Seven simple steps to help you to plan projects

April 26, 2010

Time Triage by Terry Monaghan

Last spring, a workshop participant sent an e-mail asking me to clarify how she could take her schedule and transform it to the schedule she designed in the workshop. My first response: You have to sit down and do some planing, and I remember thinking, “Wow, she really doesn’t know what I am talking about!”

This made me come up with a basic structure for clients to plan out their projects, the fulfillment of their goals, their vacations, their lives, etc.

What do you think might be possible if you set aside 90 minutes each day when you could just focus on your most important project? Don’t answer the phone, don’t answer the e-mail, don’t answer the door. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible.

What is needed is a simple framework for planning that can be applied and adapted to any situation.

Remember, I said simple. It consists of seven basic steps outlined below. Think of it as a process of asking and answering a series of questions.

Set the objective. What is your intended outcome? What is the point of the activity or task? The answers keep you on track and keep you connected to your goal. Without those questions, the goal becomes too easy to forget and the task becomes some horrible version of going through the motions with no real point.

Assess the present situation. What is your starting point? What resources are available? What resources are not yet available? Knowing exactly where you are as you begin to plan is just as important as knowing where you want to go. Think of your plan as the output of a GPS. You have to enter two key pieces of information: where you want to go and where you are.

Examine your alternatives. Brainstorm. what are all the possible ways you could get where you are going?

Decide your course of action. Determine the schedule and milestones for the project. Decide who is going to do what, when, where. Communicate it. Schedule it. Many plans fall apart when it comes to putting everything into the calendar. Remember, you aren’t operating in a vacuum. There will be activities and other tasks in the schedule that will affect your plans.

Provide for control. When are you going to review progress? How will you determine if you are ahead or behind? What will you do when breakdowns occur (and they will)? What if you are way ahead of schedule?

Implement the plan. Go do it! Follow the plan. Review your progress. Correct and adjust course as necessary. Incorporate new information as it becomes available.

Repeat steps 1 through 6. Before you know it, you will have reached your desired objective.

Terry Monaghan is CEO of Organizing For Your Life LLC. She can be reached at

(c) 2010 Washington Business Journal. Used by permission.


Wrapping your mind around a radical change in perspective

April 21, 2010

Nearly ten years ago, I began listening to Bob Proctor. One of the things he kept saying was – imagine turning your annual income into your monthly income.

What? I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the idea. But, then I really thought about it. When I first started working part time in High School, my annual income worked out to about $2000 (give or take a few bucks). By the time I left college (a long time ago), that annual income became a monthly income. And I hadn’t even realized it. I never looked at it that way.

While I haven’t yet turned that first annual income into a monthly income, over the years, I have more than quadrupled the income. So, I am almost half-way there. Now I am on a real push to get there (since I have brought it to the top of my mind).

Shifts your thinking, doesn’t it?

I was talking with a colleague yesterday. And again, we were working on shifting the thinking and perspective. There is a difference when a Realtor thinks like a Realtor, and when he thinks like an Investor. Different approaches, sometimes the same set of actions, but very different thinking. A Realtor might be thinking about the commission on a sale, while an Investor is thinking about the return on an investment.

And yet another group was working on shifting from an office-based culture to a virtual environment – with a corresponding shift from thinking 9 to 5 workday to focusing on the results produced (independent of the time). Which brought up how often contracts and grants are written with the finances calculated based on how much time something might take to produce – rather than the value of the deliverable.

I speak with entrepreneurs all the time who tend to undervalue their expertise, because they are stuck thinking about how long (or short) an amount of time a particular task takes. Or they are thinking about how easy it will be for them to get done. They are not taking into account the time they spent learning what they do so well. Or, if what they do well comes “naturally” – then they tend to think it isn’t really valuable to others.

I know I worked myself out of 3 positions before I realized that what is so obvious to me isn’t obvious to others, and the skill set I developed to deal with what is so obvious to me is really, really valuable to my clients.

Is my time worth hundreds or thousands of dollars per hour? Not really. But the results my clients produce are worth far more than that to them.

Where do you need to change your perspective?

Because, really, without a life, what’s the point?

Can an extraordinary boost in productivity be sustained?

April 12, 2010

An article in The Washington Post caught my eye last week. On the front page I saw the headline “What’s holding back job growth? ‘Extraordinary’ output by workers.

Since productivity is my passion, I was intrigued by the title and read the article (yes, I read my newspaper). There were some very interesting points made. For example:

One of the great surprises of the economic downturn that began 27 months ago is this: Businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.

The author went on to explain that, because both businesses and workers were thrown into a panic by the economic crisis:

Fearful of losing their jobs, people seem to have become more willing to stretch themselves to the limit to get more done in any given hour of work. And they have been tolerant of furloughs and cutbacks in hours, which in better times would drive them to find a new employer. This has given companies the leeway to cut back without the fear of losing valuable employees for good.

However, one of the conclusions made me sit up and say WHAT?

Although businesses are unlikely to reverse the changes they’ve made in the coming months and years — if you’ve suddenly become more efficient, why change unless you have no choice? — there is little reason to think they can maintain those extraordinary productivity gains in a more normal economy.

After all, if the boost depended on executives being panicked and workers having no option but to live with the changes, then the end of the deep crisis must mean that productivity gains will return to normal.

[emphasis added]

Granted, if the boost in productivity is solely dependent on fear – and is the result of freaked out employees desperately trying to do the jobs of 2, 3 or 4 people, that can’t be sustained. People will get burned out and productivity will disappear quickly.

But what if the boost in productivity comes from a fundamental shift in how work is getting done? Even if that shift is born out of fear, when processes get clarified, and work gets streamlined, and we stop filling up our time with busywork and endless interruptions, then the productivity gains can and do stick.

Just ask my clients!

Because without a life, what’s the point?

(c) 2010 Terry Monaghan

How accessible do you need to be?

April 5, 2010

Last week we were talking about managing distractions (really interruptions) and I wrote:

Dan Kennedy says “if they can’t find you, they can’t interrupt you.”

Then I asked: How can you make yourself inaccessible?

Well, you would have thought I suggested something completely radical! I can’t tell you how many people said, “But you just don’t understand! In my profession (my office, my company), I have to be available all the time. I have to take the call. I have to answer the email – right away.”

Really? How well does that work for you? Did you ever think that you are training your environment – your colleagues, clients, prospects – that you are always available? And then you complain that you get calls at ridiculous hours, you can’t have a meal without the phone ringing, and you are answering email late at night and on the weekends and on vacation. And you and your family resent it. You have given up any boundaries and have completely given up control of your time, energy and resources to whoever is on the other end of the phone or computer.

The bad news – the flood of calls and emails and interruptions aren’t going to stop anytime soon.

The good news – you actually have a lot of control over it.

I know a lot of people who review their email for the last time in their workday about an hour or so before the end of the day. This gives them time to deal with any really time sensitive matters (of which there are relatively few). Others have an end of day routine that includes sending out a bunch of messages to clients, colleagues, etc., to clear their own desk. They are not expecting an immediate response – they are just shifting things to the next state of action. Sort of like a tennis player hitting the ball back over the net.

If you are one of the people who receive this kind of message, you might think you need to stop and bang out a response immediately. But, trust me, the person who sent the message is not expecting an immediate response.

Why do we always assume an immediate response is required? We have been trained that way. Instant messaging. Instant coffee. Fast food. Frozen dinners (that take longer to heat than making something from scratch). The default reaction is get it done now, fast.

I’d like you to consider a different response. Take control of your energy. Take a moment (or two or ten) to think, to plan, to breathe, to focus. Turn off the phone. Turn off the computer. Walk away.

Where have you given up control? Where do you operate in default reaction mode? Pick one area and give up reacting. Just try.

I promise you two things. First, you will make massive progress on your goals. Second, you will find yourself far less stressed out.

Because, really, without a life, what’s the point?

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