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Getting a Big Project in Motion

You own a functioning business that keeps you balancing a wide variety of tasks every day. Both large and small, but mostly small. It’s exhilarating to be running a business that requires constant focus and attention. You also love your customers so you want to make sure you get them what they want as soon as possible. So you care immensely about those day to day tasks.

But you’re also smart and you’ve got great ideas for how to grow or become more efficient. Maybe you want to add 5 SKUs to your product catalog, or streamline a production process, or implement inventory management software. Great, you’ve got a vision. But, if you are like me sometimes you push off those high impact, longer term projects because you want to clear your plate of the shiny low hanging day-to-day tasks. The small wins that give you that immediate boost of dopamine and help you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

There are times when I feel like I need to get every last one of those small, simple line items off my list so that I’ll have time to sit down and really focus on that big important project in a clear mental state. But, realistically, there are always more tasks waiting right behind. So, to make big jumps forward you’ll have to carve out time to think and make a plan. You may have to be a bit delinquent on some small line items in order to make hard decisions that could eventually make those small line items obsolete.

Long term planning and ambitious projects remind me of when I first use new software. I typically learn only the exact amount that I need to get the first project done and then I settle into my own weird inefficient way of getting by without ever learning the advanced features. But if you start by taking the time to learn the shortcut keys, man that software opens up and you get good at it. The same idea applies to running your product design business.

It can feel wasteful and inefficient to spend time putting pencil to paper and planning. Just reading about it I bet your anxiety is building up because those little tasks are piling up and needing to be checked off. But you will hold your anxiety at arm’s length. The perfectionist in you will need to take a sick day. It may well be true that no one does those tasks quite like you. But no one else cares as much as you about the long term health of the company either. Rest is best Mr. Perfection. And I know you are maniacally looking for something to do right now because “Nick, you’re writing too much and I could be labeling packages….AHHH!” Cool it. I’ll be done soon.

So, today, try this plan to get your long term goals rolling. This is my antidote to the “big project planning day” method. If I plan to sit down and work on the same thing for 3 hours I get stressed as soon as the hard questions pop up. I start to think of all of those small tasks that I could be doing. So, let’s avoid that.

Pick a big project that you’ve had in your mind for a while that keeps getting pushed back. Now, schedule a 30 minute block of time each day for the next week, starting today. This should be time when you might typically be packing orders or ordering supplies or watering the plants in your office. It’s not an extra 30 min, it’s a replacement for something small. Over the course of the week, you’ll spend two and a half hours and my guess is that you’ll come up with a lot of good ideas and action items. It also will train you to remove yourself from the real or imaginary stress of the daily to-do list. It will make you start to prioritize longer term improvements over short term stop-gaps.

Building out a fully formed plan and then executing the project will require more time and focus, but if you take these five days you’ll have a starting point with clear goals and actionable items that you can take on yourself or farm out to an employee or contractor. And you’ll have a repeatable process to take on bigger projects in the future.

Back to work.  

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