that he checks off that he did it. Those are the things that we’re looking for as a procedure.

Policy’s pretty self-explanatory, let’s jump into processes. Why are they needed? And I’ve said this a couple times already. It’s to repeat successes. I know many people will run into issues as you’re going through a project and you’ll find that the outcome, something happened and you’re like, man if only we had done this. When something like that comes up in your mind, that gets added to your process so that next time you do it and you avoid the problem. That’s one way to make sure that there are more successes.

The next thing, so stop reinventing the wheel, you want to make sure that you’re doing the same thing over and over again without having to remember how to do it. But then also and this ties to what you guys were saying, of the people that you have onboard, this lets you start delegating. Because you know what the steps are that you follow. You know how to repeat it and then you can share it with somebody so that they can meet expectations. If you don’t have something to give them then they’re just struggling to do it their way and then they’re mad at you or you’re mad at them because you didn’t tell them or they didn’t do it right. If you are clear up front, it sets those expectations of this is how we’re going to do it every time. Sometimes they can actually add to that as they start to follow those processes and say, “Well this didn’t make sense to me.” You can start to modify some of their good ideas into them as well.

Another thing that processes add to your business is a long-term business value. When it comes to the end of your working days you don’t just have a client list and maybe an employee that you’re selling to a potential buyer, you have a setup so that people can, a new person could come in, sit in your shoes and do your job as a business owner. And that makes that business worth more. There’s no way that just the client list that may or may not go with the new person is worth as much as being able to repeat those same successes for the same clients. That’s going to keep those clients better. That’s going to make your business value better. Now I know a lot of us aren’t thinking about that today so you have time. It’s sort of like saving for retirement. You have time to start building up that value through creating those processes over time. It doesn’t have to be done tomorrow.

What are some minimum processes that everybody should have? Sales, that’s absolutely one. What do you do with a potential client from the second they contact you or the second you meet them? All the way through to when they pay you money. What is your proposal process? How do you get proposals signed? How do you collect money? How do you remember to continue to follow up with them? And not let them fall off the radar. Writing those steps down is a big step or a big way to make sure that you’re making some of those sales come through. That follow up process is so important and having a process surrounding it will actually convert more of those prospects into actual sales.

Another one is invoicing and getting paid. How you invoice. Do you invoice, are you a fixed price project and you get all your money up front? Or do you have to invoice at certain milestones throughout a project? Or do you have to invoice all at the end based on the hours you quoted? Any of those things are definitely the way that everybody does things differently but making sure that your process is written down and followed is important. I mostly do upfront pricing for a fixed price but I also have clients that I do banks of hours for. Our project management clients. And so with them, I have a process and I have a reminder that every Tuesday and I go and I look at their projects and I make sure that they are within two hours of the end of their bank. That way I’m invoicing on a regular basis instead of forgetting and they get behind and none of us love accounting. That’s just what you have to do to be in business. Setting up that process so that you don’t get behind and it’s not so overwhelming is huge.

Obviously projects. This is a place of how you open them. What are the consistent things that you do every single time? You do a kickoff meeting, all of that. The general structure of your project and the milestones that you might always have. What are your steps? Do you always do an ERD? Do you always do mockups? Do you always show them data screens? What are the steps that you’re always going to follow? And get those into your project process so that you’re always doing it the same way. And then how do you close a project? How do you make sure all the invoices are cleared? How do you confirm that it’s okay to use their work in your portfolio? All of these things are things that you can put into the project closing process.

All of these are really big things and it’s quote when I was working with Brad Stanford, some of you might know him, nice long beard. He said, and I love this, “The way to accomplish a big thing is to do all the little things that make it up.” And so when you’re thinking about these as big things, that’s really it. Break it down into the little bitty steps. Accomplish those things and you accomplish the big thing.

Let’s move to project management. Let’s talk about some tools. First big one, email’s not a project management tool. If you are using email to manage your projects you’re doing it wrong, please stop. Email does not allow you anyway to set up ways to follow up, dates that things are due, a common area to capture everything even if you’re copying it into a folder and it’s out of sight, out of mind. And email is an overused tool anyway. Don’t do that.

Pick something. Basecamp, Teamwork, if you’re using nothing right now, Basecamp is a great place to start. It’s very simple. I prefer Basecamp 2. Very simple. Teamwork is Basecamp on steroids and if you have been using Basecamp and want more, Teamwork is absolutely a step up and you can import your Basecamp projects. You can also import your Asana projects. Teamwork, it’s like they knew that they could steal from everyone if you could just import it. There’s tons of other project management software out there. The key is to pick one and use it. It will add structure to your projects if you’re using it.

Now I know all of you are saying, “Hold on, I’m a FileMaker developer, I can make this myself.” Well, of course, you can but it’s going to be buggy, it’s not going to be finished, it’s not going to have all the stuff that you need in it. It’s not going to be off the shelf working. Because you have clients to serve. Just like you would tell your client not to buy a FileMaker tool if you had something that you could buy off the shelf as software, as a service that served the function, follow your own rule. It’s not going to be perfect, you’re always going to wish there was something else there but use it. It actually does work. You can put structure around it to make it work for you.

Another tool I’m going to talk about here is regularly scheduled status meeting. Having those status meetings with your client, your team. One of the things this is going to do is make sure that you’re preventing interruptions. You’ll be able to know the next time you’re going to talk with them. They’ll be able to know the next time you’re going to talk with you too. So you don’t run into them calling you at the last minute to ask questions or something like that. But having those regular. And it doesn’t have to be every week. But if you’re actively in the active area of a project you probably do want them every week.

Do not spend the time with them talking about the development side of it. This is really to talk about where you are versus scope, the budget, and the timeframe. What are the stops and starts and those types of things? Don’t dig into development. You can take a smaller group offline and dig into the development and you can schedule that during the status meeting but that’s not what the status meeting is for. It’s really to keep everybody on track and to keep those expectations very clear in everyone’s mind.

Project management starts with your proposal. Your project management tool here is the proposal. How clear did you define your scope, your timeline and your budget in there? I just released a blog post on, I think it was Monday of this week, that talks all about what should be in a proposal for good project management. You can go to beyondthechaos.biz/blog and it should be the top one if you want to take a look at that. The proposal is a very important part of making sure that your project is going to go smoothly. It sets those expectations early.

Let’s dig into a few tips. When you’re opening your projects in these tools I’ve mentioned, every client needs their own project. You want to make sure that you’re maintaining that confidentiality that everything’s all in the same place and that you’re keeping all of those communications in the same area. There might be exceptions if you have a client with multiple departments with all different people using different solutions. One is with the web and one is with FileMaker, okay, then you want a separate project for even within that client. But minimally each client is going to get its own project.

You also want to make sure that any to-dos or tasks have dates or deadlines. One thing that I hear a lot with these software tools is people will say, “It’ll work. I just put information in there and it gets lost. It’s where things go to die.” Well, if you put the hammer next to the nail it’s not going to hammer itself into the piece of wood. You have to actually use the tool and hammer the nail in. That is part of this is making sure that you’re pulling in the dates and deadlines and assigning them.

Also making sure that a person responsible is assigned to it. Most of these tools have a place where a person can go and look at their individual assignments across all projects and if they’re not assigned to it, it won’t show there. Oftentimes if it doesn’t have a date it won’t show there or at least won’t show in a meaningful way.

You can also include milestones rather than setting a deadline for each individual task. While you might have several tasks surrounding something like buying your FileMaker licenses or installing FileMaker server or creating that invoice that they wanted. You don’t need each individual task to have its own deadline as long as you have a milestone associated with it. And there are some creative ways that you can set those up into the software. The importance is making sure that theory is there up front.

I’m going to suggest that if you’re not good at this… if you’re not good at the details that you get help with building the structure and a template. It doesn’t have to be me although I do have templates for FileMaker developers in both Teamwork and Basecamp ready to go. It doesn’t have to be me though. It can be your spouse that has uncanny ability to organize things. It could be a neighbor’s child that needs a summer job and they’re good at that type of structure. But if you’re not good at it, feel free to reach out for help. You’re not the only one who’s not good at putting that structure around projects. Trust me, don’t feel like you’re admitting some weakness. It’s everyone.

Let’s talk a little bit about setting milestones. One is if you’re building that timeline you want to start when the project is due and build backward. Your whole timeline you set that in the proposal hopefully of when it’s going to be done. And then start backing out all those steps in your milestones. One thing that you often find is as you do that you should have started three weeks ago and now you have to catch up but at least you know that now and that’s something that you can then communicate with your client early and often that hey, we need to push harder on this or I’m going to need fast turnarounds from you on this. Or, if you need to buy two weeks at the beginning of a project you’re a lot more likely to get it than at the end. Now you can hear Sam chiming in his approval.

The other option is that if there is no date required you can schedule it forward. If you start at the beginning and schedule it forward sometimes you look at it and you’re like, “Really? It’s October. I’m starting this in April, that seems like maybe I padded it too much.” So you might have to go back and reset that if that doesn’t seem reasonable at the end. But if you’re scheduling it, either way, remember that people get sick. People take vacations. And you have to allow some leeway and you all have other projects going too. Make sure that you’re allowing that leeway and you’re building those milestones out.

Here’s the other important part to finish that project. You have to meet the deadlines or communicate it in advance. One of the things that clients will be the most upset about is surprises. And I know a lot of us like to avoid confrontation but if you’re actively having those conversations about how things might change at the end it’s going to blow up in your face. You can avoid it if you keep that communication going throughout the time. And that’s one of the reasons that we want to have those, all the major steps in the process so that each, the client’s on the same page, you’re on the same page, everybody knows, these are the major steps that are moving forward. And sometimes you’re able to say, “Oh, this one took less time but that one’s going to take more time but we’re still on schedule for the end.”

Make sure that you share the schedule with the client when you start the project. I suggest that you do this in the kickoff call where you reiterate the scope that you agreed on, the timeline you agreed on and the budget you agreed on. And make sure that they’re onboard. One of the things that you might find out is that you scheduled the testing period to be when they’re taking their high school graduate to Spain for his high school gift or graduation present or whatever. If something like that happens. You need to accommodate that. You need to change it. And if you find that out at the beginning, you can either, okay, let’s see if we can get it done before or maybe it’s better that we wait and do it after. And hey, it buys us a little bit more time. Having those conversations with them at the beginning is important because now they’re also committing to the deadlines.

Keep them on your team too. Make sure that your team isn’t on vacation during bug week or something like that. The other is that in your status meetings if you have these milestones set, it’s very easy then to compare where you actually are versus where the milestones state you should be. The other thing that that status meeting does is it makes you feel a little bit more obligated to have something to show or that progress demonstrated when you get there. This gives you part of that structure to have the conversation and status.

We have it all set up and then changes happen. It blows up the whole thing. I could probably do a whole session on changes. But the big thing here is don’t let them get you off track. As a service professional it is your obligation to deliver the original scope and to help keep the client on track. If they don’t get their solution, you’ve given them no value. No matter how many reasons, no matter if it’s their fault because they keep adding things, no matter what, an undelivered project has absolutely no value. And they can get you off track. They will get you off track. But remember that you spent time scoping it. You spent time trying to figure out what they needed in the beginning. Unless they’re actually bringing you something that totally changes your whole project, there are ways to manage it so that that comes later.

And so you want to fulfill the scope that you agreed on first and then address changes. And this is the case whether you’re billing by the hour. Whether you’re billing through a fixed price. It doesn’t matter. You had agreed on something that would work and you want to get there. The changes can come about later. They can be added on as a phase two or anything like that.

If anything is dramatic, that’s when you want to stop. And when you stop and start talking about the dramatic changes you might have a whole new project in which case it gets not just new scope, it gets a new budget and it gets a new timeline. If something like that comes up, you absolutely want to stop and readdress it. And as a professional, you should get more for more work. If you’re billing by the hour, that’s okay too but the client needs to know okay, this is going to take 30 more hours as opposed to surprising them at the end. Stop and talk about any dramatic changes that get you off the scope.

The other is consider issues beyond your control. If you’re working on a timeline and somebody gets sick unexpectedly and is out for two or three weeks, they have a horrible accident, it could be anything. Consider those issues when they arise and how it might be a change to the project. Maybe it just changes the timeline but that’s something that is important to communicate. Keep those in mind as they arise.

I think all of you might have seen the triangle before, the triangle of truth. Where to get that perfect quality, all of the scope, timing, and resources need to stay with equal pressure and if anything gets out of whack then the quality triangle gets out of whack. I know so many of us have heard this phrase, “Can’t you just?” Normally what that means the answer is absolutely no. And you need to learn that word. No is an important word and it’s a good word for the client not just for you. There are nicer ways to say that though and to get to those ways we want to set the client expectations a little bit more clearly.

Those conversations can be challenging to have when you have to say no. When it’s going to cost more money. And it can feel emotional. I can tell you that if you practice it, it will feel less emotional. And if you think about it, it isn’t emotional. You wrote down the scope. The scope is the scope. You defined it earlier. You have it in your project management tool. It’s very clear. There’s no emotion around that. The timeline was based on the scope so if the scope changes, the timeline has to change. That’s pretty matter of fact too. And changes affect the price. All of this is pretty unemotional and most reasonable people understand it. The problem is is that as service professional we’re not good at bringing it up until it’s after the fact and then the emotion comes in. Now somebody’s mad that you spent their money. Or you used up their time without talking to them first.

The key, clear communication with consequences to your client. The consequences are what I’m talking about with all of this. If they change the scope, hey, we’re happy to do that but it’s going to take us two more hours and it’s going to add another day to your project, are you good with that? It’s all it is. They then have the decision to make that up front. They can choose to do it or not. And you can add it or not depending on what they agree to. The clear communication is very important throughout even if it’s something where you’re asking them for something.

Hey, I need the PDF of your invoice by Friday so I know what to design to when I’m working on it on Monday. If you don’t have it on Friday morning or even Thursday, you can give them a heads up of hey, if I don’t have this by end of day Friday, it’s probably going to delay your project. If it’s a continued delay then it might be more money because even if it’s not a fixed price project, you know it’s going to take you more time to get back into it after you’ve been pulled off of it for a couple of weeks. You’re going to have to figure it out and all of that. That adds hours. That’s another way to communicate. If I don’t get it by next Friday it’s probably going to cost you a little bit more.

Those are ways to drive the client. You can say it nicely. Make sure you’re communicating with them the way that they communicate but surprises, that’s the worst.

Another thing is to give your client a way to dream. This is something I use all the time is the wish list. What do you wish for? What do you want to have changed? What was your brilliant idea today? At the end of every project, I have a task list that says wish list. And when somebody says, “Oh, can’t you just?” You can say, “Oh no, we can’t squeeze that in right now but I’m going to add it to the wish list so we can address it after we get this first version out to you.”

That results in an easy way to say no. Also, more money because your next project can then be built off that wish list. You’re building it as you go kind of. There are several ways to invoice or to propose off of the wish list. One is a change order. This is going to be an individual or group of tasks from that list. So you might say, “We’re going to do the first six tasks and it’s going to cost you $25 an hour,” hopefully not. Hopefully, it’s more like $200 an hour. However much per hour. And we estimate it’ll be 15 hours. Or, “I’ll do all of that for $25,” or $250, whatever your number’s going to be. And that then lets them know what to expect to get those blocks of things due.

Other is a change bucket or a retainer or pre-purchased hours. Any of those are phrases that basically mean money on deposit. And so with something like that, okay, you’re going to deposit $5,000, we’ll work off that list. We’ll give you an update every month of how far we get and how many hours you’ve spent and it’s a great long-term support option to do something like that. Oftentimes this will come after the initial bugs are resolved, that kind of thing.

That’s kind of project management for your project but there’s also project managing yourself. That’s where we mostly get into a lot of trouble. One thing is I will always suggest is create a project in whatever tool you’ve chosen for your business. And make sure you keep any of the operational tasks with due dates and don’t get them lost in there assigned to you in that project. You’re now looking at the things to run your business in the same exact tool that you’re looking at all of the other things so that you naturally build yourself a task list.

I am a huge fan of blocking time on your calendar. Calendar blocking is a lifesaver. It also is a method to figure out when you’re available to do the next project that someone’s asking you to do. Because you can look at your calendar and say, “Oh, all those blocks are full until June. I could start your project in June. Will that work?” It also gives you some focus. As a developer being pulled out of the middle of something to go do something else or to get interrupted really throws you off and can add hours, sometimes days to a project if you lose your place. Having that time, it’s like making an appointment with yourself. And you don’t anything interfere with that.

The other tool is at the end of the day look at your to-do list versus your calendar at the end of every day and figure out if it’s realistic. Can you actually do all of those things that you said you were going to do tomorrow? Any meetings and other obligations that you might have. If you’re doing this at the beginning of the day, you’re going to be scrambling. If you do it at the end of the day you actually have time to maybe manipulate, change some things and set that expectation so that tomorrow is a better day. If you just start out of time and you need to move a meeting, it’s a lot better to do it the day before than it is at the last minute. Again, that’s that clear communication and being aware of what your responsibilities are.

Interruptions are a big part of this. Most interruptions can be phone, email, those are usually the top two. But if you have built your to-do lists, deciding what can wait is a lot easier if you have that plan. Dwight Eisenhower, he did the whole D-Day thing, it was a pretty big deal. He had to move it, it was originally for June 4th and weather caused them to move it to June 6th. If you didn’t have a plan, can you imagine trying to change it? And here’s one of my favorite quotes and it’s from him. “In preparing for battle I’ve always found that plans are useless but planning is invaluable. Part of the planning is also all the contingencies and figuring out what could go wrong. And thinking of all those things you hadn’t thought of yet.” And so if you have that plan in place, being able to change it is a lot easier because you’ve already thought through all of those things.

You can mitigate things by delegating them or scheduling another day or time for them and you’ll be able to know what things can wait because you have a plan. If you become overwhelmed and I know we all do at times, go back to your list. Take 10 minutes, take an hour if you need it. Go back to that list and rework it. I had when I worked at the ad agency and I had about 10 project managers working for me I constantly would have one of them in my office usually in tears because they were so overwhelmed. I would say, “Okay, let’s talk about that. Show me your list. What are you working on right now?” I don’t have it, it’s not up to date. I’m like, “Okay, go back to your office, update the list and then come back and we’ll sort it out.” Almost every time they would come back and say, “Thanks I got it.” They just needed to go back and get a little bit of structure put back around their day. And once they did that overwhelm went away.

If you’re interrupted you can knock out those simple things quickly when it’s possible. Something that’s a quick question, don’t put it on your to-do list to answer the question the next day. You’ve already been interrupted, just answer the question. Make it go away.

Things that are bigger you want to mitigate those. If you get a phone call from that client you’ve been trying to land and you’re so excited when you see their caller ID, that’s awesome but you can answer the phone say, “Hey listen, I’m really glad to hear from you but I’m in a meeting right now, are you available tomorrow at 2:00 o’clock? We could talk then.” You have now mitigated that, put it into a place that you can plan for but you’ve also addressed it and given that client a little love and attention. If you lose a client because you did that, probably not the best client to be working with in the first place. Think about that too.

The most common interruption is email and people do this to themselves. The phone these days, it doesn’t ring as much as it used to. If it is ringing too much, I would say, go back to the status meetings ’cause that might make it go away. But email is the thing that a lot of people struggle with.

There are ways to manage it. First, turn it off, don’t leave it open all day. Schedule times throughout your day when you’re actually going to go through it. And set some boundaries with your client. They shouldn’t expect an immediate back and forth conversation. You’re now also using a tool to manage your projects, not email, so you don’t need to be in it all day. Part of emails overwhelm is that our inboxes are totally full of things we haven’t read, of things we haven’t managed. If that’s the case I would suggest you declare bankruptcy immediately and start making some decisions when you go through these emails at the time that it’s scheduled.

Decision making is the key when you’re looking at the emails. There are only five, five things I think you should do with email. Respond to it, file it, junk it, flag it or delete it. If it’s simple and easy to respond to, just respond to it, make it go away. If it is something that you need to store for reference for longer term, put it in a file folder. Obviously, we all know what to do with junk. If it’s something that might require more thought, a longer answer, something you have to look up, that’s something you can flag. And then that’s something you can schedule as a to do or put into a calendar block to look into. And then the last thing is to delete it. If you read the information and you’ve absorbed the information, delete it. If it’s something that you need to do, put it on a to-do list and delete it.

So many people these days have tons of structure around their email but really why? How many of us go back and look through it unless we’re a managing our projects through email, which we learned not to do anymore? How many of us actually go back and look for emails that often that couldn’t just be searched in the delete folder or in the trash or wherever in the archive? Keep that in mind because the goal of every single time that you’re going to go through that email is to leave an empty inbox. And that makes it not as intimidating when you come back to it and it makes it a lot easier to go through it.

Setting boundaries with your client around email’s important too. Have you ever gotten in that email conversation at midnight? You just wanted to send an email out you go to bed and now all of a sudden you’re having an interaction with a client that you really wish you never sent that in the first place. Set some structure. Declare a policy of what your hours are. Beyond the Chaos’ hours are 8:30 to 6:00 every day. I have east and west coast clients so okay, we got to accommodate that a little bit, that’s fine but I don’t want to send emails before or after those hours. I set it up to automatically go out the next day a few minutes after the open of business. So that the client starts to be trained that you’re not going to get answers in the middle of the night or during family time or whatever the case might be. If you’re using Apple Mail, Mail Butler is a free tool that works that way. There is if you’re Gmail online, Boomerang works that way. Boomerang also lets you pause your incoming messages. Both of those are cool tools.

And that pretty much sums up everything. I am going to give you a special free offer. It’s that if you want a custom template or a process package set up, I’ll give you a free month of coaching and support with that. With your Austin code of ATXFMPUG2018 and that’s going to go through June 29th so you have plenty of time. And I am now going to take questions from you guys. Since I’ve lectured for 45 minutes.

Lisette:  Thanks. I can tell everybody else that while I’ve not adopted all of these, the ones I have have paid off tremendously. I keep adding a little bit from time to time.

Susan:  Lisette was a star student.

Lisette:  I know. I do update my task list daily. When I don’t I know I feel the pain immediately. There’s things got a bit busier earlier this year. My task list got out of control and it just made it worse. It was not always having time or being at the end of the day and just stopping because you can’t go anymore and then really paying for it for the next two days.

Susan:  It makes a big difference. A real big difference.

Lisette:  The first thing you do then is you don’t know where you’re starting.

Susan:  Right. And then you spend your first hour of the next day figuring that out.

Lisette:  Or starting in the wrong place and then getting yanked around all day.

Susan:  Yeah. Anybody else have any questions?

Bill:  I don’t have any questions but thank you for the effort today. This is good stuff.

Susan:  Thanks Bill.

Bill:  Sure.

Susan:  All right. Well, you guys are welcome to email me if you have questions after the fact. I will make sure that the slides are posted for you. And get that link out to you.

 

About Susan Fennema

Susan helps you gain control of your business through process development, organization, and structure of your business operations and projects. From developing processes to coaching project managers, she can help you get beyond the chaos.
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