The definition of a project is often given as a series of tasks which lead to the conclusion of a bigger piece of work. This means that you need to take care to do all of the smaller tasks as well as possible, and planning them is a big part of this.
1. Know Your Milestones
The starting point for work is the project schedule. This is what tells you what you are working towards and when you have to achieve it by. If you know your milestones then you have a much better chance of sticking to them.
If you look at the list of things to do and realize that it is too big for you then it is time to get other people involved. A good, flexible project team is worth its weight in gold in helping take the load off your shoulders. You shouldn’t be afraid to let go and let others help out.
3. Plan Ahead
How far ahead you need to plan probably depends on how complex the project is and how pushed you are for time. In terms of detailed planning I like to look a week ahead. I feel that if you try and plan further ahead than this you will need to build in a lot of contingency as unexpected situations are sure to arise in the meantime.
4. Use Your Tools
Planning your tasks on a piece of paper is fine but nowadays you will have a lot more modern tools available to you so you should use them. In your early days in the role you should take advantage and find out about all of the tools you can use so that you are comfortable with them by the time the moment comes to use them in earnest.
5. Identify Problems
One of the most important aspects of good planning is that you can find out what problems face you in the future. This means taking a bit of time to think about the tasks and wonder what problems it could entail. Doing this means that you can work out more accurately how long it might take you to resolve each one.
6. Make it Part of Your Day
Personally I like to plan for the following day before I go home. I will have my list of weekly tasks which I can go through and amend. Anything which has become more or less urgent during the course of the day can be altered accordingly before I leave the office. This has two benefits. First of all, I don’t have any nagging doubts in my head as I go home; I know exactly what needs done tomorrow. Secondly, I can get off to a flying start the following day.
7. Enjoy It
Maybe you hate planning but there is no real reason to feel like this. It is a part of the project manager role which can be reasonably enjoyable if you do it right. As I just mentioned, I like doing it at the end of the day and this gives me a chance to wind down for the last 5 or 10 minutes of the working day. Seeing your to-do list get shorter is also a great incentive for doing this the right way.
8. Clear Your Head
In order to plan effectively it is necessary to clear your head of some of the problems and issues which are swirling around in it. This might mean going to a quiet part of the office or waiting until everyone else has gone home. I have always found the staff restaurant a good place to go and plan when it is empty.
It is easy to look at the list of things to do and cherry pick the easy ones first. This isn’t a great long term approach. You need to be honest and choose the ones which are most urgent regardless of whether you want to do them or not. They will need done at some point so it might as well be now rather than when they become really urgent.
10. Know Your Limits
There is no point in planning to do 20 hours worth of work in a single day. You need to know your limit and not try to take on more than you can do. If you load your day with too much work the only thing that will happen is that you perform to a poor standard on all of the tasks.
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