Step III.3: Project Planning
There’s nothing quite like working hard and finishing something you’re proud of. So satisfying, right? Projects are what most people think of when they think of goals, and it isn’t surprising. Biting into a tomato you grew in your backyard or taking the bike you fixed up for a test ride feels really good.
In some ways, projects are easier than habits and rhythms, because they typically have a clear, gratifying end in sight. In other ways, projects have their own set of challenges: they can be daunting and hard to finish. This step is all about moving your project from dream to reality.
The truth is I can dream big dreams all. Day. Long. I love to brainstorm and think about possibilities … but when it’s time to follow through and actually figure out how to make things happen, I’m filled with this strange combination of nausea and boredom. Then I either get overwhelmed and never start, or start but eventually lose interest and never finish. For many personalities out there (most SJ types for instance, if you’re into Myers-Briggs), implementation comes naturally. For me, not so much. So this post (just like all of my posts) is really a collection of wisdom from friends, family and books that have been helpful to me in my fight against procrastination and project-abandonment.
1. Do your homework: Research & Resources
My sister, Rachel Goodson, is a project machine. Whether it is repurposing a piece of furniture to sell in She and her husband started or decorating her house or throwing a party, she gets it done and makes it look easy. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve learned from her is the importance of doing your research and gathering your resources.
Research is necessary to determine what exactly is required to make your project happen. It also can help you make a more realistic timeline for yourself. For instance, if I want to run a marathon and I get winded after a two-minute jog, then I need to do my research to determine how long it will take for me to get in shape to meet my goal, and to determine what training schedule would work best for me.
Getting all the resources you need for each step before you work on your project will prevent you from losing momentum by stopping when you’re halfway through to make a Lowes’s run.
2. Eat the Elephant
Question: “What’s the best way to eat an elephant?”
Answer: “One bite at a time.”
This classic piece of goal-setting wisdom is especially true for big projects. Looking at a project as a whole can be overwhelming. The best way to make it less intimidating and more manageable is to break it down into smaller chunks. Since you’ve already done your research and know what’s required, this step should be easy. Take a piece of paper or notebook page and write your project at the top. Then break it down into three or four main sections. After you do that, break each of those sections into a few action steps, and (depending on how big the project is), continue this process until you have nice manageable bite-size to-do items left.
Here is an example of my most current Sustainable Goal-Setting "Eat the Elephant" project plan. All the tiny details aren't figured out yet but it helps get me started!
For me, the hardest part of this step is the temptation to make my sketch/plan “perfect.” I highly suggest doing this part with a pen, just so you won’t be tempted to constantly erase and start over again and again. Just write it out as you think it out. This is part planning, part brainstorming all in one, and it’s fine if it’s ugly.
3. Check for Habits and Rhythms
Look back at those action items you just listed and see if there are any habits or rhythms hidden in there. For instance my project to develop a Sustainable Goal-Setting workbook, includes the habit of writing/sketching for an hour five days a week and then in the last phase of developing my project it will involve me establishing the rhythm of spending a couple hours on Mon. and Wed. nights translating my writing and sketches from a paper to InDesign.
If your project does involve a rhythm or habit then check out Habit Formation and/or Rhythm Integration for strategies to help make those happen!
4. Set a Deadline (Outside of Yourself)
Some projects have a deadline built in, like building a table to give your friends on their wedding day. If that’s the case, skip this section and move on to the last section.
For projects that don’t have a deadline automatically built in, create one. If you can attach it to something “extrinsic” – something on the calendar that you can’t change – all the better.
Deadlines are much more inspiring if other people are involved. For instance, we have a couple of friends who host “Art Fight Nights” every quarter: nights where everyone is expected to bring something- a painting, a poem, an app, a cake, in my case a goal-setting method- whatever they’re working on to share with the group and receive constructive feedback. My husband and I have used these nights as fixed deadlines (that are outside of ourselves) to keep us accountable to work faithfully on the projects we are going to share with the group.
For another example, my parents recently redid their kitchen. My mom decided she wanted to have the kitchen finished in time to host my grandmother’s 88th birthday party. By setting the goal of hosting the party, she was able stay motivated to get it done in a timely fashion rather than letting it drag on and on and on.
If the only person involved is you (and maybe your significant other), you’ll be tempted to make excuses and move your deadline around rather than sticking with it. The more people you bring in on a project the more inspired you’ll be to follow through on completing it.
5. Create a Timeline
This last step is especially useful for projects that span weeks or months. Creating a timeline can help you get a general idea of when certain parts of your project need to happen in order to keep your deadline.
Start by drawing a horizontal line (remember, this doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect - unless that’s your thing, then go for it!)
On the left side of the line, write today’s date.
At the other side of the line, write your deadline.
Divide it up by months or weeks, whatever makes the most sense for the length of the project.
Fill in roughly when you want to have each of the main chunks of your project accomplished (this can still be pretty loose).
From there you can plug in as many of your smaller action items as you see fit.
Here is an example of my timeline. Even though it is pretty general and rough, it still helps me get an idea of the scope of my project.
This is also a great time to take a “subtractive” look at your schedule. How much time do your project steps – training runs, painting sessions – take? What days and times will you do them, and what might have to get cut or moved to make room? If accomplishing your goal according to your first deadline seems really stressful and unreasonable, adjust it before you commit yourself to something you don’t think will succeed.
Once your timeline feels good and seems to work, then it’s time to get started!
“The most important step is the first step. All those old sayings are really true. Well begun is half done. Don’t get it perfect, get it going. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started, and strangely, starting is often far harder than continuing.”
― Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
I hope that this post will help take some of the intimidation out of starting a big project!
Up next: Step IV: Design Your Dream Ordinary