This is a guest post by Michelle Nickolaisen.

Launch stress is awful at the best of times, but it’s definitely not something you want to have mess with your holidays.

There are a lot of factors to launching during or after the holidays without ripping your hair out or winding up re-sizing “add to cart” buttons while cutting the Christmas turkey, but one of the most important factors is creating accurate timelines.

Ever had that experience of reaching what should have been the end point of a project, only to realize that, oh crap, you’re really more at a late-mid-point? And you’re running out of time?

Let’s avoid that this time around. There’s three key things that can trip us up when we’re creating timelines — I’m, as you probably guessed, going to go over each of these factors & how to make it so they don’t suck all the fun out of your holidays!

Time Estimates (AKA: It always takes longer than you think. Like shopping.)

We, as humans, are notoriously bad at estimating how long something will take. And not just how long something will take, but how long it will take us to get it done. There’s a subtle but important difference there; if you hate doing something that should take 15 minutes, in between putting it off and dragging your feet while doing it, it can wind up taking an hour. No bueno. To fix it:

  • Take your time estimates for every single task and ask yourself what you’re basing those time estimates on. Is it actual hard knowledge or is it more of a guesstimate? If it’s a guesstimate, add time to it – the actual time is going to depend on the task, but in general, a good rule of thumb is to multiply your estimate by 1.25-1.5 and use the new number as your time estimate.
  • Don’t just think about time estimates, think about which tasks you really hate to do. Why? Because those tasks are the ones that take longer to do, leave you more drained (and thus less productive) afterwards, and can generally really throw off your groove. You need to think right now about how you’re going to avoid letting these tasks suck your productivity – I’d recommend you simply find someone else to do them. Sometimes, though, we don’t have the budget for that, so instead, you can come up with rewards for getting those tasks done (finished setting up the technical side of things? great, now you get a candy cane!). Or, if you’ve got a better motivational trick up your sleeve, feel free to use that (and tell us what it is in the comments, ‘kay?).

Dependencies (AKA: No, these are the appetizers, those are the ingredients.)

Another thing we tend to forget when creating our to-do lists is that not all tasks are created equal. Some tasks don’t rely on anything getting done before them, so you can do them whenever, and work on more than one at once. You can work on your sales copy the same day as you’re working on creating your course content, and nothing will go wrong there.

But then there are tasks that have dependencies – you have to finish Task A before you can move on to Task B and you can’t get Task C done until either of those things gets finished. If you don’t sort out those tasks from your “I can do this at any time” tasks, then you can wind up with something of a traffic jam going on, holding up the progress on a project and making reaching your deadline less & less likely. To fix it:

  • When you create your task list, sort out which tasks can be done at any time, and which tasks have to be done in order. (You can do this using a free worksheet I created, which you can download here.)
  • Figure out if you have any key “hinge tasks” and prioritize them first. I call them “hinge tasks” because, you guessed it, a lot of other tasks hinge on this task getting done. If you’re setting up a membership program, an example hinge task would be buying, installing, configuring, and testing your membership program software (that’s actually a series of hinge tasks…but you know what I mean). You can’t start releasing member’s-only content until all of those things are done, so you need to make damn-sure they get done ASAP instead of being left to the last minute.

Communication (AKA: Mom, just stop talking. Please.)

All three of these are bad, but communication can be the worst, depending on who you’re working with on this launch. If you only base your timeline & time estimates on the time it takes to get something done, without factoring in communication time, you can wind up with a timeline that only resembles reality in that the days of the week are the same. Which, in case you didn’t know, is not what we’re aiming for here!

To fix it: For every task that requires hearing from another person before you’ll be able to get it all wrapped up, add 24 hours to your time estimate. If you know that the person you’ll be communicating with is sometimes slow to reply, then either plan on using an alternative communication method that isn’t email (discussing the edits on sales copy and asking any questions via phone or Skype), or add 2-3 days to your time estimate instead of just 24 hours.

It can seem drastic, sure, and it might mean you start working on things far more in advance than you had planned, but when it comes to crunch time and you’re still on track, you’ll be grateful you did.

Want a worksheet to help you out with these steps of creating accurate + useful launch timelines? Head on over here to get one for free. And in the comments, share which one of these has tripped you up in the past, and what you’re planning on doing in your next launch or project to make sure that doesn’t happen again!