Last week we launched a new option in our web application to help our users plan the most complicated projects in a natural and intuitive way. In this article we are going to delve a little deeper into the natural planning process.
Project Natural Planning is a simple but powerful thinking tool that can help you deal with any situation, from solving any problem to working on a new project; writing an essay, launching a product, or preparing a surprise birthday party for your partner.
In a quick way, and with relatively little effort, you can get a great result. This is because this tool mimics the brain’s natural way of dealing with any endeavor. When we experience the desire or need to do something, we imagine the outcome, generate a few ideas that might be relevant, organize these ideas in a structured way, and define at least one action that will set in motion the necessary process to turn that desire or need into a reality. We do all this quite automatically, almost without realizing it.
Natural planning consists of the same five steps that your brain usually follows when you are about to do anything.
- Define purpose and principles
- Visualize the outcome
- Organize the outcome of the brainstorming
- Identify next actions to be taken
This is a very effective way of thinking that will bring clarity to any situation and help you achieve better results in less time. Let’s see in detail each of the steps that compose it.
1. Purpose and principles
Defining purpose allows you to get a good understanding of what the point of doing something is. The question to answer here is “What am I doing this for?”
It seems unbelievable, but this is something that is not done most of the time in the business world. Yet it’s common sense. Purpose creates clarity and focus. It’s not the same to organize a dinner to have a good time with your friends as to organize a dinner to sign a cooperation contract with another company. A different purpose will lead you to choose a different restaurant, ambiance and menu.
Why? is a question you should not ignore. When you answer it, you define the success of the project, create the criteria by which you will make decisions throughout its execution, anticipate the resources that will be necessary and uncover different options for action.
Also, having a good reason to do things is always very motivating.
For the purpose to fulfill its role, it must be expressed in a clear and specific manner. Do not express illusions or statements that are too vague.
Principles and conditions define the boundaries. “What are the rules?” Depending on the nature of the project, defining performance standards and values can be important, since failure to comply with them can lead to stress, delays, penalties, etc.
If you are going to collaborate with others to execute the project, you don’t want things to get done without adhering to certain values. David Allen recommends that you use the following phrase to define the principles that should govern a project: “I would give others total freedom to do this as long as they…”
The purpose provides the necessary direction and the principles define the parameters of exemplary performance.
2. Visualizing the desired outcome
Vision is the way to describe the desired outcome in detail. It answers the question “What would total success look like?”
If the purpose answers the why, visualizing the success of the outcome answers the what?
By drawing in your mind a clear picture of what it would be like to have successfully achieved the goal, you allow all the resources within you to come to light.
Things are always created twice, the first time in your mind and the second time in the real world. When you focus on something by doing this, you make it easier for your mind to create thoughts and ideas that wouldn’t otherwise be created, and you activate the personal faculties that will enable you to achieve it effectively.
It is not about magic but about perception. There are studies that show that imagining that you succeed helps you believe that it can happen, and believing it increases your self-confidence. In other words, visualization helps you “practice” success. When you imagine that each step of an activity goes well, you prepare your mind to take those steps in real life.
It’s easy to imagine things when they’ve happened previously or you’ve had similar experiences, but it’s more important to do so when you’re in unfamiliar territory. It’s easier to “see” how to do something when you’ve “seen” yourself doing it. That allows you to do a kind of reverse engineering to figure out how to get there.
Visualize success and describe it. Then describe how you got there. What did you have to do? What resources came into play? What obstacles did you face? Who helped you? What were the keys to success?
If you have described the successful vision of the project well, the ideas to achieve it will naturally pop into your head. What thoughts are coming into your head?
It’s time to answer the question How? Often we generate the ideas in our own head, which may be valid for very simple projects, but it is usually insufficient in the rest of the cases. Capturing ideas in an external system, even if it is by writing them down on paper, is very important to drive the project forward and improve its chances of success.
There are many ways of brainstorming, both manual and digital. David Allen likes to use mind maps, although I personally don’t like these diagrams very much, they don’t fit with what my brain understands as “clarity”. Freely jotting down the ideas that come to your head, writing a simple description on each line can be enough.
The interesting thing about this process is that capturing a few original ideas and reflecting on them usually uncovers other ideas that were not so readily apparent.
I am not going to explain how to brainstorm, because the Wikipedia entry on brainstorming is quite complete. There are only two main principles to keep in mind:
- Don’t judge or evaluate the ideas that come into your head, just write them down. Prematurely censoring ideas that may seem useless inhibits your brain from creating others that may be very interesting. To take advantage of the full creative capacity of your mind, you must postpone any judgment.
- Seek quantity, not quality. It’s about expanding your thinking as much as possible so that contexts, patterns and connections that help you find brilliant solutions are established.
Organization refers to identifying the elements, categories and the order of events that will be necessary to achieve the desired result.
You will see that organizing all the ideas that have come up is easier than you thought it would be. The reason is that the brainstorming process itself generates in your mind a natural organization of things. The structure of the project and the relationships between its elements take shape almost automatically.
This step consists of identifying the components that make up the project and the sequences of actions of each of these components. The components of a project are its moving parts, i.e., the sets of actions that can be carried out at the same time, independently of each other. In the business world, these components are often referred to as subprojects.
There are multiple ways to carry out this organization, from using traditional pen and paper to more sophisticated project planning software, note management tools, list management tools, visual task boards, etc. Use whatever is most comfortable for you.
What things need to happen for the desired outcome to be achieved? In what order does it need to happen? Identify the components of the project and determine what actions you need to take to move each of them forward, and in what order.
At what level of detail do you need to plan? Not too much; just enough to get the project off the ground and build momentum.
5. Next actions
In the Getting Things Done methodology, a project is sufficiently planned when at least one next action has been determined for each of its components.
Therefore, the last step of the natural planning model is to identify the next actions that will allow you to move each component of the project forward and bring them into your system. You already know that, according to GTD, you should put a reminder in the Next Actions list if you are the one to do it, in the Calendar if you must do it by a specific date, or in the Waiting For list if it must be done by someone else.
You should also write down the project in your Project list and save all the information you have generated in this planning in the place where you have the Supporting Material for your projects. You will need it to keep making decisions regarding the development of the project.
FacileThings provides you with a guided tool so that you can perform, step by step, the natural planning of any project. In addition, in the brainstorming step you can find inspiration in the suggestions provided by an Artificial Intelligence assistant. Finally, when you finish the process, the project will be automatically created in the system, with all its sub-projects and actions, and with all the planning information in the project notes.