A Dry-Erase Solution to Planning Your Project (or Your Life)

Wall calling out for a dry-erase planning calendar!

Wall calling out for a dry-erase planning calendar!

My colleague Gail Perry and I have embarked on a new project.

We’re developing a five-part online course to help organizations get ready for their capital campaigns. It’s fits on top of our already existing coaching program and our complicated lives.

Don’t worry — our course is not the topic of this blog post.  But handling the complexity of what it will take to make it happen IS.

A Recipe for Success… (or Stress?)

Here are some of the ingredients.

  • Two busy people — me and Gail — deciding to create something new together
  • An already-existing program that requires communications, marketing and fulfillment
  • Four team members who all play different roles in the project (writer/editor, web designer, web master, graphic designer, social media expert)
  • A tight timetable (the course will launch in February)

Now add to that a travel schedules that have me in Texas and Atlanta and Massachusetts and Gail in Montana and Virginia and New York and who knows where else during these next three months.

And what do you have?


When I look at the planning and scheduling challenges of most of the people I coach, I realize that the challenges of developing complex projects with teams of busy people are the norm, not the exception.

I’m sure your life is super complicated life too.  There are many people to take into consideration. Many conflicting priorities. Deadlines looming.  Perhaps your head often spin like mine.

With that in mind, I think it’s a marvel that any projects more complicated than washing the dishes actually get done at all.

A New Approach — Getting “Dialed In”

This time, I’m trying a new approach.  By great good fortune, I’ve gotten to know Danielle Jackson, a young, super capable and well-organized woman who by sheer good luck (for me, that is) is between jobs.

I’ve hired her to help get this project “dialed in” — an expression my daughter Carla and her husband use when they tell me how they are coping with the chaos of two burgeoning careers and two young children.

When something is “dialed in”, they’ve got it under control.  (Recently Carla told me proudly that they had the laundry dialed in!)

So, I’ve hired Danielle to get us dialed in for our new project.  And amazingly enough, that’s just what she’s doing.

Out-of-the-Box Planning


A piece of my wall chart

With Danielle’s help, we’ve created a ten-foot, 18-week calendar and we’ve put it on my wall.  I have a large glass wall in my apartment on which I can write with markers. It’s easy to erase and change any entry with a bit of windex.Windex

Then, with this very large chart in front of us, we set about mapping out a plan.

First, we put on the things that were carved in stone:

  • When is the course to be delivered?
  • When do we need the material for each session?
  • When must the marketing start?
  • When does the webpage need to be completed?
  • You get the idea.

We started with the big pieces and then worked backwards, adding smaller items that had to be completed for the big things to get done.

We sat together staring at the big chart, magic markers in hand, and writing things in the correct weekly columns using arrows and colors to see the connections between them.  As we started to see how each entry effected everything else, we’d shift and change until it all started to make sense.

Our minds went from big-picture to close-up detail back to big-picture, as we created a visual image of what had to happen when for it all to come together.

In our first effort with the chart, we laid out the biggest pieces across the entire chart, and then we started to enter more detailed steps. We made it through the first three weeks before our concentration started to flag.

A Magic Solution

Danielle took a picture of our big, messy, busy chart and when she got home, she sent us an email with a simple list of the things we needed to do this week — three or four doable items for each of us.

My heart sang!

Four things to do this week that were “dialed in” to a large and complicated plan. No need to worry about the big plan, it was on the wall behind me. And as long I got those things done, the entire enterprise would move forward.

I heaved a big sigh of relief.

Putting the entire venture up on a wall, out the open — where I can see it from beginning to end and can easily add and shift all of the many little things that need to happen — is like a magic solution.

I no longer feel overwhelmed. But I don’t feel stymied by a rigid plan either.

This moveable, changeable, visible document seems to reflect life itself. Directions are clear, or at least clearer. Next steps are spelled out. And I can see how one piece of the complicated plan touches on the next. But with a swipe of windex, I can adjust as the plan makes contact with the realities of day-to-day life.

The Ease and Visibility of a Dry-Erase Chart

sc_b0006vqbtw-01writableIf you’re feeling overwhelmed and you don’t have a large glass wall for a chart, here’s what I suggest:

Go to your nearest sign shop and ask if they can order you an 8’ by 3’ piece of dry-erase material. I’ve done some research on this and they can! It’s a heavy coated fabric. You can either have them mount it for you on fiber board, or you can just hang it up in your office.

Then grab a marker and draw a large, week-by-week timetable. Invite your team members in, hand out markers and go to work mapping out your project.

An important tip:  The erasing part of the process is just as important as the writing part. Because when you get things mapped out on the chart, you’ll find that they quite naturally must shift and change. And having the freedom to add and subtract and tinker every day will help you make the schedule work to fit.

But why not just use a spreadsheet?

The remarkable thing about my giant erasable planning chart is that it’s BIG and it’s PUBLIC!

It’s with me every day. I look at it and add to it. I can easily discuss it with Danielle and Gail, and together, our minds can shape and reshape the plan that makes sense to us all.  And then, Danielle can translate it into a spreadsheet and task list.

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Plan Your Project or Your Life on a Dry-Erase Chart

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, as as though you can’t see how the pieces of your project (or your life) fit together, head to your nearest print shop and get them to order a sheet of dry-erase fabric for you. Hang it up and start mapping it all out, week by week. Be sure to keep an eraser close by.

What planning tools work best for you? Do you think this dry-erase solution can work for you? Why or why not. Share your thoughts in the comments.