How My Project Budget Works

In 2014 I created a spreadsheet for project management that allowed me to be a little more realistic about what I can and cannot do. The result was that I had a very productive year in spite of losing four full work-weeks to influenza, and we went on to deliver two books, two slipcases, and a calendar in time for the holiday shopping season. And that last bit? That’s kind of a big deal when it comes to the bottom line here.

I’m doing it again in 2015. Here’s how it works:

  1. I carve my time up into twenty-hour blocks called, intuitively enough, “half-weeks” of work.
  2. I make a list of projects, and I guess how many half-weeks each of them will take. A convention weekend is a half-week. A big convention like GenCon Indy is a full week. The Writing Excuses retreat was 3 half-weeks, and I budgeted exactly right that time. Each project becomes a row in the spreadsheet. Each is assigned a priority based on the month in which it needs to be complete.
  3.  I include the comic, 52 weeks of which will take 52 half-weeks of work (This assumes that I’m able to bang out a week of strips in 20 hours. This is increasingly an unsafe assumption.) This got a priority of 9, because I needed it at the bottom of the list. I know that one has to get done each and every week. Duh.
  4. Oh Magog, the math. The spreadsheet balances my projected half-weeks of work, and subtracts it from the pool of 104 half-weeks in a year. The spreadsheet then tells me that I have too much on my plate, so I revise the estimates or prune projects. This happened in January of 2014, and after careful revision I had a year’s worth of work that fit inside a year, except that 8 months of work needed to fit inside of 5 months. But I could SEE this, and knuckle down accordingly.
  5. Each week I update the amount of work remaining in the tracking column for each project, and I input which week of the year it is in a cell that determines the size of the pool of remaining half-weeks. The spreadsheet then automatically calculates the balance, and usually it tells me that I need to cough up 60 hours or 80 hours of work during an upcoming week in order to catch up.
  6. I color-code the projects based on whether they’re scheduled items (Conventions or vacations that chop time out of my schedule), and whether they’re complete (lime green, with grey text — these are items I don’t need to look at or be distracted by, because DONE!)
  7. The spreadsheet sits in my Dropbox where I share it with Sandra. She can review it and see how I’m doing. She can also update it, though she never actually did that.

I know there are other tools for project management, but when I looked into them I realized that the amount of time I would spend learning how to work something I paid for was about equal to the amount of time I would spend building a spreadsheet I knew innately how to use, and could quickly reshape to fit the way I want to plan things. I don’t have a sanitized version of the spreadsheet to share, but maybe at some point I will.