Friday, June 17, 2011

Project Planning For Maximum Success! By Rich Schefren

Let's talk about getting work done and being productive.
One of the biggest reasons people procrastinate; why they want to learn everything before they hand it off to someone else - and a whole bunch of other issues that affect productivity - is the way they approach their tasks.
When I approach a task, I'm never thinking and doing. First I think. Then I do.
The problem is that most people don't do that. Most people don't think through things to the level they need to. Because of that, they have projects instead of tasks on their "to do" list. That leads to procrastination because it seems like this amorphous blob of stuff that hasn't been broken down to a task level.
When I'm working on a project, I break out all the tasks that are involved. It makes it much easier to attack it, to get started. It gives you a clarity when looking at it.
It helps you avoid the risk of multi-tasking and getting involved in way too many projects. People do that because there's no clear criteria as to why they're taking on a specific project. I'll get into that in a second.
Also, when outsourcing, you avoid the tendency to master everything before you hand if off. When you haven't defined all the aspects of a project, it becomes more desirable for you to hold on to it yourself.
But before you worry about any of that. There are two deeper questions you need to answer.
Answer These Questions First!
When looking at a project, it has to start with a purpose. The first question you have to ask and answer is "why is this being done?" How does this align with where I want to get? What are the strategic implications of doing this? Does this fit in with me getting to my goal in the shortest and fastest amount of time? So that's first and foremost.
The second question - the outcome question - is really two parts. First you have to ask, "what would it look like if it were totally successful?" If this project was a smashing success, what would it look like? Define it. What is a smashing success for this project?
And then you have to ask, "how would I know it's a smashing success?" How would I know that it is the success that I've just defined?
Time To Do A "Brain Dump"
Once you're clear on those questions, the next stage is to start brainstorming all of the tasks that would need to be involved your project. It's really important that you don't go linear too fast with this. By linear, I mean step one, step two, step three, step four. You really want to do a data or "brain" dump first.
The reason a data dump is always important is that if you start thinking linearly too soon, you end up cutting off options. Because as you plan step one, two, and three, there is a specific step that might be number four. But if you start laying out steps too quickly, other ideas about ways of accomplishing one, two and three may not get acknowledged.
There's something in brainstorming called the "final third" which is where you want to get to. The first third of any brainstorming session is really easy. The second third is a little bit more challenging. Most people will take a stab at it and then consider their brainstorming done.
But it's in the last third, when you push yourself to really think a little bit outside the box and be creative, is often where the big idea - the most powerful way of getting the project done the fastest - is hiding.
Most people never get to that place so they end up shortchanging themselves. They cause the project to take longer. They also set themselves up to procrastinate.
The brainstorming part of the equation is incredibly important. And only once you've fully brainstormed your project should you put your options into a linear sequence.
When you put them in a linear sequence, you can figure out where you've overlooked certain things. Everything becomes obvious as you get your tasks in order. Now you can add any missing steps and you'll have laid out your task list for any project.
Once you've organized the tasks into a linear process, the next thing to get clear on are your "next actions." What are the things that you can start immediately? What are the things that can be started that have no dependency on things that have to occur before them?
Obviously there is step one. But there might be a step five or six or a step ten or a step twenty that doesn't really rely on anything else to get done. You can get started on them right away.
Use These Techniques to Make Multi-Tasking Work For You
Now why do I mention the "next step" aspect? Because some people like to multi-task. They like to work on a few things at the same time. Maybe not at the exact same second, but they don't want to work on just one thing all day.
What I suggest for people who are like that, who want to kind of dip in and dip out of a few things over the course of the day is, instead of multi-tasking across projects, multi-task across a single project with tasks that have no dependency on something occurring before it.
This way you get the benefit of being able to skim, dive in, dive out, and then move onto the next thing. But everything that you're doing is pushing the same project along.
That's an effective way to overcome the difficulties that multi-tasking can cause. It's also a much easier way to battle procrastination than anything else I know because it allows you to gauge how you feel and based on how you're feeling, pick the tasks that are most relevant.
For example, at the end of the day I might be somewhat exhausted; my wife is watching television; the kids are asleep; I don't really feel like diving into another book. I feel like getting some work done; but I'm a little fried and I can't do anything heavy. I'll scan the tasks of the different projects that our company is involved with that I need to handle. I can look for ones that I can handle in a somewhat brainless fashion. I don't need to be at my peak. I can pick those.
I hope that this gives you greater clarity for taking on and accomplishing all your projects.
Answering the right questions, and taking the right steps in order will help you be much more proactive, much more action-oriented, and get more stuff done.
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