Project management is an endlessly large topic. There are textbooks written on the subject. Experts in the field. Academics who study it rigorously through systems theory and who knows what else...
While it’s possibly to create incredibly elaborate and complex Notion project management templates and systems, often these are so idiosyncratic as to be, well, unhelpful for many users.
In this post, we’re going to look at a simple (and free) Notion template you can duplicate and start using to start tracking your projects and key actions.
But first, let’s give at least a little of ‘why’ before diving in.
What are the benefits of project management when you’re working alone?
If you work in or manage a team—project management is essential, there’s really no way around it.
But we have to go a little deeper to make the case for solo businesses, creators and freelancers who might only be accountable to themselves.
So, let’s highlight 5 benefits for us to focus on. Project management helps us:
- Prioritize what we’re working on;
- Keep accurate records of progress made (or not made);
- Plan ahead effectively (read: realistically);
- Group tasks, then find them quickly based on tags; and
- Link our daily actions and projects back up to larger goals and objectives.
When we talk about project management for solo business builders, we’re really just asking, ‘Which systems and processes can we put in place to better achieve those 5 outcomes listed above?’
No matter what system we come up with, chances are they’ll include some common, basic elements.
What does project management entail?
Here are some key building blocks for us to look out for:
- Projects (or campaigns);
- Tasks (or actions);
- Priorities; and
- Tags (in our template, ‘Areas’)
At the very least, any project management setup should include these 6 basics.
Naturally, we’re going to run through each in a little more detail.
Goals (or Objectives)
In our Objectives, Actions and Key Projects workspace (along with all our Landmark Clarity OS models), we refer to goals as Objectives. Please note that the free ‘Projects and Campaigns’ template linked to this post doesn’t includes Objectives by default, but you can add that database for free by going here.
So, why set objectives?
Well, for any new project I always want to ask myself: why am I working on this? What will it help me or my business achieve?
That ‘achievement’ question is (if posed correctly) inevitably linked to a metric.
Let’s say I want to start a project to grow my blog. The project name might be ‘Start my blog’, or ‘Supercharge my website content’, or ‘Set my SEO Foundations’. Whatever the name, you’ll have a reason for starting up this project.
In our example case, it seems pretty clear that at least one of the underlying goals of the project is to ‘drive more traffic’, perhaps in the hopes of ‘growing your readership/audience/subscriber base’.
Traffic and subscribers can be measured—they make for excellent metrics.
Well-defined goals require metrics, and so in our roundabout way we have arrived back to where we started: our project has an implied (or explicit) goal, and this goal should be phrased in such a way that it can actually be measured.
In our Notion template workspace, we can create a new ‘Objective’, along with:
- Choosing (or if it isn’t pre-listed, creating) a Metric;
- Selecting a Target value for that metric (our goal);
- Selecting a Current value for that metric (where we are today); and
- We will then be able to refer to this objective from anywhere in our workspace... say, very soon after we create our first ‘Project’ in the database.
Big surprise: every project management system will include a ‘Project’ object. (Say that fast 10 times... ‘project object, project object...’).
What is a project, then? When are they useful? How can you tell whether something is a project, a task or a to-do?
Well, dear reader, if we’re honest with ourselves this is where we enter the world of semantics. There’s no such definite thing as a ‘project’, and an ‘action’, only where we choose to draw the line.
At the very least, though, we might draw the line for a project (instead of a task) when:
- It cannot be completed in one sitting;
- It includes many or multiple tasks within it, toward the same final outcome; and
- Its completion marks some kind of useful progress or milestone made in our business.
It isn’t perfect, but it’s a handy heuristic for deciding whether or not ‘that thing you need to do’ is a task or a project.
Projects help us stay organized at the ‘high level’. They should be objects we can look at from a distance and get an instant feel for what’s going on in our business.
- I look at my to-do list and see 47 tasks in the database;
- I look at my Project list and see 4-5 active projects, with many tasks within them.
Projects make life and business more manageable, as they are a way of storing and creating a ‘hierarchy’ of information in our business.
In our Notion project management template, projects have a few properties worth notion:
- Progress bar;
- Active dates;
- Linked Objectives;
- Linked Actions;
- Tools; and
- An ‘Archived’ checkbox.
Without going to too much detail on each, let’s try to cover our bases.
The Progress bar lets us keep track of the number of tasks complete / the total number of tasks assigned to a project.
This gives us an interesting effect. Since Projects are dynamic, and as you move through them you’re likely to add more actions and tasks to it, 100% doesn’t actually mean ‘done’.
Instead, in this system, ‘100%’ actually means something like ‘100% up to speed’. It means you’re on track with everything that was meant to be done with this project—not everything that will ever need to be done for it.
The Active Dates simply help us set a deadline for our project, along with making it appear in our Notion timeline view.
You can also tag your Project with an ‘Area’. If you are trying to manage projects across various business areas—Marketing, Product, Content, Financials—this can be especially handing for sorting through the noise later on.
We’ve discussed Objectives above. With each project created in the Notion database, you can link it to a specific objective directly.
You can also link specific actions to your project. This is kind of important, more details to come on that below.
Finally, you can link any relevant Tools to a project that are used to work on it, along with send your project to the ‘Archive’ once completed.
Now then, onto those ‘actions’ we mentioned earlier...
Actions (or tasks)
Actions are the tasks we’re actually going to do. ‘Write an article’, ‘File your taxes’, ‘Respond to your emails’... these are all actions that actually get done, and most actions belongs to a ‘Project’.
I would say ‘every’ action belongs to a project, but that isn’t realistic. In real time, sometimes actions and tasks come up that can get done quickly and in one sitting—no real need to create a whole project out of it.
Instead, we’re going to use our Actions database as a tool to help us plan out (and keep track of) our various projects in more detail.
Returning back to our ‘Start a blog’ project, you can see there might be quite a few actions related to particular project right off the bat:
- Brainstorm topic ideas;
- Do some keyword research;
- Research CMS software (if you don’t already have a website or blog);
- Research writing platforms to publish and distribute your content;
- Start writing your first article...
Many of these tasks depend on other things being done before them. They have an ‘order’ about them, and this order can be translated into a ‘priority’.
They will also belong to a business ‘Area’, similar to projects. And they can be assigned a target Due date to keep everything on time.
The full list of properties for our actions in our Notion templates are:
- Priority (on a scale of ‘Highest Priority’ to ‘Priority 4’);
- Target date;
- Blocked by;
- Linked Project.
In the course of discussing just those 3 main topics, ‘Objectives’, ‘Projects’ and ‘Actions’, you can see that we touched on all 6 of our essential project management topics.
To reiterate, project management is best understood in context—it’s easiest to grasp within your own business, when considering the systems and processes you want to deploy in order to ‘Get Things Done’ (yes, if you ever see a GTD template anywhere, it is indeed another cousin of project management).
If you’d like to start leveraging Notion as a tool to help you keep track of these processes and systems, you can get started with the free template linked to this article—just hit the ‘Use it’ button in the left menu, create a free account, then you’ll see a link to ‘Your template’.
We also have some admittedly more complex, but relevant templates and workspaces to help freelancers and solo business builders manage not only their projects, but their businesses at large. You can learn more about our main OS, Clarity, here. Or browse our Shop and library of templates to inspire your own setup.
Happy project managing :)