“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan” – Eleanor Roosevelt
How many times have you sat down to try to figure out what to do with one of your killer ideas only to find yourself on Facebook or vacuuming 10 minutes later because you couldn’t convert that idea into a doable project?
Or how many times have you told yourself that you need to do something with that one idea (yes, that one) but never have gotten around to it, not because you don’t have the time, but because you can’t figure out where to start with it?
Okay, so one or both of these things probably happen to you a lot. Every day, perhaps.
But they don’t happen to people who know how to plan projects. These people have other problems (over-committing and over-reaching still loom large), but they know how to convert an idea into a plan of action.
I want to teach you how to get the project planning part right so that we can move to the “implement plan of action” part. Simply put, getting better at project planning helps you get better results faster, assuming, of course, that you implement your plan. It turns out that good plans almost automatically convert to implementation because they’ve got motivation and actionability baked right in.
Before we talk about project planning, let’s talk about why Creative Giants have a problem with this project planning business in the first place.
Most People Aren’t Taught How to Plan
Like personal finance and time management, planning falls into those life skills that don’t get taught in schools. We teach people theoretical knowledge but not the know-how to do anything with it, hoping that someone else – usually employers – will teach people that practical stuff. Except that many employers don’t, especially in the fields of creative knowledgework.
Which means we have legions of talented, educated, and creative people who are also creatively constipated. Yes, constipated. Too much in, not enough going out – and more coming in every day. While learning how to plan projects isn’t the only solution to creative constipation, it’s one of the major parts of the prescription to a more wholesome flow of creativity.
Sure, some of us were taught how to plan specific types of activities, like our studies, meals, and travel, but most of us didn’t have parents, teachers, or mentors who sat down with us to teach us the general principles of project planning. And if we were tapped as “creative,” we are even less likely to have been taught these principles, due to (unhelpful) myths about creative people not being logical, planning types. This is a pervasive myth that I debunk every day with Creative Giants – you can be creative AND logical. You don’t have to be a painter OR an engineer.
Why Project Planning Is Easier Than Most People Think
Because you’re an astute reader, you’ll notice that I’m referring to project planning more than general planning. While many of the principles of planning apply to project planning, in many ways, project planning is easier because
- project planning is closed-space planning — i.e., there are generally more apparent parameters that constrain our planning (which is a good thing);
- a project generally has some external goal or end result; and
- projects have a determinable beginning and end.
Project planning is also more compelling because it matters today and it’s tangible. Strategic planning, on the other hand, can seem far more abstract and detached from today’s activities. (By the way, one of the signs of a terrible strategic plan is that it’s too abstract and detached from your daily realities. A post for another day!)
Let’s go back to that idea of yours I mentioned earlier in this post – you know, the idea you’re not doing anything with. It probably falls under project planning rather than strategic planning or general planning. Since you’ve got it top of mind now, let’s start working on it.
Making GUTSY Plans
There are five main principles or factors that you’ll need to evaluate when you’re doing your project planning. They are:
- GOAL: Having a SMART, compelling goal that specifies what the end result of the project is.
- UNDERSTANDING the value and priorities that relate to this project: For value, we can look not only at budgets and expense, but also at the positive expected yield from the project and the opportunity costs of not doing the project. Priorities are both about the action items that need to be prioritized within the project itself and about how you’re able to prioritize the project amidst the total context of all your other projects and responsibilities. UNDERSTANDING thus helps us determine what matters within the project and how the project matters more globally for us.
- TIME: How much time will be required to get the project done? How much time is available? What can we do to avoid the trap of both overestimating our available time and underestimating the time required?
- SUPPORT: What support is available to get this project done? What support will be required? What’s needed to make the project successful?
- YOU: What are your strengths and weaknesses? What’s your story about the project itself? How might you leverage your strengths, mitigate weakness, and create a compelling, useful story about the project that keeps you glued to it?
The GUTSY principles aren’t listed in order of priority or weight. Each project might have different weightings, and each person may have to weight things differently.
GUTSY plans account for the factors that will affect your successful completion of a project. (Click here to share this – thank you!)
When you internalize the process of assessing these principles, you automatically generate better project plans and you’re better able to make adjustments when those plans go awry. For instance, if you don’t assess SUPPORT, you may miss out on the people standing right next to you who can help you with your project. If you don’t assess the value portion of UNDERSTANDING, you may forget that you actually have money to spend to get more SUPPORT that would mitigate a weakness or more TIME because you’re able to get additional hands on the project.
Once you’ve assessed these factors, the actual details of your plan fall in place naturally. And from that point, you know what to do and you probably already have the scaffolding to get started. Not only that, but making mid-course adjustments to your plan is a lot easier because you only have to consider which principle has shifted.
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