Managing Projects with More Than One Person (i.e. Running Camp)


Getting Things Done as a Summer Camp Team

photo credit: woodleywonderworks">GTD for kidsvia CCBY2.0

photo credit: woodleywonderworks">GTD for kidsvia CCBY2.0

I think the biggest challenge, in this era of a plethora of amazing tools for Getting Things Done (GTD) or for Project Management (PM), is buy-in. I’ve spent years trying to find a tool that I can use for PM that clients will actually use after 2 weeks.

You know what I’ve learned?

You should never use email / People will only use email

Grr. Bloody email. I couldn't HATE email more for this kind of group organizing.

Why Email is TERRIBLE for Project Management

  • You never get the 10, 000 foot view. Just one person has to have the Big Picture (you know the Big Picture, right? Beth and I were constantly on the look-out for camp staff who could be in the moment and still hold the Big Picture in their mind. Those people you groom - they're future camp directors). Hopefully, there is more than one person with the BP but there needs to be ONE. Keeping the BP together is nearly impossible with a flurry of emails.
  • Email doesn't have a calendar. In PM some things need to have a deadline. Not all of them but some. Email has no function for this. Once a deadline is agreed upon there needs to be a way of reminding the people involved. Email is useless for this. You end up using the calendar (a tool that, David Allen, says should stay holy ground - for appointments only) as a reminder system to start a project, spend some time on a project, talk to others about a project, spot the upcoming deadlines on a project, etc. (I guess I need to write a post about Calendars and PM next!)
  • An email looks like an email. Some discussions are just about making a minor decision, some about great BP items. All of them should be recorded so that people search back through them later. Like many of you, I get up to 200 emails per day. How can I differentiate an email about at sale at MEC (it's something like Canada's REI) vs communication that I need to make a final decision about a major project?
  • People throw out email. This idea makes me curse out loud. It is the worse thing that can happen in Project Management. The last time I threw out an email was April 1, 2004. How do I know that date? It was the day I got an invite to Gmail. Hello (almost) infinite storage! Yes, I believe that keeping old emails in your Inbox is a bad idea. That's what Archive is for! I can search for any old email without having to keep in my Inbox or in a folder. I go to the search bar and set my Google-fu to work. Throwing out email happens for 1 of 2 reasons: people were used to a limited-storage system and needed to delete for server space OR they hate the feeling of having emails clogging up their Inbox. Instead you should Archive it and search later.
  • Email is a bad file storage system. A great PM system has a place to store the files that you need (images, logos, documents, spreadsheets, etc.) so that they are easy to access and easy to find.
  • Email is a system for taking control of my day from me and giving it to others. Control = sanity. Every psychologist who's studied productivity says that checking email first thing in the morning is a terrible idea. People get their best work done when they control for interruptions and give themselves time to focus. With email as your PM system you have committed to checking email to make the system work. I want control over my day and my priorities so I don't use email for mission-critical PM.

Why Email is Essential for Project Management

So... now you know how I feel about email. (I'm kind of surprised there weren't more exclaimation marks in those bullets. You'll notice that I didn't give up on parenthetical statements. )


A project will only work without email in an environment where you have complete control. The kind of control where you have all of the people working on the project within a 1 minute walk. The kind of control where you can discipline people for not using the PM system.

Nobody wants to work there. Nobody wants to be the boss there, either.

Email works for PM because:

  • everybody uses it
  • you don't have to teach email to people
  • emails get attention that an app/system/wall chart won't
  • every person needs an unique system for managing their own time. Email crosses that boundary and allows people to control their own space/time.

So how do we control for the negatives of email?

What I wouldn't give to say "BAN EMAIL. THE END". However, I'm an adult who cares about relationships and not a dictator whom inherited this position from his crazy father.

We need to find a way to make email part of any Project Management system.

I believe that email's best roles in PM are:

  • deadline reminders
  • a link to the place where the real discussion is going on


By using a tool or software to manage a project you are committing to helping the people involved build up the habit of using the tool .

Without PM bleeding into your email for those 2 things, no system will work.

What do you do at your camp to manage big projects as a team?

(Note From Travis: I bet you didn't know that I put so much thought into these kind of things, did you?  Project Management is a huge part of my job at CampHacker AND I've needed to be as thoughtful as I can to keep clients happy and to have run a great camp. Want some help at your camp?  Click here for a free consult.)