There’s a problem with most project management software.
When scribbled sticky notes were no longer effective in helping employees figure out what they needed to do in their roles, and when remote work became not only a viable option, but a good one, companies needed a better way to keep track of what each person ought to be doing on any given day.
Enter: project management software.
While it may seem like a leap forward from checklists on legal pads and chicken scratch notes on a calendar, there’s a downside to some we can’t get over.
The tasks and to-do lists serve the purpose of helping people know what to do…
But it doesn’t help the question of when to perform those tasks.
What happens when that person has to push the task off because another took longer? Or when they have to refer back to the project management app five times a day and become inundated with notifications, comments, and DMs that pull them from the very task they were meant to be working on?
A calendar is only as good as its inputs. Which is why it’s important to learn how to set up your project management calendars in a way that supports your work (instead of adding to it).
Blending Scheduled Tasks & Time for Deep Work
You suck at multitasking. We all do. It’s been proven time and time again, yet for some reason we still expect the most from our teams despite forcing them to use five different softwares, all with their own notification sounds and badges.
This is especially true in remote or hybrid work settings, where the multitude of methods to contact each other is justified by not seeing each other in person—the need for communication.
But here’s what actually ends up happening:
Your employee logs in for work and sees 12+ unread messages in your communication app (like Slack), so they spend about an hour reading and responding to each.
They open email and have a bunch of unread emails they now have to filter, reply to, or forward to the appropriate person. Another hour goes by.
Their task management software is finally opened, only for another notification from Slack to pop up, asking them a question about a to-do list item from two weeks ago.
They search their to-do archive and spend another 20+ minutes finding and responding to your question.
They go back to their project management system to see notifications in their inbox, newly assigned to-dos, and mentions in the comments of a project they thought had been completed.
It’s now after 11, and they “started” work at 8am…and they have performed zero items on their list for the day.
The solution is simple: implement a system of scheduling work in time blocks that allow each employee to have dedicated deep work time that goes uninterrupted.
More gets done. The work is higher quality. Projects get completed on time. Your employees are happier.
Not all software can help you get here, though.
The Best Project Management Tools to Create & Schedule Your Calendar
If you work on a team, you have to be able to manage your calendar to collaborate with coworkers. Johnny can’t build the website design if you haven’t finished the branding and Sharice can’t create the graphics until the website design is started.
Even if you’re a freelancer working for yourself, you still need to manage your calendar to better understand your own capacity and set better expectations with your clients.
Which means if you’re putting together a project management calendar, you’ll need software with functions to support this.
To create a project calendar, here’s what you’ll want access to:
Projects don’t (or shouldn’t) happen in a silo. You don’t want to deal with that growing pain as a company. They need collaboration and everyone on the team working together.
That requires a means to communicate and collaborate within projects and within specific to-do list items to minimize confusion.
It’s best to have a place to communicate with everyone involved in a project, as well as only people working on a certain to-do list.
Bucketing Potential For Deep Work
We already discussed that people can’t multitask, and in fact, we do better when we’re able to spend long amounts of time focused on a single type of task. So it’s even better if the project management software you use to create a calendar has the capability of bucketing types of tasks.
In Basecamp, this can be done by creating specific to-do lists within a project focused on the type of work. A graphic designer can have a to-do list within a project specifically for creative illustrations.
This way, they can open only that list and do the work without bouncing between graphic design and marketing and copywriting.
Lack of Distractions & Notifications
You’ll want a software where you can dictate the notifications, choosing how often and what types you want to receive. This also means limiting what projects people have access to.
In many project management softwares, the whole team can search any project they want and access it. But that’s not useful and can just cause more wasted time.
With something like Basecamp, you can actually limit who can see if a project exists, which keeps their dashboard simplified, reducing decision fatigue.
Easy for Anyone to Navigate
Get rid of the idea that more features means it’s better. When there are too many things to navigate and tasks exist within projects and subtasks and those subtasks have tasks, you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time onboarding employees.
Not to mention time wasted when people can’t find what they’re looking for.
You don’t want to pay people to look for what they should be getting paid to work on.
You don’t need 5 different ways to view the same project with filters and add-ons that require more for the eye to navigate. The more someone wants to customize, the easier it is to get distracted in doing so.
Still, you want some way to help people operate that’s beneficial to them.
Being able to change the to-do list view from board to list is an example of helpful customization. This way, people’s brains who operate best with visual boards can find what they’re looking for as can those who prefer the classic list style.
They’re popular for a reason. There’s not only something very satisfying about their structure, but it can also help your teams stay on track and move the most important pieces of a project forward first.
In fact, we recommend your project have a kanban board, especially when working with designers, content writers, or other contractors.
The layout is very simple and you can see everything in all pipelines at a glance, along with any ideas for the project. You or your clients will be able to see the status of each item, which is even more useful if you have a difficult client who wants an update for every little thing.
Lastly, but most importantly, you’ll want a software that has a function with capabilities of syncing your tasks and to-do lists with your calendar—like Google calendar. This is what allows for the time blocking that leads to deep, quality work.
This can be done in Basecamp with the following steps:
Step 1: Navigate to the “Schedule” option inside your project dashboard
Step 2: Click on “Add this Schedule to your Google Calendar, Outlook, or iCal…”
Step 3: Click on the calendar of your choice
Step 4: Open your calendar in another window and choose the option to add another calendar
Step 5: Choose the option to add it from a URL or the next step for your calendar choice
Step 6: Paste the URL
Step 7: View the to-do list items now in your calendar of daily tasks
How to Make a Reliable Calendar for Project Management
Different types of projects have different objectives and timelines. Most companies have a few projects running at a time. There are the daily tasks of ongoing projects to keep the company running, but then there are also one-off campaigns and special growth projects.
Some for maintenance, some for growth.
To make a calendar for project management, the growth projects are usually what need to be scheduled around the daily upkeep, and that’s what we’ll focus on.
We’ll start by assuming you already have the project purpose and details of what it is decided upon.
Step 1: Determine the Time Frame
All goals will be broken down from here. Make sure it’s not so unrealistic that you set your team up for failure (or for burnout). Gather your team and summarize the project, and work together to determine what’s realistic.
Oftentimes, management is too removed from the day-to-day to fully understand what projects take to complete.
A good rule of thumb is to take the number of departments into consideration when making the goals. The more cross-team collaboration necessary, the longer it might take for all the moving parts to come together.
Step 2: Create the Project in Your Management Software
Create an individual project, title it, and fill in the project description.
In Basecamp, you’d do this by navigating to your account dashboard, and clicking “Make a new project”. Then fill in the name space. In the option for additional description, place the finish date goal as well as the project’s purpose so the team can see it in a glance.
Note: If this is an urgent or primary project for everyone, have your team pin it so it appears at the top in their account dashboard.
Step 3: Add Necessary Employees to the Project
Note that not everyone needs to be included in the project if they don’t have a role in it. Just because it might be a company initiative doesn’t mean every single department needs the notifications (distractions) associated with it.
A marketing campaign can be a business-wide push, but that doesn’t mean customer service reps need to be added.
Step 4: Decide Between Kanban Board or To-Do Lists
Or both, if you have multiple teams working on a larger project. Both are good options, but if it’s a single-team project, decide which you’d prefer to work with.
If you want to use the kanban board in Basecamp, go to the project options by clicking the three horizontal lines in the upper right, going to “change tools” and toggling the “Card Table” option on.
If you’re more inclined to use the to-do lists, select that option from the dashboard and either use a template, or begin making your own sections.
Step 5: Create the Stages
Every project has multiple parts or phases that need to take place. When using the to-do list option, you can separate by function of work or by each person’s role and the to-dos specific to them.
When using a kanban board, it’s easier to create phases of the process where each person can move the cards to whichever phase they’re in. These are most often used for:
- Content creation
- Social media agencies
- Web design
- Software or app development
The phases typically cover the actions of not started, in progress, revising or editing, QA, and then “done” column that you can hide. Here’s an example of one for content writing.
Step 6: Create & Assign Cards
Once you have the project set up, whether it’s using a Card Table or To-do List, it’s time to make the action items. Make sure to use the description to place any additional details needed, references, ideas, and overall thoughts of the direction for the to-do item.
It’s usually best for your team to do this part themselves.
Get together as a team to discuss the overall project, completion date, and what’s needed. Then allow your team to go in and create their own cards based on what they know will need to happen.
Go through again as a team to pinpoint any holes or gaps you missed, assigning out those items as needed. As the project manager or lead, it’s your job to find those gaps and solve for them.
Step 7: Schedule Appropriate Due Dates
This is one of the most important steps for making a calendar for project management. By now, you’ll likely have a structure for your project, with a deadline that’s fitting to the work that needs to be done.
Help your team choose due dates that allow for flexibility but still move the project forward.
Step 8: Sync to Your Calendars
If you’re able to, have each member of your team sync their items to a calendar that allows them to rely more on deep work and less on distractions. This way, they can better manage their schedule and only attend meetings on days where not many items are due.
To do this in Basecamp, see the section above with those instructions.
Step 9: Link Up Resources
Not all projects will need this, but some will. In many project management software, you’d need to link a folder or resources directly to each item, but that’s often a waste of time. To have a place everyone on the team can access the final copies of graphics, copy, or other resources, use a folder or linked access inside your project.
This function is available in Basecamp through the “Docs & Files” option inside your project’s dashboard. Click here and hit “New” and select which option want from a menu with folders, uploading individual items, or even linking to Google Drive, Airtable, Dropbox and many more.
No matter how you make your calendar for project management, focus on proactively setting up the team for success by utilizing the principles of project management. Don’t overcomplicate it.
Ready to build a project management calendar of your own? Try the all-new Basecamp. It’s project management’s greatest hits - everything you need, and nothing you don’t.
Get started for free in just a few minutes. No credit card or commitment required.