Today’s post is different. It’s not about spiritual matters, it’s about the very concrete and practical; specifically, how to get a project done. I’ve been reflecting on it as I tackle my own project of creating a new melodic line on a several hundred year old Bach piece. I’ve had a lot of training in this: project planning, GTD method, etc. What follows is a distillation of the ones that work best for me.
1) Have goals that are specific, measurable, actionable, realizable, and time bound. For more, click here http://topachievement.com/smart.html. But essentially, you need to state your goal as “write a one hundred word post and put on my blog by tomorrow at midnight”, rather than “blog more”.
2) A related point: many goals are too enormous and daunting when faced in their entirety – break it down into smaller steps. A useful if overused example: it is overwhelming to try to “climb Everest”, but rather achievable to tie your boots on and take one step. A good tool for breaking down a goal is the Work Breakdown Structure: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_breakdown_structure . Sometimes the most important thing we can do is define the elements necessary to really get a project done.
3) Related to #1, make a “next action” list rather than a “to do list”. Saying you need to “repot plant” requires you to think every time (and likely get hung up on) what you actually need to do to make that happen. Try “go to ACE Hardware and buy new 12” pot”. http://www.gtdtimes.com/2011/02/10/how-is-a-next-action-list-different-from-a-to-do-list/
4) A nice tip for things that require daily involvement: “Don’t Break The Chain”. This is a simple technique where you put Xs on your calendar every time you do something (workout, meditate, post on your blog, whatever). The goal is to keep the chain going! Apparently Jerry Seinfeld credits this method as the most important element of his success. http://lifehacker.com/5886128/how-seinfelds-productivity-secret-fixed-my-procrastination-problem
5) Set aside dedicated, distraction-free time on your calendar to get the tasks done. Turn off your internet (really, the best thing to do is actually force it off using a tool like http://macfreedom.com/), turn off the TV, get away from other people, turn off your phone, and have all the things you need in one place. Then work, distraction free, for up to 90 minutes or as long as attention allows. Some people swear by the Pomodoro Technique – I personally need more time in a block but agree with the general concept http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique
6) “Climb the right wall”. It’s really important to keep checking in, with yourself, others, and/or experts who have done it before, to make sure you are following the right action path. It’s a terrible feeling to be getting a lot of the wrong things done, so make sure your ladder is on the right wall. I recommend checking in weekly to ensure that your idea of how to get things done matches the reality of how it should get done.
7) A related and important point: know when to ask for help from others. One of the biggest problems is not knowing the next step to take, or being unable to do it without the help of others, or more information, or different resources. Life is about having allies to help you out: have a group of experts, counselors, friends, etc. who can give you thoughtful advice when you hit those inevitable times when you don’t know what to do next. Bonus: if you still can’t find the answer, just try to move in the right general direction.
Hope you are all doing well on your projects!