I love new projects. There’s something about a new project to work on that is so exhilarating. But then the new wears off and there’s another bright, shiny project beckoning. For me, the way to stay on track and actually finish the first project is by creating a project plan.
Planning also improves the effectiveness of your project. If you spend time planning your projects before diving into action, you will have a better idea of what you want the project to accomplish.
What is a project?
I think we all intuitively understand what a project is, but let’s look at some definitions anyway. Merriam-Webster defines project as “a planned piece of work that has a specific purpose. . .and that usually requires a lot of time.” David Allen of Getting Things Done fame has a very broad definition of “project.” In the GTD world, a project is any objective that requires more than one action step to complete.
Looking at those two definitions, I see certain keywords. Planned piece of work. Purpose. Time. Objective. Action Steps.
So, a project is something that is planned, that has a purpose or objective, required action steps, and takes time to complete. This fits my mental definition of a project.
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What is a project plan?
A project plan could simply be a list of all the different steps jotted down on the back of an envelope. However, to really boost your productivity, you should cover a bit more than that. When planning a project, there are certain bases to cover:
- Project name & description. Include your “why” here – your mission for the project – your desired outcome. This doesn’t have to be fancy. One sentence to distill your thoughts is enough.
- Does the project have a start and end date? Or is it an ongoing (evergreen) project?
- List the steps needed to complete the project. If the project is large, you may want to break the steps into categories or mini-projects
- Which steps (if any) can be delegated or outsourced? To whom?
- Prioritize the steps and add due dates. Build in some curve ball time. Because you know you will need it.
- How will you track your progress?
- How will you know when the project is done? And how will you measure its success?
Don’t plan the details too far in advance
Things change. The further down the road a task is, the more likely it is that something will fundamentally change before you get there. It’s better to keep those far-off tasks and milestones at the big-picture level. Otherwise, all your planning may have been for nothing.
Break your project into mini-projects
Large projects, in particular, can be broken down into mini-projects. Mini-projects work especially well if you have a cohesive group of tasks that need to completed before other tasks in the project. Breaking them off as a mini-project will let you focus on that set of tasks, without being distracted by the scope of the overall project. Mini-projects also help you keep momentum going and will ensure that you don’t waste time planning details that are too far in the future.
Watch out for scope creep
Scope creep is insidious. Yes, projects change, but be careful about adding new elements to a project you are already working on. I am the world’s worst about this, so I have to be super-vigilant.
I’m working on a free e-course right now and a few days ago, I thought “hey, I could add a few extra lessons and turn this thing into an ebook!” I spent about half an hour researching ebook production, even going so far as looking at templates on Canva, before slamming on the brakes.
The course isn’t even finished yet and here I was adding what is essentially another mini-project to it. After my mental head-slap, I added “turn free e-course into an ebook” to my Someday/Maybe list and was able to get back to the actual project at hand.
Use a system to manage projects
After you map out your project plan, you need some way to keep track of all the moving parts. There are many apps available to help you with this, such as Asana, Trello, and Todoist. Paper is another option.
All my projects go into Asana, which is my project management tool of choice. I have evergreen projects like “Blog Content,” and “Social Media.” I also have finite projects, such as the aforementioned free e-course. You can create as many projects as you want.
Tasks are the individual action items within a project. In Asana, tasks can include a description, subtasks, attachments, tags, and comments. I include tasks for subtasks for every single thing that needs to be completed in a project to make sure that I don’t miss any steps.
Free project plan checklist
Even though I use Asana to manage my projects and tasks, I prefer to do the initial brainstorming and planning on paper. You can download a copy of my Project Plan checklist below. These are the questions I think through when planning a project.
- Planning improves project effectiveness.
- A project plan covers the steps needed to complete the project.
- Don’t plan details too far in advance.
- Break a large project into mini-projects.
- Beware of scope creep.
- Use a system to manage all the moving parts of your project.
And don’t forget to grab your Project Planning checklist to help you get started!