Project planning

I have a confession: I’m a terrible project planner.

Or I have been up until this point, at least in formalised terms. I’m a very organised person – I tend to know what needs to be done and when, but the information is all held in my head, combine with some skeletal to-do lists in the form of things to do this week, this month, and this year. These lists were managed in Evernote, which as an app is basically fine, except that I never learned to use any of the features beyond making checklists and notebooks, and is really a better notetaking app than a planning one. Besides that, I tend to just think about what needs to be done in the next month or so, and then… do it.

Somehow, in spite of this aversion to Gantt charts, bullet journals, Trello, and the other tools of the project planning trade, I managed to write a PhD, while working various part time jobs, in just over three years. That sounds like a brag, but really I’m trying to say that I think this was a fluke – and, in fact, I know there are some areas of my thesis that would have greatly benefited from more formal project planning from the beginning – not least the bibliography, which was a little bit all over the place during my final edits, and ending up lacking a couple of major sources (because I was terrible at keeping up with recent publications).

So, my new academic year’s resolution is to learn how to do project planning properly. Now is the ideal time, as I’m embarking on the first section of my career where I’ll be juggling numerous ‘projects’ at once: teaching work, my new research project on Space and Place in the Attic Orators (more on that in another post), and (hopefully!) my thesis book. All this on top of the daily projects of life, like keeping my house from running into complete disarray, trying to keep up some reading for pleasure, and trying not to be so terrible at running.

Today I embarked on the first two steps of this journey, and signed up to Asana and Mendeley. I like Asana already, despite the fact that it’s really designed for team work rather than solo projects. The lists of sections and tasks and sub-tasks appeal to my tickbox-oriented mind, and it was satisfying to lay out deadlines for a whole project over the next three years. I’ve set up some home tasks to be completed over the weekend, so I’m hoping that’ll give me a chance to actually test the functionality (of the phone app, as well as the programme more generally). If anyone has any tips on how to use it successfully for this kind of planning, I’d love to hear them – please tweet me @chrissieplastow.

Mendeley I’m not so certain about. I have a vague idea of how the interface works, but little to test it out on properly yet. It doesn’t strike me as particularly intuitive, and the layout is rather Windows Explorer-esque, which makes me less inclined to use it for some reason. Still, I’ll give it a chance in the initial stages of my new project, and see how it works in practice. Again, if anyone has any tips, or any other reference management software recommendations, let me know.

I expect that I’ll continue using Evernote, as I do like the system, but that I’ll transition to using it more for actual note-taking on sources etc than for planning. I’m also a devil for failing to keep all of my analytical notes in one place, so there’s another hurdle to jump there.

(Perhaps a note on why I’m doing all of this digitally – I love the aesthetic of bullet journals and handwritten notes in moleskine notebooks, and my ideas do tend to flow more freely on paper – all of my structural planning is done that way first, and then transferred to digital means. Unfortunately I don’t have the creative inclination to set up a bullet journal successfully, much as I’d like to. But the more pressing issue is how heavy all of those notebooks are to carry around. My laptop is a reasonably cheap thing, and therefore much heavier than the Macbooks and similar used by many of my colleagues. As a result, I try not to carry too much additional weight alongside it in my bag – especially as I gave myself back problems in the first year of my PhD, essentially by being too sedentary – so physical notebooks just aren’t the best option.)

I’m excited about taking control of this kind of planning and doing it the ‘proper’* way. Hopefully it’ll result in several successful end products. Onto the brave new frontier of not winging it!

*there’s no ‘proper’ way to plan; it’s ok to do whatever works for you!

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