I talk a lot about the tyranny of the urgent: our tendency to let today?s pseudo-emergencies keep us from looking ahead and thinking strategically about what we can and should accomplish in the days to come. I think we all try to avoid the tyranny of the urgent, but maybe the truth is that sometimes we don?t mind getting bogged down in putting out fires. After all, staying busy in the moment means we don?t have to worry about the future yet. If we?re consumed by today?s to-do?s, we can pretend tomorrow?s don?t exist.
And why is the future intimidating? Because Christmas is coming. So is Lent. And that new signage. Then Easter. And the website redesign. Then the fall kickoff. Then Christmas again. Maybe we?d rather not think about those things until we have to. (And believe me, I?m talking to myself here.) Of course, this way of thinking represents an ever-growing collection of missed opportunities. When we look downrange, work ahead, and give our teams time to dream and execute, amazing things happen.
When we plan ahead, we make time for a process. And the reality of creativity and great work is that they don?t just fall out of the sky; they?re dependent upon process. So, if you?ve got a project looming on the horizon, whatever it may be, here?s how to start attacking it now.[quote]The reality of creativity and great work is that they don?t just fall out of the sky; they?re dependent upon process.[/quote]
Circle the date.
Some projects come with a due date (Christmas Eve, for example), but others (such as a new website) rely on you to circle a date on the calendar. Either way, naming that date is crucial. Without a date, a project can always be pushed back while the tyranny of the urgent goes unchecked. Plus, until you look at the date, you don?t know exactly how much time you have to work with. Is it six weeks? Is it six months? You need to know. The rest of the process depends on it.[quote]Without a date, a project can always be pushed back while the tyranny of the urgent goes unchecked.[/quote]
Paint the picture.
Now that you know how much time you have to deliver, it?s time to dream about what to deliver. Get some time away with your moleskin, or get your team in a room and sketch out what you want to accomplish. This is where you envision that Easter Sunday video or that 40-day Lenten prayer guide and paint a picture worth pursuing in the months ahead.
Name the milestones.
Once you have a picture, the only way to make it a reality is to identify the steps it?ll take to get there. And because we have the benefit of time to make space for this process, there?s no need to rush through this step. Think through these milestones?the major checkboxes you?ll have to hit along the way?and walk through them a few times to make sure they fit.
Establish a timeline.
You?ve got your date, your picture, and your milestones. Now it?s time to work backwards. If you?re going to arrive at your picture by your due date, where on the calendar do the milestones need to fall? Answer that question and you?ve got your timeline. And remember, this isn?t a rush job. So place those milestones at flexible, sustainable intervals that will allow your process to breathe.
Divvy up the work.
Having identified what and when, we have to identify who. Divide up the work by giving the team members their tasks, responsibilities, and milestones. By this point, everyone should have bought into the date, the picture, the milestones, and timeline. But talk it through again once assignments are handed out. Tweak now or forever hold your peace.[quote]Tweak now or forever hold your peace.[/quote]
Sketch, experiment, refine.
This is where your lead-time makes all the difference. Rather than just start hacking away at the first idea that comes, a spacious process invites us to sketch out multiple ideas, experiment with those ideas, and then refine them. Maybe this means you script out a couple of different versions of a baptism video and then act them out live to see which plays best. Maybe you could test your Christmas Instagram promotion by trying something on a smaller scale during the 4th of July. Then, take what you learn from your trial performances or your test balloon social media campaign in order to make your original ideas better. I?ll say it again: This is where your lead-time makes all the difference. You might feel like this kind of experimentation is a luxury, but the final project will be better for it.[quote]A?spacious process invites us to sketch out multiple ideas, experiment with those ideas, and then refine them.[/quote]
Whether you feel like you?ve got too much work to do and too little time to do it in or vice versa, it?s vital that we adopt a ?chip away?mindset. In other words, we have to devote regular time to our project, even if it seems too big or too far away. If we put it off, we?re just inviting the tyranny of the urgent to rule the day later. Instead, we have to keep chopping wood.?Revisit the milestones and stick to the timeline.[quote]We have to devote regular time to our project, even if it seems too big or too far away.[/quote]
What?s left? Focus. Finish. Win. Check off the milestones, deliver that project by the due date, and make that picture a reality. As you know, that?s the best feeling in the world. Why? Because we were created to create and cultivate, and that?s exactly what this process helps us do. Plan far ahead and work the plan until you cross the finish line.
Then catch your breath and do it all over again.