When I was a student, the first week of classes brought with them an onslaught of anxiety. There were new locker combinations to remember, new teachers to meet and classes so far apart that I’d practically have to run to class. It was exciting to some but overwhelming to this Type A introvert.
Inevitably, when the teacher would hand out the semester syllabus, I’d begin hyperventilating. There, in one document, were hours and hours of assignments, quizzes, tests and due dates. How in the world would I get this work done? That big project in November – well, I’d better start shopping for supplies in September! I’d remember my mom’s motto: “Life by the inch is a cinch. Life by the yard is hard.” Life by the inch? How do I take my life by the inch? There’s so much to do!
Recently, some close friends of mine decided to record an album. They are both talented musicians and writers, but admittedly, project management is not their forte. Overwhelmed with juggling full-time jobs and writing/recording in the evenings, they hit a breaking point, feeling their yard had turned into a mile. One evening, they did a brain dump of everything they could think of that had to be accomplished in the next year to get this album made and sold. They put it in a long email and sent it to me, asking for help.
The email was truly a brain dump of random thoughts. Next to “Hold Kickstarter campaign to fund album” was “Don’t forget to buy snacks/drinks for recording studio days.” Something major that has 30 steps behind it was all jumbled up with something minor that took one step. Before I began to break up the yard into inches, I had them answer the following questions:
- What are we trying to achieve?
- What resources do we have or need to achieve it?
- What/When is a realistic time frame to work on this project? (Is there a deadline or milestone we’re trying to reach?)
- Who else could help us with this?
- What does success look like when we’re finished?
Once we answered those questions, it was easier to set priorities, deadlines and action items. I cracked open Basecamp (my favorite online project management tool) and started organizing the brain dump into buckets, based on objectivity and time. Because my friends already felt behind, I started by prioritizing the items that answered these questions:
- What needs to be done in the next day?
- What needs to be done in the next week?
- What needs to be done in the next month?
Naturally, to-do lists started forming, organized behind themes/types of work. So instead of “fund Kickstarter” next to “buy snacks,” I started a fresh to-do list just around the Kickstarter campaign, making assignments, deadlines and posing questions behind each to-do:
- Decide funding structure
- How much money do we need to raise?
- How much do we think we can raise in 30 days?
- What incentives do we offer to people who pledge/fund?
- Create Campaign
- Design landing page
- Who can help with this?
- Are there other Kickstarter videos we admire? If so, what did they do well?
- Are there other Kickstarter videos we think are poor? If so, what did they do wrong?
- Make video
- Where will we record?
- Who will record it?
- Who will write and edit the script?
After a few hours of project management, we had a year’s worth of to-dos organized and mapped out into inches! And, we made a pact that when an idea or something to do floated through our minds, we'd check Basecamp first to see if it’s already there, and if not, we'd add it to the right list. There are still hundreds of chords to be played and edited, marketing campaigns to be created and sent, and thousands of dollars to be raised, but now there’s a plan. We’ve made progress on big goals in the midst of our everyday lives.
For other helpful resources in taking life by the inch, I recommend:
- "Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time" by Brian Tracy
- "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" by David Allen
- "Rework" by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
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