Checklists #4: Breaking Down a Big, Big Thing

Dec 5, 2014

Welcome to the fourth installation of our Checklist Series. So far, we’ve written about standard operating proceduresfield trips, and managing student data and stuff.

For our next post, we welcome back fave guest-blogger Shelby, who’s awesomely sharing her approach to breaking down something huge, like ummm . . . a dissertation proposal. While having a full time job . . . .

If you wanted to be technical, you could call her checklist a Project Plan, but for some reason, that makes it feel more psychologically daunting. Checklist sounds friendlier, more do-able, more like something you would want to hang out with on a Saturday . . . .

So let’s have a look at Shelby’s Dissertation Checklist below.*

Double-click the image to see the whole impressive two-pager!!

What We Love About Shelby’s Checklist

1. There IS a plan. Many of us would let something big like this (or substitute with looming project in your own life, like “Clean out storage unit,” “Organize classroom,” or “Pack for move”) linger around causing massive amounts of psychic stress. Not Shelby! She made a plan of attack, and her mind is thus freed up to concentrate on the work that matters most.

2. Bite-sized, bite-sized, bite-sized. Shelby uses specific verbs in her Goal section. Instead of “Proposal Document,” she writes “Draft Proposal Document” and lists the sections she needs to write. No aimless nouns hanging out here!

3. Materials Needed. Okay, I’m loving this. Shelby thoughtfully considers which materials she needs with her to get the job done. No going to a coffee shop, opening up her bag and realizing something isn’t there! Nor will she fall prey to the peril I commonly experienced as a 5th grade all subjects teacher: dragging around TOO MUCH stuff that I knew I wasn’t really going to look at.

4. Location Identified. Wow! This makes a ton of sense to me. Shelby has looked at her calendar and her timeline and figured out what she should do at Panera Bread, in her apartment and even on a plane trip!

5. Self-Motivators Inserted. We appreciate Shelby’s sense of humor and motivation. Note the PA license plate with the PHD:ZZLE at the top of her plan. I can imagine this is a helpful motivation on those hard days when she would rather be on the couch playing with her two cute dogs!

I then asked Shelby how she actually reviewed her plan, and I loved her answer,

After I calendared all of these times into Outlook, I did review it almost every week in my meeting with my manager. Also my family used it to know when I was available for the weekend and when it was sacred writing time. Also I sent it to my dissertation committee back in January because it pushed me when I really didn’t want to write because it would be really embarrassing if I didn’t meet my benchmarks.

Shelby was also really smart about managing her energy during this intense period,

There’s no way I could do hardcore writing on a Friday night, but certain things like writing questions or drafting methodology is less creative and more procedural. Procedural writing is really easy for me, so I scheduled that for Friday night times. All of my hardcore creative time was planned on Saturdays and Sundays. I tried to give myself as many weekends as I could with just 1 day working. It didn’t always happen but I felt a decent amount of balance.

What big thing are you going to tackle? Me, I’m going to revise my Together Leader book project plan to include Materials and Location and Energy. Thanks, Shelby!

*For those of you writing a dissertation, please note that this schedule was created after Shelby had a clear vision for her project and her proposal with over a year of pre-planning. The more flexible creative thinking time was scheduled out before she created this structured work schedule.