Planning and organisation skills are vital to have, whether it be for work or for everyday life. And continuing to develop your organisational skills is always wise.
There is perhaps no skill as transferable across sectors as the ability to plan effectively. If you can hone your planning skills, you’ll be able to approach issues from a more informed angle and meet your goals with ease.
Today we’re talking about some of the essential skills you need to become a good planner and organiser. But first, what exactly is ‘planning and organisation’? Aren’t they the same thing?
Planning vs. Organisation
While planning and organisation may seem similar in their definitions, in practise they are very different.
Planning refers to the research and preparation needed before the completion of a task. Organisation is how we structure the plan, and how we go about completing the task itself.
So in reality planning and organisation are two sides of the same coin, and there is much overlap between the two. Because of this, improving your skills in one will help you improve your skills in the other.
15 Skills for Better Planning & Organisation
Here are 15 of the most essential skills you need to be better at planning and organisation.
1) Understanding your Goals
The first step in improving your planning skills is understanding the task at hand. What exactly are you truly trying to achieve? Who will it benefit? What physical actions need to be completed to achieve the goal to the standard required?
It’s a common saying that any large task is just multiple small tasks rolled into one, and that’s usually true. By taking the time to understand the requirements of your goals, you have a solid base on which to plan your strategy.
2) Dedicating Time for Preparation
Rushing into a task blindly without having time to prepare is a surefire way to fail. It can be tempting to get started straight away, but setting aside preparation time before getting to work is an absolute essential.
You should use this dedicated time to address all of the points we are raising here. If you’re working in a team, put your heads together and hash out everything that needs to be done to effectively prepare. If you use time well, you’ll be better equipped to tackle the job at hand.
3) Prioritising Tasks
Once you’ve taken the time to understand the tasks that need to be done, you need to order them by priority. It will sometimes be obvious which tasks need to be done first. For instance, when multiple tasks are dependent on one other task being completed.
But sometimes it can be less obvious to determine your priority tasks. It might seem as if everything needs to be done immediately (especially if your stakeholders are keen) but you’ll often find that some tasks are a prerequisite for others. If you can find out which these are, you’ll know which are a priority.
4) Timeline Planning
Now that you’ve broken the project down into multiple tasks and ordered them by priority, you can plan your schedule accordingly. If you’ve been given a deadline by stakeholders, make sure to set your own internal deadlines ahead of these for the purposes of last minute checks.
Give yourself plenty of time to plan each sub-task, and review it after completion. If there is no way to make your schedule less hectic, consider setting aside extra time to ensure each task is completed to the best possible standard.
5) Risk & Contingency Planning
There are always risks when tackling projects of any size. What if certain assets are not delivered on time? What if external factors cause the project to grind to a halt? What if a vital member of the team has to take some unexpected leave?
These are all potential risks that could affect your project. One of the most important aspects of planning and organisation is managing your risks, and planning contingencies. By having a plan in place should the worst happen, you can save your project from total failure.
6) Anticipating Hurdles
Alongside planning for risks that could potentially hinder your project, watching out for avoidable issues is also essential. Of course we can never fully plan for all random issues arising, but looking ahead as best you can is usually enough to catch most issues before they appear.
Once you’ve identified your hurdles, you can determine what needs to be done to avoid them. If avoiding an issue is starting to look improbable, you should look to get past them with minimal damage to your project.
If you are managing a team, delegating tasks correctly can be a lifeline. If you can hand off tasks to those team members best equipped to complete them, you can ensure they are done correctly. Delegating tasks like this not only frees up your time, but gives your team members the opportunity to manage their own workloads.
One of the hardest parts of task delegation is letting go of the reins and trusting your team. If you’ve got the right team around you, this shouldn’t be an issue. Trust your team, delegate tasks appropriately, save yourself some time and encourage collaboration.
8) Time Management
Once you’ve planned out your tasks and timelines, and delegated appropriately, now it’s time to look at what’s on your plate. Managing your time effectively is one of the key pillars of organisation. Nobody can claim to be organised if they do not have an iron grip on their own time.
Time management is not just about getting as much done as possible. It is as much about quality of work as quantity. As we’ve mentioned, factoring in extra time for preparation and review can help achieve this. Most of all, knowing your own capabilities, and what you can get done in a day, is essential for managing your time realistically and efficiently.
9) Resource Management
Resource management is a fairly vague term. It refers to the management of all resources needed for the completion of a task, whether these resources be individuals, technology, materials or finances. Being able to manage all of these factors effectively is an essential planning skill.
This usually involves a lot of multitasking, and understanding the dependencies between your resources and subtasks. The trick is understanding which resources need to be allocated where, and how to ensure no task is left without the resources needed to be completed.
10) Strategic Thinking
Strategic thinking is an essential prerequisite to effective planning. It is the ability to intentionally change how you think to focus on the rational and realistic in order to plan and solve problems. It involves anticipating the realistic, tangible needs of the project ahead of time, and planning solutions to each one.
Strategic thinking can deal with both qualitative and quantitative data. It may involve a detailed, data-heavy analysis of market trends, or a series of one to one meetings with your team to determine their individual needs. At its core, strategic thinking is analysing complex situations, actioning pragmatic solutions to achieve realistic outcomes.
The only constant is change, they say. Being able to adapt to spontaneous changes is an ability only possible through good planning and organisation. This kind of flexibility (the foundation of agile project management) involves effective forward planning for any potential risk or shift in the landscape of the task you’re working on.
Being flexible can be quite difficult for some of us, as it can seem quite chaotic and an opposition to being organised. The trick is striking a balance between rigid organisation, and the ability to be flexible in the face of changes.
12) Decision Making
Decisiveness is a difficult skill to master. It is the ability to make decisions under pressure, to commit to one course of action and reject another. This is most challenging when we don’t have immediate access to all the data we need to make an informed decision. Ideally we’d always know exactly which course to take, but this isn’t always possible.
When it comes down to it, decisiveness is an instinctual thing. You have to trust your gut, and be confident that your chosen course of action is the best one. To gain this confidence, you need to be as informed as possible regarding the goings-on of your project. By understanding the dependencies between every facet of your project, you can be confident that you’re making the right choice.
13) Problem Solving
Problem solving is not as simple as it sounds. It involves a streamlined process of problem identification, analysis and actioning in order to be fully effective. The skills of strategic thinking and decision making both come into play here. It’s always in your best interest to find the best solution to a problem, which can only be done with these two skills.
Effective problem solving is best done by using a step-by-step approach. First of all, you need to define the problem and determine its cause. Based on this, you can brainstorm several possible solutions and select the best course of action.
14) Measuring Results as You Go
There is nothing worse than working on a project only to discover you haven’t achieved the result you wanted. One effective way to avoid this outcome is to measure your results as you go, to determine the likelihood of getting the end result you want.
Keep a list of all the subtasks and their dependencies, and tick them off as they are completed. Keep track of how well each subtask has gone, and make a note of any potential issues that could arise from them. By measuring your results as the project progresses, you can shift your focus if things aren’t going your way.
At the end of the day, you can only be effective at planning and organisation if you take the responsibility for the outcome of your project. Some project managers might choose to pass the buck on some aspects of their project, and tasks are left uncompleted, or done to a lower standard.
It is on your shoulders to ensure that every task is done to the best standard possible, and the desired outcome of the project is achieved. This can be done by employing all the methods we’ve discussed today, but also by accepting that responsibility and knowing that the buck stops with you.
While reading through these points, you might notice that some depend on others. For example, effective problem solving can only be possible by risk management and contingency planning. Planning the right timeline for your project can only be done by strategically thinking about which tasks to prioritise.