Tag: Project Management

Using Your PM Skills to Get the Work-Life Balance That You Desire

https://picjumbo.com/download/?d=HNCK4005.jpgWith the advance of technology we are all expected to take on a lot more in both our professional life and personal life.  Schedules, deadlines, emails, text messages, social media . . . all of this can become overwhelming.  So how do you find a good balance between work and play?  The key is to manage the time we are given each and every day.  Knowing how to best utilize your time requires an understanding of prioritizing tasks, scheduling, setting deadlines, and maintaining clear lines of communication with all individuals involved.  For an experience project manager or an individual who has led projects, such skills are necessary to complete the job.  So why can’t we apply those same skills that have been developed throughout our entire careers to our personal lives?  According to Benjamin Franklin,

“For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.” 

In this week’s post, we’ll begin by taking a look at the basics steps of managing a project.  Then we’ll explore using those skills to manage time outside of the office from vacations to day-to-day tasks.

Identify Your Resources

In order to organize your time wisely, it’s best to take inventory of your resources.  There are many different ways this can be done, all of which are readily available both at work and home.  Here are a few of my go-to’s:

  • Mind Maps
  • Project Charts
  • Mobile Device
  • Calendars and Alerts
  • Web Conference Tools
  • Desktop and Online Applications

Brainstorm Ideas

When tasked with managing a project, I start with a mind map. This allows me to brainstorm ideas and tasks that need to be done for that specific project, it also allows me to easily re-organize my tasks so that they are put in a logical, sequential order.

Blog Post_Mind_Map

SmartDraw Tip:  We’re often tasked with re-occurring projects throughout the year.  Fortunately, with SmartDraw I’m able to save the project tasks as a template in my personal library.  I can simply select the “main” or 1st shape and drag it into my library. This will save the outline so that the next time this project arises I can simply click and drag it from the library into the work area and make modifications as needed.

Devise a Plan

With SmartDraw, I’m able to convert my mind map into a project chart simply in just one-click.  The items that I’ve brainstormed now appear in the Task column.  This Project Chart view allows me to input further details of the project such as deadlines, responsibility, and dependencies.  In addition, I’m able to do some workload balancing to ensure my project team isn’t overwhelmed but that we meet the goals and objectives in a timely manner.

Blog Post_Project Chart

Collaborate & Delegate 

Maintaining communication among a project team ensure the success of the project.  Now that the details of the projects have been clearly outlines, the information can be reformatted into a list of tasks available in the Assignment view. This view within SmartDraw will allow all of the members of the project team to see all of their assigned tasks along with their respective deadlines.  To send an email from SmartDraw, simply click on the envelope icon in the top left hand corner.  Outlook will automatically generate a new email message with an image of your visual in the body of the email.  To sharpen your communication skills, read 5 Email Tips That Will Transform How You Communicate.

email tasks

Transfer Your Project Management Skills

Planning on purchasing your first home? Trying to find the time to take that vacation you’ve been dreaming of? Going back to school to obtain a higher degree?  The truth is you can have it all.  Simply the apply the skills that you’ve developed as a project manager.  You can easily organize your out of work life in the same manner.  Let’s take a look at planning that dream vacation that you deserve.

4 Easy Steps to Planning Your Dream Vacation

  1. Identify Your Resources (i.e. internet, guide books, travel apps, friends and family)
  2. Brainstorm Ideas (i.e. mind map possible dates, locations, places to go, and things to do)
  3. Devise a Plan (i.e. create a travel itinerary, budget)
  4. Collaborate & Delegate (i.e. travel agent booking, fellow travelers, co-workers to cover your work)

Sample Vacation Mind Map

vacation mind map

SmartDraw Tip: The mind map template doesn’t always have to be converted into a project chart either. It serves as a great organizing tool as a standalone as well.

To learn more on how to vacation plan, read 6 Tips to Planning a Stress-Free Vacation and 10 Time & Money Saving Travel Tips for Your Next Vacation.  You’ll discover how easy it is to use the skills you’ve developed in your career to make your personal life that much easier.

Use Your Mobile Device to PM Your Day

Mobile devices have become a part of daily lives from checking the weather to keeping in touch with colleagues and friends.   Not only does it allow us to stay connected, it allows us to manage our time more effectively and efficiently.

  • Schedule routine “life maintenance” appointments well in advance.   Such appointment include: dental cleanings, doctor’s exams, eye exams, and hair appointments.
  • Create a list of routine “house maintenance” items.  For example: Grocery item for each market, cleaning supplies, and personal hygiene.
  • When setting appointments, ensure that you’ve allotted the necessary travel time.  Travel time should also accommodate for rush hour, parking, and walking time for your car to the appointment.  Note: If you include the address in the appointment, many smartphones will automatically alert you of the traffic at the time of the appointment.
  • Set alerts early and often.  Alarms are no longer exclusively used to wake us up in the morning.  Alerts can help us maintain a healthy life style as displayed in the photo below taken from a previous post, Diabetes Control: Lower Your A1C in 90 Days.  Alerts can be set on our phones to remind us when to wake up, when to leave work in time for pilates, to when to take our daily vitamins and medications.

Phone Alarms2

Customer Realizes the Power of SmartDraw


We were fortunate to have the unique opportunity to sit down with Kristy Heglie to learn more about her SmartDraw experience.  Here’s what she had to say.

What is your role?

I’m a credentialing administrator. I interface between doctors, insurance plans performing initial and on-going credentialing and privileging tasks for a team of 30 doctors.  Part of my role is to analyze and re-design processes to improve accuracy and increase efficiency.

How did you hear about SmartDraw?

I ran across it by accident. I was looking for a low-cost way to create Flowcharts.  I went online and downloaded it.  Within an hour I literally had, in my hand, the Flowchart that I wanted.  I was just blown away because it looked great.

Tell us about your first experience with SmartDraw.

I’m a long time user of different visual software tools like MS Project and PowerPoint. They can be quite involved to learn unless you use it on a regular basis.   I was expecting SmartDraw would take as much time to learn.  My first experience with SmartDraw was just so much fun.  It was so fast, so good. It’s one of those tools that make you look like a pro very quickly.

What convinced you to purchase?

I tried the free download.  After the first hour, I was ready to purchase it.  I could immediately see lots of different ways to use it for myself as well as quite a number of other folks in our company.  I immediately called up the President of my company and I just rant and raved about the software.  He said, “Yeah all right.  The price is right, go ahead.”  I told him, “You’ve got to hop onto their one hour training.  You might be able to use this for some of the project planning that you’ve been doing.”  Sure enough, he bought a copy.  Now, we have several copies in the company and I suspect we’ll have a lot more.

What are you working on?

I’m using SmartDraw for quite a number of things.  The most prominent project is to create an operations procedural manual.  This is a huge task requiring additional resources and months of planning.  I had only about 3 weeks to do it.


Fortunately, the templates found in SmartDraw are so well done that they force you to think through the entire project.  It really clarified for me what to include and how to put it together in a way that really made sense.  The myriad of templates that are very well done.  Give you a great start.

This is a diagram of the Forms Category. Categories are composed of Sub-Categories. Each Sub-Category contains a series of sample templates to inspire as well as we enable end users to get started quickly and easily.


The format we’re using is a flowchart with written instructions behind that.  Flowcharting has been eye opening for all of us. It’s a bit more complex than we thought.

flowchart sample
A Flowchart is a visual representation of the sequence of steps and decisions needed to perform a process. Each step in the sequence is noted within a diagram shape. Steps are linked by connecting lines and directional arrows. This allows anyone to view the flowchart and logically follow the process from beginning to end.


The feature I’m especially using a lot of is the Mind Map template. I never heard of them before SmartDraw.  With Mind Maps you can do a brain dump and get everything out.  Then organize it very quickly and easily with the software.

A Mind Map is a diagram that is ideal for brainstorming, planning, information gathering, data presentation, and many other uses.


There’s another thing I really enjoy about this software – the ability to move your visuals and graphics around. A lot of other software packages are not really friendly about.  SmartDraw is fantastic.  The ability to create a Mind Map and then with one-click put that into a Gantt Chart saves me hours and hours.

project sample
The Project Planning diagram template enables you to view the project using four distinct views: Assignment, Mind Map, Project Chart, and Timeline. The Views can be selected using the SmartPanel or just below the Work Area. As you modify a View, the others Views dynamically update saving you time and energy.

What do you like most about the program?

There are a number of things.  The ease of use.  You pick it up really fast.  The ability to modify things you already have.  It’s really, really outstanding compared to most everything else I’ve worked with.  Once you get into it, you realize how much power is at your fingertips.  For practically nothing price wise, practically no investment time wise to learn the program.  I really do hope the word gets out even though it makes me look really good.  I like the fact that only I know about it right now.

Would you recommend SmartDraw?

This works the way I always wished software would work.  It’s very intuitive and it’s just awesome.

The New Manager Toolkit

Okay, it’s your first day as a new manager or executive and you are ready to prove yourself to your team, your office and to the world. Are you ready? Are you equipped for the job? What’s the plan?

[Click the Harsh Vinyl Record Needle Scratch Button Below]

If you thought that divine revelation was somehow going to intercede on the first day on the job, then I apologize for the abrupt awakening from your dreamy state and recommend you begin to take steps to determine how you as a new manager will function, operate and lead.

Such an elevation in role and responsibility, from employee to leader, can be exciting yet overwhelming. Perhaps managing a team is new to you, along with many other things, such as handling larger-scale projects, increased travel and delivering presentations. Making a smooth transition into your management role is easier when you equip yourself with the right tools. The resources below will help any rookie plan and manage like a skilled veteran.

The New Manager Toolkithttps://www.pexels.com/photo/conference-meeting-room-chairs-table-28756/

Like so many things in business, there are countless resources and tools that exist. These are simply the ones that are popular among our customers and associates. By no means is this list exhaustive and we encourage you to identify the tools that work best for you and your particular situation. And, we would welcome to hear from you regarding our tools and resources we have listed or about the ones that you have found helpful that ARE NOT listed.

As a side note, neither SmartDraw nor any of us who work here are compensated by any of these companies.

Leadership, Management & Team Training

logo-ftrDale Carnegie Training – One of the longest running and most successful personal development training centers. Managers, new and old, need learn and refine their skills. Dale Carnegie Training courses, webinars and resources span various areas from Leadership Development, Sales Effectiveness and Customer Service among others.

vistage logoVistage – A CEO and executive networking group, but also an information hub of valuable leadership and management thought leadership via their events, resources and blog. Network with leaders across an array of industries and learn from business professionals like you and the challenges they face every day.

Forums and Communities

slideshare-logo (1)SlideShare – An online community providing professionals to discover, share and present various corporate materials including PowerPoint presentations, videos, white papers, case studies, reports, collateral, infographics, documents and more.

manager-tools-iphoneManagerTools.com – An online community full of management tools, podcasts as well as live conferences, workshops and events for educational and networking purposes. There is also a plethora of workbooks and resources for managers looking to hire team members as well as for those managers looking to augment their interview skills and tips to expand the breadth of their resume should they be looking for a different management opportunity.

harvard-business-reviewHarvard Business Review – Business content from a world renowned brand name University like Harvard simply screams “valuable.” And the best part, one does not have to be affiliated to the University to be a subscriber.

amex_open_forumAmex Open Forum – Need a community that has a wealth of financial content? Well, this is the one for you. In this interactive forum, explore strategies ranging from pricing, financial growth to accounting and bookkeeping essentials.

 Mobile Apps

Expensify logoExpensify – This simple and easy-to-use app allows you the ability to track purchases in real-time, pool your electronic receipts, scan your paper receipts and create a comprehensive expense report in PDF while on the go. After all, who wants to take the time to do this manually once you are back from the trip?

camcard-logoCamCard – The data entry after an event or trade show use to always seem to take more time than the actual attendance of it. Now, just snap a picture of a newly acquired business card and sync it to your address book in seconds. A few dollars spent on this app will keep you focused on increasing your business network rather than spending hours in data entry.


ScannerPro – For professionals that are still working in a paper environment but wish to still keep it to a minimum – this app is perfect for you. You can scan documents from your phone, create PDFs, adjust image settings among more so you can keep filing space free, and accessibility nearby.


EvernoteLargeEvernote – Whether you are on the road or not, this free app is great for ensuring you quickly capture your latest random business idea either by voice, picture or text.

Laws & Regulations

legalzoom logoLegalZoom – Most of us have heard of LegalZoom by now, but if not, it’s the one stop-shop for those that are in need of basic legal forms that can be done for a considerably lower cost than hiring an attorney. It’s still good business practice to have a business attorney review any contract before you sign it, but LegalZoom can save you money in basic document preparation.


sba logoSmall Business Administration – Whether you work for a small business or not, the SBA has an array of helpful resources available and is a tremendous information hub regarding administration, regulation and governmental requirements, assistance and legislation.

Project Management, Presentations & Reports

SmartDraw-boxshotSmartDraw – For managers that need an agile system to handle process management, project management, team organization, Lean, PowerPoint presentations, meetings and reports, SmartDraw is the tool for you. Leverage the power of 70 different types of visuals, charts and diagrams like flowcharts, Gantt charts, mind maps, Kanban boards, org charts and more. SmartDraw’s automated easy-to-use diagrams will save you time and money on your all of your projects and presentations – big or small.

That’s our list. We know you will find all of these suggestions helpful to you as you embark in your newest management role.

Have some suggestions? What essentials would you add to this toolkit?

Film and Video Production: How Wes Craven Does It (And So Do We)


Film and video production requires careful, detailed planning and management. The right tools are essential. So today, I’m going to share a few trade secrets of Wes Craven… and of ours here at SmartDraw.

Producers, directors, writers and crew members can all benefit from using diagrams such as project plans, floor plans, mind maps and org charts. While they may not sound like film and video production planning tools at first glance, using them will make everyone’s job easier and promote more effective communication with the rest of the production team.

Project charts can help plan out the entire production from pre-production to shooting to post-production. Floor plans are helpful for planning out a scene for set designers, actors and crew or map out an electrical plan for the gaffer and the lighting crew. With an org chart, you can clearly map out a complicated cast of characters or display the hierarchy of the crew. Finally, use a presentation template to import illustrations and plan out every shot.

SmartDraw has been used by independent filmmakers, corporate film and video production companies and blockbuster movie directors, like horror film legend Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream).

Not only does it include all of the diagram types mentioned above, but also dozens of handy forms like timesheets for the cast and crew, travel forms, and invoices to name just a few. Plus, you can link all of them together with hyperlinks so it’s easy to navigate between diagrams. Doing this makes it function like a mini website.

“I use SmartDraw for many things, and keep finding new uses,” said Craven. “For example, I use it for organizational charts to lay out characters and their relationships when I start to break scripts down for production. This results in a comprehensive blueprint of characters, which is extremely handy and powerful. I can bring these blueprints to staff meetings where they are used for pitches, or when I go to a studio to speak about a script.”

In addition, Craven uses SmartDraw for project planning, for making calendars laying out production schedules and travel itineraries. He even used the program’s floor planning capabilities for a major remodel of his home. Craven added, “I’m sure I’ll continue to find new uses for it, and I always recommend it to friends.”

Project Planning

SmartDraw project charts are an intuitive way to plan out every element of your film and video production. In the mind map view, you can visually lay out the tasks that need to be accomplished and figure out how they relate to each other.

Production Plan-Mind Map view

In the assignment view, you can figure out who among the production team is responsible for which tasks and monitor its progress. Assign responsibilities visually during production meetings and leave all crew members with a clear understanding of what needs to be done.

Production Plan-Assignment view

In the project view, you can set the start and end dates of assignments, edit the duration of tasks and add dependencies. For example, principal photography cannot begin for this shoot until the crew has been assembled.

Production Plan-Project view

View the entire life of the production in a timeline to give a clear scope of what has been accomplished and what lies ahead.

Production Plan-Timeline view

All tasks are managed properly and schedules and assignments are clearly communicated, using project charts.

Floor Plans

With SmartDraw floor plans you can map out a studio and coordinate the layout of your scene. By searching through the symbol libraries in the SmartPanel, you can find symbols representing cameras, lights, monitors and people to represent your actors.

All areas, walls and shooting spaces are measured so you can best plan out your shot. Camera operators, lighting crew, actors and everyone involved can know exactly what to prepare for, before the day of the shoot.


The gaffer, an electrician responsible for the lighting plan of a production, may want an electrical plan of the space in which you are going to shoot to prepare for all electrical needs and restrictions. You can create one of those with SmartDraw as well.


Org Charts

SmartDraw organizational charts can benefit your production in a number of ways. For instance, producers or directors can build an org chart of the crew so that everybody knows who’s who.

Org Chart-Film Crew

Writers and directors can get together and create an org chart of all of the characters in a film, to better understand their relationships and communicate with the actors that play them.

Org Chart-Cast



The SmartDraw presentation tool can help you develop a storyboard from the screenplay. Storyboards are visual representations of the action to be shot in a film or video. They can be helpful to the cinematographer or camera operators as they line up shots during production. It’s easy to import illustrations for each scene, lay them out in the sequence that you want and label them according to scene and shot number, location and characters involved.



There are a number of forms included with SmartDraw that could come in handy during the production cycle. Timesheets for talent and crew, invoices for rental equipment and materials purchased, checklists for each day’s schedule of shots, order forms, shipping receipts, daily expense sheets, and many more templates are available.

Timesheet     Invoice     Shotlist


SmartDraw makes it easy to gather all of these helpful visuals together, in an easy-to-manage system, using hyperlinks. For instance, just right-click on the director in the org chart, select Add Hyperlink, and navigate to the project chart where you can find the director’s assignments.

hyperlink1       hyperlink2

You can navigate from the Production Designer to the floor plan, or from the storyboard to the screenwriter, and back and forth between all of these diagrams. The result is a set of simple-to-use production tools that everyone on your team can easily access.

But don’t take my word for it. Just ask Wes. Or Freddy. Or Jason. If you dare.

Film and reels image used under Flickr creative commons license. Click here for source file.

Construction Project Planning Simplified

Construction project planning involves varying levels of complexity. From scheduling and deadlines to project completion and everything else in between, construction project managers are virtually juggling bowling balls on a constant basis.

It’s no wonder why projects in many cases fail to meet expectations and results. According to one study, fewer than 10% of all projects are actively managed and completed on time.

With this in mind, we have simplified construction project planning and condensed it down to five easy manageable steps that any construction project manager can use. Now the busiest project manager will be able to provide a reliable estimate of when a construction project will be complete, and will have a dependable tool to manage the project meeting all deadlines.

1.     Plan as a Team for Better Results

The key to any project running on time and on budget is to plan in sufficient detail and bring the entire team into the planning process. This allows the project manager to more accurately estimate how long each step will take.

With the input of team members, it’s much easier to balance workloads and estimate timelines with greater precision.

When people are more engaged in the decision-making process, they perform better because they feel that they have a real stake in the outcome. The best way to accomplish this is to capture data and other pertinent information live with an editable mind map during your construction project planning meetings.

A mind map is a project planning tool that is designed to make the capturing of pertinent data and ideas simple. Using a mind map with your team makes it much easier to create, read and edit in real time than using a word document or spreadsheet.

construction planning - mind map

2.     Identify the Big Tasks First

Planning is only one part of the equation. You have to execute, monitor, and control the project. Ultimately, you’re responsible for its successful conclusion.

The best way to begin this process is to start by identifying the big tasks and breaking them into smaller tasks. Do this until each task can be accomplished in shorter and more manageable time frames.

Break up big, vague tasks like “site work” into a larger number of more specific tasks. This will enable you to estimate, with much greater accuracy, the time needed to complete the entire project.

construction planning - mind map - site work detail

3.     Assign Tasks and Chart the Schedule

Once you have identified all the major tasks in your construction project, the next step is to assign tasks and establish timelines with a project chart.

Convert your mind map into a table showing each task, the person or sub-contractor who will do it, the start date and how long it will take. This is called a Gantt chart. Be realistic about the workload of each person. Spread the tasks out so that a new one doesn’t begin until the previous one is complete. If the work of one person, or sub-contractor, has to be complete before a task performed by someone else can start, build this in, too. Be sure to take outside circumstances like holidays and weekends into account. A good project management software program will automatically do this for you.

construction planning - gantt chart - site work detail

4.     Estimate the Completion Date and Monitor Progress

The end date of your last task tells you when your project will be complete. Update your chart with the actual dates of completion for each task as the project progresses. This will tell you, at a glance, whether your construction project is on schedule. If it’s not, you will know precisely how far it is behind so you can make better management decisions.

5.     Follow-up, Communicate and Complete the Project

As you progress towards completion and continually use your project chart, what you will find is it has become a ‘living document.’ What that means is that updates can take place continuously and everyone on the team refers to the document regularly. Once work begins on the project, you can monitor the completion of each task and adjust the schedule accordingly. Updating and sharing your construction project plan with the entire team keeps everyone on track and accountable-both to you and the other team members.

This over-arching communication and follow-up process not only keeps your team up-to-date on the tasks at hand on your current project, but as a construction project manager you will be able to assess any bottle necks and other stumbling blocks that will allow you to better estimate the planning of future projects.

The outcome is better communication and increased team accountability, leading to projects that stay on track and get completed on time.

And the best surprise is no more surprises.

Was this information helpful to you? Is there something else you’d like to read about? Please let me know in the comments section below. And as always, thanks for reading the SmartDraw Blog.