Do you take shortcuts?

I recently had a column published in the Washington Business Journal. The topic was Seven simple steps help you to plan projects. (Yes, I am very excited about being a guest columnist this year.)

Since planning is an essential element of most people’s work – and it is one element that can dramatically impact both results and the pervasive sense of overwhelm, it is a major piece of the foundation work I do with my clients.

A recent conversation with a couple of friends was quite telling. They are in the midst of planning a new focus and direction for their business, while at the same time being responsible for the business they have in process.

Have you ever done that? Have one project moving forward, and had to plan for a new project at the same time? Almost everyone has had that happen. Rarely do we have the luxury of working totally focused on just one thing, with everything else waiting patiently for that one project to get complete. (Oh, but don’t we wish that would happen?)

What was quite interesting was discovering that they had done some of the steps in the planning process, but not all of them. And, as a result they were driving each other crazy! She kept investigating additional potential avenues they could pursue to get where they wanted to go, while he kept worrying about what could go wrong both with what they were considering and with everything that was already in process.

The step they had skipped was the ‘provide for control’ aspect of the plan. This part involves brainstorming all the potential pitfalls and breakdowns in the project, as well as determining the milestones and timelines.

In most cases the potential pitfalls and breakdowns are easily identified and can just as easily be averted with a little thought. Think of it as disaster planning for your goals.

As my friends discovered, skipping this step just led to more anxiety. What was absolutely great about it was that one of them was automatically worrying about all the potential problems, while the other was actively investigating all the possible ways they could achieve their goals. All they had to do was sit down and talk – recognizing that each perspective was essential to the planning. Once they saw that they were able to have a conversation – letting his concern illuminate all the potential problems, and her focus add to the planning. They were just at different stages in the thinking process.And the different stages required different thinking.

It sure beats making each other wrong and driving each other nuts!

Where are you taking shortcuts? Where are you finding yourselves at odds with a partner or colleague? Is it possible you are having the same conversation, just from different perspectives?

Seven simple steps to help you to plan projects

Time Triage by Terry Monaghan

Last spring, a workshop participant sent an e-mail asking me to clarify how she could take her schedule and transform it to the schedule she designed in the workshop. My first response: You have to sit down and do some planing, and I remember thinking, “Wow, she really doesn’t know what I am talking about!”

This made me come up with a basic structure for clients to plan out their projects, the fulfillment of their goals, their vacations, their lives, etc.

What do you think might be possible if you set aside 90 minutes each day when you could just focus on your most important project? Don’t answer the phone, don’t answer the e-mail, don’t answer the door. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible.

What is needed is a simple framework for planning that can be applied and adapted to any situation.

Remember, I said simple. It consists of seven basic steps outlined below. Think of it as a process of asking and answering a series of questions.

Set the objective. What is your intended outcome? What is the point of the activity or task? The answers keep you on track and keep you connected to your goal. Without those questions, the goal becomes too easy to forget and the task becomes some horrible version of going through the motions with no real point.

Assess the present situation. What is your starting point? What resources are available? What resources are not yet available? Knowing exactly where you are as you begin to plan is just as important as knowing where you want to go. Think of your plan as the output of a GPS. You have to enter two key pieces of information: where you want to go and where you are.

Examine your alternatives. Brainstorm. what are all the possible ways you could get where you are going?

Decide your course of action. Determine the schedule and milestones for the project. Decide who is going to do what, when, where. Communicate it. Schedule it. Many plans fall apart when it comes to putting everything into the calendar. Remember, you aren’t operating in a vacuum. There will be activities and other tasks in the schedule that will affect your plans.

Provide for control. When are you going to review progress? How will you determine if you are ahead or behind? What will you do when breakdowns occur (and they will)? What if you are way ahead of schedule?

Implement the plan. Go do it! Follow the plan. Review your progress. Correct and adjust course as necessary. Incorporate new information as it becomes available.

Repeat steps 1 through 6. Before you know it, you will have reached your desired objective.

Terry Monaghan is CEO of Organizing For Your Life LLC. She can be reached at terry@organizingforyourlife.com.

(c) 2010 Washington Business Journal. Used by permission.