Lessons Learned from Tackling New Projects

Getting things done can be difficult. But there are ways to make progress. Apply these lessons to move through new projects this year.

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I have been pursuing a handful of projects as mentioned in my post on new year’s transformations. As I think about what I have accomplished, I have also considered what I have learned that could be useful to those undergoing change or contemplating next steps.

Here are lessons learned from tackling new projects:

Planning is boring but can make you look genius 

Getting ready to get started seems way less cool than getting started for real. But planning – that time-consuming and tedious effort (that looks like you are doing nothing now) – can pay off later.

Even something as simple as preparing for a meeting by putting together an agenda sounds boring, and seems inconsequential to a larger project. But taking the proper steps before an official launch may propel you forward faster than you can imagine.

For example, putting together an agenda for my first meeting with the small groups ministry took weeks of planning. This process involved researching small group models and topics, defining the issues we needed to address before launching the ministry, and organizing this information in a way could be easily discussed. At our first meeting, we were able to define key elements of a small group and lay the foundation for the ministry in just over an hour.

Reality checks are really helpful

Imagining a new future is essential but getting a reality check is just as necessary. You don’t need to downsize a dream or decide you can’t achieve a certain outcome before you even get started.

But reality checks are helpful in accomplishing the following: 1) figure out how things work, 2) create plans based on how things work, and 3) make adjustments based on input from people you trust and what is actually working for you.

For example, you may find that planning a fitness regimen to compete in a triathlon is easy. But actually finishing the runs, rides, etc. on a day-to-day basis is challenging. Periodically, test your plans to see how well they work for you. Ask knowledgeable friends for advice, like whether you are trying to accomplish too much too soon as well as how to spend the fewest hours to get the most benefit.

You may not be able to progress as quickly or as easily as you first imagined. But getting feedback can inform adjustments if needed or solicit reassurance that your experiences are normal.

Insights often come from those who have the fewest preconceptions 

In general, I draw on my past experiences in order to navigate new ones. These experiences, and the knowledge, wisdom, and courage gained are valuable. Unfortunately, though, I can’t always create a stunning future by rearranging pieces of the past.

If assembling a team for a new project or program, those with experience are definitely needed to design something new.

But those who are less experienced are just as valuable. They aren’t bogged down with memories of past successes or failures, and tend not to have preconceptions about how things should work. As a result, these newbies can often provide fresh insights on key aspects of a project. Together, you could devise a plan that will make sense to experienced folks who are administering a program as well as those who you’re hoping to involve and influence for the first time.

Starting something new (whether a project or habit) requires time

Doing anything new generally requires some upfront effort plus ongoing maintenance. In the past, I struggled with having to take time to do both — learn a new discipline and practice on a regular basis. Very often, I would get busy with activities that were already embedded in my day-to-day life and just didn’t have the hours to devote to anything new.

What I have learned is that I must carve time from my schedule to think through my approach for a new project. Generally, the initial stages are the hardest in terms of making time available to really focus (which means I need to make extra time to relax so that I will have the energy to absorb new information). The hours to maintain a course of action are typically not as intense.

For example, as part of my financial planning, figuring out that we could fund a Roth 401(k) through my husband’s employer, enrolling in this account, determining the percentage to contribute, and choosing investments among domestic and international index funds took a few hours of dedicated effort. These hours were on top of time spent analyzing our tax situation, evaluating our current holdings, and integrating these investments into our portfolio. But after getting things set up, the time to monitor the account is minimal.

Moving forward is scary but not taking action is scarier

There are a few times when I have considered my plans and wondered, “what if this fill-in-the-blank project doesn’t work?” Or worse, what if bad things happen as a result of my efforts?

I won’t say that I have overcome my fears. But I have found that as much as moving forward is scary, not taking action is scarier. I’d rather have “oops” moments than ones of regret.

So far, I am pleased with my progress on my new year’s goals, particularly those I have given the most attention. To take pressure off myself, I have been focusing on processes rather results at least for the time being. I decided to lay a strong foundation and adopt new habits at first; then, I will work on achieving specific results.

Are you working on anything new this year? Are you making progress? What have you learned so far?

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