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CL #17 – How to Use Notion for Engineering Project Management

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Hey 👋 – Luis here.

Happy Thursday morning to 1,064 motivated engineers and entrepreneurs.

Here's one tip on how to become a better Engineering Project Manager

Today's issue takes about 2 minutes to read.

As an engineer, management is one of the most valuable skills you can have. Unfortunately, engineers often become project managers without prior experience managing people or projects. While it is essential to focus on technical proficiency, management skills will eventually come into play.

You may wonder how to practice management skills if you are not managing anyone. The answer is simple:

Start by managing your own time and responsibilities. By doing so, you can get ahead of 90% of engineers.

Over the past few years, I have developed a framework that helps me track what is important and never miss valuable information. My Notion setup has evolved, but it can adjust to your current system. It includes four basic pieces of information:

  • Tasks
  • Projects
  • Notes
  • Time tracking

It’s that simple. Let’s dive in

Managing Tasks as an Engineer

A task manager is the center of operations for your day-to-day activities. It includes everything you must do and ensures you never forget a task.

For me, I create tasks for anything that needs to happen. The beauty of Notion is that the system can adjust to your needs, and I can capture these tasks during meetings while taking notes, or reviewing my projects, thanks to its linked view of databases.

This view shows me the task itself, what project it belongs to, and its status, and allows me to check it as complete. While it is simple, I have created other metadata for each task that allows me to plan my day and keep track of tasks in multiple ways.

Task management is the foundation for never forgetting what to work on.

You can also see that I have a tab for CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and Requests. The CRM tab helps me keep track of coworkers, friends, and people in my network to ensure I regularly connect with them.

The requests tab is a recent addition to this system. It is to keep track of requests I receive or send out. This includes anything from me asking my wife to buy something to a request from a coworker to send them a piece of information for a project. It has been a game-changer in recent months.

Managing Engineering Projects

There are three key pieces of information that I track for each project.

  • Percent of tasks completed
  • Hours spent (relates to budget as well)
  • Next deadline

That is all I need to ensure I stay on track and never miss a deadline. Let’s dive a little deeper:

Depending on your career level, you may manage others or yourself. I do not have direct reports, but what I do could quickly scale up as needed.

I tend to only look at projects weekly. The status or guidance doesn't change often, and if I do a good job of planning, all the next steps will be tracked on the project page or task manager.

To effectively manage projects, it is essential to perform a weekly check-in to ensure that all deadlines are accurate, the amount of time spent is under control, and there is a clear path moving forward.

Here is what my Project Hub looks like. It includes deadlines at the top and more detailed information for active projects below. If you are unfamiliar with Notion, this is simply the same data displayed in two different ways by using linked views of databases.

And that is all for projects. Keeping track of projects can be cumbersome, but it doesn’t have to be. List your active projects, give them status, and identify the next milestone or deadline. It’s that simple.

Creating an Engineering Resource Bank

I always take notes, write ideas, sketch, or organize my thoughts. I use a combination of handwritten and typed notes, but they all end up in Notion at some point.

My extremely popular Structural Engineering notes, which I put together for the PE exam, were born from this desire to keep detailed notes all the time. They help me remember information and ensure I follow through with my goals.

I am a Reading and Writing learning style. If you take my PE or FE Study Guides, you will learn how to identify your learning style to better prepare for the exam. I tend to think better by writing things down and thinking through what needs to be done next.

Another important part of my bank of resources is my engineering resources. I keep a collection of design notes, design procedures, sample calculations, code references, and more to help me find what I need using the search function. This also allows me to slowly build my knowledge base so I am not starting from scratch during a new design.

There is nothing too flashy about this bank of resources. It simply lives in an endless database that gets filtered depending on where I am in my workspace. This lets me see notes specific to each project and search a wide range of topics immediately.

Time Tracking

As engineers, time tracking is an essential practice. Even if you think it doesn't matter, keeping track of your hours early on and using that data to analyze what you are doing can give you an advantage when managing others in the future.

I have tried many time-tracking options, but I keep returning to Toggl because it is simple, intuitive, and free.

Recently, I discovered how to automatically send data from Toggl to Notion, enabling me to link my tracked time to specific projects and see my total time spent on each project each week. This happens without my input other than starting and stopping the timer in Toggl.

For me, time tracking is more than just seeing the number of hours I am spending. Based on my billable rate, it lets me see how much money is involved in those hours. It gives me a sense of how much of the project budget (both time and money) I am using, and many times it pushes me to focus on getting the project done.

Time tracking can also help you focus on the most important weekly projects. It's easy to get caught up in non-essential projects that can wait until later, but seeing the data can help you prioritize.

Next Steps

While there is much more to cover, I hope this has given you a good idea of what it looks like for me. Having this information in one place has helped me be more aware and avoid forgetting tasks and deadlines or spending too much time on projects.

I highly recommend developing a system to keep track of your priorities. It's hard to know what you need to improve if you don't track your progress. This can be done within your current system, but simple tweaks to ensure you're keeping track of the important things go a long way.

What to Cover Next?

Are you struggling with any aspect of this process, or would you like to learn more about it? I plan to cover more on this management topic and want to make sure it's what you want to see. Leave a comment below or reply to this email and let me know what area you want me to expand.

Thanks to Notion, all of these areas integrate seamlessly. The tasks relate to projects and help me track the percent complete, the notes link to projects to help me keep track of meetings and any relevant resources, and my time tracker leverages the power of the integrations to help me track time automatically and give me an idea of where my time is going.

Although all of this may seem complicated, when you put it all together and see it in action, it becomes a joy to use and helps me keep track of the necessary actions I need to take.

See you again next week…

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