Do you ever feel like your job is similar to running on a treadmill? Though you’re always working, it is sometimes hard to feel like you’ve “gone anywhere”…and, even more frustrating, there never seems to be a finish line. Jobs that are primarily a series of recurring tasks/responsibilities don’t necessitate and thus don’t allow for a natural beginning and ending, and thus, can become a monotonous. If that sounds familiar, I want to share with you a strategy that will allow you to overcome that frustration, and become more productive.

Anytime we take on a new task or project, we should (consciously or unconsciously) go through these stages or phases. Some people may do it more regularly, more deliberately, or more effectively than others, but to some degree, we all should work through these in a matter of minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months.

Plan – This stage is conceptual. You envision what needs to happen to complete the project or achieve the goal. Sometimes, you may be able to do this by yourself. At other times, you may need to collaborate with your team. But, however you go about it, and whoever is going to be involved, it is critical that you not rush through or bypass this step. At minimum, answer the reporter/investigator questions of:

Who – What internal people will be involved?
What external vendors or partners will be involved?
Who are we servicing or supplying with our finished product?

What – What is the product we’re going to produce, service we’re going to provide,
or other goal we’re trying to achieve?

Where – This may or may not apply. If it is something we’re going to “DO”, then
there probably is a WHERE involved. If it is simply the systems and
processes you always do, then the where is obvious…it is at your desk, or in your cubicle, or around the building.

When – Is there a formal start date?
What is your estimated completion date?
Will there be checkpoint/check-in dates during the process?
At some specific point in time, will it go from a pursuit goal (something I’m
working toward) to a maintenance goal (something I’m trying to maintain)?

Why – This is the fuel that will get team members on board, and will also serve as
the motivation behind why a customer/user will take action to adopt it.

How – How will we go about this?
How will we determine our progress and/or success?
How will we inform others about this (information dissemination or
marketing)?

Prepare – Now that you have a strategy in place (the plan), there is almost always some preparation involved. You may have to gather resources, submit requests, provide training, or lay some other groundwork before you can go forward. While it isn’t always possible to get everything in place before you begin the next phase, it is preferable to do as much preparation as possible in order to ensure optimal performance.

Execute – This is the DOING…the actionable steps to completing the plan. This is what most people would describe as “doing my job”, or “working”. Though all of the four stages are necessary, this is the most observable since this is the one in which work is accomplished, units are produced, or services are rendered.

Evaluate – This is easily one of the most conspicuously lacking disciplines that I see in the workplace today. Very few teams take time to evaluate performance…especially together. They finish one task or project, and move immediately to the next. While the process may not entail a meeting or formal documentation, it should include assessing what worked, what didn’t (and why), and a conversation or consideration about what to do differently next time.

By making yourself (and your team) give attention to each of these four stages, you’ll become more effective and efficient, and you’ll produce measurably better results.