I’m sure I can…put together a kids birthday party in one afternoon? HA

I’m sure I can…put together a kids birthday party in one afternoon? HA

Have you ever looked at your “to-do” list and notice that there’s one or two things that can’t seem to get off that list.  It’s usually something challenging for me, it’s not the easy, send an email thanking someone, or drop a letter in the mail.  It’s “Daughter’s birthday party” or “Trip to New York”.  My brain looks at those and says- uuuhhh, I don’t know where to start… so I won’t….until I have to- aka- (it’s an emergency and I’m leaving tomorrow and better get something together) aagghh!

What’s really happening is I’m unable to do a “birthday party” because it’s not an activity.

I look at “mail letter” and I immediately know what I need to do, put a stamp on the envelope and clip it to my door for the post person to pick up. It’s two, easy, actionable steps. When I think about a “Trip to New York”, my mind starts to spin. There’s plane tickets, hotel rental and possibly reservations or tickets to go to different sites. Plus, what sites do we want to see, what places do we want to visit, and what are we going to skip?

The reality is that planning a trip or a party, creating a new business program or launch is not a “To-do”.  It’s many “to-dos” and that means its a project.

So now instead of being mind boggled over all the steps for throwing a birthday party, I pull the projects like that off my to-do list and keep a separate list of on-going projects that I reference once a week.   That means when I’m trying to get the most important things accomplished each day, the things I decided were important for Monday or Thursday, I’m more relaxed, and the projects get completed slowly and steadily over time.

But how do these projects get completed if they’re not on my “to-do” list?

Well…. I ve got two methods for this.

Method One: Small steps

I add one, small, easy task from a project to my to do list- i.e. spend 15 minutes looking at plane fares from Oakland to New York or SFO to New York.  Or, make a list of all the things we might want to do in New York.  Once these tasks, which have a beginning and an end, are completed, it becomes obvious what the next task or “to-do” will be.  Get a ticket from SFO because it’s cheaper; ask the rest of the family what interests them on the ideas for New York site seeing. And slowly the trip gets planned and I stay a little saner in the process.

Method Two: Time Chunks

The second way I get big projects completed is to block off chunks of time on my calendar. I‘m usually more diligent at this for work projects. I’ll outline one or two tasks from the project to start. This gets me rolling and then I feel accomplished and I have momentum to keep moving forward. Sometimes I’ll also write down many of the smaller tasks and projects that go into completing it, (not on my “to-do” list but in a document/ task manager/ or in Evernote).  This helps me see what I might need to do first, second and so forth. This also allows me to know how much time to block off  on my calendar each week.

Whether you use one, both or none of the methods I’ve described here doesn’t matter- what I want you to focus on and what I teach my clients is, that there’s a difference between a project and a “to-do”. “To-dos” are single, actionable steps that you can accomplish in a set amount of time. Projects involve many moving parts, have multiple steps and usually progress at a slower pace.  Projects can be small- feeding yourself or a family each week, or huge- putting on a day long workshop.  Some projects have 3 tasks- meal planning, shopping, cooking, while others have 10-20-100 tiny little things that have to be taken care of to pull it together.

By making the distinction between these tasks and projects your brain can stop freaking out, that it doesn’t know what to do, it never gets anything completed. Then focus on one simple step at a time.