We asked remote Digital PM, Natalie Semczuk what makes her tick and sets her up for a better day at work. Here’s what she said.
What is your role and title?
I’m a freelance digital project manager and consultant. I work mostly remote with small web/design agencies and in-house development teams within larger companies. I help run projects with clients, and also consult on day-to-day company operations to help connect daily processes and functions of a team with the overall goals and strategic direction of the agency.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Mainly, a combination of my alarm going off for the 5th time and my cat meowing at me to feed him!
But more seriously, I love working for myself and from home so much—no matter how stressful or busy things get, I’m ultimately responsible for my own output and have total control over what projects I choose to take on. Not to mention, I do this all in my pyjamas. I’m incredibly happy with the work I do, and the constant connection with people— this job gets me out of bed every morning.
How did you get into this field?
I went to school for graphic design and science/technology/society studies, and after deciding political work wasn’t for me, I turned to freelance graphic design. After a year of that, I ended up at a local marketing agency as an SEO intern and eventually got a position as an assistant project manager, working with clients and doing a bit of design and coding for the agency on the side.
I started realizing I love being the link between the clients’ vision and the work that gets done on the agency side. I have always loved communication and problem solving, and project management is the perfect fit for me.
My dad taught me to be generous to others and always look at everything with an analytical eye.
What did your mom or dad teach you that you still think about?
My mom taught me she’s somehow always right about everything! But really, she’s taught me to put a critical eye to all things, and consider alternative perspectives and experiences to everything we see and hear in the mainstream world. I think it’s helped me be a more empathic person.
My dad taught me to be generous to others and always look at everything with an analytical eye (he’s an engineer—I definitely get my love of spreadsheets and digital organization from him!).
Does your team/company understand and respect what you do/why you do it? Explain.
For the most part, yes! I usually work with other contractors or business owners, which means at some point they’ve all had to project manage their own work. The ‘what’ of what I do is much more obvious than ‘why,’ and most frustrations I’ve experienced haven’t been because of a lack of respect, but more a lack of understanding of why I do what I do. Hindsight is 20/20 in those cases.
What kind of tools do you use daily and why do you love them?
I use Slack, Breeze.pm, Harvest, and Basecamp daily with the teams I work with, as well as Google Apps for just about everything else business-related. I love Slack for the same reasons everybody does—it really enables communication in so many ways and I’m a part of several Slack ‘communities’ that give me a chance to stay connected with friends and colleagues who I otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to talk to daily.
I always take project and meeting notes by hand in a large black Moleskine. I have a few small boxes full of them, and I’ll flip through every few months when I need to remember something that might’ve happened on a project weeks or months ago. I’ll never fully give up analog notes.
Digitally, I use Todoist in my everyday life to organize intricate to do lists by project (I recently moved halfway across the country and used extensive lists to capture what I needed to do before moving, as soon as I moved, and a few weeks after I moved), along with tons of personal notes, goals, and plans in Evernote. I also like dumping everything else into a working ‘scrap notes’ file in TextEdit—things like message drafts I’m working on, snippets from conversations I’m having online that I want to remember or do something with, or quick project hour calculations.
I’ve improved so much from my first few years of project management by taking more notes, getting comfortable with asking questions, admitting when I don’t know something, and being more transparent about my process and what I need.
Where do you turn to learn more about your work stuff?
I rely on Twitter accounts I follow for the majority of industry news and tips discussion. I try dedicating slow parts of my day to reading through articles in my ‘likes’ list on Twitter, or in my Pocket queue. I also listen to podcasts when I can, like The Web Ahead or Boagworld, and usually end up discussing concepts from podcasts with my friends or coworkers. I reach out to friends over chat, or colleagues on Twitter or Slack communities when I need advice or have questions about a particular type of process or project challenge.
What’s your best tip for being better at managing projects?
Listen more and communicate more. I’ve improved so much from my first few years of project management by taking more notes, getting comfortable with asking questions, admitting when I don’t know something, and being more transparent about my process and what I need. Communication is at the core of what we do in project management and it’s so important to continually develop our communication skills.
What annoys you about this industry? What needs to change?
We need to be more aware of our audience—not just people viewing the work we do, but people we do the work for, who’ll be using our products and websites from the back end. So many resources that I find focus on the best-case scenario project or client from start to finish, but leave out the nitty-gritty, ugly part that happens after a site launches and is handed off to clients. Our clients won’t always have perfectly cropped or colored photos, won’t always have content that aligns exactly with our templates, and with staff turnover, might not always have someone working on the site who’s perfectly trained. I rarely hear about these aspects of web projects in my day-to-day reading.
What do you want to be when you grow up? If you could be/do anything?
I’d be a world-famous fine art thief known for not using any weapons and donating my money to charitable causes (in some sort of legal way that makes it alright. Is that a thing??). Basically I grew up watching tons of heist movies and the idea of the challenge seems intriguing…though definitely not the lifestyle for me in my current life.