How to create a plan for your bigger projects

I don’t think there would be many of us that don’t have a big project on our list that we want to do, but we don’t get around to working on it. Often the reason we don’t get to it, is because it is a bigger task and we have in our mind some time in the future that we will have a a number of spare hours to work on it and complete it in one go.

The reality of family life is that those spare hours will never appear. We have so many things to fill our days with and so many things to enjoy in family life, that unless we plan for it, the chance of this bigger project getting completed is quite slim.

Creating a project plan can help you get started on the project and get it finished. I am going to take you through the steps I take to create a project plan and will use a current example of something on my to do list that needs to be completed – creating the 2016 family photo album!

1. Define the project and its outcomes

You need to be very clear about what it is you want to achieve and what success looks like for this project. If you have decluttering as your big project, you need to detail exactly what it means, for example:

  • Declutter children’s bedroom – go through clothes, toys, books and miscellaneous items, removing items that are damaged or no longer needed. Find a home for all items so kids can easily get and put back items themselves.

With the photo album it is to have the album completed for the year 2016 with notes and sent to the printers.

2. Break up the project into tasks

The next step is to break the project up into as many parts as possible and write it down. The idea of going through a years worth of photos is overwhelming to me, hence while it is still sitting on my to do list. Each year I promise myself I will go through the photos at more regular intervals, but it doesn’t happen.

To break it up into workable sized tasks I am going to take the following steps:

  • Create a folder for the 2016 album in iPhoto – add all family photos to it. I have lots of photos for work that are also in iPhoto so it is a matter of excluding those. This isn’t the time to look at photos and analyse which ones to keep or discard, it is about getting all photos available. This means I need to access photos my husband has added to Dropbox and see if the kids have any photos from school camps etc they would like included.
  • First quarter, first cut – go through the first quarter of the year and delete any photos that will not be included in the album. Previous experience has taught me that I want to include too many photos, so I know this will have to be further reduced. I find that if I try too hard to keep the number of photos to a smaller amount, I waste too much time deliberating over whether or not to keep a photo. The aim with the first cut is to be quick and decisive, knowing that I will review it again. The way iPhoto works, is that if I have copied all of these photos into an album, when I delete them from the album, they are only deleted from the album and the photo is still in my main section – it is not permanently deleted.
  • Second quarter, first cut – follow the same steps for the first quarter. Breaking it up into quarters, means I know I only have to work on the task for an hour or so and will be easier to fit into my schedule.
  • Third quarter, first cut – follow the same steps for the first quarter.
  • Fourth quarter, first cut – follow the same steps for the first quarter.
  • Yearly second cut – now I have a first cut of all the photos for the year, I become tougher on what can stay. I aim to make sure I have photos of all close family and friends through out the year. I also ensure some balance in terms of representation from each child and that parent/s are included as well. Often parent/s are the one/s taking the photos so there isn’t much to work with. Even though they may not be the most perfect photos I will still include them as they show what we looked like at this point in time (and they we did actually hang out with the family!)
  • Final cut – Apple iPhoto Books allow 100 pages max and I tend to use 100 pages. The layouts they use allow for single or multiple photos on each page. I aim to have the final cut have around 400 photos. So the aim of the final cut is get the number of photos to around this mark.
  • Photo album creation – choosing the album design from iPhoto and placing the photos into order. iPhoto will automatically put photos into date order when they have been imported from a device, but if I have had photos sent to me or downloaded from Dropbox and then added them to iPhoto, the dates can get out of order. I check to see what the order is like before placing any photos and make notes about where I will need to add photos etc. This is the part I like most about the whole process! I like to write short notes on some pages to give more information about what was going on. Once completed I order our copies!

I tried to make each individual task about an hours worth of work. You want the task to be big enough to be meaningful, but not too big as it makes you not want to start it!

Once you get started you can get such a great run of momentum by completing tasks that you may keep going and complete a couple of tasks in a row! It is better for that to be the case, than to have tasks which are too big and you cannot find the time to fit them in.

3. Estimate times for each task

It can be hard to estimate times if you are doing something new, but it is important to have a time for each task. It is worth allocating time to each task even if after the first week of the project you need to review it.

There are two laws that are worth considering when working out how much time you need for an activity:

  • Parkinson’s Law: work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
  • Hofstadter’s Law: it always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

So you need to set yourself time limits or you could spend hours on a task that could be done in 30 minutes, but also be mindful of how quickly you think you can complete tasks – a tricky balance!

4. Allocate tasks across days/weeks/months

Find somewhere in your schedule where you can add your project on a regularly basis – weekly is ideal. I am going to add this tasks for the photo album project to Saturday afternoons. The kids are keen to help with this task, so it means they will be able to help me with it.

Saturday afternoons are also the time when I am most likely to be at home. There is no point allocating a task to Saturday nights for example, when I already know I have a number of events on at that time and Saturday nights I am also unlikely to want to work on something like the photo album on the computer.

Choose a time where you are likely to be available most of the time and a time that suits the task. If it requires using considerable mental ability, late at night won’t be a great option for most people, try an early morning session before the rest of the family rises.

5. Commit to the date

Based off the total hours the individual tasks will take completed on a weekly basis, you can calculate a completion date. Commit to your end date to just as you would to someone externally. If you get behind, don’t stop, keep moving forward doing even small amounts and look for ways to catch up.

Working on the photo album once a week, I will complete it by June 3, 2017. I will report back in and let you know how I went with it!

What project would you like to complete?