You have a new project. It’s big. It’s huge — even “yuge” — but you’re not bloviating.
This is the real deal, a make or break moment for you. You need project success to level up.
Ugh! The stress starts to creep into your mind and your body.
There are so many components, so many moving parts. How will you manage them all? How will you get all the way to the top of that hill from all the way down here?
You’ll do it with a process that will make your project easier to see and simpler to manage, like eating an elephant.
Elephants can grow up to 11 feet tall and weigh up to 13,000 pounds. The more important question is why would you eat an elephant? For our purpose, however, how would you eat an elephant? You’d eat an elephant one bite at a time. Just like you’ll tackle this project and succeed.
Breathe, and see project success.
Your first step is to breathe.
Too often, we want to dive right in and start our projects or tasks before we have a chance to fully think them through. It’s at this point when the panic starts. Stop the panic before it starts.
You have your assignment. You know the objective. Now, breathe. Even for five minutes. Sit back in your chair, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. As you feel the benefits of your deep, energizing breaths, imagine the inevitable results of your success.
Do, as Bob Proctor says, “Imagine the feeling of the wish fulfilled.” Your subconscious mind can’t tell the difference between your reality and your imagination.
- Thoughts create your feelings.
- Feelings create your actions.
- Actions create your results.
Take the time to convince your subconscious mind that success is yours and you’ll nurture your thoughts.
You don’t know how you’ll get there today, but know you’ll get there.
See your team, your manager and your manager’s manager patting you on the back for your job well done. Ignite that feeling in your stomach when you know your work is good. Project the movie in your mind’s eye of what it will feel like when you go home and tell your partner, spouse or your girls how you rocked it at work.
With clarity and calm — and a positive mindset — proceed to the next step.
You were assigned this project because you know enough. However, there’s a chance you don’t know everything to ensure project success. Find out what you don’t know.
Do you have questions? Where can you find the answers? What aren’t you 100% certain about with this responsibility? Are there points of confusion?
What tools and resources do you need? Can you get them? How?
Who are your points of contact? Can they help you? When are they available?
Go through these questions and do your best to answer them. At the very least, know where you can get the answers. You don’t have to know everything right now. But you should have a solid idea of where to find what you need.
And, if you have to ask for clarification, do it sooner rather than later. Ask an insightful question now, get on the right track, and you’ll avoid bigger issues later.
Do your research.
Armed with your questions, reach out to your points of contacts for answers. Use your company’s resources. Most firms have intranet sites, web-based tools, and software loaded with information. Search your resources for answers — and make a not questions you haven’t thought to ask until now.
Even in business, that thing we call the World Wide Web is a useful tool. Use Google to find if someone or something else has completed a similar project before this. Understand how they succeeded or failed. Find out what you should do differently and what you can do better.
Make a list.
As you’re asking questions and researching, make a list of steps you need to take, things you need to learn, people you need to contact, and more questions you need to ask.
Good organization can be a big deal as you work toward project success.
A tablet or Post-it® Notes may be where you currently list your to-dos, but this is the 21-century, my friend. Let’s get your more efficient tools.
My current favorite task manager is Asana. If you’re working with a team on a project, you can manage the whole thing from Asana. You can name a task and assign it to the larger project. You can add attachments and due dates, as necessary.
For now, create a free account with Asana to list all your tasks. As your project evolves and you become comfortable with Asana, you can use more of its features and loop in your team.
Another great free tool is Trello. With Trello, you can create boards to represent different projects or different tasks with sub-tasks. You can add attachments and due dates with Trello, too. You can also add checklists on each card, assign labels for tracking and move cards from one board/project to another.
If neither of these tools works for you and you are based in corporate America, it’s likely you use Microsoft Outlook for email. Outlook has a Task manager that works with your Outlook Calendar and is quite convenient.
No matter the tools you use, look for a way to organize your tasks and break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks. This will help you tackle the project more effectively.
Map your process.
Now that know all or most of your required tasks, put them in a logical sequence. You’ll see tasks that are contingent on the completion of other tasks. You’ll see what can be done simultaneously and, likely, what should be done first, second, third, and so forth.
Asana and Trello are great for this because you can easily move tasks around on your board or your list, as your process requires. When things change, as they inevitably will, you can move your tasks around accordingly.
Both Asana and Trello have visual elements that make them ideal for mapping your process. As you find that something needs to be done in a different order, or if you need to add something, it’s fairly simple. Plus, you can see the entire roadmap laid out.
Budget time for surprises and breaks.
Most projects have deadlines and most deadlines are yesterday. That said, do your best to negotiate a reasonable timeline to successfully complete your project. Include in that negotiation time for surprises and breaks.
Sure, your project success can come without breaks — but that also means more stress. If you want to reduce the stress, you need to prepare ahead of time for problems.
Something unexpected will pop up. A mistake or oversight will happen. Your manager will come up with additional requests. As best as you can, factor time in your project timeline for these surprises. They will happen, and you’ll do yourself and your project a favor by planning for them.
Budget time for breaks. This helps in two ways. The first is that it reduces stress. Factoring in time for walks, casual conversations with colleagues and to read will take your mind off your project and let you relax and unwind.
The second benefit is that our best ideas and solutions often come when we’re not thinking about the task at hand. Go for a walk. Meditate. Do a routine task, like washing the dishes, knitting, or tinkering with a car.
These simple put us in a slightly meditative state that some psychologists call our default mode network. In this state, “you become less aware of your environment and more aware of your internal thoughts,” says John Kounios, a psychologist who studies creativity and distraction at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Remove your distractions.
When you’re working on project success, eliminate as many distractions as possible. Despite what some think, no one is good at multitasking.
You can’t give any task all it needs if you’re distracted by the chime on your computer indicating a new email or the ring of your phone from a push-notification. You can’t zero in on a project if you’re talking on your office phone and scrolling through Facebook on your iPhone.
Those things have their time and place but not when you’re working on an important task. Not being focused will delay you, increase chances of errors and eventually stress you. Research shows that it takes between 23 and 25 minutes to refocus on a task after we’ve been distracted.
You don’t have time for that.
Shut down your email. Put your office phone on DND. Turn off your phone and hide it from yourself. Shut the door and ask to not be disturbed. Focus solely on your project. The more successful tasks you have, the more successful your project will be.
Trust me. You won’t miss anything of real importance on Facebook.
Forgive yourself for mistakes.
As sure as surprises come, you’ll make mistakes. This is life, and you’re only human. Expect mistakes and expect to forgive them.
In fact, mistakes and failure are necessary. The road to ultimate project success often littered by failure.
Jass saxophonist Coleman Hawkins once quipped, “If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not trying.” This applies to every aspect of life, including business, and shows that our biggest failures can lead to our biggest successes.
Turn your mistakes into successes and learn from them. Apply your new-found knowledge to your current project, share them with your team, and apply them to future projects.
Don’t let that new project stress you out. Go for a walk, take a deep breath, map it out, and get back to it.