Here at TCS, we know (more than we probably ever wanted to know) about managing complex schedules with tight deadlines. So, we’ve put together a list of the five things that our team members say help the most with keeping projects under control.
1. Set the project deadlines
Perhaps the most important aspect of publishing is making sure to meet deadlines. Failing to meet deadlines has a knock-on effect for editors, marketers, sales representatives, publishers and a host of other people. So how can you make sure you don’t mistakenly miss a deadline or find a task taking up too much of your time?
Start by setting out all the critical dates on a calendar. You may have a project management tool that you use in your team – at TCS we use Smartsheets, but there are loads of options to choose from. But if not, any calendar software is a good place to start. Try Google Calendar, which allows you to create several calendars in one easy place. This means you can create a calendar for each project – and even a personal calendar to remind you to wish your mum happy birthday! Put each deadline into the calendar and work backwards from there. Already using Google Calendar? Here’s how to create a robust editorial calendar.
2. Estimate your time accurately
Have you ever thought you had months and months to complete a task, only to have the deadline creep up on you and have to scramble to get everything done? It’s easy to assume a task will take a few days, only to discover that in reality, it is more complicated and will take more time than initially expected. Our tip? Don’t underestimate the amount of time you think you will need – make sure you understand exactly what is needed to deliver the task and then provide yourself and your team realistic timeframes (within the deadline) to get all the required work done, and keep your team happy.
Speaking of estimating your time, you should also always consider the project priorities. Certain tasks are going to take precedence over others and need more attention. Make sure you and your team know which tasks are the priority for the project (and what the deadlines for these tasks are!). Make sure that everyone is on the same page about how to go about their tasks and which elements of their task should be prioritised over others.
Stay in touch with your team members. It’s important to communicate your concerns and queries so that problems don’t slip under the radar. By scheduling regular team meetings (even a few minutes), you can quickly gauge where everybody is at and understand what the next steps for the project may be. In a similar vein, keep your stakeholders up to date! By providing an up-to-date outward facing calendar, the stakeholders can see exactly where the project is and can have a clear idea of when to expect a submission.
5. Expect the unexpected
Anticipate that life sometimes gets in the way of deadlines and workloads. Most likely, every project will encounter problems and unexpected blip; it is inconvenient, but normal. Learn to anticipate issues and find ways to counteract (or ideally prevent) problems. Editors will sometimes miss deadlines, stakeholders will be nitpicky, and managers will get ill. Computers will crash and people who you need answers from will be on holiday. Wherever possible, build some contingency into your schedules to help to counteract this, either adding a little extra time to each task, or building in a few days or weeks of buffer at the end of the project. By expecting that unexpected problems will arise and finding ways to problem solve, you’ll find yourself feeling a lot less stressed!
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