When you’re caught up in the day-to-day of running a business, it’s way too easy to put long-term projects aside for more pressing matters. But leave long-term projects as perpetual second-class citizens on your to-do list, and they’re unlikely to ever get done. And that means your business is less likely to grow in any purposeful direction.
For example, about a year ago I started working on a mailer to market my gift styling services to a specific industry to try to get new clients. I’m still not done. While the copy is written and I’ve started on the design, these many months later the mailer is still a long way from being sent out. Frustrated that I might see another season go by without making any progress, I decided I needed a detailed action plan.
Here’s how I’m starting to make headway (and how you can, too).
Break it up
Itemize the major steps, and then subdivide each one into even smaller steps until very basic.
For example, instead of simply “finish designing mailer,” my to-do list includes several steps under this line item, including “select paper.” “Select paper” is broken down even further to “research potential paper suppliers,” “visit suppliers and select samples” and “make mockups with samples to determine which works best.”
When an action item is too large, when there are too many undefined steps that have to get done, it’s easy to skip over a project because you’re stuck on where to start. Listing each tiny step takes the thinking process out of figuring out what to do next so you can just do it. Plus, such a detailed list also gives you a better idea of just exactly how long it will take to get a project done.
Once you’ve got a to-do list, create a work-back schedule and put everything into a calendar.
Part of the reason why I haven’t made much progress on the mailer is because that while the big, overwhelming item is on my to-do list, I haven’t set aside a specific time to do the tiny steps that will lead to finishing it. Working back from my desired completion date, I’ve given each milestone and action item its own deadline. By entering each step in a calendar, a large project doesn’t seem so insurmountable when all you have to do today is “visit one supplier to look at paper.”
By project managing larger goals and giving them time and priority over daily to-dos, I may actually — finally! — get somewhere. As long as I stick to the plan.
Corinna vanGerwen is a creative gift-wrapping consultant, sole owner and only employee of her eponymous home-based startup, which provides gift-wrapping services, training and workshops, as well as packaging services for marketing and events.