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Create a Method for the Madness

One of the hardest parts of managing long-term projects is making sure the elements--which may include copy, images, data acquisition, editing, approval, quality-assurance--come together in a logical and efficient way, especially when others are in charge of generating or claiming responsibility of those elements while your role is assembly and finishing. In some cases, you may produce and approve everything yourself, so your workflow may be naturally simple or haphazard but ultimately under your own control, but most of the time, others will be contributing to your work. At some point, this means you will have to serve as a traffic cop on top of other duties.

Some people provide their contributions without much hassle, because their part is easy, or they're fast and experienced, or they are decisive. Others may invariably disappoint you because they never get anything done, because they are too busy, too confused, or too apathetic.

When it's your responsibility to ensure that a creative project is done on time, you have to figure out how to navigate both virtual obstacles, like artist's block and decision-making, and physical ones like co-workers, freelancers, and producers. Here are some tips:

1. Before starting any work, try to determine answers to some questions:
Who will be providing decisions and approval? What is the due date? Who is contributing? This upfront work will save you from a dreaded "too many cooks" scenario or no direction at all.

2. Find out or decide who is contributing what. This will create your project team and provide a clear overview of who is responsible for which elements.

3. Create a task list. Break down the elements into to-do list items, so you can easily check off tasks as they are completed. You'll know who is getting their work done, who requires nudging, and what parts of the project need more attention.

4. Assert your expectations and share status reports. This can be accomplished by establishing due dates for elements, so your task list may become a project schedule, then sending emails to everyone to provide ongoing reminders of what's left to do.

5. Nag, nag, nag. Learn to diplomatically walk the line between annoying, shaming, and encouraging contributors to finish their work. Everyone has his own working style and responds differently to feedback. Teasing might work with good-humored colleagues but may be less successful than sweet encouragement for a milder personality; some strong personalities respond surprisingly well to getting a little guff thrown their way.