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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The TO DO LIST – The essence of every project management endeavour

We all know that the planning phase is an absolutely critical process of every project life-cycle, regardless of its size and complexity. Moreover, every project manger understands that the success of a project depends, in major part, on how well the planning is done. Planning is usually the busiest phase and every good Project Manager knows that his project is at stake if the planning is not taken seriously throughout its lifecycle.
The complexity and the scope of the planning process in every project depends on the size, the budget approved, the scope, the three constraints, the organizational maturity and many other factors .

In order to do a formal planning process there is a myriad of different tools and techniques, with hundreds of software applications on the market available to project managers, with or without the cost. What is in common with these tools is that they contain a scheduling plan, which will help to determine what activity will be done and when, and who is responsible to carry it out. These tools range from the more sophisticated, such as MS Project to the very simple, such as a good old Excel.

My intent here is not to suggest that you need another software package, or to try to explain a complicated planning technique. I am leaving this to other professionals who are more qualified for such an endeavour. What I would like to get across is a tool that you have been using all along in your daily personal lives but may not be aware of its power. This tool has been around for a long time. It is simple, easily communicable and it won’t cost you a thing. I am talking about the TO DO LIST.

Throughout our lives we may have written hundreds, or even thousands of these lists of all shapes and sizes. These quirky creatures are usually jotted down, sometimes carefully and slowly, more often in a hurry, sometimes on a piece of paper and even in some instances in electronic format. There is probably no media type out there which was spared from our relentless to do lists. Apart from the most common writing on a piece of paper, there are other media, like an empty white border space in a newspaper or magazine, used envelopes (hopefully), tissue paper etc. In fact, our pre-historic ancestors wrote their to-do-lists on the walls of their caves.

For those of you who still believe that you will not waste your time by reading this to the very end, I want to present my own weekly groceries-menu-to do-and-anything-else list. I do not remember exactly when I started with this kind of list. Maybe it was when I started a family more than twenty years ago. I can assure you that this peculiar habit of mine helped me in organizing my daily life. What is more, years later, when I learned about formal project management disciplines and became one of the project manager species, this planning routine helped me even in my professional work. If we organize our projects in the most effective way and save time and money for our organization, why not do it for ourselves first? If we are more organized and efficient in our personal lives, which leads us to be more confident and happy, the same attitude will become only natural in our workplace.

Here is the layout that I am using for my weekly list:

Initially I thought to suggest this list only to people who cook on a daily basis. However, in today’s diet crazy world I believe everybody can benefit from this. Of course, if you are Paris Hilton, or other people who don’t care much about their budget and have lots of time on their hands, you can be excluded from this advice. I am sure those people either never read this type of material, or they abandoned reading this article long ago.

Shopping list

Now, let’s go back to the list. You will agree with me that a smart shopper won’t go shopping without knowing what they exactly need. With these kinds of lists you will consistently save money and you will avoid having rotten or spoiled groceries that you purchased when you did not need them in the first place. This front-end planning is very important! Are there times when you are coming from work and you are looking forward to having a relaxing evening at home? How many times have you suddenly come to realize: “Gosh, what am I going to cook today? Maybe I can cook pasta, it’s the fastest. But wait, is there any pasta left in the bag? But what if I don’t have any tomatoes left in the house for my pasta sauce? Should I make a quick trip to grocery store first? “In the end you end up microwaving a frozen meal, or ordering takeout, yet again. And for some strange reason you notice that your waist is not getting any slimmer despite your best efforts!


Before you start jotting down your shopping list you first need to plan your menu. Even in case you go out for dinner or get takeout, put that down too for the particular day. Of course you can have fast food, takeout or a dinner in a nice restaurant. We all need to indulge no matter the size of our wallets. What is important, however, is to plan it all so you will more than likely end up with a balanced diet, translating to quality assurance. Plan a meal with meat one day and then veggies the other, make sure to get fish at least once per week, and so on. You can control your diet in this way and also avoid too many fast food splurges. We usually forget these things if they are not written down, like when you ask yourself if you had pizza last week, or last month. Most likely it was a few days ago, but who can say? It can also help with conflict resolution with your family members. If your kids, for example complain that you had cooked broccoli a few days ago, you can always present the evidence that in fact the broccoli was nowhere in sight on your current and even last week’s lists. Not to mention the power of negotiation, when you can say:”We are going to have cabbage on Thursday, but pizza on Friday”. Nobody can refuse that generous offer!


Once you have decided on the menu and after you came back from your weekly shopping trip (almost all items on the left will be crossed out) you need to stick your list on the fridge door. As soon as you notice you are running out of a particular ingredient just add it to your list and make sure you will still have everything you need for your meal tomorrow. You can always feel free to change your menu choices on the fly; just make sure that you have all the ingredients for the new meal. Fortunately there is no need for the change management process as you are in complete control, provided that you are the cook! The section underneath the menu could be used for other meals that did not make the cut into the current week, or meals that you may prepare for emergencies.


Finally, there is a section for your general to-do list. An errand list if you will. An average person, especially if you live with family, may have more than can fit in the space. I would recommend you have only high priority items here, things that you have to do during that week. Another option would be to use the other side of the paper for an extensive to do list. Some people may prefer to have those lists in electronic format, such as MS Outlook tasks, or even using calendars, hard copy or electronic. Even this template could be made in electronic format, but the end result is usually different from person to person and the key is to find something that works for you.


Hopefully there will be plenty of historical information for your weekly operational project of planning, shopping, cooking and eating activities. If you stick to this routine it will eventually become effortless and you will feel more in control. Of course many of you already have your own lists and routines, but for those who don’t, I believe this method will pay off. It should help in controlling your budget and your diet, reduce the waste and save time. The bottom line is that you are guaranteed to see a return on your investment.

If you have any comments or suggestions on this article or any other content on this site I would love to hear from you!

Click on Comments link below or send me your email at durica@sympatico.ca


Eric said...

Good article. I always thought more emphasis should be made about coordinating todo type lists with actual activities involved in a given project. Maybe you could link this with a WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) as well with the deliverable or work packages being the meal, broken done into each ingredients and the activities list being the shopping trips to each loction.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your point, Eric.
My goal was to encourage the wider audience, not only PMs, to start with the planning phase, regardless of the project. Of course Project Managers already know how to do planning for their projects at work, but I doubt everybody applies similar process for their home projects. Once people accept more structured planning process in their lives, breaking it down into WBS or indentifying the risks etc, can always happen. And depending on the owner, or the circumstances, the possibilities are endless...


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