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

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


  1. I found your ‘provide for control’ most interesting.
    We don’t always factor that in, do we?!

    I’m going to review my plans right now to ensure I know how to measure things.

    Thanks Terry!

  2. Linda P. Jones says:

    That’s awesome! I know I need to do this, but don’t always set aside the focused time. Thanks for reminding me I must do this!

  3. You are ROCKIN’ it, Terry! I’m so thrilled for you about your column in WBJ — and such great topics you are covering. Lucky readers (including me)! ♥ Katherine.

  4. ofyl says:

    @Laura – yes, if you plan it all out but don’t circle back around to correct and adjust it gets harder…

    @Linda – you don’t have to set aside much time, just a little bit here and there will get it done. And, I usually get through a full planning session with a client in about an hour – so it’s not a big hairy monster. 🙂

    @Katherine – thanks for the cheer! Hoyas stick together!


  5. Lisa Manyon says:

    This is such important information. And, although I am a planner, I find I need to remind myself to carve out time to review the plans. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Write on!~


  6. Anita says:

    So well said Terry! The focus time is essential and thank you for the reminder, just when I needed it. Awesome!


  7. Sue Painter says:

    Interesting process, I like that the “control” or evaluation is built in before the very end. Catching things before a huge build-up of cascading problems saves both time and money.
    Sue Painter

  8. As always, excellent advice Terry! I’m a planner but it’s good to be reminded that there are more steps than just the planning part.

    Stamp Happy! *Ü*

    Debbie McNeill

  9. @Sue, yes, exactly. Better to find out as you go along – and easier to fix.

    @Debbie – yes, there are a few more steps… plan, execute, review, repeat.


  10. Ellen Martin says:


    This is a great blueprint for simple project planning. I love it!

    Thanks for sharing!


  11. Great advice, Terry! The planning time should take longer than the actual implementation – it is SO important and yet, many times the first thing to go in our busy schedules!

  12. Great process to plan with. I will use your strategies to get a plan done for a project I have just recently started. Thank you.
    Dr. Robert Fenell

  13. Kiyla Fenell says:

    It is very important to have some type of pre-determined value as a definition to measure your progress. I like the step of ‘the control’. Great article.

  14. I love the GPS reference! They don’t work unless you put the info in ’em! Congrats on another superior job for the newspaper!

  15. Dr.Patty Ann says:

    Hi Terry,

    Fantastic article! Your 7 simple steps are a blueprint for success! Every single step offers great, straight-forward advice.

    Dr. Patty Ann

  16. Great advice! I’m looking forward to looking over your archives.

  17. Grace Heer says:

    Terry, this is GREAT! It really breaks down project planning in a way I can get — especially the “not working in a vaccuum” part. I forget about that.
    All best!
    Grace Heer
    Gemstone Coaching
    Mine the Jewels Within You!

    • ofyl says:

      Thanks Grace. Yes, you are not alone in forgetting the ‘not working in a vacuum’ part. We either forget other people, or we forget other commitments in our planning. And just remembering that and making allowances for it can greatly reduce overwhelm and increase accomplishment.

  18. Phil Dyer says:

    Terry – Very interesting article…

    I find that might natural action modes are much more “seat of the pants” flying, just in time planning and just trusting in my intiution to make it through.

    Works most of the time, but when it doesn’t…the failure can be pretty spectacular ;-)! Now I look to partner with people and hire team members that exemplify the process you just laid out.