Tackling Big Projects and Getting Things Done

I was recently interviewed by Betsy Talbot of Married With Luggage, who wanted to know how I managed to bring big projects to completion so quickly. Here are the biggest three steps for me in getting things done.

Step 1: Prioritize.

The first step is to prioritize. This applies to deciding what projects you take on in the first place, as well as prioritizing the tasks you do each day.

You have to first decide what projects will get your attention. As a business owner, you might have a hundred different ideas for creating revenue streams or even new marketing strategies you’d like to implement, but you can’t do them all at once. The way I like to prioritize projects is using a real estate method called “highest and best use.”

In real estate, agents value property based upon its highest and best use. For example, a house might actually be better suited as a commercial property, thereby tripling its value. You can use the same technique to value your time. Not all projects are created equal when it comes to creating the most value or the most return on investment. You have to decide which project will generate the most value at this time.

Once you’ve selected the project with the highest likely return on investment, you have to prioritize your tasks and how you spend your time each day. For that, I like to use the “revenue line” concept of Julie Morgenstern, author of “Never Check E-Mail in the Morning.” You never want to be more than three steps away from the revenue line. For a business owner, the first step away from the revenue line are those tasks that are most likely to generate immediate (or more immediate) income. That includes things like working on client projects, creating new products, and even invoicing, since it will lead to revenue right away. Two and three steps away from the revenue include lead generation activities, those that more directly influence your revenue, as well as those that indirectly influence it.

Step 2: Take care of yourself.

When tackling a really big project, you have to take care of yourself so that you maintain your energy and creativity for peak performance. Although it can be tempting to neglect your health and well-being, this is not the time to cut corners. Be sure to set aside enough time for exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep. Otherwise, you’ll lose your edge and won’t be bringing your best work to the table. You’ll end up sacrificing quality for quantity.

Another less-than-obvious thing to leave room for are all those nagging distractions. For each person this will be different, but if a dirty house or working in your PJ’s distracts you, then make time to take care of those things. Figure out areas you can tolerate neglecting so that you have time to take care of those that will slow you down or bug you.

Step 3: Focus on forward movement and progress.

For big projects, done is better than perfect. You don’t want to get caught up in details, perfectionism and procrastination, so keep your feet to the fire by enforcing strict deadlines.

By holding yourself to a schedule for rolling out this big project, you’ll be a lot less likely to allow minor things to distract you from making real progress. A trick I like to use is to actually cut down the time I allow myself to work on something, so I’ll either cut my deadline by 25 percent or cut my working hours by 25percent so that I’m more likely to focus on the most important tasks of getting a project to completion. If I know I only have six hours to do a job instead of eight, I’m more concentrated on results, rather than things being perfect or allowing myself a lot of down time to check email or for other distractions.

Moving big projects to completion really comes down to cutting through the fat so that you can concentrate on the real work at hand, and that starts with prioritizing the things on your plate, making sure to take care of yourself while you’re working so hard, and focusing on getting the project out the door.

What tricks do you use to help you get through big projects?

Photo by Flickr user Ivan Walsh, licensed under CC 2.0