Author’s Note: I help athletes on the race course and at work. If you are an endurance athlete looking to bring your athletic powers to bear on your work, we should connect. Here's a short form to set up an intro call or DM me on LinkedIn.
You Have a Big Problem at Work
No, it’s not the work itself. It’s how you handle the work. Big projects and tasks, or even big tasks within a project, are often so big it’s hard to gain traction.
Technology isn’t the issue here; there are tons of mapping tools and software to help you do work.
The issue is you have to be ready to do the work.
Your biggest enemy at this point is YOU.
The Solution is Simple, Not Easy
As an athlete, you’re familiar with tackling challenges. Sixteen weeks to a marathon. Ten weeks to a sprint triathlon. 90 days to a better you.
We solve your work problem by using the training discipline you already have to get the big work done.
We’ll set goals, create training sessions, and regularly review our progress. Just like you do at the gym, at pilates, on the bike, and anywhere else you get your sweat on.
I call it the Workday Workout, and I think you’re going to like the simplicity of the process.
What Happens When Big Work Hits?
Hard work pushes us out of our comfort zone.
- Daily distractions steal your attention. From messages to drop-ins to emails and more, there’s never a shortage of stuff to pay attention to.
- Clarity is lacking, and you are unsure of where to start on the project. It’s tempting to join in the game of “email tennis,” where you ask countless clarifying questions in an attempt to make it look like you are working.
- Success is outside of your control, externally defined (by someone else, usually a superior) or externally linked (you can’t do the work without the input of others).
- Meetings become the default method for accountability, sucking valuable time away from the work you need to do.
Just writing this has me pretty stressed out. It’s like a bad group project in your least favorite class at high school, but with professional consequences if you don’t get stuff done. 😱
Let’s get started making things better.
Preparation for the Week
This takes about 30 minutes and should be done at the end of the day Friday or over the weekend before you start the week. You'll need a piece of paper or a blank document and access to your work calendar.
Step One: First up, identify the big tasks or tasks that you have on your plate for this month. It might be a presentation. It could be conducting a workshop. Maybe it's the end of a quarter or the fiscal year. You know you, but get those down on the page in a list.
Step Two: Next to each item you just listed, write the corresponding end state. For example, if you have a quarterly report due this month, the end-state would be "completed quarterly report.”
Power User Tip: Don’t stop there. Adding qualifiers to the end state will help you align your work to the outcome. Instead of "completed quarterly report,” you might say “completed quarterly report with improved infographics” or "completed quarterly report with improved infographics that have feedback from at least one colleague” — you get the idea.
Step Three: Review what you have written, and prioritize, the work according to your calendar, or to the sequence of what needs to happen. If you need to create a presentation and run a workshop, it's likely that the presentation work will come first.
Note: We both know that any given month has about four weeks. But you may have more than that number of big projects! Don't worry about it, the skills you learn here will help you tackle all of these projects. This is just the first time through so we are focusing on learning the process.
Step Four: Block out one (1) hour a day on your calendar for every day this week. Yes, Monday through Friday. If you have to, book a meeting with yourself. Or make up a fictional colleague, and book a meeting with them. Whatever it takes, this hour will be the hour you focus on your Work Workout
There is usually a window when everyone else is doing their catch-up that you can use to get ahead. If that doesn't ring, shoot for you, don't worry. Pick the best hour of your work day that makes sense for you.
Note: I am stressing the workday scheduling so that you begin to bring your athletic rigor into your work environment. If you start this process by taking work home and getting it done there, you're not only losing personal time, you're cheating your professional self from the benefits of what discipline could bring to your professional life.
Are You Ready!?
With your prep work done, it’s time to tackle this stuff during the week. Here’s the outline for you to follow, with additional notes below.
Just how far you want to go with each step is up to you. If you complete a step “early,” you can continue ahead as long as you are within the one-hour window.
You’ll pick up where you left off the next day. The goal here is to build momentum on your work such that you can easily continue executing on the big work.
- Monday = Research
- Tuesday = Organize
- Wednesday = Act 1
- Thursday = Act 2
- Friday = Recap
Monday = Research
Today is all about gathering all the information you need.
First, determine where that information will live. Is it a document, is it a Notion page, is it a fig jam board? Once you have that determined, you can begin the process of working through your information sources to get everything you need.
I recommend that you start with a quick brainstorming session to come up with everything you think you need. Once you've identified those, you can look in the places with that information. If you go to your inbox and start looking for stuff, you'll find a LOT of OTHER STUFF. The initial brainstorming step will ensure you are targeted in the research phase.
Here are some prompts:
- What do I need to complete the project?
- Who do I need to talk to?
- What information do I have already?
- What information do I still need (and where is it)?
Pull in all the links and content you can find, dropping into your single place.
If you have open items to find or emails out to folks, note that here. Any other future ideas should also go here.
Once you run out of info, you are done!
Note: if you are continually getting more information throughout your day, drop it back into this research space.
Tuesday = Organize
Hopefully, you slept easy knowing you had so much information gathered during the research phase. Today's goal is to organize everything to help you accomplish the project.
Are you creating a presentation, are you building a course, are you conducting a training, are you just preparing a one-page summary? Whatever those elements are, that is the framework you will use to take your research and organize it.
Some people prefer to do this digitally and something like a figjam board is perfect for that. Other people prefer to do it analog. In that case, using different color, sticky notes is pretty easy and also super fun (you can always take a picture to digitize and capture it for future work).
You will likely go through this organization process from start to finish two or three times.
1️⃣ There's the first run through, which is just sorting the big items.
2️⃣ The second time through we get a little granular, adding the additional notes to go with those items.
3️⃣ On the third and final try, you should be pretty close to having a detailed outline of what you will be producing based on your information.
This process is not an accident. Most people skip to the third round and try to create a perfect outline from Monday’s research. Don’t cheat yourself; doing this step right will give you better outcomes.
Wednesday = Act 1
With your Research and Outline in place, it’s time to get to work!
Some clients prefer to break this into two parts: 50% today and 50% tomorrow.
Others prefer a first draft on Wednesday and an updated draft on Thursday. That approach does allow you to review the project in its entirety and use that big picture of you to make strategic changes to the structure as well as the content.
You divide the project in a way that makes the most sense for you and your workflow. It’s really up to you.
Thursday = Act 2
Thursday is all about putting the finishing touches on the work.
This is also a great time to entertain getting some feedback from a colleague or a peer who may have some opinions on what it is you’ve produced.
You should feel pretty confident at this point with your work. This is not the final product, so don’t be afraid to share it out. Feedback is what makes things stronger, and better to get it now when you still have Friday to finish instead of after your work is done.
Friday = Recap
Today is all about wrapping up. It’s about putting the finishing touches on your work. This could be transitioning into a slide template online or producing the final document, printing it out, and proofreading it.
Ideally, the production side of things only takes about 40 minutes or so, leaving you 20 minutes to recap the process. What parts of the process worked and which ones didn’t?
Take these notes and save them, they are super valuable for you. The next time you need to go through this process, you can pull out these notes and improve your process at the outset. Iterative, small steps of improvement like this are critical to ensuring that you continue to get better at doing the big picture work in a manageable and effective way.
There you have it, a straightforward process to turn big-picture work into five easy steps to execute.
Leave anxiety and frustration behind by creating a process you can follow every time you have a big project.
I recommend you save the hour every day for your own work (See the Agency Agenda). This way, whenever a big project shows up, you can slide it right into that spot!
Good skill, and let me know how it goes on Twitter @pmccrann