Shenanigans Journal
March 28, 2019 4:36 AM   Subscribe

People who get up to a lot of projects and/or have a lot of project ideas: how do you keep track of your ideas, your progress, any opportunities that come your way? From brainstorm stage to development to end product, or any stage really. [Snowflakes inside, but don't feel like you have to fit my particular situation/needs to reply with what works for you]

I always have a lot of projects and project ideas running at any one time. Sometimes I'll have an idea for a performance I want to make or an essay I want to write (or anything) and either wait for the right opportunity to present it or seek out such an opportunity and pitch it somewhere. Sometimes I hear about a potential opportunity ("pitch your project for XYZ festival/publication/etc") and I come up with an idea on the spot, use a pre-existing idea, or wait till I have something that fits. Often there's some current issue or situation I want to respond to (e.g. political events locally) and thus want to make something that's time-sensitive. I also get asked to be part of other projects often and have also chatted to people about ideas, some of which come to fruition. There are some projects that are ongoing, but usually they're active for a few months and then dormant again until many months or a year later. Some of these make money, some don't, but that's besides the point.

Between my philosophy of "sign up for anything that looks interesting" and the success rate for applications in my world (arts/media/community) to be really low, I don't tend to wait till I get a Yes from one place to try for something else. There's often a lot of waiting, whether from places I've applied to or from other people, so it can take months between the spark of a project and its execution (and even in between stages) - and sometimes I forget that I signed up for it! A lot of the time, just planning out the project - thinking about what I want to do, how I want to do it, how it'd look like, researching it, etc - is enough to scratch that itch for me even if I don't execute it. Projects that have some kind of a deadline or external outcome are more likely to get accomplished than projects that would be "for fun" (which isn't great because a lot of ideas get pushed by the wayside).

My current method is an adhoc system of Google Calendar, emails, and saved posts on social media. Sometimes I'll scribble stuff in a notebook or make a digital note, though honestly Facebook often serves as a good notebook too. I have a DIY kanban board (with columns for Ideas, Early Stages, Waiting On, In Progress, Done, and Failed) and a paper planner but I'm kinda rubbish at updating them. I've tried to-do apps over the years, but I'm rubbish at updating them too - I get things done, I just never remember to mark it off! (For some time specific stuff I'd make paper lists, e.g. a packing list or Do This Before You Go list, and that's helped.) A lot of project management apps seem like overkill to me, especially since for the most part I'm working alone.

I would love some kind of way to:
- Keep a log of all my project ideas, with each idea having space to be fleshed out through structured and specific questions (like this but with each section in the Project Planning page being its own page, and possibly with more specific questions to help with brainstorming)

- Keep track of what opportunities are out there, their deadlines, when I applied, when they reply (or similarly any kind of conversations with people that could lead to an opportunity - e.g. meeting someone at a conference and them inviting me to contact them about writing work)

- See if any of my project ideas and any of my saved opportunities line up with each other, especially during dry periods when I'm bored and have nothing to do

- Keep track of any progress to projects that move past the idea stage, with any related deadlines or tasks as needed

- Keep track of what the hell I signed up for or what I'd committed to months ago so that I don't get surprised 3 months down the line when all of them say YES all at once (which happens - things get quiet for a while then they all start at once)

- See what tasks I have for each project in progress (anywhere from "read this article" to "email X about Y") in a way that I can see all my open tasks at once and see what I'm waiting on (like this person)

I get that there's not going to be one solution for everything - brainstorming/ideation and project management are two very different things after all. I would like the space to dream (as I mentioned, sometimes sketching out that dream is enough for me) as well as the ability to keep an eye on all the projects I'm doing or committed to at any one time so I don't get overwhelmed or say Yes to too many things. Being able to see the next thing I need to get done for any given project (not even necessarily everything on a project, just the next thing) can help me organise and schedule my time too.

I also have this (potentially ADHD-related) thing where if I don't act on a thought right now I'd lose it, which means sometimes if I don't apply to a thing the moment I hear about it I forget to do so. That means though that I lose out on a lot of opportunities and I'd like to avoid that, so a way for me to track and be reminded of such deadlines is useful.

I hear AirTable can be really good for this (Does it do reminders?) and I've used it before, but suggestions on how exactly to structure an AirTable table to make this happen would be handy. I know of Trello too, could it help accomplish some of what I'm thinking? Are there any project journals that sorta work like a travel journal or bucket list journal where there are prompts and questions to help you flesh out an idea? If I were to Bullet Journal this, what layouts should I be using?

What do you do for yourself? What works for you and how does it help you?
posted by divabat to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
My system for compiling opportunities is that I have a folder in my email where I collect them all together. I email myself a link to opportunities that I found elsewhere, so all of them are in this one folder. I mark with a flag the "active" ones that I have applied to but am waiting to hear back from, and the ones that have said yes. Once the exhibition is totally finished or I get a "no," I file them away.

On a notebook that I keep open, I list the opportunities in order by date, so I can see what's coming up next. (But the links and details stay in the email folder.)

On the same page of the notebook, I keep a list of my top ideas - the strongest ideas, the most important ones, and the ones that are in progress. I try to keep this list to four or five items, otherwise it is mentally too much to keep track of. The ideas are listed by short name, like "rose", "driving", etc. This way, when I get free time, I know what to work on immediately. This could be digital, like in one flagged email or a desktop sticky note, but I like having it on my desk.

A different notebook is for fleshing out ideas. This is a random sketchbook of notes, things to try, lists of aspects undone, research, themes for the artist statement, etc. All the ideas are mixed together in this notebook, but I open it to the relevant page when I'm working on an idea. In theory this could be digital, but I like paper for the sketch aspect.

And finally, I have a digital list of ideas that I keep on my computer. This is for when I come up with an idea that I have no chance of executing right now, but I don't want to forget. It might be that I need to wait to get a grant, or that it's so complicated it would take full focus, or it's outdoors and needs a particular season, etc. I put as many details as possible when I add something to the digital list. I try to include as much about the feelings the idea brings up as I do of the technical aspects, because that's what helps me pick up where I left off with it, when I go back to it.
posted by xo at 6:13 AM on March 28


Adam Savage discusses this on a recent podcast when Max (of CAH fame) asks him how is manages ot be so damn productive. His solution is a paper sketchbook for lit and drawings and outlines and lists and ideas, plus also a TON of nested folders on his computer to organize digital assets for upcoming/in-progress projects.

Just lists and lists and lists, he says.

There's Adobe Bridge for cruising through all the pictures, and a Google spreadsheet that describes some completed -and-stored-away work, but mostly he emphasizes putting everything in the sketchbook, and also always keeping the laptop "within six feet of [him]."
posted by wenestvedt at 6:47 AM on March 28


You're basically looking for a project management tool I think. I use Asana, which has a nice clean app and integrates smoothly with google stuff. It's still just making lots of lists, but provides a nice structure to basically create all the nested folders and hierarchies for you.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:05 AM on March 28


I asked this question about neuroatypical productivity recently.

My organizational scheme is also ad hoc and I've been working on accepting that. That some ideas will fall through or later will make no sense to me. And the best idea is the one you get down somehow.

Here are a few things that I do though.

-My filenames have become really important. I name things NameofProject-SomethingMoreSpecific, and it helps a ton. I also keep files that I try to maintain of, for example, what flash fiction is finished and could go in a collection, and another file of old flash fictions that I may work on. I've never been able to organize files well before and this has made a big difference.

-Pinterest. I have some secret boards for projects so I drive myself a little less crazy trying to keep track of links and anything relevant to the ideas.

-I do a lot of notes on my phone. A lot. I frequently will just have one long note ongoing of everything--to do, fragments of things I'm writing, grocery ideas, whatever. For me it's somehow easier to do that and go through it later than to search through multiple lists.

-I've used the free Trello app. I like it but for some reason it feels more cumbersome to go in the app and make boards and whatnot. Sometimes I feel like it, though, or it can be good to list, say, the broad strokes of art projects.

-Someone advised to keep a project list and a task list. That helps me sort out big things I may want to try some time vs pieces of what I want to do now. I hate letting go of projects, but sometimes I have to scale back. For instance, when I was writing a screenplay, I realized that I'd need a lot of other people if I ever wanted to do anything with it, so I shelved that. Give yourself permission to make those sorts of judgment calls.

-Finally, it's been really freeing for me to just say to an idea that it's not ready yet. Like I don't have to chop down the plum tree because the fruit isn't ripe yet. And there have been times I've randomly finished things begun years before, so it's good to always have it.

You'll probably have to cobble approaches together to find what works, and make adjustments accordingly. It's exciting to have so many projects!
posted by mermaidcafe at 7:13 AM on March 28


Also re saved opportunities, putting things on my phone calendar with alarms helps. Like if I want to submit to a journal that opens a certain day, I'll get notified.

Also also, don't knock out the idea of a whiteboard or similar. You can always take pictures of it if you need the info later.
posted by mermaidcafe at 7:15 AM on March 28


I use Trello. I have lists for things like "Researching," "Writing," "To Publish," and one for half-baked stuff that I can put things in as soon as I think of them. There can be another list for opportunities with dates on them so that you get a reminder when the deadline is coming up.

I also use Evernote for clipping stuff from the web. I can take screenshots of texts or other stuff on my phone and immediately save it. I have to go back and sort through those periodically though, or they will just sit there in the Evernote black hole.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:23 AM on March 28


Trello. 1 card per project and if a project grows beyond checklists, it gets its own board which is linked from the original card. Easy to see projects at a glance and zoom in on a particular one.
posted by meijusa at 11:57 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]


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