What helps you do your best work? For me, its getting an early start in the morning and having a clear list of my priorities for the week. When I can visualize the projects and tasks I'm tackling and when they're due, it truly puts my mind at ease. Strong organization helps me get into a "flow" state faster--and as a result, many workdays feel rewarding and at times ... relaxing.
Now, let's compare that with my life outside of working hours.
Pre-pandemic, most evenings flew by in a flurry of school pickups, last-minute dinners, bedtime routines, and social media scrolling. Weekends were a jumble of kids' birthday parties, playdates, housework, errands, and family FaceTime calls. It felt like a million things were happening, but almost nothing was getting done.
I eventually realized that if I didn't want to feel so scattered at home--and gain a sense of accomplishment from my personal life versus just surviving--I needed to change my approach. I decided to apply some of the same project management strategies I'd been successfully using at the office to my personal life, and was relieved to almost immediately feel the impact.
This experiment (put into play around two years ago) has also made it a lot easier for me to manage my day-to-day now that the lines between home and office have been so indelibly blurred.
Here's how I put on my PM hat to find more time and accomplishment (and, yes, spontaneity!) after the working day is done.
Plan Your Planning Time
Of all of the PM tricks, this one is probably the most important. Each and every week, schedule 15 minutes to sit down (no distractions!) and determine what you need and want to accomplish, from smaller to-dos (sending birthday cards for the month) to bigger, meatier projects (creating a gallery wall in your living room) and on what timeframe. I have a recurring weekly calendar invite to myself for this time--usually on Friday afternoons before the weekend chaos kicks in.
Find Your Framework
A Kanban board is a visual approach to managing projects and tasks and clearly shows where a task stands and if it's on deck, in progress, blocked, or done. This could come in handy if you're working on a longer-term project like redecorating a space in your home or even planning a wedding.
While the Scrum approach is often used for software development, there are plenty of principles that can be applied to personal projects, especially when they involve other people. The Scrum framework involves daily check-ins, short "sprints" of work, and retrospectives to review how the sprint went. I can see this being particularly helpful for busy families like mine to remind us to check in with one another, reflect on how we're feeling, and plan upcoming activities like vacations and outings.
As any project manager knows, it's important to break down projects into smaller tasks, to help anticipate exactly how long something's going to take. You can organize those by dependency or deadline, especially if you're often guilty of procrastination (who isn't?).
Apply that same approach to your personal chores. If your "project" is to clean the kitchen, break that down into smaller chunks like wiping the counters, doing the dishes, and cleaning out the fridge.
This also becomes important as you think about the different roles you have in your personal life, whether you're a parent, a caregiver for a family member, or volunteer in your community. Each of those roles comes with its own set of projects, so mapping them out and breaking them down will make it easier to tell what's actually on your plate.
Turn to Digital Tools
There's no shortage of project management software out there, and if you use one of them at work, you can try using it for your personal tasks, too. At Masthead Media, we use Basecamp to manage our projects. Asana, Trello, and Monday are other popular platforms. I've also tried Todoist (which is ideal if you often think of new to-dos on the fly).
If you need a break from software, try creating a physical Kanban board! Jot down tasks on Post-it notes, organize them on your wall, and then move them around as they progress.
Applying some of these project management principles to your personal life may even boost your productivity at work! If you feel more control at home and can structure personal projects so you don't have to think about them, you may find that you have more bandwidth (and brain space!) to focus on professional projects.