This article helps you prepare a work plan for a new or difficult task. A work plan summarizes the various requirements and activities needed to complete a task in a timely and efficient manner.

There is a certain magic in writing down your plans for a task. As long as a plan exists only in your mind, you tend to see only the big picture. However, when you have to write down the detailed steps, then you can discover what is missing.

Many people have trouble starting or completing a large or poorly defined task. By having a written plan, the requirements of a task become more specific and attainable. This helps reduce wasted time and effort, and improve the chances of completing the work successfully.

A work plan contains the following four parts:

1. Task requirements
2. Any advance preparations needed
3. All activities for the main task
4. Final activities

The topics below explain how to develop a work plan. These procedures should be used in sequence.

Deciding how to proceed

Before starting to write the actual work plan, you need to decide how to proceed. The following two questions help to show you the way.

Is any preliminary research needed? -- Sometimes you need to gather some background information before continuing. If you don’t know the answers to all of the following questions, then some preliminary research probably is needed:

• What are the requirements, restrictions, and desired results that apply to this task?
• What preparations are needed before starting on the main task?
• What guidelines, instructions, or other useful information are available for this task?
• What equipment, materials, supplies, and other resources are required to complete the task?
• What shortcuts could make the task go faster?
• Where can I go for advice if I need help to complete the task?

How much detail should the plan contain? -- The general rule about preparing work plans is to limit their preparation time and effort to a small portion of that required to perform the task itself.

If you are familiar with the task, you may not need to describe the action steps for each activity in the plan. It may be enough merely to provide a title and the desired result for most activities.

However, a plan for an inexperienced person, a new activity, or a complicated undertaking probably should include descriptions of the action steps for all or most activities.

Listing the task requirements

This is the first part of the work plan. These requirements should include everything that the task must accomplish and comply with, including the desired results.

You may want to include some or all of the following items in your list of task requirements.

Overview of the task -- Briefly describe the purpose of the task and the major steps used to complete it.

Desired results -- This describes what the task should accomplish. It should be as specific as possible, since the desired results of a task are very important.

Resources needed -- List the equipment, information, materials, supplies, and tools that will be needed to perform the task.

Restrictions -- These are things you can't do while performing the task. Thus if the task is to apply new siding on a house, the customer may require you to not start working before a certain time of day.

Quality standards -- Quality generally refers to whether expensive or inexpensive materials should be used on a task, and how carefully the task should be accomplished. The general rule, unless specified otherwise, is to use the type of materials and the degree of care as is customary for similar tasks.

Deadlines -- Quite often, a task needs to be completed by a specified time and/or date. In some cases, portions of a task may have their own deadlines.

Coordinating with other tasks -- Some tasks affect, or are affected by, one or more other tasks. These interactions with other tasks should be spelled out to avoid any problems.

Listing any advance preparations needed

This is the second part of the work plan. Write down any preliminary activities that should be done before starting the main task. These activities help insure that the task will be performed efficiently and the desired results will be obtained. You may want to include some of the following items in your list of preliminary activities.

Performing any research needed -- This research is in addition to any preliminary research that was needed to understand the task or prepare the work plan. This type of research is part of the task itself.

Obtaining approvals and/or permissions -- These are things needed from various people, organizations, or governments in order to proceed with the task. An example is getting a building permit before constructing an addition to a house.

Obtaining guidelines and/or instructions -- You may be able to find or purchase guidelines and/or instructions that can help minimize problems, or save time and expense in performing the task.

Obtaining equipment, materials, supplies, and tools -- This item should specify any equipment, materials, supplies, and tools needed for the task. It should also specify where these things are located or can be purchased.

Obtaining other resources -- This item should specify any other resources needed for the task. It should also show where they are located or can be purchased.

Listing all activities for the main task

This is the third part of the work plan. It is concerned with determining and describing the various activities of the main task, and deciding how they should be sequenced. Since these activities and their sequence are subject to change, you should record them in a manner that will allow for possible changes.

The main task is where most of the detailed work will be done to achieve the desired results of the task. This work usually consists of various activities, such as the following:

• Researching
• Analyzing
• Calculating
• Summarizing
• Making decisions
• Recording information
• Performing creative activities
• Performing physical activities

The main task often includes some special activities that should be shown as separate items in the task specifications. If you are preparing a detailed work plan, you should describe any special activities, such as the following.

Repetitive operations -- These activities are repeated until the main task is completed. The plan should specify how to tell when these activities should stop.

Sequence of steps -- These activities must occur in a particular sequence until the main task is completed. An example is constructing an addition to a house.

Checking results as you go -- It usually is a good idea to check on the results from time to time as the main task is in process. This item might specify when and how to check the results.

Resolving mistakes and problems -- This item might only serve to remind you to correct results that are not acceptable. In some cases, you could also specify the procedures to use when problems arise.

Finishing the list -- After completing this list of activities, review it carefully and make any needed changes. For a detailed work plan, this list should include every item needed to complete the main task.

You might want to set the list aside for a day or two before the final review. This will give your subconscious mind time to mull over what you have done.

After the list has been reviewed and accepted, the activities should be arranged in the most efficient sequence for accomplishing the main task.

Listing the final activities

This is the fourth and final part of the work plan. Write down any final activities that must be carried out after the main task has been completed. These final activities help insure that the task has satisfied the desired results specified for it.

Following are a couple of typical final activities:

Checking on final results -- After the main task has been completed, there should be a final inspection to insure that the desired results for the task have been attained. If these results have not been attained then you must decide whether to accept the impaired results or try to correct them.

Adjustments needed -- If the final results are not acceptable, this item might specify the methods to be used in making the needed adjustments or corrections.

Final thoughts

My experience with work plans is that they usually need to be changed before the task gets finished. So don't be concerned about preparing a "perfect" plan. A work plan is just a tool to help you get the job done without making too many false moves or forgetting some requirements or restrictions.

It's probably a good idea to prepare some small work plans before trying to prepare a plan for a large or difficult task.

Author's Bio: 

Charles Moorehead graduated from the University of Washingto in 1963. He then was a certified public accountant for 40 years.

For more information on starting a home business see his website at