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6 New Habits to Help You Get Those Projects Done

We’ve all had those projects that never seem to end. They go on forever. Every time we work on them they seem to get bigger and bigger. Others, we just don’t want to work on them. We don’t want to sit down and focus on getting the work done, so they drag on and on and on.Inspired by Behance’s Making Ideas Happen, I’ve gone on a bit of a productivity bender lately. I’ve always been fascinated by project management and getting things done before but never have I been so in the middle of it.One example.I started a programming project last July (7 months ago) that in terms of full work days, should have taken about 2 weeks. That would be working full time on the project until completion. It was a project I took on outside of my day job so naturally I can’t work on it full time. A few problems came up. I didn’t have a lot of time to sit down and work on the project. I had a lot of other projects that were hitting the lump in the snake, and I was trying my hardest to procrastinate. The result of all those things meant that I’m still trying to finish the project I started 7 months ago. Bit by bit it’s getting done, but nowhere near how fast I had initially envisioned.Through trial and error, lots and lots of reading and some careful though, I’ve come up with a list of good habits that have either sped things up for me or have worked well for others.Avoid Scope CreepScope Creep can drag a project on forever. I’ve seen this in all sorts of projects I’ve taken on and it sucks the life out of you. Do whatever you can to avoid scope creep. Even if something is going to end up in a project I’d rather add a second or third phase to something just so I can get the initial phase done and out the door. Often phase 2 and 3 aren’t really that important and don’t happen after all.Homework: Pick one of your projects right now. Define the scope for it. What are you going to do and what are you not going to do. Draw the lines. Over the next few days identify tasks that are inside those lines and do them. Also identify the tasks that are not inside those lines and do not do them. Add them to a phase 2 or a maybe list. AFTER phase one is complete, look at the other lists. Do you even need to do them?Stop Planning and Actually Do SomethingParalysis by Analysis. Common in just about every field and every job, this syndrome is hard to spot. You feel like you’re getting ready for the project by planning and coming up with every detail you could possibly need. What happens though is that it becomes a form of procrastination and you keep going and going. You need to stop planning and start doing. You may not need to plan every single thing. Plan the first few things and then get going. The process will most likely change as you go anyways.Homework: Pick a project or a big task you’ve been planning but haven’t started yet. What is the first thing you can do on that right now? Get out what you need to do it and start. Now.Wait! You Need a PlanAs much as it’s good to just dive in and start working, it’s often good to have some sort of a game plan. Having a well-defined scope for your project is essential for avoiding scope creep. Knowing that when you tick that last item off on your list you will be finished is incredibly motivating. You can see the end. You know exactly what you need to do. Having a plan gets even more important when it’s other people working on the project with you or you have to take a break for some reason. Don’t expect to know exactly what you were doing in a month or more when you come back to it.Homework: Find a project that you feel like you’ve been flailing around in. Sit down and layout where you are and where you want to go. List steps to get there. Do they make sense? Does your final goal still make sense?Schedule Time for the Next TaskI used to think it would be best to schedule out every task that you need to do for a project when you started. For this you need to know how much time each task takes and what information each requires. Since I suck at estimating time this method did not work very well. Now I just schedule time for the next tasks or just a block for the project as a whole and then get to to work on the high-priority items. Forcing yourself to get the task done within the alotted amount of time creates a sense of urgency. For me, it depends on what kind of task it is as to how well the urgency idea works. If it’s something simple and repetitive, then I can just go faster as needed. If it’s something creative and I’m not quite sure what’s involved, urgency will probably slow things down.Homework: I like this one. It takes a bite size chunk out of any project. Put a time in your calendar to do the next task on the project your working on. Don’t schedule time for the next project you’re working on, schedule the next task you need to do. Be specific. When the time comes, do that task, that’s it.Keep the Project in Front of Your EyeballsOne of the easiest ways to procrastinate on a project is to hide it away. If you can’t see it, you won’t think about it. If you don’t think about it, you don’t have to do it. Well that’s how I usually think anyways. I’ve played around with a lot of online to-do lists and many of them work great for organizing your tasks. What they don’t do is keep it in front of your face. If you don’t go to the site to see your list, you won’t even think about what you need to do. Make it a habit of checking where you keep your project information daily or weekly. If things are really important maybe you need a reminder stuck to your whiteboard or the side of your computer monitor. Currently, I organize all my milestones and tasks in Manymoon, keeping reminders and project-level priorities on my whiteboard. Whatever it is you use, you need to look at it almost every day. Anything less than that and it’s much to easy to forget what needs to be done or just brush it under the rug.Homework: Choose a spot that you are going to look at every single day for project information. Pick your whiteboard, or a to-do list, or your notebook. Now focus on that place. Look at it every single day. A bonus is that the more you feel on top of your projects the less likely you are to procrastinate.Tell the Lizard to Shut It’s MouthOr brain I guess. Seth Godin calls it the lizard brain. Whenever you get close to shipping something or doing anything awesome, your lizard brain pipes up and intervenes. “You might fail,” it says. “Your project is going to flop and everyone is going to laught at you.” ¬†Your lizard brain is going to be there whether you like it or not. It’s like those little guys on your shoulders in the cartoons. One of them says, “Go do it!”, the other says, “No, Stop! Your life will ruined forever!” The trick is figuring out if the advice is intelligent information or if it’s just your lizard brain being a pansy. Most of the time, it’s just the lizard brain backing out of your awesome plans and trying to take you down. Just say no and keep going.Homework: If you pay attention you can feel the lizard creeping up on you. At first, take it just say what you are going to say normally but realize you’re doing it. Afterwards, think about what you should have said. If the lizard had no part in your actions what would you do? Now, next time, stop, and say what you should say.Bonus!I actually had 7 but put 6 in for some reason. I’m working on the projects but I think I should go back for a counting lesson!Set a Date and ShipPut it on your calendar, tell your family, write some huge post on your blog, tell every single person on the street.About the date you plan to ship that is. The more people you tell and the more entrenched you and everyone around you is to shipping on that date, the more likely it is to happen. If you back out before you even start and say you’ll ship when you get there, you won’t. You’ll dance around what you really need to do and then if it does actually come out, it will be so short of the awesomeness you originally planned, it’s not even funny. Say, “I will ship on March 15th,” and make it happen.Homework: What are you working on right now? Does it have a ship date? Maybe it’s too big for one but what about phase one or phase 2 or the next task. Put a ship date on those. Put it in your calendar. Look at it every day. Ship on that day no matter what. Move on.Now Do ItJust reading about get those projects out the door isn’t going to get them out the door. You have to pick the ones you are going to do and then do them. If it’s too much to implement at once then try one or 2. Make sure you do each for at least 30 days and they’re likely to stick around.