Pretty much everything we do in academic publishing has a deadline, whether it’s the date for an abstract or paper submission to a call for proposals, the next big national grant deadline, a personal goal for a thesis or book manuscript, or a contract from a publisher. Since most of us have multiple (if not dozens, or more!) projects going at once with competing deadlines, keeping track of everything in the pipeline can be a big task. Deadlines on the calendar are helpful, but also often closer than they appear, and easy to ignore until they sneak up into a work week.
We’re really at a point where we have too many options for how to handle the challenges of tracking our progress on projects: there are tons of robust digital applications as well as classic planners and note-taking systems available. Given this choice overload, how do you handle your project tracking?
I’ve tried tons of solutions for keeping up with deadlines myself. My current system is fairly simple: I use a paper-based planner, the Blue Sky “Day Designer,” which I love because it divides every day into scheduled appointments and tasks, with a calendar view for every month. I sketch out my tasks for the week every Sunday based on checking in to my master projects document, which lives in Google Drive where I can easily share it with my frequent collaborators.
That document, as shown above, is simply a table: every project has a title, status, and next deadline. Projects in gray are complete other than minor editorial tasks (like a book or chapter where the manuscript has been submitted and is awaiting copy-edits or indexing), projects in black are ongoing, and projects in italics are currently on hold while I wait for editors or co-authors to contribute. Projects in bold are the ones with impending deadlines, or anything with less than a month to go. It’s very straightforward, but it does require ongoing maintenance, particularly since I’m not using anything fancy that could automatically warn me of pending deadlines. I never cycle anything off the list until it is actually published, as that’s when it goes on my CV, tenure dossier, and website.
There are lots of more complex systems out there for managing projects. Ryan Straight described his process of digitizing a workflow using LiquidPlanner, which I admit looks awesome but also like a lot of work. (I’ve had similar problems with other popular solutions, like Bullet Journals. These seem great for a system of organization and particularly tracking progress over time, but I lasted about three days.) Erin Furtak wrote recently about tracking writing productivity and made several suggestions of status categories, including early stage brainstorming and data collection, which can be particularly helpful if you are someone who starts a lot of things at once.
What’s your project tracking strategy? Share it in the comments!