Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Oh The Power Of A Good Flow Chart!

I've spent a large part of today planning out some new work I'm going to be doing in the next few months, and as usual, I've been using the tried and trusted flow chart to get from my initial brainstorming, to a detailed plan.

If you have difficulties putting your good ideas into action, then perhaps flow charts could be the answer you're looking for.

The brilliant thing about flow charts, is that they force you to break down your big ideas into simple, manageable steps.

To begin with, I'll get myself a big sheet of plain paper - I don't very often use lined paper at all, because I find I can be much more creative with plain paper.

On this sheet, I'll write in the middle what it is I want to achieve. This could be any goal you're working on. Then I spend time brainstorming all the things that I will need to do in order to achieve my goal. Sometimes this is quite simple, but for complicated projects, it can become quite complex.

I write down all these sub-stages, around the centre project title, in no particular place, although if stages seem to go together, I'll write them in the same area.

Once I've managed to collect all my thoughts, I then take another piece of plain paper, and on the very far right hand side, write the final goal - what I'm aiming to achieve - and put a circle around it.

Then I take the sub-stages I've noted in the brainstorming sheet, and consider each one - can I do it now? If not, what would I have to do first in order to do it? Now by working in this way through each sub-stage, noting down actions in the sequence they need to be done, you eventually work out a structure that has the most immediate actions on the left hand side of the sheet, flowing across the page to the final outcome.

If there are things I need to do, but I'm not sure how to do them, I'll still put them in the chart, but circle them and put a question mark there too, to remind me to work out the detail.

For every separate, that is non dependent action, I'll draw a new line in my flow chart, so that for a complicated project, I might have lots of lines coming into the final circle.

On really complicated charts, I might makes sub-charts for complex sub-tasks - but frankly, that's not very often.

But at last I'll have a chart that shows me the order in which I need to get things done.

Now this is the magic part. When I get to this stage, I get out my calendar - actually I'm very old fashioned here - I use a printed planner, but you could use whatever method of time-planning that makes sense to you.

I'll give my final goal a target completion date, or if that's already fixed, maybe a copy deadline or an exhibition date, I'll add this to the end circle.

Now I go backwards through the chart, working out when everything has to be done by, and estimating how long each stage will take. That tells me when each preceding stage has to start. Working backwards, I'll end up with a chart that tells me when every stage has to be started and finished to meet my deadline.

Then all I do is to make notes on my calendar of what has to be started on which day.

The beauty of this system, is that once I've created my chart and transferred the actions to my diary, I know what I have to do, without having to worry about the big picture. I can concentrate on each of the detailed actions. It's a bit like the old saying about 'how do you eat an elephant? By cutting it into small pieces'.

As I'm working on my projects, I'll have a regular check to see that I'm on target, and adjust the timings if necessary.

I've been doing this simple system for years and years and I can assure you that it's still one of the best ways to make progress on what you're doing, because it forces you to translate ideas into actions and give those actions a definite date by which they need to happen. It also allows your brain to let go of the big picture, so you can use your energy to put it into practice, step by step.

It's a funny thing, but when we make dates, we have a much higher chance of actually doing what we planned.

So, if you're struggling to eat your elephant, grab some plain paper, a pen and your diary, and see what happens.

No comments:

Post a Comment