One way to ensure you're consistently creating excellent work product is to create a routine that focuses on three key things: how to receive, prepare, and deliver projects. Many miscommunications and inefficiencies can be avoided simply by taking time to outline a work-product roadmap that you follow with every project you complete.
STEP 1: RECEIVING
Step 1 in this process is to properly receive a project: what things should you consider when new work comes to you and before you start working? In other words, create a checklist of items you should work through to prioritize planning and to make sure you completely understand what’s being asked of you.
Here are a few things you might put on your “receiving checklist":
1. Deliverable. Confirm you have a clear understanding of the final deliverable. What’s the scope of the work and what should the final project look like? Is this client-ready work product, a full-blown memo, research that can be communicated via email, or an oral report? Start by reviewing an exemplar and make sure you understand your role in this project.
2. Due Date. This is an easy one. Clearly it's important to complete things on time, but it’s also import to confirm due dates for planning purposes (see #4 below).
3. Time Budget. Identify a best estimate of how long this project will take, and whether there’s a time cap. When we charge head-first into work without giving ourselves a time budget, we’re likely to use our time inefficiently and make our projects drag on forever.
Instead of saying: "I'm going to work on this brief this afternoon,” instead say: "I'm going to work on this brief from 1pm to 3:30pm this afternoon." (Check out our post on Parkinson's Law and compressing time into budgets.)
4. Priority Level. Once the due date and time budget are clear—and before jumping headfirst into the work—this particular project should be compared to all of the other projects you have on your plate to make sure it’s the most important thing for you to work on next.
Here's the takeaway: ensure you're setting yourself up for success by working through a short routine each time you receive work. Even spending 5 minutes to plan in this way will make a significant difference.