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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 October 16, 2019

                Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

                Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

                Do you like making mistakes?

                I certainly don’t.

                Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

                Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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                Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

                Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

                • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
                • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
                • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
                • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

                We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

                If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

                Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

                Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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                When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

                Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

                We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

                It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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                Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

                Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

                Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

                1. Point us to something we did not know.
                2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
                3. Deepen our knowledge.
                4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
                5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
                6. Inform us more about our values.
                7. Teach us more about others.
                8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
                9. Show us when someone else has changed.
                10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
                11. Remind us of our humanity.
                12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
                13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
                14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
                15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
                16. Invite us to better choices.
                17. Can teach us how to experiment.
                18. Can reveal a new insight.
                19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
                20. Can serve as a warning.
                21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
                22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
                23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
                24. Remind us how we are like others.
                25. Make us more humble.
                26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
                27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
                28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
                29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
                30. Expose our true feelings.
                31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
                32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
                33. Point us in a more creative direction.
                34. Show us when we are not listening.
                35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
                36. Can create distance with someone else.
                37. Slow us down when we need to.
                38. Can hasten change.
                39. Reveal our blind spots.
                40. Are the invisible made visible.

                Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

                The secret to handling mistakes is to:

                • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
                • Have an experimental mindset.
                • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

                When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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                When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

                It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

                When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

                Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

                Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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                Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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