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How Project Management Saved Me From Myself

“Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” 
― John Wooden

Confession: Many, many years ago. I…was the worst, most non-planning, consistently running “a tad bit” late, random, and poorly organized person I knew. Thinking about it now I’m not sure exactly how I grew to be that way, so for the sake of brevity I’ll take the Freudian route and blame my parents(jk). I even remember one specific display of this when I was about 18. One weekend night while I was preparing for a date with a guy, I received a phone call from him saying, “Hey Simone, it’s (his name), where are you? I’m here waiting on you?” At which time I was still ironing my clothes and had a 20-minute drive to get to the restaurant-awful I know. Surprisingly, when I showed up to restaurant he was actually still there…waiting. Perhaps my charming personality (wink) allowed him to absolve me of my tardiness, though that was our first and last date.

Today I can’t even imagine being so ill-prepared for an event, or expressing such blatant inconsideration for someone else’s time-be it business or casual. By the time I reached my twenties I’d definitely developed the maturity to respect others’ time, but unbeknownst to me I still lacked the awareness of how sufficient planning could truly benefit me in every aspect of my life. I was still to some extent an “on the go” type of person.

Years later, I was introduced to Project Management as my job was developing a PMO to handle some changes that were being implemented in all the departments. So, I read a couple books and got certified. Bam, now I’m a Project Manager. What I didn’t expect during the course of my studying for the exams and then later working as a Project Manager was the realization of how much I sucked at planning. I can’t remember if this realization was something that slowly built during this time, or if it just hit me like a brick one day. Either way, its impact left a lasting impression.

Now, even simple tasks like grocery store shopping and scheduling an oil change for my car are entered in my iPhone and/or office calendar. It may seem like common sense to many, but I was tardy to the party (and really only cared about partying back then). These days things are, let’s say…different. For example, when my family or friends come to visit me for the weekend, they receive an emailed itinerary at least 3 days before which contains dates, times, and web links to our destinations-along with a reference to the “weekend soundtrack” which’ll be played during our rides about the city. I keep a spreadsheet for EVERYTHING, and I can’t remember the last time I was late to something… Trust me, I’ve come a long way.

So what is Project Management really? Project Management is defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI) as, “The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements. However, I simply define it as a planned and structured way to “get it done”. It’s nothing more than knowing what you want to do and how to go about it. I personally think that a very rudimentary form of project management or basic planning in general should be included in high school curriculum to get the ball rolling early.

How many of us have found ourselves in either an uncomfortable meeting, a lackluster soirée, or a shoddy event as a result of someone’s bad planning?

The Benefits of Planning

  • It will boost your efficiency and productiveness
  • You’ll be less angry when the unexpected occurs (Ex: When you’re stuck in traffic because YOU left home too late for work.)
  • It smacks you in the face with accountability

Now am I advocating that you implement full-on “Project Management” into daily your life, of course not because that’d be crazy. I’m simply stating that really thinking things through can be beneficial, especially when you have large tasks/goals ahead, or need to find a solution to help work out a new way of doing something that’s proving to be ineffective.

How To Plan

Set The Goals – Whether its losing weight, finishing a personal project, or even just an simple, every day task like clearing out your garage, setting goals is key to changing anything in your life. It formalizes your plans and makes them REAL.

Know The Scope of Your Plan – This was my favorite part of PM (and the most amusing) because it’s where so many of us fall into a pit of never-ending inclusions i.e., the extra room that you had to add to your already behind schedule home renovations, or the ski trip that never happens because your friends keep inviting more people. Create a parameter for your goal and stick to it.

Break It Down – How will you do it? Create a list of activities necessary in order to complete your goal, then list the dates that you plan to have them completed by. This is the meat and potatoes of it all. It sets the foundation for the litmus test which in the end will either promote your efforts or eventually expose your lack thereof. “Did you do it, or no?”

List Important Milestones – Depending on the goal, it may take take several weeks, months, and even years to complete (Ex: Charlie Parker practiced scales for over 10 hours a day, for 3-4 years to gain mastery of the saxophone). Setting milestones helps you to realize where you are in relation to your final goal and allows you to make adjustments as necessary-and it can offer affirmation along the way.

Define What You Need- Make a list of everything that you need as you plan out your activities. This way your deadlines, whether hard or soft, won’t be affected should you require any item, be it tangible or intangible, that takes some time to obtain.

Expect The Unexpected – Life throws us all curve-balls from time to time, which can yank us out of our daily routine or state of contentment. But, there are also those sideline items that we ignore or place “on the back burner” that‘’ll sneak up on us with the stealth of a preying panther, and cause us the mental and emotional equivalent of said panther’s physical attack-all because they could’ve been prevented had we taken them more into consideration. Examples: The traffic ticket that you forgot to pay (or contest), now you have to take off from work to go to court to pay it; the documents that you needed to gather to get your passport, now you may not make your planned vacation-which is non-refundable. Know what risks, if any, can hinder your plans and be sure to account for them.

At last, you’ve made it to the finish line and can finally pop a chilled bottle of Gout de Diamant while basking in a wonderful sense of accomplishment, and possibly even self-aggrandizement. (Who the hell really drinks Gout de Diamant?)

In closing allow me to state the following: I never thought I’d be someone who makes ride along soundtracks for weekend visits from friends, but I am. And if you’re the person that I use to be, to any degree that is, take heed that planning ahead can be the anchor in your life that keeps you from going in a million different directions, and being reactive instead of proactive-essentially saving you from yourself.

…Now I’m wondering what a glass of Gout de Diamant tastes like…

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