How to Plan Big Projects

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First, I want to tell you that this is going to be FUN post. I'm determined that even if you're anti-planning and scared of big projects and the thought of this makes you want to RUN A-WAY, Ima throw some FUN and CREATIVE methods in here, so you can actually see yourself doing this. K?

PART I: THE PLANNING PROBLEM

Pretend for a moment that you have a BIG, HUGE, HULKING project to plan.... what are the feels you get when such a requirement is in your future? Is it... dread? Is it... fear? Is it... "what if I miss something?" Is it..."Aw, hell, I just don't know where to start!!"?

Or maybe it's excitement... do you LOVE to plan big projects like I do?

Either way, there's a little method I've developed and learned from my time as a community theatre director. See, community theatre isn't really known for having all sorts of budget. Or time. So, planning is a NECESSITY for getting a production off the ground and flying.

And, over the years in both the theatre world and the biz world, I've learned a VERRRRRY important lesson to accompany the method. Here's the lesson (then we'll go into the method in a moment, k?):

Don't waste brain space or time.

Wasting brain space is things like creating multiple places you have to check in order to get a status update on your project (I'll cover creating a project dashboard in another post...) Wasting time is things like not communicating up front with your team, so they don't know what the priority is and create something before they should.

Now, back to the method I mentioned earlier. When it's time to plan, I gather everything together - my laptop, my calendar, the project specs, some cool tech-y apps (because I'm a tech nerd....) and then, 

I plan the entire project out on paper FIRST. 

OOOOOoooyyyy! That's so lo-tech! What about my pretty Gantt Chart! Or that lovely list of reminders in Todoist that just NATURALLY converts to schedules in Google Calendar... or, or, or....

OR - maybe you're a paper kinda gal yourself. And you LLLLLLOOOOOVVVVEEEE paper and why are we even addressing this because paper RULES and tech DROOLS...

Here's why: because in the biz world, managing something on paper wastes a lot of back and forth communication time. It means you have to refer to a paper calendar and either carry it everywhere, or that you just have to live without it when you're at home or at a meeting offsite... 

But there's an important point here: I didn't say I managed the project on paper... I said, I PLANNED it on paper.

AND LET'S JUST ESTABLISH THIS RIGHT HERE: there's a big difference between planning a project & managing a project.

I confess: I love paper and all things stationery. I have an entire BOX in my office labeled "notebooks" because I can't stop finding pretty ones I want and keeping them for all my nefarious, planning purposes... haha. (Sorry, my planner people who think that 'nefarious' and 'planning' should never be paired...)

And there's some science to this, as well (which I'll talk more about in a minute...)

AND - there's some anecdotal evidence, too: 98% of respondents to Lifehacker's series on "How We Work" answered the question, "What's your favorite todo app?" with the answer, "I use a pen and paper."

Interesting.

I'm not talking about throwing out email and apps and returning to courier services and carrying around white-board sized pads of paper and the like.

But I am saying ALMOST EVERY BIG PROJECT is better off if you plan it on paper and then, transfer it to your digital world for management.

PART II: WHY PAPER IS THE BEST FOR PLANNING THE PROJECT

Well, there's 3 reasons - technically more, but I categorized them into 3. 

(OH GOODY, A LIST!!)

FIRST, your brain gives you better information without interruption to your eyes.

SECOND, there is an immediate, concrete attachment to actionability if you handwrite something.

THIRD, you are more creative with artistic mediums at your disposal.

Let's elaborate, shall we?

FIRST: YOUR BRAIN GIVES YOU BETTER INFORMATION WITHOUT INTERRUPTION TO YOUR EYES.

When you are working on a screen, you are interrupted in 2 big ways: 1) your eyes drift and see things on the side and must return - for every drift, you lose a little bit of time and a little bit of willpower and a little bit of productive momentum. Ugh. And 2) the screen itself is an interruption because the screen uses light as it's primary mode of communication. Light in your eyes is something your eyes must constantly adapt to and thus, same as scenario one - little bit of willpower, time, productive momentum all POOF, gone.

SECOND: THERE IS AN IMMEDIATE, CONCRETE ATTACHMENT TO ACTIONABILITY IF YOU HANDWRITE SOMETHING.

When you use your hands to write with a pencil or pen, it has a different effect on your brain than typing. There is a concrete connection between you and what you wrote. But that whole 'mightier pen' thing isn't the only connection. While handwriting, you can also doodle and draw and add flourishes. These things tell a story and help you remember key points, making the step of action-taking more likely and easier to execute.

Typing, sadly, just can't do that. Poor typing.

THIRD: YOU ARE MORE CREATIVE WITH ARTISTIC MEDIUMS, VERSUS TECHNICAL MEDIUMS.

There is some academic debate going on right now about whether or not artistic mediums are considered an evolutionary necessity - did, for example, art on cave walls lead to clearer thinking and thus, expanded brain capacity? Or did expanded brain capacity lead to art on cave walls? Either way, it's clear that artistic & CREATIVE mediums have their place in human development. 

And there's a whole WOO side to this, too - how cool is it that when planning on paper, you are using the VERY SAME TOOLS THAT LEONARDO DA VINCI DID? EEK!

If you're into energy (like I am) you probably have had the thought that all artistic energy is still around and inspiring humans from millions and thousands and hundreds of years ago. (I get excited about connections like that!)

Creativity in planning is VITAL. It helps you overcome obstacles, envision future outcomes, empathically link to those you're planning for... wow, I could go on and on with reasons why, here.

But I won't. Ahem.

So, you plan on paper, k?

PART III: THE FUN, CREATIVE, BEST PART...

What is the best method for planning a big project?

Oh happy day, I'm so glad you asked.

I have a 3-step method that has PROVEN itself over my years as an organizer, community outreach strategist, theatre director, and hiring manager. It comes with a silly, pneumonic device that I hope will be as useful for you as it was for me:

(TWO LISTS IN ONE POST? THIS MUST BE THE BEST. DAY. EVER!)

  1. Demystify
  2. Simplify
  3. Unstuckify

Of course, we're going to elaborate...

DEMYSTIFY

You gotta decide what the point of the project is and get all the reasons why you're doing the project and what the outcomes are and who your audience is and how long the project goes and everything. 

For this, I use a trigger list - this is a series of questions that I ask at the beginning of EVERY project. I answer the questions on paper using all sorts of fun pens and markers and mind-maps and everything. Get it ALL out and don't worry about what it looks like.

SIMPLIFY

This is the transfer of everything you just put on all your mind maps and paper. You're just going to sort these into one of three categories: 1 - Tasks or Action Items, 2 - Meetings & Scheduled Items (Deadlines go in both 1 AND 2), 3 - Reference material.

  1. Tasks or actions go IN ORDER into your task app. I highly HIGHLY recommend Todoist for this (but that's another post...)
  2. Meetings or Scheduled Items go into your calendar (Note: think of the difference between tasks and meetings as two containers - tasks can go in a meeting, but meetings cannot go into tasks. That should help you as you categorize.)
  3. Reference Material should go in ONE place where EVERYONE can find it. (I like Evernote for this, but you can use Google Drive or Dropbox.)

UNSTUCKIFY

As you categorize, you're going to notice some things don't fit or that they conflict with other things. For example, you planned a deadline on a day when 2 tasks needed for the deadline won't be done... My BEST tip for this is to WORK BACKWARD FROM THE END OF THE PROJECT. (I talk more about this in my Clever Launch course. Check that out HERE.)

By working backward, you'll be able to align the necessary deadlines and allow yourself space to utterly crash in between (I aaaalways schedule in 'crash and slow' time, where I can slow down, take a breath, play Tetris, and drink chocolate milk. Like a 9 year old. You do what you gotta, there, Hot Stuff.)

 

Phew, that was a BIG ole bunch of brain stuffs.

CONCLUSION: PLAN IT ON PAPER. MANAGE IT ONLINE.

And remember: Demystify. Simplify. Unstuckify.
AAAAaaaand done.