Many people struggle to follow through with intentions because they don’t have a plan. Quite often, our intentions actually represent complex projects, and not simple tasks. Here’s the difference: a task is something you can do in one relatively short block of time, such as look up a phone number or take out the garbage. We usually don’t need a plan to do a task. A project requires multiple steps, and usually can’t be completed in one work session.
Multi-step projects need a plan! Without a plan, we don’t know where to start, lose track of where we are, go off course and don’t know what to do next.
Some lucky people can formulate plans and hold them in mind without even realizing it. They seem to just intuitively know what to do. If you are accomplishing all you want, without taking time to plan, that’s great! You can stop reading now. But if you are frustrated and overwhelmed by the whole planning process, you may appreciate a bit more structure.
What I have outlined below is not a traditional planning process that you will find in project management guides. I came up with this based on the ways I see my clients get stuck and the activities that help them move forward.
Seven days to plan your project
I’ve broken this down over 7 days, so you can take your time and really think about these different steps, but feel free to move through them at whatever pace you like. I highly recommend you keep all the written material together. A large zip-lock bag will do, unless you have something else you prefer.
Days 1-2: Get clear on your goal.
DAY 1: Identify your target. What are you trying to accomplish? How will you know when you are done? What are the critical elements that your finished project needs to have in place? Write down a clear description of your goal, and include drawings, if appropriate. Describe your goal to someone else, if possible. Otherwise, say it out loud to yourself.
DAY 2: Imagine meeting your goal. What will be possible then? How will you feel? Write down three good things about accomplishing your goal and say them out loud.
Days 3-4: Think ahead
DAY 3: Identify the different things that need to happen in order to accomplish your project. It’s okay if you don’t know the exact details of how those things will happen, just identify the broad steps. For example, finding a new job might require preparing a resumé, updating social media profiles, networking, brushing up on interview skills, obtaining references, etc. Write down these steps. You might want to write each one on a separate index card or sticky note, attached to a larger piece of paper. It doesn’t matter what order you write them in. It’s just important to identify the different pieces of the project.
DAY 4: Identify the resources you have to help you with your project. Include your own knowledge, skills, talent, and creativity, as well as supplies, circumstances and other people. Write down your resources and keep the list with your other project planning materials.
Days 5-7: Get Specific
DAY 5: Identify your first action steps. Choose one of the areas you identified on Day 3, and then break it down into smaller pieces. Don’t worry about the order. For example, for writing a resumé, you might identify that you need to look up your previous dates of employment, review style guides, contact references and type up the document. Just choose any of the actions you identified, and ask yourself, “Is there something else I need to do, before I can do this one thing?” Keep asking yourself that same question, until you can’t think of anything else. This is your starting point.
If you’re still not sure where to start, just take your best guess. Chances are you will be right, and if not, you’ll quickly discover what else you need to do. It’s better to just do something, than to do nothing at all.
You will continue identifying action steps as you make progress on your project. It’s okay if you can’t figure out all the steps in the beginning. You just have to figure out one thing so you can get started.
DAY 6: Imagine doing that first step that you have identified. Use all your senses to project yourself into doing that first step. What will you be looking at? What will you hear? What muscle groups will be involved? What supplies will you need? Once you have a clear image, identify the obstacles that could derail you from working on your project. What strategies can you use, and what types of support will help you overcome these obstacles? Talk it through with someone else, or say it out loud. Write down your ideas and update your plan for your first steps, if necessary.
DAY 7: Schedule the work. When will you work on your project? Which days of the week? What time of day? For how long each session? What resources can you utilize? Block off this time in your calendar and do what you can to ensure you won’t have distractions. Ask someone else to check in with you about your progress, after your first scheduled work session.
Week 2 – Go for it!
FOLLOW YOUR PLAN!!! Do those first action steps you identified. Then step back and evaluate whether you’re ready to move forward. Repeat Day 5 planning, if necessary, to plan the next steps. Tweak as needed.
Now, after all that planning, guess what? Most people find that things don’t go according to plan. This is NORMAL. It’s still of value to create a plan, because it gives you a foundation.
When you get stuck, you can go back to your plan and make any necessary revisions. Maybe try things in a different order. Take note of the resources you identified and make sure you’re using them. Talk things out with a friend.
If nothing works and you just can’t get any traction, there are people like me who would love to help.
Do you have a better way to plan? Go for it! Get that project done and share how you did it!