How To Turn Your Ideas Into Achievable Projects

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Podcast 81

Do you have difficulty completing projects? Then this week’s episode of the Working With… Podcast is just for you.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 81 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, I have a question about a problem several years ago I had. That is being excellent at starting projects and having ideas, but terrible at seeing those projects through to completion. It took a lot of self-analysis and introspection to understand why I did that and to change my behaviours so I would start completing projects. 

 But, before we get into that, I'd just like to remind you all that I currently have a Spring Sale on where you can get my Your Digital Life 2.0 online course for just $65.00 and if you buy that course this week, I am throwing in From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days completely free. 

When you add in the free access you get to my Email Mastery and Ultimate Goal Planning Course you get with Your Digital life 2.0 you are getting a package worth $240 for just $65.00. 

I must be mad! So go on, get yourself enrolled today as this offer will end very very soon… Well, this week actually.

Okay onto this week’s question and means it’s time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Daniel. Daniel asks: Hi Carl, thank you for all the content you put out. Could you help me? I have hundreds of ideas and I collect all these into Evernote. But when I look at my list of ideas I realise that I am just not completing any of them. I think it is because I don't know where to start. Do you have any tips that might help?

Hi Daniel, thank you for your question. 

I should congratulate you on actually collecting your ideas. Far too many people don't collect their ideas and just leave them in their heads only to see them disappear as soon as their attention is diverted and never surface again. 

So what we need to do is see collecting and developing your ideas as part of a process. You need to give each idea some time to develop. 

So, you collect an idea and while you are still buzzing about it you should take five or ten minutes to develop it. A one-line title in your notes app is not going to inspire you very much in a few days time. So take five minutes now and note down some thoughts to give your idea some context. 

Let's say I have an idea for a new course. I will collect that idea in Evernote and then take a few minutes to jot down the purpose of the course and what I would expect students to learn from it. I would also probably write out a few lesson titles. I know saying that now sounds like quite a lot, but in reality, it is only a few lines. 

Once I have a few lines expanding my idea I can leave it. 

Often I will leave the idea for a few days. For me, if I cannot stop thinking about an idea and I keep adding to the note then I know it will become a project and I need to spend some time to really develop it. 

For this purpose, I use a tag in Evernote called “Incubator”. 

Now I should explain about my incubator. This is a tag in Evernote that has no more than ten notes in it. If I have additional ideas I can still collect them, but they can only go in my incubator if I move another note out. 

This keeps my open, active, in development ideas to a maximum of ten. It also ensures that whatever is in there is still relevant. 

Now the thing about ideas is they are only moving forward when you are working on them. It can be easy to collect your next billion-dollar idea in your notes but over time, if you don’t do anything with it, it soon disappears under all the other notes and stuff you collect. So you need to keep them utmost and foremost in your mind. 

To do this you should make it a habit to review your ideas—those in your incubator—regularly. I look through my ideas every Wednesday and Sunday (when I do my weekly review) I choose Wednesday because by Wednesday I have usually finished creating the content I want to put out that week and I have time and mental space to think of new ideas. 

Here, what you do is a quick scan. Does anything jump out at you? If it does, open up the note and set yourself 15 minutes or so and really dive deep thrashing out some concepts and ideas. Get them all written down add them to your idea. 

Now, for most of you, there will be one idea that is consuming you more than others. Often when I have a new online course idea this will be constantly on my thoughts. Because the idea was collected into my Evernote inbox it is very easy to open up Evernote and see the note at the top of my notes list. I can then add additional ideas to the note as they come to me. Often by the time I reach my weekly review, the note has developed into a long list and that is a sure sign that this is a project worth taking to the next stage. 

The opposite can happen too. Around this time last year, I had an idea to do a build your own Google productivity system. For a couple of days, I was really excited about it. I collected a lot of notes and decided to take it to the next stage and build a project out of it. 

Now to build a project out of an idea what I do is allocate an hour of development time. Usually in the early morning when my brain is fresh and at it’s most creative. I go through my collected ideas and pull out all the next actions and list them at the bottom of the note. Once the obvious next action tasks are out, I will copy and paste them into Todoist as a project and allocate time on my calendar for doing those action steps. 

As I was developing this project, I realised I didn't have enough knowledge of the Google productivity apps and when I investigated further I decided that I would need to learn a lot more than I had time to learn. So I abandoned the project. You see projects can be abandoned at any time. It best, of course, to abandon projects in their early stages, but for your personal projects that do not involve other people, you are free to abandon them at any time. 

You see, you do need to be realistic, Daniel. There are a lot of considerations to take into account. For one do you have the actual time to do this project? How many other projects do you have going on at the moment? I’ve found if I have more than three active projects going on at any one time I am having to compromise on time to be able to allocate enough time to each one. That’s never a good thing.

One way to overcome this—If you can do it—is to allocate one project to focus on each week. Right now, I have all my focus on Time and Life Mastery 3, my biggest online course. I have not just allocated this week to this project, but I have given over the whole month. This means outside my regular work, producing this podcast, recording my YouTube videos and writing my blog posts, all other work time is being spent on that one project. I know that for me to get it planned out, recorded and edited so it can be ready for publishing next month, I have to focus completely on this project. 

And that leads nicely to my next tip. That is set yourself a deadline. Of course, with your regular work projects, you may have a deadline imposed on you. But for your own personal projects, you get to control when you complete these. I often see people creating amazing projects and then calling them a “hobby project” which is just a get out clause so you don’t have to finish them. If you are serious about the project and it is something you really want to do, then set a deadline. The truth is without a deadline, you will never finish the project. 

Okay, so there’s quite a lot in this week’s answer so let me summarise what you can do. The first step is to make sure you are collecting your ideas. Remember, if you decide later to abandon the idea, that’s fine. That’s far better than not collecting the idea in the first place. 

Once you have collected the idea, the next stage is what I call the discovery stage. This is where you develop your idea, throw links and other support materials into the mix and be aware of your own limitations in knowledge and time. How long this takes is really up to you. Take as long as you need to really develop the idea. 

Then leave it for a few days. Let your subconscious mind absorb everything and think about it. Then when you come back to it, you will either decide it’s not for you, or you will decide to move on with it. Moving on with it means going through the notes you have collected and pulling out all the next actions and moving them over to your to-do list manager as a project. 

Then be realistic about your available time and choose the right time to begin working on your project. 

The key is to really restrict what you work on at any one time. Keep an incubator file for no more than ten ideas at any one time. Less if you can. I used to keep 20 ideas in my incubator but soon found a lot of those ideas were not getting touched. That’s why I reduced it to ten. I sometimes think ten is too many, but for now, it works for me. 

Finally, I would advise you have a someday / maybe folder somewhere. This could be in your to-do list manager or your notes app. Inside your someday/maybe folder you keep all your project ideas and other things you have ideas about and review this folder once every month or so looking for something you would like to work on next. This prevents you from losing your ideas and will always give you a feed of new projects to work on whenever you want to work on them. 

I hope that answers your question, Daniel. Thank you for sending in your question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget you too can have any of your productivity, time management or goal planning questions answered by emailing me— or DMing me on Facebook or Twitter.

It just remains for me now, to wish you all a very very productive week. 

The Working With… Podcast | Episode 40 | How To Manage A HUGE List of Projects

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In this week’s episode, I answer a question about managing a long list of projects. 

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 40 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a question that may not affect everyone all the time, but I think it can become a problem from time to time. That is the problem of project overwhelm. Having a very long list of active projects. How do you manage them without missing something important? 

But before we get into this week’s question I’d like to thank all of you who have enrolled in this year’s Time And Life Mastery Course. It’s so very exciting to see so many of you there and I am convinced this course is going to change your life for the better. If you haven’t enrolled, It’s not too late. Details are in the show notes. 

Okay, it’s time for this week’s question, so that means it’s time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice, for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Denrael. Denrael asks: how do you organise when you can have literally hundreds of open projects. I run a Pro Service group, and at any time, we could be engaged in, planning or bidding up to 100 different engagements.

That’s a Juicy question, Denrael. Thank you. 

Before we get into this question allow me to remind you all that we only have twenty-four hours a day. So it really doesn’t matter whether you have ten projects or 100. You will always be limited by the amount of time you have each day. This also means it doesn’t matter how many tasks you have on your daily task list, you are ultimately limited by the amount of time you have each day. So no matter how heroic you think you are, the powerful force of time will always stop you. 

However, for anyone suffering from project overwhelm here are a few tips that might help you become less overwhelmed and more in control.

The first step is to go through your projects and see if they really are projects. A lot of projects have become projects by accident and a five-minute spell focused on the project could get it completed and archived. 

As you go through your projects ask yourself a number of questions. Questions like “is this an active project?" Or "is this project really important to me?" What you are trying to do is reduce your active project list as much as you can. In a sense, you are pruning so you can give yourself space to breathe and grow. This is a place where you are going to have to be very strict with your criteria. Be very clear about what an active project is and apply that rule very very strictly. 

Another way to reduce an active project list is to use a “Someday | Maybe” folder. I find when my active project list starts to bulge it’s because I have a lot of “I wish to do” projects. The problem with “I wish to do” projects is they are often not important and were created on a whim. After the passage of a little time, your enthusiasm for the project diminishes and if that is the case either delete it, archive it or just put it into your Someday | Maybe folder. You can always come back to it again later if you wish. 

In your specific case Denrael, I see a potential problem. If you are using a task manager app to manage all your customer engagements you are probably using the wrong tool. When you have “literally hundreds of open projects” relate to different customers and clients that sounds very much like a job for a Client Relationship Management system. It is possible to manage a large number of clients in a task management app, but you are going to have to do a lot of hacking and modifying and there is going be the need for a lot of updating. That alone is going to take up time. Time you probably don’t have. 

I would suggest you look into a robust CRM system to manage all your customers, proposals and bids. That what a CRM system was designed to do and the best ones do that job very well. 

Another way to manage a long list of open projects and one of my favourites is to focus your attention on the labels or contexts. The Getting Things Done system was designed for a long list of open projects because you don’t focus on the project you focus on the tool, place or person you need in order to complete a task. In your case, you may have a list of bids to follow up on. If you create a label or context such as “follow up” you can access this list every day to check which proposals or bids you need to follow up on next. You can break it down still further by creating labels such as “Follow up by Phone” and “Follow up by email” if a simple follow up label generates a long list. 

The reality is if you are having to manage a long list of open projects you have to get very smart. Planning what needs to get done the next day instead of planning what you would like to get done is crucial. But you also need to be looking out further to the rest of the week and the whole month. What projects must be completed this week? What projects must be completed this month? These questions need to be answered every week and every month if you are going to stay on top of everything. 

You need to be very clear about what “completed” actually means too. My guess is just sending out a bid, following it up a few days later is not really completing the project. A completed project would be the bid being accepted and the service being delivered. The bidding process is just the start. The outcome you desire is the bid being accepted, a service being delivered and the money owed coming into your business. So how you structure the project may be another area where you can slim down your projects list. You can divide up a project into the different stages. For example, “the bidding stage”, “the delivery stage” and “the collection stage”. Again, if you create labels for each stage it will allow you to filter tasks down to what needs to happen next on each project. These tasks can then be assigned to the right people within your company. 

In that example, your projects would be organised by customer or client. Having a templated project you can call up, duplicate and assign to a new customer will save a lot of time and you can pre-populate the project with your process. Most to-do list managers allow you to create templates and the more advanced to-do list managers will allow you to assign dates in the form of “start plus 3 days” etc. This would then allow you to remain focused on your daily task list as that would be an accurate account of what needs to happen that day. 

For any of this to work seamlessly requires a lot of good habits. A daily review of work done and work that still needs to be done is a must. On top of that a strong weekly review that assigns some clear objectives on your projects. For example, “get bid to Client B out by Wednesday” and “follow up on Client C on Monday” these tasks need to be prioritised and dated so they come up on the right day allowing you to have enough time to do the necessary work to complete the objective. 

There are a few other, little things that can be done to save time. Automating as much of the work as possible using tools such as IFTTT or Zappier and templating forms and regularly written emails can save a lot of time and effort. But it all comes back to the one thing you cannot control. Time. 

No matter how much work anyone has, we will always be restricted by the amount of time we have each day. The key is to find ways of reducing the time it takes to complete tasks we have to perform on a regular basis. Thinking in terms of what you are trying to achieve rather than focusing on the tasks can help. This can reduce the number of steps it takes to get a project to completion. Is the goal to follow up on a bid or is the goal to get the business? If the goal is to get the business, one phone call may achieve that, rather than a ten-day follow-up process involving three emails and a phone call. 

Managing a long list of projects is always going to be a challenge and there is no one way that will take away those projects. If a project needs doing, it needs doing. Our goal is to find better and more efficient ways to get those projects completed. Never forgetting what your objective is will always help to reduce the list of tasks. A mistake so many people make is they focus on the tasks and not the outcome. Always remember what the desired outcome of the project is, be very clear about what it is you are trying to accomplish and you will go a long way to making even the longest project list manageable. 

I hope that has helped, Denrael. 

Thank you all for listening and please don’t forget if you have a question about productivity, time management, goal setting or self-development then please get in touch by email, Dming me on Facebook or Twitter and I will be very happy to answer your questions. 

It just remains for me to wish you all a very very productive week.