Have you ever gone through the day with so many things to do that it felt like you were flying by the seat of your pants? What do you think of people who seem to have it all together like the mother who appears fresh-faced at the park with three kids (yes we said three) while you hope that even one hair is still in place? Are you always late with dinner, the bills, homework duties and just about everything else on your list?
Some people have given up on the chaos. They let it take over their lives because fixing the mess is futile. Or is it? No wonder work needs to stay separate. There aren’t enough hours in the day to tackle routine tasks, let alone accomplish them when work responsibilities hone in on the time you do have.
Today, we introduce you to project management. If this term is new, don’t worry. There is no need to be a business professional or a genius to use the skills that are about to be revealed here. All that is needed is a basic understanding of how project management works. Project managers actually exist in a variety of companies. Using the strategies that have made them successful, improvements in your life, home and future can become a reality. Experience the joys of order, task completion, fulfillment and most of all stress relief when workplace approaches are initiated at home.
What is Project Management Anyway?
We thought you’d never ask. Simply put in layman’s terms, project management involves the overseeing of a project – a temporary activity that is designed to bring about a pre-planned outcome. The term “project” applies to a variety of arenas: school projects, building projects, government projects, business projects and the like. Each activity is different even within the same type of scheme. No two business projects are exactly the same, although the same set processes are followed to begin and complete them.
Depending on the nature of a company, its projects are designed to advance the enterprise both financially and professionally – to compete in the market while growing larger than the competition. The idea of project management as a profession didn’t take hold until mid-20th century. This person or persons is then responsible for identifying and gathering together all the parts and pieces needed to execute the plan that has been created.
A project manager is an overseeing force but also integral and “hands-on” within the project. They retain knowledge of all the processes to facilitate smoother transitions from one phase to the next and do some of the heavy lifting when necessary. In your home, that “heavy lifting” may be more literal than figurative.
Here are the five processes employed by project managers in the workplace:
1. Initiating – Presenting a new project; assessing the need for it; discussing if it is possible to get it done
2. Planning – Creating a written document that details resources needed, the scope of the work to be performed, time frame and a budget, along with any questions that need to be addressed
3. Executing – Bringing together the resources and delegating duties to those most qualified to handle them
4. Monitoring and controlling – Staying in constant contact with team members about their duties, answering any questions and addressing issues to keep the project moving on schedule and within budget
5. Closing – Ensuring that the client is satisfied with the final rendering of the project; giving a final report of what was done; evaluating the outcome
Everyone wants to get to the closing stage unscathed. That depends largely on choosing the right people with the right skills for the job, the knowledge and expertise of the project manager and the initial plan that is developed. So, project managers are skilled at managing time, cost, quality, the “human factor,” communications, assessing risk, procuring resources, and maintaining focus. Sounds a lot like a parent, doesn’t it?
Everybody knows that if you fail to plan then you, in reality, plan to fail. It is probably the number one reason chaos controls many of our lives at home. Everyday life needs a plan. Don’t think “micromanaging” but rather “organizing.” In your job, events run more smoothly when there is order and method. Why wouldn’t the same be true at home?
Transforming the Way You Live, Work and Play with Project Management
Now that you have an idea of what project management entails, let’s see if we can convince you of its importance within the scope of everyday life. It is not enough to separate work time from family time from play time (time to yourself). Work would be an utter disaster if there wasn’t an organizational piece to it. The same goes for other areas of your existence. Stop making it through every day by the skin of your teeth and melting down when a new element is introduced that you hadn’t expected. Instead, learn to be prepared for anything.
Providing for the Needs You Have Right Now
Let us begin this foray into project management by looking at your life right now. There is no time like the present to see how it can assist you with the daily chaos. This is the project. Ask yourself a few questions:
* What is your biggest concern at the end of the day?
* Are you feeling constrained by time limits in reaching your destination every day?
* Are you working alone to get things done?
* Does it seem like the family is working against you instead of with you?
* Have you been following the same routine every day and getting the same result (that’s considered insanity in some circles)?
* What do you wish could be changed about the way your day is run?
Apply the first process of project management – initiation. Something needs to be done about the way that daily routine is done in your house. What is done presently is not working. At the end of each day your body and mind feel more run down than the day before. One or more tasks is always forgotten when it gets jumbled up in your head with all the other information.
It’s time for a family meeting. Discuss your issues plus what each family member identifies as their problem with the daily grind. Write it all down. Recording information is the key to constructing a plan, tweaking your plan, delegating and monitoring duties and knowing when the project is complete.
During the initiation phase, gather ideas about how daily duties (getting kids to school, making breakfast, homework time, household chores, dinner prep and eating, extracurricular activities, work, civic responsibilities, play time, etc.) can become streamlined. This is just an example. The discussion is driven by whatever duties need to get done on a daily basis in your life.
It’s time for the second phase – planning. What requirements are needed to get these activities completed? Does someone need to drive the kids to sports practice? Do bills need to be paid on a certain day of the week? Is dinner at a certain time? Who will pick up the kids from school if work runs late? The more questions you have, the more contingencies can be planned for and hopefully thwarted ahead of time. This becomes your Plan B (C, D and E too if needed). Always have a backup plan to refer to in case it is warranted.
Planning is one of the longer phases depending on the size of the project. We are talking about your life here so it may require going day by day with a calendar or week by week for some activities. For instance, if you feel pushed to pick up the kids on Tuesdays because of a work commitment, ask your partner to plan for it. Schedule changes are part of the deal in order to create a workable plan that everyone can agree on.
Write it all down. Use a calendar if you wish, like the Mom’s Calendar by Sandra Boynton (www.sandraboynton.com). Some families like chalkboards, whiteboards or corkboards in a central location (like the kitchen) to keep the family informed of each day’s schedule of events. The method is not as important as completing the planning process of project managing your daily life.
Execution is next. Let’s see how the plan you and your family created works in real time. Give yourself at least a week before evaluating the changes integrated into your plan. Ask the same questions above that were asked before. Has anything changed? Were you able to accomplish more or the same but with less stress and more satisfaction?
Here’s another example. Maybe breakfast has been non-existent in your home because everyone oversleeps, or you do. Part of the new written plan might include rising 30 minutes to an hour earlier for your personal morning routine, leaving enough time to cook breakfast.
Losing that hour of sleep might make you tired at work and feeling “behind the eight ball” all day. That’s no good. Don’t trade one set of issues for another. This leads to the next process in project managing your life – monitoring and controlling.
Monitoring and Controlling
With the above example, the plan requires another change at this point. There are a few options:
* Go to bed earlier to feel rested in the morning
* Prepare breakfast at night so it becomes “grab and go” in the morning
* Set an alarm clock and get up on time
* Put the kids to bed at a set time so they are rested and move faster in the morning
Discuss with the family what their views are of the plan. Discuss ideas that each person can implement to improve the plan on their part to make the entire project work. Take another week to try out any further changes.
Finally, we reach the last phase – closing. For your daily life routine, “closing” refers to creating a workable plan that streamlines the basic operations in your house each day so tasks are completed in a timely manner to the satisfaction of all involved, creating a healthy home life. That’s not a lot to ask for, is it?
Completing this project frees up time and resources for those events you don’t plan for. Gaps in your daily schedule are there for a reason. Building in these blocks of time are useful if you have to stay late at work, for example, or the car needs repairs or a child gets sick and has to be retrieved from daycare or school. It may seem like empty space now, but everyone will be thankful for it in the event of an emergency.
Your Life as a Project
Life is not just about the daily routines that evolve (waking up, getting kids to school, getting to work, cooking meals, family time, going to bed). It’s about purpose. Every living creature searches for it. With sentient beings like us, it is an ever-present thought about our existence. What am I here on this planet to do? What is the purpose of my life? Do I make a difference? What do I want to do with my life?
We strive to reach newer heights of understanding, satisfaction and fulfillment. Maybe it’s in our DNA or something. Living life is more than just going through the motions of daily existence. That’s important too but it’s not enough for most people. Goal setting is a part of accomplishing the other ideas that fill our heads. Moms and dads can learn another language or travel to far-off places. They can start their own business or become a spokesperson for change within an organization. Kids can become entrepreneurs or make a large impact on the world.
The best thing about life is that it is “fluid.” It changes from day to day. Without a schedule or a plan, that can seem hectic and harried. With one, the fluidity allows for major changes in life – goal setting and accomplishment. The brain is always looking to create new neural pathways sparked by newly obtained knowledge.
Important Life Management Questions to Ask Yourself
When it comes to your personal life, no one can make decisions for you but you. Have you ever heard someone say that if their hair doesn’t look right or if their clothes don’t look right then they don’t feel right? The same is true of the family life dynamic. When you, as an individual, are having issues, that dynamic is thrown off. Going about your day is much more satisfying and enjoyable when you have set goals for yourself. These are apart from designing a plan to tackle the everyday tasks. It is all about you now and getting things done of a more personal nature.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to assist with applying project management skills. Changes made are more permanent than temporary when a plan is in place to follow them through.
* What are your dreams?
* What do you want to accomplish today?
* What are your long-term goals?
* What would make your daily tasks more efficient to get done?
* What is on your “to-do” list for today?
* What will you do to care for yourself today?
Let’s take each question in turn. What are your dreams? This doesn’t have to be anything as altruistic as world peace. It’s about what things you have always wanted to do in your life. Think about skydiving, learning a new language, training for a new career, writing a book or something totally different. Life goals are built from our longings, dreams, hobbies and interests, not to mention necessity. The latter is the “mother of invention” you know.
What do you want to accomplish today? Many people wake up and are not ready to face the day. After the first yawn and initial head shake, they settle into the notion that this day won’t be any better than the one before. What would make you ready for the day? List those things. Each can, in turn, become a new project for you to tackle using the processes we discussed back in the beginning. There is no reason to continue the same vicious cycle each day.
What are your long-term goals? As a family, have you discussed taking a longer, more exciting vacation? Planning trips with family and/or friends, making improvements to your home, buying a car, selling a house, going back to school etc. qualify as goals with a slightly longer project completion time than others. Unless you have thousands and thousands of dollars in your bank account right now, the budgeting aspect of the project will necessitate a longer range plan.
But, waiting is not always a bad thing. Over time, more features can be added to a plan, better deals may come along and/or more people may be able to participate in the project. Too many time restraints can hinder goal completion and even cause it to be abandoned in its prime.
What would make your daily tasks more efficient to get done? This is a question we all need to ask every morning. The answer creates a thought process that, when it becomes second nature, will benefit all areas of your life. It’s like building a better mousetrap.
For example, if your son needs to get to be picked up from afterschool care at 6 p.m. and quitting time for you is 4:30, use that 90-minute window to mark a few tasks off the daily list. Try to take care of your activities on the same side of town as the school so travel time won’t become a factor. Visit the grocery store in the half hour before pickup so nothing has a chance to thaw out before arriving home.
Logistics can become the biggest nightmare of all. Planning makes all the difference here. You’ll be surprised how much more is accomplished with a bit of brain power. You’ll save on gas as well.
What is on your “to do” list for today? Everyone needs a daily “to do” list. It is helpful and keeps you focused. If you are not one for pen and paper (most moms keep a small pad and pen in their handbag), there are reminder and list apps for just about every electronic device on the market available for ease of use, and most are free. There is something about crossing off items on a list that brings a smile to the face.
Writing out your list the night before means a better night’s sleep. Instead of the ideas and thoughts swimming through your head, preventing restful sleep, they are safely recorded to free your mind to do other things. A list assists with making the correct logistical moves for greater efficiency throughout your day.
What will you do to care for yourself today? How often the caregiver is forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the day. As you strive to care and provide for others, your needs are often neglected. Devise at least one thing to do for yourself each day. Schedule it in. It might be sitting on the front porch gazing out at the world, reading a good book for an hour, eating a healthy meal, talking to an old friend or something else.
Applying Change Management to Your Life and Personal Goals
It’s time to work in reverse…and backwards. When it comes to personal goals and even larger life goals, most people don’t know where to start. The task or dream never gets beyond the initial stage of coming up with the idea. One day you, or someone close to you, will finally realize that you talk about the same goal at the same time every year. Unfortunately, it has never moved beyond that talk.
Pointing this out is not meant to make fun or judge anyone. We all do it. What we do want is for that goal to one day be stamped “Finished” in your book. In an effort to get you to begin, we have to work backwards from the finish line.
Here’s an example: Many people want to make lifestyle changes like exercising more and eating less. It’s easy to say those words but what do they truly mean in real life? It means constructing a plan. Without one, we run behind in the morning and grab fast food for breakfast. We get a salad at lunch but it doesn’t hold us so we eat a donut from the break room. By dinnertime, the thought is that the diet is ruined so we eat a fatty meal. All in all, the conclusion is that it is too hard to eat well so why try.
A little backwards thinking can change your outcome by setting you up to apply project management strategies. So, you want to eat healthy and exercise. This is only part of a goal. The final outcome is actually to lose those unwanted pounds. Start with the end result:
Define your goal – Lose weight
The step before that is… implement an exercise program
The step before that is… decide what kind of exercise to perform
The step before that is… eat a healthier diet
The step before that is… create an eating regimen that includes the foods you need to eat for weight loss
The step before that is… get a medical assessment of your health and how much weight you need to lose
The step before that is… write down your goal to lose weight and brainstorm ways to make it happen
This is a rough example to show how to work backwards from the completed goal you want to accomplish to where it all begins. Now, it’s time for putting your new-found project management knowledge to work. Using the same example:
Initiation – Decide if this is a worthwhile goal that you can get behind. You’ve written down your goal and then visited a medical professional to assess their opinion.
Planning – Perform a bit of research to discover what respected dieticians and medical professionals have to say about eating for weight loss and overall health. Gather as much information as you can and see what applies to you. For instance, if you suffer from celiac disease, a gluten-free approach is a necessity for life and your weight-loss goals. Consider what it will cost as well to make such a lifestyle change.
Execution – Enlist the right people for the job. That might include a personal trainer, nutritionist and a support system to keep you accountable for your goals.
Monitoring and controlling – Tweak your diet and exercise to find what combination works for you. Like most goals, a bit of trial and error is in order. Don’t let setbacks derail the overall goal. Create contingency plans to cope with any hurdles you encounter on the way.
Closing – Yay! You are down several pounds and living the dream.
There is one more thing to consider that is usually not a part of project management when it is part of the business scene, and that is maintenance. Now that you’ve achieved a goal, make it a part of your life. With the weight loss scenario, that means staying at a healthy weight, eating well and setting goals for other dreams that might have been too difficult to handle when weight and health were a factor.
Maintenance comes into play with your daily routine, raising your kids, streamlining tasks and more. Through the use of project management strategies, changes you exhibit will likely become second nature. You’ll learn to multitask, set a budget for any situation, and assess your skills and those further needed to complete a project.
More than all of that, you gain peace of mind in situations that once had you stressed beyond belief with no plan. That sets us up for the last few sections that detail where to find your goal ideas and how to get things planned and done like a superhero – especially around holiday time.
The Bucket List
The First Step to Changing Your Life
How many people, when asked about what they want to do with their lives say, “I don’t know”? Maybe they’ve never thought about it. Moving from one event to the other like graduation, college, marriage, children, home ownership, felt like how things were supposed to progress. In a way, that is life happening to you instead of you affecting your life.
The busyness of life often prevents us from thinking long and hard about that question. No matter what age you are right now, as long as you are breathing, there is room for goal setting, dreams and accomplishments.
If you haven’t seen the movie, “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, it’s a great tearjerker that will set you to thinking about life in a different way. A bucket list, in essence, is a list of goals you would like to accomplish before you die.
A bucket list provides insight into the aspects of life that you desire to possess. Erroneously, people assume that the premise of a bucket list is what they would do if their life were different. It is not. The premise is, if you had the time and the money and the resources (three musts for project management) what dreams would you fulfill. The items found on this list are designed to enhance the quality and flavor of your life – create a better “you,” so to speak. When you are more yourself, others in your sphere benefit as well.
Here are some tips for creating your bucket list:
* Keep a journal dedicated to this project – The only things that are written here are the items on the list and information designed to help you accomplish them.
* Create your list – Find your inspiration everywhere. Just plopping in a chair and dedicating time to fashioning a list often doesn’t produce many results. Keep an open mind and jot down things that sound interesting in a notepad on your phone (you might not desire to carry around a real notebook all day) and copy them to your journal later. Something you see might spark the memory of an old idea that once took hold of you. Feature great and small items. If you want to accomplish it, the size of the goal doesn’t matter.
* Refine your list – As you add ideas, you’ll soon realize that some are far-fetched. Becoming an Olympic champion in gymnastics when you are 35 is not a very plausible goal. Things that sounded cool at the time, like climbing Mt. Rainier, are discovered to be not your cup of tea since you discovered you were afraid of heights. What refines your list is not the difficulty of the task but obstacles that can’t be overcome. Don’t let a little fear or willpower issues lead to cutting doable goals off the list.
* Begin implementing your project management processes – Choose one or two items from the list that are practical to begin at this time and create a plan, gather your resources and take the first steps to executing your long-awaited dream.
A bucket list can help to redefine your life. It narrows your focus to accomplishing tasks that are important to you. The motivation comes from within. The process of moving from concept to completion teaches patience, perseverance, humility, compassion for others, love of life and respect for it, too. These are all good character traits in our book.
Preparing for the Holidays like a Superhero
Plate That Turkey and Deck Those Halls with Project Management Gusto
Holiday planning is not only a necessity but also a test of will and stamina – yours. This year, keep the egg off your face with a few simple tips.
* Start early – September, after Labor Day, is the perfect time to begin planning for holidays at the latter part of the year. Especially if you have children, those holiday times will include Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Once Halloween arrives, the others follow in rapid succession.
* Initiate the talks – A good idea is to create a page on Facebook or another social site for family communication throughout the year. Use it to begin discussing what plans are feasible for the holidays this year. Ask about venue, menu, activities and a budget. Get the ball rolling early just like businesses do.
* Create a plan – With family, everything is tentative until you finalize everything. If travel plans need to be made, consider the cost for flights and hotels. We love our families, but housing them in a separate place does more for promoting family harmony than trying to keep a stiff upper lip when they complain about your sleeping arrangements.
* Execute – Find the right person for the job. Enlist the help of all family members and give each person a task for the requisite holiday. This lightens your load and with only one task to concentrate on, the outcome might be even more fantastic than juggling an entire list of things.
* Monitor and control – Since you are initiating the talks, it will fall on you to keep everyone on task. Keep the lines of communication open so that contingencies can be handled early on so as not to ruin the festivities.
* Close – Another holiday is upon you and things are running smoother than normal. If something does go awry (delayed flights, illness, arguments), take a deep breath and relax. The point of the holidays is to spend time with those you love, for better or worse.
Business and family life don’t usually mix, but they can co-exist peacefully. Project management strategies utilized in the workplace translate into all other areas of your life. They are not a magic formula. Lots of work is involved, but the quality and satisfaction level of your life are enhanced by the processes learned.