Big Project Survival Kit

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you might be be aware that I’ve been made the project manager of the renovation we’re doing to our kids and students wing. It’s a big project on a tight deadline and budget. We’re combining rooms to make three large group meeting spaces (will full AVL) and dividing some other rooms to create smaller meeting spaces. We’ve got a demo crew, framers, drywall guys, HVAC, electrical, sprinkler, alarm, carpet, paint, door and of course, AVL contractors. 

We’re doing some of the work ourselves, though most of it is hired. As PM, I’m responsible for making sure all the trades are following the plan, coordinating with each other, and staying on time. And, we’re doing some of the largest weekend serves of the year this month for good measure (and I’m either moving or buying the house we’ve been renting just for a little extra excitement!). 

To survive this month, I am relying on a set of tools to keep me sane and make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Here is my toolkit to keep this all happening. 


Probably my biggest asset in this toolkit. I use Evernote for keeping track of ideas, lists of questions for the GC, subs or our leaders, making lists of stuff to order and tracking items we’re considering for the build. It’s great because it syncs between my MacBook Pro in my office, my MacBook Air, iPhone and iPad. When I’m laying in bed at night unable to sleep (which happens a lot lately) and get a great idea, I grab my phone and jot it into Evernote, confident it will be captured for later recall. I can snip entire HTML pages, add photos or other attachments to keep all my ideas in one spot. Best of all, it’s free.


I love spreadsheets, and Numbers is my favorite tool for making them. I have about four spreadsheets going right now for this project. One manages the budget, others track equipment lists, still another manages my timeline and I even set one up to calculate carpet cost options. Numbers makes it incredibly simple to develop formulas that will give you meaningful data. I love being able to run options and compare plans, and it makes it a lot easier to sell leadership on a course of action when I can show them the financial impact clearly. It even does cool charts. You can get it in the app store for about $20. Totally worth it. 

Google Sketchup

It’s not necessarily an easy program to learn, but spend some time to get comfortable with it, and you can accomplish a lot. I have modeled all three rooms we’re renovating, all to exact scale, so I can help our team visualize stage and tech booth locations, and even develop working drawings for both items. Today I used it to calculate the proper compound bevel angle for the cap to the tech booths. I spent almost an hour trying to do the math, then gave up and did it in Sketchup in about 15 minutes. Now when I build the booth, I’ll have accurate measurements. And if you’re looking for accurate models of common objects (like an iMac for example), you can find them in the model warehouse. That’s a huge timesaver. And again, it’s free!


I’ve tried a bunch of task managers, and this one is my favorite. There are others out there that are good, but I like this one. My favorite features are the ability to collaborate (I can add tasks to my ATD’s to do list), and synchronization. I have Toodledo on my iPhone, iPad and access it via browser on both Macs. It will do repeating tasks, sort by priority, you can create folders and set reminders. It’s free if you want to use it by yourself, and if you want to collaborate, it’s only $15/year per user. Totally worth it. 

Of course, I also rely heavily on e-mail (using Apple Mail) and the internet (Safari) and iCal to keep track of what day it is. But these four programs really help me keep things on track. I use all of them all the time, big project or not. But when the big projects hit, it’s good to be well versed in how this stuff works.

What are you project management survival tools?

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