Your Magical Mysterious Project Management System

Great things start with small steps

The Small Steps Project Management System is for anyone who:

  1. has a goal and wants to put in place small steps to make it work. You can get a handle on the basics of  the small steps technique here.
  2. is a project management rookie, especially when it comes to managing your own stuff (rather than stuff at work).
  3. needs to get an overview of a particular project, especially a creative one.

You’re not as much of a rookie as you think you are

First of all, you’ve most likely got a lot of experience of project management already. Did you manage the kids’ summer holidays, or getting them to school on time (mostly) lunch sorted? Did you manage to get yourself prepared for the week ahead, your driving test, your holiday? You’re already project-managing your life (and sometimes the lives of people around you). Turns out project management isn’t so magical or mysterious after all. Read on!

The Small Steps Project Management System is about:

  • Getting an overview
  • Scheduling perspective time
  • Capturing and filtering information
  • Planning the next step

Getting an overview

I often leave out this step when I’ve got a goal I want to achieve – and then pay the price. I’ve decided to do it. I’m committed. But then I sign up to courses, go to talks, get books out of the library or go on a book buying binge, talk to friends about it, do hours of internet research, overload myself with information – and then all that research becomes a kind of procrastination. Why? Because I don’t have an overview. I have lots of pockets of information. So I had to think hard about how to get myself to do this, and here’s what I came up with:

  1. I need some alone time to do it, at least once a week.
  2. I need to know the reason why. For instance, if you want to finish a marathon, is that because you want to get fit? Why do you want to get fit? For your family, for yourself? If you want to write a memoir, why do you want to write a memoir? To get it published? To leave to your grandchildren?
  3. Writing stuff down and keeping my notes somewhere I’ll keep bumping into them makes me more likely to take time out to get an overview.

Scheduling perspective time

It was Michael Hyatt’s blog that convinced me about the importance of scheduling. Here’s an example. Otherwise, a goal simply becomes a vague wish, or a ‘maybe one day’. In fact, treating whatever it is a bit like a job, writing down when you’re going to do it, and then turning up is the ONLY WAY to realise a goal. It takes the magic and the mystery out of it. Funnily enough, it also forces you to decide whether you actually do want to do the thing that’s been your fantasy for a while.

Scheduling is a concrete way of committing to your goal. I often forget to schedule perspective time. I’m busy getting the thing I want to do done, trying to find time to squeeze it in, and it’s the perspective time that gets squeezed out. I’m trying to rectify that at the moment. I’ve found that – when I have difficulty scheduling perspective time – there are three tools that help, as long as I put these tools where I can see them!

  1. Time tracking
  2. Signposting
  3. Timetabling

The three guises of perspective time

Perspective time comes (roughly) three guises. You can schedule all three over a day or a week, depending on your preference. I’m trying to get all of them into my day right now. Come to think of it, it’s amazing that these things get so little kudos in our society. Guise one is staring into space, going for a wander, being in nature, meditating. Guise two involves preparing for the year or term or week or day ahead. In my case it often simply means half an hour at the end of the day writing tomorrow’s to do list (and NOT do list) and packing my bag. Guise three is about planning your project over the medium to long term – knowing where you want to end up and working backwards to today, then putting steps in place to achieve your goal.

Capturing and filtering information

Your goal will have information associated with it. Small Steps Project Management involves finding a way to capture it, and crucially, to filter it. Evernote is  useful, for example, to capture information. I also have a colour-coded system of (very low tech!) ring binders on my desk. By the way, I deliberately went out and bought files in colours I like. I found that choosing the cheapest possible stationery – in drab colours – had a negative impact on how I saw the project.

Filtering information means that from time to time you schedule half an hour to sort through and recycle (or delete) stuff that is no longer relevant. It stops the clutter building up and allows you to focus. It also means you don’t overlook the important stuff. I find this really hard. I have no problem capturing the information in the first place. Scheduling time to sort through it is much harder. Using tags in Evernote and sorting paper files little and often (at the end of each day) both seem to help. The key word there is ‘scheduling’! If your paper is mounting up, check out David Allen’s blog.

Planning the next steps

The Small Steps Project Management System uses the Small Steps Method that I explain in my book on time management. You can download a free chapter here. In that book I sampled different time management strategies so you don’t have to and I’ve done similar with this system. I have applied up to the minute advice on productivity to personal project management. In other words, I’ve done the research (because I needed help!) so you don’t have to. You’re going to set up and run a system where you a) get an overview and b) are able to put in your next steps. By the way, you could create a table in Word to do this, or you could use Excel, or you could use the pages of a notebook, or index cards. Here’s how I do it at the moment:

  1. I capture my thoughts in a brain dump – in a notebook or in Word. This is a ‘how do I know what I’m thinking until I hear what I say’ exercise. It’s important for me because it’s by writing that I think things through.
  2. I capture a list of the projects I am working on at the moment and review them. What’s my emotional reaction to them? Which am I committed to completing? This is important as I need to work out what to ditch and where I’m going to spend my precious time. Break down several into small steps if you like, so you can see what it would take to fit them all in! I did this on index cards once and it was a bit of a reality check when I worked out everything I was trying to squeeze into my life. Don’t be afraid to say no to the projects you don’t really want to do – it clears the way for the things you do want to do.
  3. I break the goal down into small steps, under main subheadings. This may bring up some gaps in my knowledge, which is good because then I have specific questions to answer. Crucially, you want to LIST out the subheadings and the small steps, even if you have gaps. Try to make these chronological if possible. That is, put the steps in the order you’re going to take them. Of course you can change them later.
  4. At this point, I work out when I want to complete each of the steps. (I’ve got two ways of doing this: ideally, and based on how my time I have based on time tracking.)
  5. I create a table, either in Word or by hand, inserting the subheadings, and the small steps. Then I write in the date by which I hope to have the step completed. I can do this bit while sitting with my son after school, or on  the train. Once the other stages are complete, step 5 doesn’t necessarily have to be distraction-free. (By the way, when you’ve next scheduled perspective time, review this table. Keep coming back to it.)
  6. I ask myself what step I can take today.

So there you have it. The Small Steps Project Management System. Get an overview, schedule some perspective time, capture and filter information, then plan the next step – and the one after that.

Happy planning! x Louise

Want more? Download your FREE chapter from the original small steps guide.

Let me know how you get on in the comments or in the Facebook group.

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