Project Practitioners > Do You Project Manage Your Life?

Do You Project Manage Your Life?

By Josh Nankivel
Please see Project Management in Your Own Life for a related post by Matt Glei

Project managers are the worst to manage. You need a system for yourself. Andrew Meyer left a comment on Project Manager Interview Questions recently. I started to leave a reply and realized this would be a great post. Here is Andrew's comment, the context is related to what to ask candidates in an interview for a project management position.

Actually, my favorite question involves two parts. I like to find something major that happened in their personal life, like getting married. My second question is whether they put a project schedule and project plan etc. together for their wedding? I’ve never yet had someone say that they put together a project plan for their wedding, trip, house sale etc. My follow on question is “Why?” There are multiple parties involved who need to know what is happening and multiple deadlines that have to be met, isn’t that just like a project? If project management is so helpful and they rave about how useful it is at work, why don’t they use it personally? A question I’d love to know the answer too.

Interesting question Andrew. I'm not sure I care much if they use these things in their personal lives. Additionally, questions that are geared towards their personal lives makes me a little uncomfortable anyway. I just care about how they behave when at work. I know what you're getting at though. How about questions around how they keep themselves organized and on task at work? How do they ensure they "get things done?" For instance, I have put some systems in place for myself that are sort of like really scaled-down versions of some project management processes. Do they fit my definition of a "project?" No. It doesn't matter though, project management skills can be applied to just about anything. Let's talk about mini project task management. 

Manage Your Inbox Like a Mini-Project
  • Initiation: Hmmm...perhaps the act of putting this system in place is the "initiation"
  • Planning: Scheduled blocks of time to address email. When I've been out of the office, additional time is reserved specifically for this.
  • Executing: When it's "email time" I work each one immediately and if I need to, I create a new task for myself.
  • Monitoring & Controlling: Smack myself around if I get distracted. If it took me a long time to get through my email, I figure out why. Usually I got distracted and didn't realize it. Then I kick myself. (bruise = lessons learned file)
  • Closing: When I'm done, my email box always contains 0 unread messages. That's my "deliverable" and how I know I'm done.
Manage Small Activities as they Arise Like Mini-Projects 

I have a folder on my hard drive called "activities" that includes "active", "completed", and "cancelled" sub-folders. The image to the right is an
  • Initiation: Whenever there is a new activity that is going to take more than a day or that I want to be able to refer back to, I create a new folder in the "active" folder with the naming convention "yyyy-mm-dd [activity name]". The date is creation date, and I don't change it. This is my working directory for all notes, files, etc. related to the activity. By creating the folder I have "authorized" myself to work on this mini-project.
  • Planning: My "active" folder serves as a way for me to plan my days. I block out time on my calendar to work specific activities this way, using the information in the folders to help estimate how much time I will need. Depending on the activity, I will sometimes sketch out a quick WBS to be sure I do everything to acheive the objective(s).
  • Executing: Having scheduled time, the execution takes place with the relevant subfolder open on my PC. If I go talk to people to make things happen, I leave it up. I record conversations here, save files as needed, etc. Everything is in one place.
  • Monitoring & Controlling: Starting with [yyyy-mm-dd] means I can sort activities by the date they were started. The goal is to keep the number of folders in the "active" category low, and the oldest ones get natural attention when I review the folder.
  • Closing: When I'm finished, I move the whole folder to "completed". I can search at any time for future reference.
Benefits of These Approaches
  • Focus - These approaches have a way of keeping me on-task by insisting on single-threading my attention.
  • Accountability - It's easy to see if I've been slacking off. The email screams at me and my "active" folder items stare menacingly.
  • Clear Scope - my task list and activities folder are unambigous. Managing real projects has trained me to be unambigous when I name anything.
  • Documentation - I keep all my email and activities files. Email is easy to search because it's all in the inbox, just in a read state. I don't use rules or subfolders with email. It's amazing how handy my repository of these "mini-projects" on my hard drive has proven to be. I can do a search and find documentation of relevant conversations, documentation, links, and everything relevant to a particular "mini-project" very quickly. When I left my last employer, I handed off nearly 2 years of organized documentation to my replacement.
How do you project manage your life?
Who Is Josh Nankivel? I am the founder of, a site dedicated to helping new and aspiring project managers succeed.

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