What is a Project? (Part 1)

To get started, let’s discuss what a project is and what it is not. There are a few characteristics that a project has that will let you know if you indeed have a true project.

Understanding what a project is, allows you to better plan for its completion.  If you have ever thought “this project will never end” or “will I ever get this done?”  it’s possible that you might not be working on a project.  You have tasks that you can never seem to complete and just when you think you’ve finished, more tasks pop up. Or you find that you have to start from the very beginning.  Cleaning your house is an example. You dust. You vacuum. A few days later, you have more dust, possibly even more than before!  You wash dishes, but after the next meal, you have another sink full of dishes waiting to be cleaned.  You do all of the laundry, but a week later it’s piled up again (sometimes you may go shopping just to avoid doing another load).

These types of tasks are reoccurring or ongoing. They feel like projects because you can expend a lot of energy to the energy to complete them. But the reality is regardless of how thorough or efficiently you complete these tasks, you will have to do them again.

Contrast that with something like “Spring cleaning.”  You plan what needs to be done when Spring rolls around. Perhaps you plan to clean out all of your closets and make donations. Or you plan to organize your basement or garage. Or maybe you plan to clean all of your draperies and carpets.  For spring cleaning you will often have specific tasks that you want to do and you plan to have it completed by “Spring” (whatever that means to you).  When those specific cleaning activities are done, you live happily ever after (or maybe just for another year until Spring comes around again).

What is a Project? (Part 2)

A project creates something.

It may be a new product for your business or new information you want to provide to your customers. It could be a new book you are self-publishing. Or perhaps you are working on a new service offering in your community. It may be a new result for something that you already have in place like renovating your office space to make it more ergonomic.

If you’re not creating something new or changing something, but instead are doing repetitive work, like calculating your employees’ wages and writing their checks, then you most likely do not have a project. You instead have ongoing work.

A project is temporary.

Another way to look at it is that a project has a start date and an end date. You can think of it as being “temporary”, even though it may seem like it lasts forever. You reach the end of the project once you have met the vision or goal of the project. And that’s another characteristic of a project…

A project has a goal.

An example of something that may seem like a project, but really isn’t is marketing your creative business. While there is a goal of getting your business known, marketing never ends, especially if you are creating new products and services. You have to continue that ongoing effort of getting the word out about your business.

However, within the ongoing activities of marketing, you may have specific marketing projects that you work on. One of those projects could be to build a website for your business. The project will create something new (your website). You will have a start date for when you start building the website and you will have an end date for when the website is complete and ready to launch. Of course, you will update your site regularly and if you have opted for a blog on your site, you might update it daily or weekly. That is when it becomes an ongoing task because you don’t build a website for your business on an ongoing basis. You performed a unique set of tasks to create your website. Once that project is complete, you transition to a regularly scheduled business activity.

Project Management or Productivity?

Before dive deeper into project management and how it can help you as a creative entrepreneur, I want to clarify what project management is and what it is not.

Project management is not productivity.

It is not a new method of productivity and it’s not the latest trend in productivity techniques. We have many productivity systems and techniques available to us and no system is perfect for everyone. I personally use a modified version of the Pomodoro Technique for time management. The Pomodoro Technique works on the premise that you take a number of short breaks between scheduled 25 minute work periods. After you do a certain number of “Pomodoros” then you can take a bigger break.

Lately, I have been experimenting with how to be more productive and have modified this technique. I try to commit to working 20 minutes on a task. Then I take a break. Sometimes that break is quite a few hours, but it works for me. When I come back to my desk to do more work, I might continue that task or work on something totally different. It’s a modified version of the Pomodoro Technique because Pomodoro says you come back after 5 minutes, then work for 25 minutes, then break for another 5, then work and so on. I don’t force myself into taking limited breaks, but I do commit to focusing on a task for 20 minutes.

Other productivity methods include “The Action Method,” which allows you to quickly move from brainstorming ideas to action items by adding due dates and priorities to your task; the “Eating Live Frogs” method, in which you do the most important, difficult or ugliest tasks first; and the “Don’t Break the Chain” method that encourages you to keep yourself accountable and creating a habit by working on your tasks every day and marking them off on a calendar.

Productivity is what helps you to manage your time to get things done. It helps you to organize your task list and get all of your tasks complete. But project management will help you to figure out which tasks you should be working on. So, in a way, project management can set you up to be productive because your project will be organized and you will know what to do next. Then you can pick your favorite productivity tricks to get the work done.

Project Management or Planning?

Another thing I would like to touch on is planning. Namely, planning out your day or week or month, in a planner or calendar. There are many types of planners you can work with to get organized and keep you on track: standard monthly planner with weekly spreads or daily pages, bullet journals, online planners like PlanPlus and DayViewer, Google or Outlook calendars, mobile planning apps and so many other options! However, this is not the full breadth of project management.

Project management is not only about getting your task list into a planner or plotted out in your calendar. Project management will help you to know which tasks to schedule, how long to schedule them for and when to schedule them. Taking control of your projects will help you to improve collaboration as you are taking into account the calendars of others that are working with you.

As we begin to talk more about right-brain project management and you begin to learn how to estimate time for your tasks, you will see how easy it will be to add these tasks into your favorite planning system, regardless of what it is. Right-brain project management isn’t about changing your favorite tools, it is about getting your favorite tools to work better for you to get your projects completed.