In the Project Plan practice, I used an example of how leaving a marketing memo lying on top of your desk serves as a mental crutch to remind you that you needed to include the cost figures from the memo in your client presentation.
The best practices of the Master Project List and Project Plans completely eliminate the need to keep this memo on top of your desk because the plan for the client presentation project now has an entry reminding you that you need to include the figures from the memo.
The question now becomes: what do you do with the memo now that it doesn’t have to be on your desk? The answer is to put it in a “Project File.”
The best practice of project files consists of having separate file folders for each of your active projects where you can store and group all material related to that project.
The project file should store any paper based parts of your project plan such as a task list, reminder notes, project risks, etc. It should also store any documents, notes, memos, printouts, or other paperwork that are directly related to your project.
Note that project file folders serve a very different purpose from the typical reference files that most people store in their filing cabinets.
Project files should only be used for your ongoing active projects. They should be used much more frequently than other reference files.
It is best to separate the project files for your active projects from your other reference files or folders, including the files for past or completed projects that you are keeping for reference purposes.
Since you’ll use your project files more frequently, keeping them separated will make it much easier for you to find, pull out, and eventually return each project file to its rightful place.
Your project files should be within reach whenever you start a project, but should be out of your immediate sight to avoid distractions. A file drawer on your desk is a perfect place to store your project files.
In the example of the client presentation, whenever you get to the task reminding you to add the cost figures from the memo to your presentation, all you have to do is pull out the project file—if you don’t have it out already—and take out the memo.
By using the project file, you’ve not only eliminated the need to have the memo lying around on your desk, but have a natural “home” for it while you are working on the project.
Keys To Success
Here are some keys to success when using the project files best practice:
- Make it easy to create new project files as needed. It should take no more than a minute to create and label a new project file. Keep an ample supply of empty file folders and labels within reach. I’ve dedicated the first hanging folder in my desk’s file drawer to serve as a container for empty file folders.
- Have a separate project file folder for each project and keep then separated from reference files.
- Keep your project files within reach but out of immediate sight. Remember that you’ll probably use your project files much more frequently than reference files. Keep them organized so you can quickly find, pull out, and return each project file folder to its rightful place.
- Never file an item requiring an action without first making an entry for the action in either your project’s task list or the master project list. You don’t want to have to remember about this item tucked away in some file. Put the reminder in writing.
- Purge your project files on a regular basis. The best periods are anywhere between one week and one month.
- Use links to remind you where you filed an item that you need and that is not in your project file. Links could be notes inserted in the project file or part of the entry in your task list.
- The project files practice also applies to all your electronic documents including email.
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