How You Can Tackle Almost Any Project
TL;DR: Make projects manageable by knowing your purpose, defining steps, and identifying actionable tasks.
Business owners have many jobs—often ones they’ve never done before. Today’s founder might need to design products and manufacture them overseas. She might need to create a book, white paper, or podcast. Meanwhile, most founders need to prepare a sales pitch, keynote presentation, or RFP response.
When such projects are unfamiliar, they seem intimidating. This leads founders to procrastinate, squandering their time. Others act, but do so in the wrong ways, which is also inefficient. Here’s a simple approach for getting around this problem:
1. Figure out why
I’ve spoken with countless people who make things. These range from business owners and marketers, to designers, writers, and craftspeople. Many express an interest in taking on a big project. However, their motivations are often ambiguous. (E.g., “I’ve always known I had a book in me.”)
Ambiguous destinations are difficult to reach. For this reason, you must first answer the question “why?” for each project you take on. Do so explicitly, using plain language. For example, this blog has two “whys”. The first is to help founders act clearly, honestly, and with purpose. (I believe this can help them grow healthy businesses.) The second is to introduce such founders to Emetti.
“First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.”
2. Identify the essential steps
With “why?” out of the way, we move on to “how?”. Specifically, I mean the sequence of “how?”. Some like to, “jump in and get started” without determining sequence. This approach can send them off in errant directions. This leads to misused time, and work that needs to be redone.
You must—in unmistakable terms—identify the tasks ahead, and their sequence. Never taken on this sort of project, before? That’s OK. Keep it simple. For example, if you were making a video about your company, your “how?” might read:
- Draft a creative brief1
- Write a script
- Determine requirements
- Shoot the footage
- Clean up the files
Does the above seem basic? Good. It’s supposed to. You earn no points for complicating the job. Instead, you are attempting to demystify a complicated-seeming project. You do so by breaking a project into increasingly smaller tasks.
3. Break those into yet smaller pieces
The trick to completing a big/new job, is in not trying to do it all at once. With that in mind, you must identify the first, smallest task you can complete. By doing so, you move from planning to acting. This creates inertia.
First, break your key tasks into more detailed ones. Let’s give this a spin:
- Draft a creative brief
- Note what are we marketing
- Determine what we want to achieve
- Identify the audience (and their needs)
- Clarify what we need to say
- Choose the tone of the video
- Write a script
- Review the creative brief with the team
- Set aside 3 hours to brainstorm ideas
- Select the most viable option
- Rough out a script
- Test the script against the brief
- Rewrite and/or refine
- Prepare for the shoot
- Draft a list of requirements
- Check availability of actors
- Put aside video and sound equipment
- Collect required props
- Book the filming location
- Shoot the footage
- Arrive at the set early, to prepare
- Confirm that actors are on their way
- Double check all props
- Film/record scenes
- Review collected media
- Re-shoot as necessary
- Clean up the files
- Roughly sequence the clips
- Review rough-cut with team
- Edit as required; review again
- Fine-tune the piece
- Add music and sound effects
- Export ready files
Sure, the above list misses steps. This is, in part, because I don’t work on a lot of videos. That said, such lists do become more detailed, as you work through your project. You might get the order wrong. That’s OK. Don’t worry about it. As you proceed, it’ll become clearer.
Why it works
I’ve found success with the above method. It works because it removes the ambiguity that surrounds unknown projects. Additionally, writing is efficient—especially when you use lists.
For the record, this same approach works for bigger things (even when starting a company). I recommend you use this approach for every new project—even on ones you’ve done before. This approach forces you to define your objectives and tasks. This can keep you from losing sight of what you need to achieve.
“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”
― Henry Ford
On your next new project, write a one-page project plan. Start by noting what the project is. Then write why you’re doing it. Keep your sentences short and to-the-point.
Next, imagine what the 5 – 10 key steps are for making this project happen. Again: stay brief and unambiguous. Then, identify discrete sub-tasks for each of these. Finally, go back to the first task, and act on it immediately. (I don’t mean in a day, hour, or after lunch. Right now!)
- In a future post, I’ll delve into creative briefs more. In it, I’ll explain how anyone can write a functional brief, and why they’re so important to all projects—especially ones with many possible outcomes. Subscribe and I’ll notify you of posts like this.
Want more? Check out the full list of articles, learn about this blog, or grab a book. Here’s what I’m doing now, and what I don’t do. I hold free weekly office hours. Alternatively, you can hire me for more involved engagements, via smashLAB.