The Working With… Podcast

How To Plan Out Projects

March 21, 2022

How do you plan out your projects? Not just your professional ones, but your personal ones too. That’s what we will be exploring in this week’s episode. 


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Episode 223 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 223 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In the world of productivity and time management, we often talk about tasks and projects and how best to organise these. 

There is also the added complication for those of you who are self-employed and have a greater degree of freedom in what you work on. How do you choose your next project? Sure, sometimes that may be obvious, but often it’s not. 

So this week, we’re going to look at how to impose self-assigned deadlines and stick with them and also how to manage projects within the Time Sector System.

Now, before we start, I just want to give you a heads up that I launched a brand new course over the weekend called The Time Blocking Course. This is the first of a series of mini-courses I will be doing over the year that takes a single concept—such as time blocking—and teach you how you can build these valuable productivity skills into your own life. 

Full details of this fantastic course are in the show notes. 

Okay, time to have you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Tom. Tom asks: Hi Carl, I am a music producer and I have several projects on the go although non have deadlines but I’d like to start using some. Do you have any tips on sicking to self-made deadlines and working on multiple projects whilst using the Time Sector system? All of my projects (music or life) don’t really have deadlines but was wondering if you can help?

Hi Tom, thank you for your question. 

One additional question you asked about was project objectives or outcomes. Now, this is one of the most important starting points. As Robbin Sharma says: Projects (or goals) are exciting at the beginning, messy in the middle and beautiful at the end. The biggest problem with most projects is never the start or the end, it’s the middle bit. Yes, it’s messy, but it’s also where the hard work is. And it’s boring, difficult and often hell. 

When you have a clear objective or outcome for the project, it gives you the motivation to keep going when things get very difficult. 

The outcome is the vision of what things will look like when you finish the project and it’s that vision that keeps you going when things become boring, hell and difficult. As Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going”. And to do that you need motivation. 

And of course, a clear objective will tell you when you have finished the project. 

But… There is another part here. Why are you doing the project? Without your why you will lose motivation. It’s the real motivation behind success at any project or goal. Your why could be anything, the important thing is that your why means something to you. For instance, in music, you could have the ultimate goal of winning a Grammy the reason why you are working on this particular project is it will add to your body of music that will get you noticed. 

Now, what about self-imposed deadlines. These can be very difficult to observe because there’s a lack of accountability. There’s no one chasing you or waiting for you to finish the project. This means you can very easily let deadlines slip which does nothing for your focus. 

I am in a similar position to you, Tom I have a number of projects I want to complete this year, but as there are no clients directly involved in these projects the onus is on me to stick to a planned completion schedule.

Now, the way I have found to make this work is to divide the year up in quarters on a chart or in a spreadsheet and set them as columns. If you include a “to be assigned” column that gives you five columns to create. 

Then, to add all your projects to one of the quarter columns. 

Now, that’s the easy bit. The difficult part is creating the right balance. You will not get very far if you put all your projects in the first two quarters. You will have far too many projects. The trick is to understand how many projects you can realistically do each quarter. 

When I began this year, I knew that a realistic goal for me was to complete two big projects each quarter. This was based on experience and although it would stretch me, it would mean I will have to work a project every week, but as long as I was working on one of those two projects each week, I knew I would complete those two projects in the quarter. It would stretch, but not overwhelm me. 

Now, the next part is to decide which projects you will do in each quarter. 

At the time of recording this, we are approaching the end of the first quarter of 2022. And I have just finished my second big project of the quarter. 

If you are dividing up your year by project, and you feel you can manage three projects per quarter, then you have twelve projects you can work on this year. Now, I would round that number down. So instead of twelve, I would make it ten projects for the year. That’s still a large number of projects, but by rounding down the number of projects you give yourself some breathing room in case one or two projects don’t go according to plan. 

And let’s be honest here, life is never a straight line. Things go wrong, sometimes events beyond our control will interfere with our plans. So, build in some breathing room. 

Okay, so now we know how many projects we can work on this year, the next question is what projects will you work on? You may find that projects for the first two quarters will be easy to assign. It becomes more difficult to assign the third and fourth quarters. This is why we have the fifth column: the “to assign” column.

This is really where you start. Write out all the projects you want to accomplish this year. If you don’t know the specifics yet, that’s okay. You can call a project something vague such as “produce album TBC” (TBC standing for To be Confirmed”) It means you have given yourself space to work on an album in say, Q3 or Q4. You can decide what album you will work on later in the year. 

I should point out, that this projects list is not exclusively for your work. You want to put your personal projects on there too. Part of the reason we don’t complete our personal projects is that we do not give them the same weight as our professional projects. The reality is, our personal and professional lives are equal. I would argue that your personal life is more important than your professional life, but we’ll save that argument for another day. 

To complete any project you need time. This means if you want to complete a personal project, you will have to give it some time. Now, most people do not treat personal projects with the same focus as professional projects. It’s as if personal projects are luxuries and we feel guilty about doing them. This, of course, is ridiculous. You should never feel guilty about working on personal projects. 

Let’s imagine you have a personal project to clear out your garage ready for the summer. Okay, you now have the basics required for a project. You know the result—clear out the garage. You also have a time frame—the start of summer. Now all you need to do is work out how long you will need and how you are going to do it. 

Now, apparently, the first official day of summer in the northern hemisphere is the 21st of June. So that’s the day you set for the project deadline. That date comes towards the end of the second quarter, so if I were doing this, that would be a Q2 project. 

That gives approximately ten weeks to work on this project. If I divide that up I could spend two hours each weekend cleaning out the garage and by the end of the ten weeks, I would have spent twenty hours on that project. That should be plenty of time to complete that project. 

Now, in the Time Sector System, all I would need to do now is create a recurring task in my task manager that starts on Saturday 2nd April that says “work on garage clean out” and add that task to my recurring areas of focus (this kind of task relates to my lifestyle area of focus) 

I know as long as I spend two hours (out of a 48 hour weekend) on as many weekends as possible during Q2, I will complete that project. 

Now, there will be some variables here. There will be weekends when you will be away and cannot work on the garage. That’s fine skip that weekend. There could be weekends where instead of working on the garage on a Saturday, you could reschedule it for Sunday, or a day in the week if you have a free day somewhere. 

You can use the same principles for your work-related projects. If producing music is part of your core work—which I guess is from your question, Tom, then this is going to be a little easier. With the Time Sector System, you will already have most of the tasks you need to perform set up in your recurring areas of focus. This is your core work, so having time set aside for doing your core work is vital. If it’s got to be done, you need to have a time assigned for doing it. 

You will also have time blocked out on your calendar for this core work too. 

Each week, for example, I have five hours blocked for writing and three hours for recording videos and this podcast. This is my core work, so it must be done each week. So, it has time assigned for it. 

If the projects you are talking about, Tom, are projects on top of your core work, you will need to decide how much time you want to (or need to) spend on these each week and block the time out on your calendar. I do this with my online courses. I have an afternoon blocked out each week for online coursework. Most of the time it’s just updating websites, or adding the occasional supplemental video. But I do have time set aside for working on these. 

Now, here’s a little secret tip for you. If you have set a deadline to complete a project by 30 May, I would block out the 24th and 25th May for solely working on that project. This would be blocked out now. 

The reason for doing this is two-fold. First, it gives you a 48-hour window to dedicate yourself exclusively to this one project. And secondly, knowing you have these 48 hours, you can make sure you have no meetings or other commitments on those days. It’s much easier to decline a meeting a few weeks in advance than it is a few days before. You can tell everyone in yours here of influence you will not be available on those days well in advance. 

The best way to manage your projects is to first know what you want to accomplish in a given time frame—quarters are usually best, but you can apply this to months if you prefer—then set realistic deadline dates for those projects. 

However, the secret sauce, if you like, is to allocate time each week for working on those projects. It’s knowing you have sufficient time each week for project work, that removes the overwhelm, stress and worry that you will not be able to complete the project. Just doing a little bit each week, will keep the momentum going and ensure that you successfully complete the project on time. 

The truth is it all comes down to time. And that means whatever you want to accomplish, personally and professionally, you need to set aside time for working on it. That is inescapable. No time, no completed project. 

Thank you, Tom, for your question and thank you for listening. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 


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