It’s the season of action and energy.
After months of rest and play, we’re officially in back-to-school, back-to-business, back-to-life mode. Everywhere you look, people are digging in and making stuff happen.
And for many of us, that means getting a new (or neglected) project up and running – whether that’s building a new product or program, offering a new service, finally getting those business systems in place, writing a book/ebook/freebie or launching a new workshop.
Today, I want to go practical and give you five helpful steps you can take before you begin that new project. These steps will help set you up for success and get you started on the right foot.
Step #1: Get clear on the scope, the why and the objective of the project
Before you begin, you need to be clear on what your project is, why you’re doing it and what you hope the outcome will be.
I’ve seen too many entrepreneurs start something just because it seemed like a good idea in the moment or they saw someone else do it and figured they should too. This is not a strategic way to make decisions in your business.
Any project you start takes effort, resources and time — all that could be allocated to something else — so be sure that what you’re embarking on is the best strategic move for your business, right now.
Knowing your why means that you have a bigger vision and purpose behind the project. This is what will keep you moving forward when you get into the messy middle (read: it feels hard).
And finally, you want to know what you hope to achieve in as much specificity as possible. Put real numbers and outcomes around your project so that you’ll be able to measure its effectiveness upon completion.
Step #2: Develop your project plan
Please don’t begin a project hoping to keep all the details in your head. I promise, you can’t (nor should you). Likewise, don’t work at a project without clear deadlines and milestones, otherwise you’ll find yourself constantly pushing out the completion date by another week or another week or another week.
Instead, build out an easy-to-follow project plan that will give you a roadmap for the duration of the project. Just like you wouldn’t try to travel across the country without a map, a project plan will show you all the key points you need to stop at along the way, and keep you on course when it gets hard.
Here’s how I develop a project plan for a new idea:
- I do a blue sky brain dump in my “Big Ideas” notebook in Evernote, listing out all my ideas and possibilities. Sometimes I do this on paper as well, and then post a pic to Evernote.
- Once the idea is solidified, I map out the project in my PRO Project Plan (as much as I love tech, I need to do this piece on paper). This tool helps me get clear on all the key milestones I need to reach, along with all the day-to-day tasks I’ll need to handle.
- Then, I input these key dates and deadlines into Asana – my Project Manager of choice. With Asana, I can assign certain tasks to people on my team, and get a daily reminder about what I need to be doing. It’s a great, free tool that I love.
Note: want to get your hands on the exact project plan I use? Click here to download your free copy:
Step #3: Turn on the blinders for maximum creativity
It seems to be a law of the universe that the *minute* you make a decision about a direction, suddenly it feels like everyone else is doing that same thing too. You go online and see your peers or competitors announcing their newest project – which sounds a lot like your big idea – and it takes the wind out of your sails.
First, remember that there is more than enough to go around. Someone else may be doing the same work as you, but not the way you do it. The world needs your voice.
Next, please, for the love of everything good, turn on the blinders. Go dark. Unsubscribe. Take social media icons off your phone. Do whatever you need to do to turn down the noise so you can concentrate fully on your project without being influenced or taken down by others doing similar work.
*Feel that you need to do research first? Do that in Step #2 and give yourself a limit of a few hours to gather all that you need. Then turn it off.
My creativity has suffered on several occasions because I got too overwhelmed with outside influences. My project suffered, my deadlines blew past and I hesitated putting my work out into the world.
This all would have been avoided if I just. stopped. looking.
Step #4: Carve out time each week to do the work
You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy.
So don’t assume that your great project idea is just going to happen. And don’t lie in bed hoping that maybe this will be the day/week/month you’ll have a bit of extra time to go beyond the day-to-day and magically work on your project. It just won’t happen.
You have to make it happen.
Depending on the scope of your project, and associated deadlines, go to your calendar and block out chunks of time to specifically work on your project. Look at the key milestones you identified in Step #2 and allocate the appropriate amount of time per week to cross these off the list.
Be deliberate, intentional and focused about your commitment to this project and give it the time it needs to be realized.
Will you have to cut out some social media surfing? Maybe.
Might you need to ask for some extra help around the house for a few weeks while you put in some extra hours? Possibly.
But if you’re committed to the why of your project, and you know what outcomes you hope to achieve (and why they’re so vital to your business), then you’ll find the time.
Step #5: Create an accountability, reward & recovery system
This often overlooked step is a vital component of any great project.
Here’s what I know about people and projects: the beginning is exciting, the middle is tumultuous, and the end is exhausting.
I wish it was sexier and more joy-filled, but this is usually how it goes down. There are pockets of fun, joy and energy of course — but typically it follows this path.
So if you want to see a project through under these conditions, you’ve got to equip yourself with both accountability and a reward system so that you can follow it to completion.
(How many projects have you started but haven’t finished? Ya, that’s why this is important).
First up – accountability: Unless you are a highly driven, self-motivator, you’ll likely need some kind of accountability to keep you going over the long haul. That could be a coach, a mastermind group, a peer/friend, a partner or even social media. A lot of my clients send me a text or Evernote note every Friday by noon with their wins and accomplishments for the week. Decide on a structure that will work for you.
Second up – create a reward system: Women have a tendency to gloss over their successes and ask themselves, “ok, what’s next?” This minimizes all the effort and work you put into your project. Before you begin, identify a reward system that will inspire you to keep going and celebrate when you complete.
This might look like a massage every Saturday if you meet your weekly targets.
It might look like a dinner out with your girlfriends once per month to decompress and get out of your business head for a while.
And/or it might mean identifying a really awesome reward when the project is complete – just be sure to make it meaningful and inspiring.
Third up – identify your recovery system: Projects are no small thing. They’ll keep you humming for at least 90 days (on average), and chances are good, you may need to put in some extra time to reach your goals.
So, before you start, identify what your recovery system will be when the project is done.
This might be taking a vacation (which would also serve as a great reward), or simply building in a few buffer days post-project so you can rejuvenate and regroup.
Don’t dismiss this – you deserve it and it will give you the creative fuel to tackle the next project (and prevent burnout).
Lincoln once said:
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Before you begin your next project, sharpen your axe on these five steps so that doing the work is easier, more effective and far less overwhelming.