Many of your classes will consist of a project. This mirrors what you will see in a professional work environment. Your boss will assign you to do something that will take days, if not weeks or months, and will want a product or result at the end. Luckily, in a school setting, a professor will give you more specific instructions on what to do, why to do it, and sometimes how to accomplish the project.
This references back to the syllabus or worksheet of instructions that the professor will give prior to the start of the project. Included, you will also find the specific points the professor is looking for or the knowledge objective that they want you to achieve. The professor will probably discuss what quality points you’ll need to adhere to. For example, the project may ask for a report summary of your findings that is three pages long with an executive summary.
Once you have the parameters, the next step is to narrow in on what the topic will be. If you struggle with picking a topic or how to narrow down, draft a list of potential focus areas. Write a minimum of 20 possibilities, then narrow them down and create a top-ten list. If the right one doesn’t rise to the top, then take your top five and make a pros and con list. Be methodical about how you get to your decision and have your project’s focus.
You have finally chosen a topic and have a vision in your head of what you want the result to be. Now, define how it will look when the project is complete. For example, you must complete a paper on economic theory, and you decided that you are going to do a deep dive into Milton Freeman and include both the historical perspective and the implications of his economic models.
Next, you will set your project milestones. By outlining your key objectives for what must be done, your high-level timeline will fall into place. Continuing with the economics paper, your milestones would be topic research, paper outline, paper writing, and final editing.
Now, you break each milestone into action steps, and you have all the activities that you need to complete. In turn, you can build out the schedule for what needs to be done and when. Looking at the schedule, this mental layout helps identify additional risks, issues, and external constraints, such as or other class commitments. Staying with our economics paper example, you factor in initial research to complete your outline but also plan on more research after you outline the paper because you expect to uncover new insights.
As a student, quality means acceptance of work and grades. Your goal is to complete work that is of acceptable quality. Therefore, if you just want to pass the class with a C, then your quality standards can slip to where you do C-level work. The same is true for A-level work; this is high quality and will consist of a stronger emphasis on quality.
Your beginning goal is that, at an absolute minimum, you don’t want to do so poorly that you must redo the work. It is a time and resource burden that is hard to recover from. Next, you want to define how well you want to do with the project. The easy answer is, “On all my assignments, I want to do the best I possibly can.”
The reality, however, is that you will have to make calculated decisions on what you must put more effort into and which projects you will need to just get by. Knowing this will allow you to accurately incorporate quality into the plan. Using our economics paper example, let’s say that it must be A-level work. You then decide to build a high level of quality into your plan. This can consist of touching base with the professor on topic selection, then having the class’s graduate assistant comment on your paper’s outline, and lastly, having a peer review of the paper against the grading rubric.
The last quality practice is working ahead. Most errors are the result of a rushed state. You will want to have enough time to be thorough and not expose yourself to potential errors because you are in a hurry. When you build your project plan, add that 10% buffer to the plan so that if things take longer than expected, it doesn’t derail your plan. The second buffer practice is to work ahead. If you can complete small parts of your plan early and then work ahead in other areas, you can compress your project schedule.
This will not only help to complete things quicker than expected, but it also helps build additional buffer, just in case something happens that could derail your project. For example, let’s say your landlord evicts you in the middle of the semester, and now on top of schoolwork, you must find a new place to live and subsequently move there. Now, if you’ve built in a little buffer to your plans and worked ahead, you can recover quicker and not have your semester derailed.
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