Posted: 18th November 2015
In simple terms, a project is defined as “any activity or sequence of activities that have a beginning and an end”. So in that respect, most things you do could be made into a project. Why is that important? The reason is unless you give importance to your activities and direct them towards a particular goal you end up being very busy and not getting anywhere at all.
Creating a formal ‘project’, with clear definitions and boundaries gives activities some purpose and direction. If you get sidetracked, you can then question whether the activity you are doing is contributing to the end goal, and if it isn’t, drop it.
As they said in the film “South Pacific”, “if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?”
So, following on from the last section, what exactly is your ‘project’? What will have happened if you achieve your aims? If you don’t have a clear idea, you’ll be going nowhere fast.
Write down clearly what the aim of the project is. What are the ‘deliverables’? When do you want it by?And what will it look, feel, taste, and sound like when you get there?
If you were planning to cross the Sahara, it would be madness to do it without a map, a compass and provisions. It’s exactly the same for anything else you do. Think of everything you do as a journey and you will realise that a certain amount of planning is essential. Getting busy, and cracking on with things is not efficient in the long run. Make sure that planning is a planned activity in itself. One that is programmed in to your diary on a regular basis. It might not feel comfortable, especially if you are ‘chomping at the bit’ to get going, but it will definitely be worth it.
The 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) says that 80% of achievements come from 20% of the work. So plan to do only the stuff that works. What if you stopped doing the unnecessary 80%, and doubled up on the 20% that actually makes a difference. You will have doubled your output, and you will have reduced your workload by stacks! (Just don’t fill it with more ‘busy-ness’ – go home early instead).
In our enthusiasm to launch a project, we sometimes forget that we are already very busy, and that somehow, we will fit in this ‘thing’ alongside all of that. How many times, with the best of intentions, has time slipped away, the deadline is passed, and you wonder how it happened? Identify the ‘risks’ that may threaten your success, and how you will counter those risks, should they occur.
Time – We always underestimate how much time something will take. Have you given yourself enough time, and what other (equally) important jobs need to be done. Remember, you can’t manage time itself, you can only manage what you do inside that timeslot.
Money – Does this project require some cash, and have you got it? There is a tendency to forget the financial side of things. Make sure your finances are in order, and the project is covered. Better to abandon before you start it because of lack of money, than waste it in the process.
Other things getting in the way – There are probably a million and one other things you could be doing. Make sure you ensure that ‘emergencies’ that come along don’t distract you. How critical are they – REALLY?
Here’s a really effective way for clearing the fog in your brain, and charting a path forward:
Arm yourself with post-it notes or some scraps of paper (Post-it notes work best). Spend five minutes writing down every job that you need to do relating to that project. Don’t stop to think, don’t rationalise it, just do it.
Then, try to group the post it notes into groups of tasks. For example, if you were organising an event, you might have tasks that can see fall into the following groups:
Next, take one group of tasks. Lay them out in a line. Finally, try to re-order them in the order that they need to be done.
Do this for each group of tasks.
You will find that by doing this exercise, the project suddenly becomes real, and you can start to see a timeline.
You can then put some dates against each tasks. This will enable you to see how achievable the project is, given the deadline you have set.
We have a natural tendency to do everything ourselves. This is particularly true if we are solo entrepreneurs, or naturally efficient. However, the length of your project may be drastically reduced if tasks can be accomplished some other way.
Whenever there is a job to be done, always ask yourself the following question:
“Who or what can do this better/faster than me?”
You have two main options, technology or people.
Technology – Whilst there is a balance between taking the time to learn a new technological tool, and doing it ‘the old way’, if you are taking a long term view, adopting a new tool might be time consuming in the short term, but will pay dividends later.
Some examples are:
People – Who do you know who can do this job for you? And does it really need to be done ‘your way’, to your specification? Delegate the task. This leaves you to do the things you are good at and enjoy the most.
Ask around. How do other people tackle this task?
Remember, who or what…?
I know a very efficient businesswoman who tells me she hates systems. Yet she is one of the most organised and systematic people I know. Her ‘systems’ are so part of her that they have become habits. And we all have habits. It’s just a question of developing effective ones that serve us, rather than rob us of our time.
So, do you drop your car keys without thinking, and then spend half an hour every morning looking for them? That’s your system!
Do you collect business cards at networking meetings, only to leave them dumped in a pile on your desk? That’s your Contact Management ‘system’!
Identify those ‘systems’ that are slowing you down, and resolve to change them. It takes 28 days to adopt a new habit. So pick one new ‘system’ per month, and purposefully adopt that new behaviour until it becomes second nature. Set up spreadsheets, templates and checklists to help you.
Sometimes, things don’t work out. But it’s really only a mistake if you don’t learn from it. Make continuous improvement an important part of your business ethos.
Could the project you have just done be used again? Can you leverage the work? If your project was to arrange an event, could the way you did it be used as a blueprint for another? Always take what you have learned from your project to make life easier, and boost profits in other ways.
A manual of procedures is an excellent way to ensure it’s always done right first time, especially if you are delegating the task. Write down what you did, and create a checklist for you to work against next time.
When you really think about it, life is a project in itself, except we don’t know when the end date is. We can’t manage time, we can only manage what we do within that time. Project management takes a bit of effort up front, and prevents us from racing ahead. But it’s an investment worth making. You will have a clearer direction, and a purpose for completing your tasks. And you will look back on your life as a series of accomplishments, rather than the blur of a treadmill.