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Manage Your Creative Projects Using a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Are you being swallowed by a creative project? Do you need to find a better tracking system for your project? Is a to-do list not working for you? Okay creative hot messes. Let’s dig in.

A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a document used to track the progress of a project. A WBS includes all tasks required to complete the project successfully and broken down into manageable steps.

A typical WBS identifies task deadlines, resources required to complete each task, budget, project risks or threats, among other key details. For example, here is a WBS for baking an apple pie using a list approach:

Simple, right? A WBS can also look like a flowchart or hierarchical map (especially useful in identifying relationships between tasks):

Another way of viewing the tasks is using a Timeline WBS (useful for deadline-driven projects):

What are the Benefits of Using a WBS?

  • A WBS is a structured road map suitable for longer or complex projects

  • A WBS identifies all tasks required to complete the project successfully

  • Information on a WBS can be formatted as a list, flowchart, or timeline

How Do I Create a WBS?

Step One: Freewrite

I free write all of the tasks I think I may need in order to complete my creative project. My freewriting lasts for 5 uninterrupted minutes. The critical part is to not edit as you freewrite. Just dump all of the tasks, your worries, your dreams, etc. onto paper.

Once my freewrite is complete, (A) I sort through the info, (B) identify any relatable tasks, and (C) group them together. For instance, if I were baking an apple pie, I’d need ingredients. But before I buy ingredients, I need a recipe. And before I decide on a recipe, I need to research recipes. Each of these tasks are related, and they are called a Pathway.

Step Two: Find the Project Pathways

Using our apple pie example, here is a Pathway:

But this is just one pathway. Other pathways may lead into my project goal, which, again, is baking an apple pie. Below is a second pathway converging into the first pathway:

A project pathway is just a list of related tasks that lead toward the main purpose of a project.

Step Three: Input Your Pathways (or Tasks) Into a WBS

Pick which Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is best for you and your project. Whether it's a list, flowchart, or timeline, the choice is yours. There are tons of templates on the internet (google “Free WBS templates”) as well as paid apps, like Monday, Asana, and SmartSheet. Personally, I just use Excel or Word, or scraps of paper.

Recap: Creating a WBS

  • Freewrite all of the project tasks you think are required to successfully complete your project

  • Sort your freewrite by grouping related tasks into Pathways

  • Carry over your pathways into a WBS using Word/Excel, free templates, or paid apps

Now that your project is organized, the rest of the work is up to you!

More Examples of a WBS


From Techno-PM

From GetSmarter

Learn More

Read my post Organize Your Creative Projects with a Beginning, Middle, and End, learn more about the 10 Best Project Management Tools, and read similar posts in the ‘Project Management’ category of Wellness-ish-ness.


Wellness-ish-ness is a blog for creative hot messes created by D.A. Navoti. Read my bio and find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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