Special projects are just that—not a part of your daily activities that require your input and attention. They can be great fun. They can raise your profile both in and out of the office. They can…take hours if not days to complete. How do you get this extra work done when your team needs you?
We recognize the urge to finish up your special project on the weekend or to spend long hours after hours. After all, you have uninterrupted time where there’s no one around to tell you it’s your turn to feed the office fish. But there goes your social life.
We also acknowledge there’s something to be said about spending an adrenaline-fueled crunch week. But details forgotten in the rush could turn your special project into a mess.
There’s a way to handle your new workload efficiently and make it to those meetings at the same time.
Don’t push off important tasks. Finish your special project in advance.
Here’s what to do:
1. List your top priorities for the coming quarter. What three things to you want to have accomplished three months from now? Is there a conference you want to present at? A proposal you want to win? A deal you want to close?
Name those three accomplishments and list them as your priority this week.
2. List three tangible steps you can take on each top priority to move it toward completion.
If your thoughts run toward the mathematical, you’ll know that having three tasks for three priorities means that you’ve just created nine separate goals for each week. That could sound as if you’re creating work for yourself rather than lessening it. But there’s a reason we’re breaking work down this way, which you will see in section #3.
As it happens, this isn’t non-stop activity on your part. More than once, you’ll need to table a task until someone returns your calls or finishes up his part of the project.
3. Commit one hour each morning and each afternoon to work uninterrupted on your priorities.
Simply put, this means you have ten units of time. And as we know from above, you have nine time slots you need to fill. This means that you’ll have one extra hour a week to devote to your everyday work—or even a different project. Spend it how you see fit.
For example, you want to speak at a prestigious conference that could raise your and your company’s profile. But first you have to get accepted. Some of the tangible steps you would need to take include outlining your topic; emailing the coordinator and submitting your credentials; contacting people who will recommend you; writing your presentation; finding the conference’s guidelines on your presentation’s format; and booking your flight and hotel.
As you can see, each of one these are separate but necessary tasks. And although writing the presentation is the priority, other steps can be taken out of order. So you can book that flight between writing your slides and still manage to cross an item off of your list.
If you spend an hour a day on one project for a week, you can make almost as much headway as if you had worked non-stop on it.
4. Ask yourself at the start of your scheduled hour, “How will I accomplish this?” Take the direct and precise action that will achieve your goal.
Be specific in your tasks. Rather than “work on funding for next year’s workshop,” instead, work out the steps you need to take to get funding, such as finding sponsors and getting a grant.
Tasks include scheduling a meeting with best sponsorship lead, telling him or her the latest good news about your project, with a request for a meeting; specifying the sponsorship you’re seeking in writing; and completing at least one section of the grant proposal.
Each phone call you make, each page of the proposal you’ve written, is a strike-through on your long list of tasks—a list that is now becoming shorter.
5. Do not allow interrupts during this time, not even from your boss. But remember to tell her politely, “I’m committed to [priority x] for the next hour. May I come see you at [3 p.m.]?” You’ll quickly earn her respect as she sees your daily accomplishments.
6. Remember this is a commitment. Remind yourself that slowly working through each item months in advance might not be as outwardly productive as spending hours at a time on a Saturday … but it accomplishes what you need without spending extra hours in the office.