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How I Get Things Done with Only Half of the Time Others Need

How I Get Things Done with Only Half of the Time Others Need

Professionals and entrepreneurs today lead extremely busy lives. Despite the abundance of gadgets, tools, and other technology that can improve productivity, people today are working longer hours[1] than ever – resulting to excessive stress and reduced performance over time.

Whether you’re doing work for a client or pursuing your own projects, you need to be smarter with how you handle tasks to thrive in this competitive world. For this, you need to adopt strategies that can help you stay productive[2] and be efficient with your available resources. Most importantly, always remember that your mind is your greatest weapon – so keep it collected, focused, and organized.

What Is Critical Path Analysis and How It Can Keep You Sharp And Focused

Simply put, Critical Path Analysis (CPA) is a technique that can help you ensure the timely accomplishment of important tasks. In this process, a big goal is broken down into a set of smaller objectives. Afterwards, you must determine the time it takes to accomplish each task and the relationship between them.

In the much simpler method of using a network diagram, you specifically need the earliest start time, latest finish time, and the appropriate sequence in which the tasks must be done.

By gathering these pieces of information, CPA allows you to calculate the maximum amount of time it takes to complete the entire project. This, along with all the tasks required to accomplish the overall goal, constitute what’s known as the critical path. In case a shorter plan is available, it will also enable you to identify tasks that can be delayed or “slacked” on while still staying on schedule.

How You Can Benefit from Using CPA to Tackle Your Daily Complex Tasks

Project managers use CPA all the time when managing and tracking complex tasks, but it can also be applied by everyone in almost any field. All you need to do is to understand its model, know how it works, and learn how to map your CPA diagram. In doing so, you can take advantage of the following benefits:

• As a product manager or a leader, utilizing CPA allows you to stay focused over the course of a project. It helps you stay aware of exactly what everyone needs to do to stay on the right track.

• With the right approach, CPA is an effective risk and cost management[3] tool.

• The timeline determined through CPA can be the basis of future decision-making.

• CPA helps you spot opportunities to make tasks shorter while still accomplishing the same end results. Adjustments can be made by pumping more budget, building a bigger team, or implementing automation[4] and other time-saving strategies.

• Identifying work that can be done simultaneously to eliminate delays in the critical path.

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• A fully-plotted CPA diagram will give you a complete bird’s eye view of a sophisticated project.

Even Though CPA Is a Powerful Tool, You Should Be Aware of These

While CPA can be highly beneficial to any endeavor, it isn’t without a few flaws:

• Plotting projects without sufficient data will force you to depend on assumptions.

• Large-scale projects require you to examine many dependencies, paths, and tasks – making CPA a time-consuming process.

• Even with CPA, you need to be flexible and develop contingency plans.

The Step-by-Step Instruction to Apply the Critical Path Analysis

Below are the important steps for leveraging CPA in your next big project:

1. Enumerating Critical Tasks

Before everything else, you need to identify all the things you need to do to accomplish your goal. For example, if you plan to start a new online store, below are some of the objectives you may need to hit:

A. Pick and research a niche – 1 day

B. Do keyword research – 2 days

C. Conduct surveys for product research – 10 days

D. Conduct online product research – 3 days

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E. Build the site (install WordPress, set up web security, etc.) – 4 days

F. Create content – 10 days

G. Develop and optimize product pages – 20 days

2. Determining Dependencies

Next, you need to map out the sequence of all activities by determining their dependencies. Start with the tasks that must be done first before all the other tasks that lead to the finish line.

For example, you need to do A (pick a niche) first before you do B, C, or D. You must also do E (build the site) first before you begin task F and G. For now, enumerate the dependencies required for each task as they are needed for the next step.

3. Creating a CPA Diagram

The conventions in creating a CPA diagram requires three components – a node, activities, and durations.

A node is usually represented by a circle. It includes the earliest start time (EST), latest finish time (LFT), and an activity number:

    In a CPA network, tasks are indicated by arrows, which connect nodes to determine dependency. Take note that the arrows—not the nodes—represent the tasks you’ve identified earlier. Don’t confuse the activity number with the specific task.

    Here is an illustration to help you understand this:

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      Looking at the example above, task A (pick a niche) is in-between nodes 1 and 2, while task B is in-between nodes 2 and 3. To make sense of the sequence, indicate the task description below the arrow.

      Finally, the duration can be included on the opposite side of the task description. The positions of the description and duration can be interchanged freely.

      4. Calculating the EST

      To determine the EST, you must first lay out the activities from start to finish:

        Remember that the EST denotes the earliest start time for the next task. To calculate this, you must add the total duration of all the previous tasks.

        For example, since task A (pick a niche) has no activity before it, the first node’s EST equals 0. Succeeding task B (do keyword research) will have to wait for task A’s maximum duration. Thus, the next EST equals 1.

        Since task B has a maximum duration of 2 days, then the third EST equals 3 – which is the total duration of tasks A and B (1 day + 2 days). This is because tasks C or D will have to wait for both of A and B’s durations.

          Filling in the EST for the rest of the tasks should look like:

            Take note that, in case there are two preceding tasks in an activity, the one with the longer duration will be used in the critical path. For example, since task C (conduct surveys) has a longer duration than task D (conduct online product research), its duration of 10 days will be used for calculating the next EST. In other words, it will be added to the total duration pool along with the next task’s duration – 3 days + 10 days + 4 days = 17 days.

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            After this, you should be able to plot the critical path, which should have the longest possible duration:

              5. Calculating the LFT

              Once you have identified the EST for all nodes, you can proceed to calculate the LFT. This time, you need to start from the left and subtract the previous task’s duration from the total.

              Always remember that the last node should always have an LFT that equals the total duration of the project, while the first node should always have an LFT of zero. To calculate the next LFT, simply subtract the duration of the previous task from the right node’s EST. Since task G (develop product pages) have a duration of 20 days, and the EST of the last node is 47, then the LFT of the next node to the left will be 20 (47 days – 20 days). If you continue doing this along all paths, you’ll notice that the EST and LFT will be different in points where two or more possible tasks are introduced:

                Remember that when calculating the next LFT, the smallest possible difference will always be used. In the diagram above, the difference between two tasks are 3 (13 EST – 10 days) and 5 (8 EST – 3 days). Since 3 < 5, then the value of the next LFT would be 3.

                In short, it means you need to use the values from the critical path, which will enable the first node to have an LFT of zero.

                6. Calculating the Float

                The float denotes the amount of time a task can be delayed without affecting the timeframe of the entire project. This can be calculated with the simple formula: LFT – duration of previous task – EST of previous node.

                In the example above, the LFT of task D (conduct product research) is 13, its duration is 3 days, and the previous node has an EST of 3. Applying the formula would yield:

                13 (LFT) – 3 days (Duration) – 3 (EST) = 7 days.

                This means you or your team can delay task D for up to a week without affecting the overall duration of the project. Take note that if you apply the same formula to a task within the critical path, you will always get zero because those tasks cannot be delayed.

                Spend A Little Time In Advance, Save Much More In The End

                Ready to take control of your goals? Creating a CPA diagram can be tiresome, but once you have a full view of your project’s timeline, you will feel a wave of motivation and enthusiasm. For your next step, try to use CPA diagram tools like Lucidchart[5] or learn more project management tactics from this post[6] . If the lessons above helped you gain some results, feel free to share your experience in the comments!

                Reference

                More by this author

                Vikas Agrawal

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                Last Updated on December 10, 2019

                How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

                How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

                It is hardly a secret that the key to successfully accomplishing one goal after another is staying motivated. There are, of course, tasks which successful people may not like at all, yet they find motivation to complete them because they recognize how each particular task serves a greater goal.

                So how to stay motivated most of the time? Here are 5 simple yet effective ways on how to stay motivated and get what you want:

                1. Find Your Good Reasons

                Anything you do, no matter how simple, has a number of good reasons behind it.

                You may not be able to find good reasons to do some tasks at first but, if you take just a few moments to analyze them, you will easily spot something good. We also have many tasks which don’t need any reasoning at all – we’ve been doing them for so long that they feel natural.

                If you’re ever stuck with some tasks you hate and there seems to be no motivation to complete it whatsoever, here’s what you need to do: find your good reasons.

                Even when you set goals, there needs to be reasons behind these goals. They may not be obvious, but stay at it until you see some, as this will bring your motivation back and will help you finish the task.

                Some ideas for what a good reason can be:

                • A material reward – quite often, you will get paid for doing something you normally don’t like doing at all.
                • Personal gain – you will learn something new or will perhaps improve yourself in a certain way.
                • A feeling of accomplishment – at least you’ll be able to walk away feeling great about finding the motivation and courage to complete such a tedious task.
                • A step closer to your bigger goal – even the biggest accomplishments in history have started small and relied on simple and far less pleasant tasks than you might be working on. Every task you complete brings you closer to the ultimate goal, and acknowledging this always feels good.

                2. Make It Fun

                When it comes to motivation, attitude is everything. Different people may have completely opposite feelings towards the same task: some will hate it, others will love it.

                Why do you think this happens? It’s simple: some of us find ways to make any task interesting and fun to do!

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                Take sports for example. Visiting your local gym daily for a half-an-hour workout session sounds rather boring to some. Yet many others love the idea!

                They like exercising not only because they recognize the good reasons behind it, but simply because it’s fun! At certain time of their daily schedule, they find going to gym to be the best thing to do, simply because nothing else will fit their time and lifestyle so perfectly.

                Depending on how you look at it, you can have fun doing just about anything! Just look for ways of having fun, and you’ll find them!

                A simple approach is to start working on any task by asking yourself a few questions:

                • How can I enjoy this task?
                • What can I do to make this task fun for myself and possibly for others?
                • How can I make this work the best part of my day?

                As long as you learn to have the definite expectation of any task being potentially enjoyable, you will start to feel motivated.

                Some of you will probably think of a thing or two which are valid exceptions from this statement, like something you always hate doing no matter how hard you try making it fun. You’re probably right, and that’s why I don’t claim everything to be fun.

                However, most tasks have a great potential of being enjoyable, and so looking for ways to have fun while working is definitely a good habit to acquire.

                3. Change Your Approach And Don’t Give Up

                When something doesn’t feel right, it’s always a good time to take a moment and look for a different approach for the task.

                You may be doing everything correctly and most efficiently, but such approach isn’t necessarily the most motivating one. Quite often, you can find a number of obvious tweaks to your current approach which will both change your experience and open up new possibilities.

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                That’s why saying “one way or another” is so common — if you really want to accomplish your goal, there is always a way; and most likely, there’s more than one way.

                If a certain approach doesn’t work for you, find another one, and keep trying until you find the one which will both keep you motivated and get you the desired results.

                Some people think that trying a different approach means giving up. They take pride in being really stubborn and refusing to try any other options on their way towards the goal.

                My opinion on this is that the power of focus is great, but you should be focusing on your goal, and not limiting your options by focusing on just one way to accomplish it it.

                4. Recognize Your Progress

                Everything you may be working on can be easily split into smaller parts and stages. For most goals, it is quite natural to split the process of accomplishing them into smaller tasks and milestones. There are a few reasons behind doing this, and one of them is tracking your progress.

                We track our progress automatically with most activities. But to stay motivated, you need to recognize your progress, not merely track it.

                Here’s how tracking and recognizing your progress is different:

                Tracking is merely taking a note of having reached a certain stage in your process. Recognizing is taking time to look at a bigger picture and realize where exactly you are, and how much more you have left to do.

                For example, if you’re going to read a book, always start by going through the contents table. Getting familiar with chapter titles and memorizing their total number will make it easier for you to recognize your progress as you read. Confirming how many pages your book has before starting it is also a good idea.

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                You see, reading any book you will be automatically looking at page numbers and chapter titles, but without knowing the total number of pages, this information will have little meaning.

                Somehow, it is human nature to always want things to happen in short term or even at once. Even though we split complex tasks into simpler actions, we don’t quite feel the satisfaction until all is done and the task is fully complete.

                For many scenarios though, the task is so vast that such approach will drain all the motivation out of you long before you have a chance to reach your goal. That’s why it is important to always take small steps and recognize the positive different and progress made. This is how your motivation can sustain in long term.

                5. Reward Yourself

                This is a trick everyone likes: rewarding yourself is always pleasant. This is also one of the easiest and at the same time most powerful ways to stay motivated!

                Feeling down about doing something? Dread the idea of working on some task? Hate the whole idea of working? You’re not alone.

                Right from the beginning, agree on some deliverables which will justify yourself getting rewarded. As soon as you get one of the agreed results, take time to reward yourself in some way.

                For some tasks, just taking a break and relaxing for a few minutes will do.

                For others, you may want to get a fresh cup of coffee and even treat yourself a dessert.

                For even bigger and more demanding tasks, reward yourself by doing something even more enjoyable, like going to a cinema or taking a trip to some place nice, or even buying yourself something.

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                Your progress may not seem to others like anything worth celebrating but, take time and do it anyway! It is your task and your reward, so any ways to stay motivated are good.

                The more you reward yourself for the honestly made progress, the more motivated you will feel about reaching new milestones, thus finally accomplishing your goal.

                Mix and Match

                Now that you have these five ways of staying motivated, it is a good moment to give you the key to them all: mix and match!

                Pick one of the techniques and apply it to your situation. If it doesn’t work, or if you simply want to get more motivated, try another technique right way. Mix different approaches and match them to your task for the best results.

                Just think about it: Finding good reasons to work on your task is bound to helping you feel better; and identifying ways to make it fun will help you enjoy the task even more.

                Or, if you plan a few points for easier tracking of your progress and on top of that, agree on rewarding yourself as you go; this will make you feel most motivated about anything you have to work through.

                More to Boost Your Motivation

                Featured photo credit: Lucas Lenzi via unsplash.com

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