Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
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Simplify your projects, maximize your time
I love this quote from Abraham Lincoln because it gets down to the very essence of smart preparation and planning.
Lincoln knew that in order to maximize his time and simplify his project, he’d have to prepare and plan well. Logically, if the task at hand is to cut down a tree, then you’ll want to have a sharp axe.
Likewise, if you want to maximize your time, then you need to learn how to simplify your project, and this happens through becoming a better planner. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know here; however, I still hear a lot of conversations that go something like this:
Person A: How do you get so much done?
Person B: I just plan well.
Person A: How do you plan well?
Person B: I do A, B and C.
Person A: Of course, that makes so much sense! So what do I do again?…
Person A is clearly looking for a specific set of tips and tactics from Person B about how they simplify their projects in order to maximize their time.
Person A would probably benefit from having a checklist they can refer to when they start up a new project to ensure they’re in fact simplifying in order to maximize.
Person A is not alone – am I right?
At one time or another we’ve all felt like we had a project on our plate that is so massive we’re not even sure where to start. All we want to do is simplify the project so that we’re able to work as efficiently as possible and maximize our time.
But this particular project on our plate seems like it has so many moving pieces, and even if we had an entire army of people to help us, we would still never make it to “step done”.
Good news: this just isn’t true. In fact, you don’t even need an army of people. All you need to do is simplify your project, which starts with learning how to become a better planner.
How to Simplify Your Project
Simplifying your project isn’t a scary task. In fact, it’s a simple set of steps that help you put a plan in place so you can avoid disasters and work most efficiently. Ready to maximize your time? Let’s take a look at each step:
1. Define your project
This is the most important part, and it’s easy to tackle when you break it down into 3 questions:
- What’s the project?
- Why are you doing it?
- What’s your end goal?
Having an overall understanding of the project itself, along with your end goal clearly in mind is important because you want to know that all of your hard work can be tracked.
If you don’t have a goal, then how will you collect any measurable data from the project? Without measurable data, you’ll never know whether or not what you’re doing is worth it or not, (whether that be from an ROI standpoint or other).
In addition, if you cannot see your end goal clearly, then everything leading up to it will become a blur as well.
2. Create your pieces
Look at your project as a puzzle that is broken up into several smaller pieces to be completed in progressive stages. The alternative is to continue to look at your project as a completed picture that is snapped and finished all at once. No project is ever going to get done efficiently if you try and tackle multiple stages all at once.
Breaking the project up into several pieces allows you to envision the progressive stages from start to finish rather than looking at how massive the project might be as a whole. This takes away the overwhelm and helps you realize that the smaller pieces are much more manageable when you tackle them individually.
Another reason breaking the project up into several pieces is beneficial is that it allows you to feel as though you’re making progress throughout; otherwise, frustration and a lack of motivation can stand in your way of moving forward.
3. Identify dependencies
Identifying any dependencies will prevent you from being half way through the project and then realizing you were supposed to take an extra step way back at the beginning in order to bring it all together. This is definitely not an efficient use of your time, or good for your sanity!
4. Set deadlines
By giving each of your stages a timeline for completion, along with checkpoints throughout the process, you’re holding yourself – and your team – accountable. If you’re not sure how long a certain piece of the puzzle will take, then give it a range. But don’t cut yourself too much slack; your range shouldn’t be more than a few days, or a week at most.
5. Measure progress
Measuring your progress within each stage of your project helps keep everyone on the same page. If you’re working with a team, this might include color coding (representing pending, in progress, or complete), or a percentage done.
This is where an online project management tool will come in handy – and I’m going to talk about a couple of these in just a minute.
6. Ask for help
If you run into a stage in your project that requires expertise you simply do not have, then ask for help. Depending on the project, there are several online resources that can help you with finding virtual assistants who are experts and who can help you remotely.
For example, if you’re looking for someone to put together a design for a brochure, or do a voiceover for a radio spot, Fiverr is a quick and very affordable site where you can search for whatever it is that you need done.
oDesk is also a great resource, where you can find technology and web experts – even social media experts – who you can hire as freelancers to help with certain stages of your project.
The internet provides us with unlimited resources – use them!
So, now that you have specific steps to take in order to plan for your next project, how are you going to keep track of it all?
There are a ton of options out there, starting with a good old Excel Spreadsheet. You might set this up with the pieces of your project in each row, and then things like “dependencies”, “timeline” and “status” in each column. Sharing these types of docs via Google Drive is a good way to keep everyone in-the-know in “real time” if you’re working with a team. Plus, it’s free!
There are also some great online software management tools you can use that will allow you to make comments, updates and add attachments to your tasks and projects, making it easy to see every aspect of your project in one place. A couple of highly recommended ones that come to mind include Trello and Asana.
Projects can be beastly, no doubt. But when you take the time to define your project and your end goal; break it up into several pieces so that you’re completing it in progressive stages rather than trying to conquer it all at once; and ask for help instead of wasting time on something you don’t know how to do, then I think you’ll find it’s a lot easier to manage – and allows you to maximize your time, too!