As soon as my OB-GYN and I had the test results in place to confirm my pregnancy, we started talking milestones.
Blood tests and check ups were scheduled on a monthly basis, and detailed ultrasound screens took place every other month as well. My life was suddenly time-boxed, and we were following a timeline to the dot.
But home preparations were no different. My thinking processes were doing heavy duty overtime work: When do we need to get the nursery ready? When should we go baby gear shopping? Is it too early to book the clinic? When should I inform my employer? Where do I begin with bloody paperwork, and at which order?
So many stuff, so little time! I was almost intimidated! Yet, I couldn’t just start at random. Or maybe I could, but I’m not the type of person who feels comfortable surrounded by chaos. So I tried to do what I do best: bring back home an analogy from the office. What if these were job-related tasks? What would I need to do to see them through if I were at work? I would resort to some decent amount of… Planning!
What is Planning, you may ask? Every single time you get down to contemplating what needs to be done in order for something to happen, whether you are aware of it or not, you are exercising an executive function of the brain called Planning. It’s a fundamental property of intelligent behavior! But, however smart you may be, for any new Mom out there overwhelmed by responsibilities and milestones, mere contemplating simply won’t do. Or at least it’s not the most efficient way to handle the incoming mess. Efficiency needs structure.
This is where our dear Project Management practitioners come in to save the day, with their enhanced and project-centered approach to Planning. To them, Planning is more defined, and therefore more goal-oriented. It would mean to create and maintain an actual plan of work, a sequence of specific activities that are realistic enough to make the overall goal attainable. And they use nifty tools to make their Planning lives easier. Let’s work this through with an example.
Say you need to set up a nursery for the new baby. There is no readily available room at your place at the moment, so you and the hubby decide to convert one of the study rooms into a nursery. As we saw in a previous post, all work needed to get your nursery ready forms a small Project. So let’s put on the Project Management hat, and attempt to do some cool (and simplified) Planning:
1. What do we need to achieve? (Project Managers would call this the Scope of the Project)
To have the study room converted into a nursery, two weeks before the new baby is due.
2. What are the Activities we need to complete in order to cover all aspects of the Scope? (It helps to use verbs when describing Activities. Think of them as all the things you need to do.)
2.1 We need to buy some new stuff for the nursery, like:
- Furniture: A dresser, a changing table, and a rocking chair
- Diapering must-haves: diaper pail, diaper bag, diaper cream and baby wipes
- Health Products: a baby thermometer, and a first-aid kit
2.2 We need to place the new nursery stuff in the room.
2.3 We need to relocate some of the existing items from this room, to make room for the nursery stuff, like:
- The study gear (a desk with a chair, a PC and a Printer)
- The bookcase (filled with approximately 50 Books)
- The small couch (optional, in case additional space is needed)
2.4 We need to clean the room before the baby is in:
- Have any dust removed from the furniture
- Have the floor mopped
See what I did there with the underlined words? As soon as you get down to listing the necessary Activities to complete the work, it becomes easier to group them. Here we have four categories marked by the verbs used in the sentences!
This way we move past the initial fretting over the potential complexity of the “convert the study room into a nursery” Project, and are now equipped with a clear list of the specifics that need to happen: buy some nursery stuff, place them in the room, relocate some of the non-nursery stuff and clean a bit.
What helps even more to clarify the work needed (especially if you go around carrying a visual-loving type of brain like my own) is to use post-it notes and write down every single one of the activities in a different sticky. For example, “Buy a dresser” is one post-it note. “Mop the floor” is another one, and so on. Why this is handy you may wonder? Because laying out all the tasks like that offers a single view of the entire venture. Furthermore, this way you can easily mark on the sticky notes who gets to do what (for instance, you may wanna do the shopping parts together with the hubby, but perhaps you feel like doing the cleaning by yourself) or how much time each of the tasks is expected to take.
In Project Management, grouping activities and arranging them in “blocks of tasks to be done” is called a Work Breakdown Structure (in short, WBS). Mind you that I’m only offering some key terminology here just for reference. Don’t worry too much about remembering it. The key take away point here is that using verbs when figuring out activities helps you group similar tasks, and using visual aids like post-it notes helps realize the potential complexity of the whole venture.
If you pin tasks down like that, it can even help you deal with that first awkward (and potentially nerve-wrecking) complexity of bringing about all hose new experiences in your life! It can even make you eager for the next crucial step in Planning: the Dependencies! But that’s a step I am saving for our next article!
So, dear Momma, every time you use post-it notes to group tasks to be done for a venture of yours, you are actually using some sort of a Work Breakdown Structure tool similar to the one seasoned Project Managers do. If you aren’t using any tools and feel the need to introduce some structure in organizing the things to be done, this article describes a simple and efficient way to tackle the complexity.
Lastly, my dear Recruiter or Hiring Manager, if you have a mom in your candidate list with no apparent Project Management experience, and are looking for ways to explore her Planning skills, here’s an idea: why don’t you ask her how she dealt with the handful of new Projects related to her pregnancy or new life with the baby? How she handled the mess. What tools or practices she invented or used to make her new life come easier. Explore additional settings where skills are practiced yet often overlooked, and the answers may actually surprise you!
Got Plans? Start Planning! You got this!