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Project Manage Your Life!

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Written by  Andy Trainer – Thu 12 Jul 2012

Too much to do?

The skill of knowing how to manage projects is increasingly useful for businesses and definitely make someone more employable – our project management courses have never been so much in demand, particularly PRINCE2. But project management techniques are not just for work. You can use the practices in your personal life, to become more efficient and to reach your goals.

1. Identify projects

In business, the first step towards project management is to identify past, present and future developments that have as yet not been seen as projects. Once projects are identified, formal goals can be set and project management techniques can be applied.

You can use this in every day life, especially if you realise you keep hoping for a change that never comes. Making a decision to make the desired change happen immediately makes it become more achievable. Things that could be dealt with as projects include writing a book (see below) and planning an event such as a holiday or wedding; but also every day things like huge to-do lists that you keep putting off.

While you are identifying the project, identify the goal. You may sometimes find it's different to what you expect. For example, you may say your goal is to write a novel, but this is not actually the end point for most people - once you start thinking of it as a project you realise your goal is really to get the novel published.

2. Work backwards from a goal

Once you identify a goal, working backwards step-by-step to the point where you are now is a very efficient and controlled way of achieving it.

Using the example of getting your novel published, you identify your goal and approach it as a project:

  • First, define the goal (getting the book published)
  • Next, consider the step before that (getting someone to publish it)
  • What’s the step before that? (sending a manuscript)
  • Before that (completing the manuscript)
  • Before that (drafting the novel)
  • Before that (first chapter and outline)
  • Before that (first chapter or outline)
  • Before that (putting the first 1000 words on the page)

Ok, so I've over-simplified the example somewhat – and many publishers won’t accept complete manuscripts so please don’t see this as advice on how to get a book published – but you can see the point. By clearly identfying the goal and identifying the milestones needed to get there, the project doesn’t seem as daunting and you’ll be motivated to take the first step.

3. Take time to plan

Taking time to sit down and write down what needs to be done and when can seem like a waste of time, but planning is fundamental to project management.

This doesn't only happen at work...

If you get home from work and feel stressed about the chores or admin you have to do that evening, sit down with a pen and paper (or a spreadsheet if you will) and work out how to get things done. Even just taking 5 minutes to write the to do list, prioritise and give each task timescales will make it more clear in your mind about whether it’s feasible and makes your project goal (finishing your chores) more likely to be achieved.

If you want to know more of the technical side of the Plans theme of project management, you may want to read our blog post on Plans in PRINCE2 Projects.

4. Set budgets – but also tolerances

Budgeting is difficult when you make it all-or-nothing. Project management involves setting budgets (not just financial but for resources, timescales and more) but also agreeing tolerances for if anything unexpected happens.

So, when you set your monthly budget, think about and set these tolerances. Otherwise, once you go over budget, you may feel like all is lost and you may as well forget the budget entirely. Having a tolerance – or a buffer-zone – means you are still motivated by the main goal but you have a back up plan ready for the unexpected.

5. Stand up meetings

A stand up meeting in action

The Agile approach to project management advocates that meetings should be taken with everyone standing up, as the potential for discomfort means that discussions are kept on-topic and decisions are made efficiently.

You can use this idea to make your life more efficient in lots of different ways. A recent example for me was moving house and needing to email 20 different companies about my change of address. This is very boring, and temptation is to pop in and out of Twitter in between each one. By extending the idea of the stand-up meeting and moving my laptop to the kitchen counter, I made sure I fired off all my emails before I sat down again. Using this technique, you can get all sorts of tasks done more efficiently.

Those are just 5 ways of applying simple project management techniques to every day life to become more efficient. The thing with these tricks is that they soon become second nature – so becoming more productive will become effortless!

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