It is possible to complete your projects in 4 easy steps.
How many projects do you have going at once? Are you completing them regularly? Having a plan in place for how you are going to implement new ideas into your life and work can keep you focused, productive and efficient.
A side effect of not having a plan is piles of incomplete projects. These piles usually look a little something like a pile of paper with some other clutter mixed in. Sometimes there are bags involved as a misguided attempt to corral a bunch of stuff into one concept.
Clients often ask what to do with the papers, more specifically the information on the paper while they mean to get to it someday. Those projects of good intention that create lots of clutter until acted upon. What exactly are you supposed to do with it until you get to it?
A new way of thinking about it has really helped me and my clients keep the paper clutter that is in the way of the day-to-day work to a minimum. Just don’t start until you are ready to do it completely. Let me explain.
Every project really has 4 stages or steps and if you think of each stage as having a designated space for the items involved it is much easier to keep from feeling overwhelmed.
Stage 1 is the pre-project – the idea is just a notion or inkling – no real form yet – keep the idea on a list of “next opportunity” items (Thanks Laura Roeder!). Define a place to collect all of your ideas until you are ready to work on them. A page in your list notebook or app is a great place. I have one colleague that uses a crystal bowl to collect index cards – each holding one idea.
The secondary reason that this is a good way of dealing, is that now all your ideas are in one place so you can evaluate them against each other and pick the ones you really want to work on. Sometimes they can be combined and you can get rid of several ideas at once. And sometimes you will realize it wasn’t a good idea at all.
Step 2 is when you start working on a project in earnest. Start by planning the steps to achieve your goal. This step is the Mapping phase by Todd Henry of the Accidental Creative. It is essential to the success of any project. So that you know where you are going and when you are done.
You will need to collect the steps, people, tasks and resources to make it happen. Start with a folder, physical and digital that becomes the container for all the information you collect as you percolate and plan the ideas you will use to create the thing. This is the placeholder for the tasks involved in finishing the project that David Allen refers to in Getting Things Done.
Block time on your schedule to actually work on the project on a regular basis and note any hard deadlines on your calendar.
Subdivide the folder only if you have to and then do so by category. Return the materials to the folders at the end of each work session.
Stage 3 is actually working on the tasks to get the project done. Make the thing. As you work on it during your blocked out time, the phrases of the project complete and you need to have a place to keep the finished product. At this point the drafts and parts you have decided against can go into the recycle bin.
Or, if you came up with something good that just didn’t work for this project you can put the information into a sparks or swipe file for possible use on another thing.
Step 4 is to return all the materials and data to their permanent homes. Merge it into your overall system. Taking the time to put it away will set you up for easy reuse. That saves lots of time in the long run.
Take the final version and file it away for reuse or archiving. Be sure to review what went well and what didn’t so your next project will go smoother. Return materials pulled from resource areas. Add data to appropriate tracking areas and decide which of the materials will be reused.
By having a plan of action and designated places to keep the stuff you are working on and with you can always maintain a clear work surface. By adding that first step, the one you don’t act on until you are ready, you can avoid most of the overwhelm of working on too much at once as well.