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Pots, Platters, and Plates: My Triple-P Project Management System

Posted by & filed under Entrepreneurship, Resources.

NOTE: Don’t forget to check out the free download at the end of this post!

The amount of effort it takes to complete a project can be overwhelming if the tasks are not broken down into smaller chunks of time.

For years, I have had my own personal system for doing this. But it wasn’t until recently that I actually came up with a way to put it into words.

This post is all about outlining that system and showing you exactly how I approach taking on huge projects. I have used this system for things like:

  • Multiple New York Times best-selling book releases
  • A $4500 ticket live event (this one was a doozy)
  • In-depth audio/video/online training products

Pots, Platters, and Plates: How I Visualize Multiple Projects All at Once

Do you ever feel like you’re trying to do WAAAAAYYY too much all at one time?

Some will call this feeling abnormal. I simply call it “life.”

It is beyond a juggling act. Do you remember seeing on a variety TV show some entertainer spinning plates on sticks? It was a trick to see how many he could keep spinning before one of them fell and broke into many pieces.

Pots, Platters, and Plates: My Triple-P Project Management System

That is what the modern entrepreneur is doing. It is modern day plate spinning, with pots and platters added to the equation.

The big tasks are pots.

The medium ones are platters.

Then there are plates—the little things that are still major “musts.”

The project will dictate its category of container. This also depends upon the amount of time and the amount of progress you’ve already made with each project.

If a project is completed and it simply needs to be spun occasionally, it would simply be a plate. Initiating a huge project creates a pot. Platter projects are on the large side, but moving along with tasks assigned and activated.

Here is a visualization of most of the pots, platters, and plates I am overseeing both as Andy Andrews’ manager and as an online brand. I have identified an example of each project type. If you’d like a PDF of this system, click here and I’ll send you one.

Pots, Platters, and Plates

Knowing what category your project fits in ahead of time will go a long way in enabling you to continue to proceed in getting any project done. Once you can visualize the container for a project – it will totally eliminate you feeling of being overwhelmed and uncertain.  It will give you a deeper depth of understanding of what must be accomplished and on what time period.

Each task has a certain amount of work involved. A number of steps to complete. The size of the task will determine the amount of time spent on it.

And that is where the great unknown lies—the amount of time each task will take. (That’s why finding someone who can meet deadlines is like finding a unicorn.)

Obviously time is measured in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. They must be placed in the appropriate slots on a schedule. There is an element of waiting for the paint to dry. That can be an unknown amount of time. You use your best guesstimate with what you know to be true.

This is the tricky part. Especially if the project involves collaborating with others.

The Hurricane Effect: How to Collaborate on Projects Without Losing Your Mind

When only I am involved, I know I can get it done. When the project involves others…it becomes more complicated.

Not only do I have all my emotions and baggage to bring to the table, now all of their emotions and baggage have automatically grabbed seats as well.

You must orchestrate all of that. It’s not just twice as much—it’s 10 times as much. And it could be 10 times to the 15th power, depending on how many people are involved or needed to complete the task.

It is easy to fall under the illusion that nothing is being done when working with others. That is why a mature perspective is required in order to properly manage the project.

How many times have tempers flared all because two people on a project were simply uncertain of what each other were doing? This is what I call the “Hurricane Effect.”

Just because things are silent and still and quiet around you, doesn’t mean there’s not a whirlwind of activity taking place with the people around you. You might just be momentarily in the eye of your project’s hurricane.

So often, all it takes to avoid the bad feelings brought on by the “Hurricane Effect” is a gentle push—a phone call, a letter, an email—a simple suggestion may do it. But it first starts with some form or kind of activity.

A nudge may become a push to create a tipping point. But it starts with movement. From a baby step to a giant leap to a full out sprint. You must learn to classify and categorize each one of these activities, and be able to calculate the amount of time needed for their completion.

The 6-Step Process for Keeping All of Your Pots, Platters, and Plates Spinning

There is a guaranteed way to fuel your pots and clean the plates. Your pot is filled. You have a monumental task in front of you. It may be writing a book, creating an online course, or creating a speaking career. It doesn’t matter what it is. Right now it is an idea/concept. You have to bring it forth to reality.

There is a method to this madness. Here are six of the ingredients I use over and over again.

  1. Give me a one-sentence description of what you want to do with a project. Pretend you’re going to tweet it to me. No more than 140 characters. This is a concentrated sentence of clarity.
  2. Now give me a list of all the different components of this project. I don’t want the details. Just the big chunks of what must be done to pull this off.
  3. Now look at the small bits of this project. These are the things that will take a small amount of time. Fit this within your span of attention. I usually like to think in 15- to 20-minute segments. Starting is half finished. My 20-minute segment often goes over to 40-60 minutes at a time.
  4. Now tell me why you’re doing this. Not some flimsy, quickly stated reason. I want the deep down passion. The “have to.” The thing that makes it worth living every day. What is it?
  5. Look for the small tasks that you know you will love to do. Do those first. This will give you momentum and keep you rolling on the things that are more challenging. It’s that feeling of accomplishment that you’re looking for. Some of the things you don’t want to do will be assigned to others as you can.
  6. Now do this daily. Look at what you accomplished. And celebrate. Acknowledge what you have done. Congratulate yourself. What? You didn’t do anything on your goal today? Then don’t go to bed. Not until you at least do a little bit. It’s the next 20 minutes that could make a difference for the rest of your life.

You must always have the end in mind. No matter the task, the ultimate goal must be visualized even as you focus on all the tiny steps it will take to get there.

The desired outcome.

The end result.

The finished product.

All must be settled emotionally and mentally—before the start.

Now, tell me: what are your pots, platters, and plates? What are you doing to keep them in the air? What are you doing to even get them off the ground?

And, most importantly, why are you spinning them all in the first place?

Your next completed task could become your turning point. When would NOW be a good time to get started?

Want a free PDF of my Project Management System pictured earlier in this post? Click here and I’ll send it to you!

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  • I think a lot of us have a fear of actually seeing what we are accomplishing. Growing comfortable in a self-imposed ignorance. Eventually an individual or circumstance comes along and forces us out of the shadows. Where we thankfully discover, “the truth has indeed set us free.”

    • Very true, Alan! It’s soooo easy to simply ignore everything you’re not doing our of fear of actually doing it.

  • Brett Fischer

    Thanks Robert! I needed to hear a different way to think about all the overwhelming and exciting things we are doing at http://www.victorylanecamp.org I’ve started this nonprofit for families of children with special needs, along with starting two additional businesses that complement the services the camp offers to the family. I have at least 3 pots spinning, multiple platters and way too many plates. I’m just now starting to delegate some of the plates and platters to others! Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Dear Mr. TheRobertD.,

    The World-Wide-Wow needs a tweet button. I like that. :)

    To avoid Hurricane Syndrome, there’s Asana and Evernote. Both are blonde-friendly and have free versions if you’re an individual or working with a small group.
    It’s very blonde-friendly.

    I discovered the awesomeness of Evernote thanks to Michael Hyatt. Asana I found via a Google+ review. Remember The Milk’s not too shabby either, and I found that program via the Google-Plussers as well.

    I love your breakdown on how to get it all done without a meltdown, but the bit about saving the more difficult and less fun tasks for last, ouch. I’d rather have something at the end to look forward to.

    Sorry I didn’t answer any of the questions. I’m enjoying a moment of fun reading after finishing up all of my fun, and not so fun, tasks for the day.

    Thanks for the post and the excellent info. :)

  • This is great! I’ve definitely had troubles with visualizing and valuing tasks of varying sizes the requirements associated. Particularly I like how a pot isn’t just the category the task fits in, it is a larger task/project that requires a lot of effort.

    I’d say one pot is getting my website going for the lab I manage. Another is driving up usage to cover the costs associated with running the lab (it’s a university lab so the financial structure is a bit interesting).

    For side dreaming work I need to put together a music video for a song I am entering in the Birmingham Songwriting competition.

    For life in general, my wife and I are waiting on our first baby to come at the end of the month :)

    • Sounds like you have a lot going on, William! I love it. An in-progress website is definitely a pot. Lots of moving parts, and usually multiple people involved to make it happen. And, of course, plenty of speed bumps along the way. :-)

      Congratulations to you and your wife on your baby! That’s awesome. :-)

  • AWrightDISQ

    Another great blog post Robert, thanks. In my case, I have been working on “pulling the trigger” on starting a podcast. I know I have not moved as fast as I could have on this. I think part of the issue is not trusting that I can pull all of the pieces together to make it work. NOW that I am very close to starting it, I am getting the feeling each day of excitement, that I now KNOW it will happen and will be good. But until about a week ago did not have that feeling. Working on all of the small pieces, and “eating dessert” when we complete them, is as you say huge.

    • Starting a podcast would be another big pot. Loooots of work involved. Thankfully, with Andy’s podcast, we are at the stage where it is just a plate that now needs weekly spinning with minimal oversight on my end.

      Keep going! You’ll get there.

  • Cory

    I have been developing and managing a lot of different projects and building things from the ground up. This post was great for me and so timely. This has truly helped me determine where and when my attention needs to be on certain items. This will certainly help my train stay on track and function at peek performance.

  • One pot I’ve started recently is a course to teach business people how to craft powerful stories for their marketing: the Story Rules Blueprint. This solves problems such as: “My muse left. I started to put a story together, but I lost all inspiration.” and “How can a book work as a lead generator for my business?” After we stir the pot, we’ll have other platters that go with it!

  • Joshua Swift

    Robert D – thanks for the great blog post. Using Pots, Platters and Plates makes this much easier to understand and implement. I also believe you are correct in the fact that projects have to be broken down into smaller tasks. I often get the “paralysis of analysis” when I overthink, instead I need to start because “starting is half finished!”
    Thanks, Joshua

  • FromHisPresence

    Hi Robert, I haven’t read your blog before although I did read your book and enjoyed it! But I really enjoyed this post and will keep coming back! What you said about 15-20-minute segments is reading my mail! That’s really the only technique that keeps my plates spinning during the week because I have to do the bulk of my “dream work” during the weekend. But in 15 minutes, I can make a call, Google something up, etc… and that keeps everything going. Great thoughts!

  • I always had a very hard time thinking what, which, and how should I do my work especially if they come at the same time. Putting them on category like what you’ve mention here Robert was a huge answer. This will serve as stepping stone for to finish all work on time and this will save a lot of effort. The biggest problem is the amount of time spend on every step and on work to make. We just have to collaborate and cooperate with people who we work with.

  • dru wood

    Hello Robert, I’m a brand new subscriber. After looking around a bit I really like what I’ve seen so far! I read this post because this one is hard for me; I tend to just do things in whichever order I feel like, but I am painfully aware of the shortcomings of doing things without a system.

    One note, I clicked on your link for the .pdf of the Triple-P Project Management System and got your Media Kit instead. Is the .pdf of “Pots, Platters, and Plates” still available?


    • Hey Dru! So sorry for the inconvenience. The problem should be fixed now, but if it’s still giving you trouble just email me at robert@therobertd.com. Thanks for reading!

      • dru wood

        It’s working! Thanks Robert!!