Task management is generally pretty low on the ol’ priority list when learning to be the best version of you, but out there in the big bad world the ability to take big picture ideas and translate them into marching orders (often for yourself, sometimes for your staff) is a huge value add for your boss, and sometimes your boss’s boss.  It’s also a sign of potential leadership skills much of the time, so if you’d like to be an actual #boss one day, this is important to master.

There are many different ways to translate big ideas into action items and get ish done, but the most effective and straightforward way I’ve come across I actually learned back in undergrad.  Being a part of my school’s Enactus team was personally transformational in so many ways.  For those who have never heard of it, Enactus is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring students to improve the world through entrepreneurial action.  It was a student organization where we sat around and helped build businesses or other projects that created positive change in our community, and then once a year we went to national competition to compare our coolest and most impactful projects/businesses with those of other Enactus teams from other schools (and meet recruiters from many of the United States’ biggest corporations).  I was lucky that our Enactus team leaders hired some teachers from a nearby project management school to come give us trainings.  One of them changed my life forever, and the biggest takeaways from it are contained in the following tips.

 

Follow this method of tackling projects and you’ll be taking on bigger and bigger responsibilities at work in no time.  

It’s worth mentioning that if you can’t break down a big idea this way – if it doesn’t translate into actionable steps – then it warrants rethinking altogether.  Does your team actually have the capacity to take this on?  Do you need more resources than you have access to?  Is the overarching goal too lofty or unclearly defined?  

All projects, no matter how you tackle the rest, must start with step 1 below.  From there, the rest I just highly recommend.

  • Define the big picture idea. Don’t assume you understand what your boss is getting at.  Force him or her to put it in words and, preferably, write it down or email it to you.  If you have questions, do not hesitate to ask.  That needs to happen now instead of later.  Ask about manpower.  Ask about funds.  Ask about deadlines and timeframes. Make sure you understand every last expectation.  The same applies to if this is your own idea – make sure you fully understand your own expectations and desires. 

  • Turn the big picture idea into measurable results.  Don’t ever ask your team to “sell better”.  You should challenge them to, for example, “move from $12,000/mo in sales to $16,000/mo in sales by… (insert action steps here)”.  Instead of “the boss wants us to revamp the social media strategy,” define that “the boss would like us to create and execute an action plan on how to go from 100,000 impressions on the website per month to 150,000 impressions per month by March 1st.”  When you come to March 1st, you’ll know whether you hit the mark or not.  You can still be proud if you got close but didn’t hit it, or you can throw an office party when you blow it out of the water, but the point is that there will be measurable results to reflect on. 

  • Chunk the big idea into smaller projects.  Now that you have numbers to your goals, start chunking that baby!  Most large projects can be separated into 5-10 sections of work.  In the impressions example, if you work at a media company, a project like that could be chunked into:  IG traffic, Pinterest traffic, Google traffic, YouTube traffic, and listeners who go directly to the website after hearing the company name on their favorite video or podcast.  If you like to make visuals or are a texture organizer, I love to write the name of each of these across the top of an easel-sized sticky note and post them up on a blank wall. 
  • Chunk each smaller project into ‘to do’ lists.  Yep, it’s time to chunk again!  What all must be done to accomplish each micro project?  Write it out on a scrap piece of paper so that you can tweak each one and mess around with the order in which things need to get done, if necessary.  Pinterest traffic might be chunked into:  create a company Pinterest account, have R&D department create lists of SEO for our content topics, have the design department create pins that use the SEO, have the copywriting team write copy for the pins, hire a Pinterest account manager OR shift portfolios so an existing employee can take over, create a pinning strategy, etc.  If desired, each one of these action steps can go on a sheet of computer paper (or a half-sheet), but wait until the next step to do so.
  • Chunk each ‘to do’ into specific, tiny tasks.  The kind you can stick on a sticky note and actually rip it in half within a few minutes.  Have the design team design pins seems straightforward, but in reality it can be broken up into:  decide on branding colors, research ideal pin design elements, communicate required design elements to design team, review design team’s first round designs (and sometimes several rounds), choose which pin designs to make into pin templates, etc.  See?  Each of those can go on a regular sized sticky note, which goes on your ‘to do’ computer paper, which sticks with tape on your easel-sized sticky note. 

OptionalRip sticky notes in half as you accomplish each task.  I know how ridiculous this sounds but let me tell you – this recommendation from a colleague of mine was life-changing.  There is something simply primal about ripping something in half.  And half again.  It makes you feel that much more accomplished.  So give it a try, or don’t, but now you know.

Again, there are many ways to get big projects done effectively, and you’ll figure out your own rhythm with practice.  Some projects won’t be quite as large and you won’t have to chunk them down so many times.  Others might be even larger and require another layer of chunking.  Let me saying ‘chunking’ one last time.  I adore squeezing a project into the nittiest and grittiest of task lists because while it looks like that much more work when you have 254 sticky notes to complete one big project, in reality it makes it easier and faster to accomplish because 1) it forces you to think through exactly how to accomplish each ‘to do’ ahead of time, and 2) it makes so easy to just BAM BAM BAM and knock those tasks out. 

I hope you enjoy executing big projects as much as I do moving forward.  I also hope that you’ll share this with any colleagues, friends, or family that might benefit from this breakdown.  Feel free to shoot me an email at ideas@helloascent.com with any requests for related content or answers to related questions, which helps inform my writing moving forward.

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