How To Plan A Project & Break It Down Into Small Actionable Steps

Knowing how to plan a project and break down project goals into small actionable steps can feel a bit overwhelming and you may not even know where to start. On top of that! You have to create a project timeline if you want to have a chance at completing the project.

That can seem pretty dadgum scary and make you want to simply throw up your hands and say forget it.

Take a deep breath because I am going to walk you through a project planning process that you can’t fail. 

Whether it’s a huge project at your job with different project key stakeholders, project managers, and project objectives as long as your arm. Or something just a teensy bit less scary like a treehouse I’m going to help you know how to plan your projects so you have fun at the same time. Sound cool? 

You are going to be able to take on any project and set a plan to get it done with no fear or hesitation. Because you know the steps to getting it done.

Why Is Project Planning Important?

Having a project plan and timeline not only shows you the steps you need to get done and when. 

But it also shows you when you can rest. <– This is huge.

When you are a hard worker this can be tough but it’s important to know when you are on track so you can take time off or slow down. 

What Is a Project Plan?

A project plan is a clear path to getting a bigger project or goal completed. Simple as that.

First Up: Whos Got Skin In The Game

If you are putting together a project for work weeeeell (poor you) you’ve got some stuffed suites… I mean project stakeholders you have to talk to. If you are building a treehouse then maybe you’ve got a few kids with some ideas. 

Working on a honey-do project? Yep, you bet they’ve got some ideas.

Talk to who (yes, yes I know WHOM should be there but I’m a rebel… Nobody talks like that) ever you need to talk to and collect ideas and insights before getting started. 

Pro Tip: If you have the ability to put your foot down just a bit. Make it clear that you will do your best to make their ideas happen but sometimes they won’t all work out. This is great when trying to deal with difficult personalities.

Talking with people first helps to keep people out of your ear while you are working but you still get their input so you’re not halfway through and have to start over.

laptop, planner, and coffee sitting on a table

Is There A Project Budget

As much as I would like to do a home project or any project for that matter with an unlimited project budget the chances of that happening. Are, well…. not likely.

Every quality plan should have a set amount put in place. If you skip over this part of the project planning process your project will fail.

It’s easy to get knee-deep and you may even end up not having enough to finish the project. 

Even the bible says we should consider the coast before we start a project so we don’t end up with not enough funding to finish a project.

 Use A Project Management Tool

Now if you do not own a business or are not in the online space you may not know about any of these tools. But they are great for breaking down projects and tracking individual tasks that need to be completed. 

They are also great for rearranging tasks and due dates easily. While I will be the first to admit that I am a paper person over digital, these tools will help you in the long run and help you have a successful project.

Regardless they are really awesome to plan out a project, adjust timelines, break down project tasks, and even assign a specific project task to someone.

A simple tool that also has a great app is Trello.

Another that is my personal favorite for more detailed planning is Asana. It also has a few different project view options so if you like lists, bords, or calendar views they have it all.

A notebook is ok but it is easy to get off track and lose the information you need. If you want to make changes you have to completely redo the project plan. What I will do is start planning a project with pen and paper to break down key milestones then transfer that info into a digital tool to keep track of everything.

Pro Tip: Most project management tools have a simple project plan template library that you can use to get you started if you are drawing a blank.

Write Out Every Detail

I don’t care how small it is. If you need to look up a how-to video to get some tech help I want you to list that out. If you need to choose a paint color, look up inspirational ideas, or choose the type of paper your invitations need to be printed on… WRITE IT DOWN. 

This will help you get a clear picture of the project scope and be able to accurately estimate the entire project timeline.

Here is what a list should look like if you are planning on painting a room.

  • Look up color inspo on Pinterest or your favorite home decor blog.
  • Go to the store to get color swatches and bring them home to see if you like them in your home.
  • Check to see what painting supplies you have such as drop cloths, brushes, painter’s tape, ext.
  • Make a list of the supplies you need.
  • Buy the supplies you need.
  • Choose the best day to start the project.
  • Clear out the room or cover everything to protect it from paint.
  • Tape up the room.
  • Prime the room walls (if needed)
  • Trim with the new color.
  • Roller on the new color.
  • Check if a second coat of paint is needed.
  • Let paint dry.
  • Take down the painter’s tape.
  • Put the room back together.
woman sitting on a bed learning how to plan a project

Ok, so that list is pretty long for what seems like a basic task. But if you have this list made out it gives you are clear visual about what needs to be done and a realistic view of how long it could take.

You are also able to jump in and do a small part of the task if you see that you have a spare few moments in your day.

This is where a project management software can come in handy. Most of them have apps that you and your spouse could have on their phone. Then as you get something done and check it off they will also see the update. 

What if they saw that you got the room ready and they could go get the paint while they are out.

How To Plan A Project Schedule

There are two ways you can set dates for a project. 

You could choose the deadline and work your way backward scheduling out the small tasks on your calendar hoping you gave yourself enough time. 

OR you could look at how long each of the little tasks will take you. Then give yourself ample time to get them done. Say two tasks a week. Then that will leave you with your due date.

But before you pick some random date out of the sky. Look at your schedule. What commitments do you have that you can’t skip? What hours to do work? What appointments do you have?

Before you add a big project to your schedule. 

Block off everything that will take your time away from completing your project. Once you have written every single detail down you can now go back through and add due dates to each task for your project.

If you do have a choice (which is best) then give yourself ample time to get the project done. Some of those small pieces of the project take less time than others. Make sure to account for the time each task will talk.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice for when something needs to be done. In that case, you need to look at the time between the due date and the current date. Then schedule out each little task of the project accordingly. 

laptop on a table and a firn

Make Sure The Time Is Right

Before you jump into your project, you need to do a few things first. Especially as people with a busy country lifestyle, there isn’t a lot of fringe time.

Once you set the project plan outline think about the time year or season and what makes the most sense.

Painting my house and remodeling the living room (which is in the works) in November when we are getting into the holiday season would be DUMB!!!! Even if no one is coming over I don’t need that kind of chaos in my life during the busiest time of the year.

If you are wanting to start a website for your farm save that project for the winter when you are cooped up inside.

Decide on the right timing to work on the project. Building a swing set in October in the northern states is not the best idea because one, the weather is unpredictable, the cold is no fun to be building in, and when you get it done no one will want to be outside to use it. Waiting until spring would make more sense.

Be strategic with your time.

good thinks take time quote with ribon

Think About The Order

Let’s use building a swing set as an example.

You shouldn’t go to the store and buy wood, screws, and some brackets. Then come home and draw up some planes and start building in the driveway.

You will be going back to the store because you don’t have enough 4X4s and you bought screws that are way too long and stick out the other end of the wood. Then once you finally get it built you just built the whole thing in your driveway but you can’t fit the swing set through the gate to get it in the backyard!! Ops!

See where I am going with that? Put the tasks in order of when they should be done before you set the dates for completion.

laptop sitting on a bed with a knit blanket, a cup of coffee, glasses

How To Plan A Project And Be Happy With The Progress

Be happy with what you got done. Don’t feel like you have to keep working on your project for 8 hours a day unless you want to. Having a plan should make you feel good about where you are in the process of your project so you can actually enjoy your time off.

Use your plan to show yourself that you’re project on track and it is ok to take time off from your project.

It is hard to rest when you are a natural go-getter. It takes practice to be able to relax while you are in the middle of a project if it is something you really want to do.

But you can do it. Use this guide to help you put together a solid project plan and work to build the life you want but plan well so you get to enjoy it.

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