Making Progress on Projects

September 22, 2020


Often times we take on overwhelmingly large projects (or projects that seem to be overwhelming) and we procrastinate on even starting because we don’t know where to begin. Let’s explore the steps involved in breaking a project down into more manageable parts.

One method is to look at it by time. Do we have any deadlines that are built into the project? Usually you at least have an idea of when the project needs to be completed. From there you can often count backwards to significant milestones along the path, including building in sufficient lead time for each of the steps to be completed. For example, if you are setting up a trip for your boss, the return date of the trip is the end date.  Working back from there you can set the milestones, such as: date leaving, visas needed, passport needed, immunizations needed, reservations for air, hotel, rental car, other ground transportation, ordering of maps or other tourist type materials, etc. All of these milestones have dates that can go backwards – for instance it might take 4-6 weeks (or more) for a replacement or new passport.  Sometimes immunizations need to be given a certain amount of time apart (one shot, then a second shot 30 days later) and these immunizations might need to be given a certain amount of time prior to the trip. All of these are key milestones that help you chart your timeline of steps.

A second method of looking at projects is to break them down into their major steps. For example, if you were planning a holiday party, you would need to send out invitations, choose a date, book the venue, order the food, order flowers for the table, reserve the entertainment, arrange for presents for attendees, etc.  You can see how some of these steps are dependent on other steps. For instance, most likely, you would not send out the invitations until you had a date and place established. You wouldn’t order the food until you had a place established (since most likely you would be choosing a venue that had a catering service). By determining what steps are dependent on what other steps, you can create an overall flow chart for the event and you can establish priorities. You would not purchase gifts for the guests until you know how many guests you have. You would not print a map with directions until you had verified the venue.  In this case, things are not necessarily time sensitive per se (though they may have deadlines associated with them – for example – booking the entertainment – it doesn’t really matter if you book it one week ahead, one month ahead, or one year ahead from the perspective of the other steps. As long as you have the entertainment booked before the actual event (and assuming you are not planning to publicize it in advance of your event), it’s somewhat irrelevant; however, the band may already be booked if you wait too long, so there is an inherent deadline.

How do you know when you have broken down the steps and milestones into sufficiently small steps? Generally speaking, it’s when you can identify the step clearly and complete it as one action item within a certain time frame. For example, the general breakout item of invitations has 1) create invitation; 2) print invitations (unless emailing of course); and 3) send invitations.  You could choose to break these down into even smaller steps.  For the step of create invitation, you might need to find clip art or other examples of invitations or gather information to include on the invitation.  For print invitations you might need to choose a printer if having done by an outside entity or stock up on printer ink and invitation paper if you are doing the printing. The question to ask yourself for each step is “What do I need to do to accomplish this step?” Whether physical supplies or actions, you will keep asking this question until the answer is finally “just do it”.

The key to actually making progress when working on projects is to break down the manageable parts and assign them deadlines and then FOLLOW UP! Too often deadlines pass and the steps were not completed and the project hangs in limbo. So long as you are completing steps and tasks, you will be making progress towards completion of your project.  You WILL get there eventually.

About the Author:

Marie Herman CAP, OM, ACS, MOSM is the founder of MRH Enterprises LLC, whose services include teaching technology and professional development classes through corporate training and various webinars and workshops, writing articles, and more.  Marie is a speaker and trainer who has worked with corporations and associations throughout the world.  She leads study groups to prepare students for Google G Suite, Microsoft Office Specialist, and the Certified Administrative Professional certification exams.


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