Everybody has projects. It may be your home renovation, small business, or even a lovably messy significant other. I find that the hardest part of a project isn’t the work itself, but the work it takes to make sure the work gets done.

Once you decide to do something, how do you make sure it gets done on time? What does it take to finish your project ahead of time? I’ve got two tips to grease the gears and open up those pipelines.

Be clear about tasks

Let’s take web design for an example. In a web design project, you always have two parties: the client and the vendor. On the vendor side, there should be one point person. Clients should have one decision maker who communicates with the vendor representative.

When these two meet, there might be other folks in the room, but it’s the decision maker and the vendor rep responsible for getting the website out the door. They’re the ones giving feedback and making recommendations. It’s their job to take the project to the next step by identifying and delegating tasks.

Tasks must be clear. Any vagueness or muddiness will cause confusion and the diffusion of responsibility. Everyone will think the other person’s doing Task A, so nobody does it. Create clear tasks that contain each of the following components.

  • Responsible party – who the task is assigned to.
  • Delegating party – who the task is assigned by.
  • Due Date – when the task must be completed.
  • Priority – The responsible party needs to know which comes first when multiple tasks are due in one day.
  • Precise Name – Be as precise and descriptive as possible when naming tasks. Say, “Write 250 words telling the company story for the About Us page” instead of “Provide content for About Us”.

Complete your notes about each task at the end of every meeting. Make sure everyone has their list of tasks straight and answer any questions before ending the meeting. It may be helpful to come up with a template you can use again and again.

Many web design agencies and other project-based businesses use project management software to keep track of tasks internally and to share task information with their clients.

Be clear about timelines

Due dates are a vital part of project management. They’re the branches off the trunk of your project’s schedule. Yes, a schedule. It’s no good to say the website must be done in two months. Break up the project into chunks, give each chunk a due date and gather tasks with their own dates in those chunks. Even when a task can’t be nailed to a date, give it one anyway so it never falls off the back burner.

And the key to getting all these tasks done on time or before? Remove ASAP from your vocabulary. Set a real date instead, and set it far away. “On-time” is really just a statement about expectations. Control these expectations so you can’t help but finish early.

Of course, work expands to fill the time allotted. Hammering a nail only takes a minute. But if you give yourself five minutes, gall darn it if that nail doesn’t take five minutes.

This is where due dates come in. Make the chunk due dates permanent, but with plenty of room in between. Then set individual task’s due dates as you begin each new chunk. Don’t wait to move on to the next chunk once you finish all its tasks, but keep the original chunk due dates. Feel free to celebrate as you consistently exceed expectations.

This is how I’d do it in an ideal world. The combination of constant and consistent (but reasonable) due dates along with appropriate expectations should keep a self-motivated, well-ordered team on track. In the real world, you may need to work in a rush. In the real world, you might set a task but lack the resources to complete it. In the real world, your team may be flakes.

You can’t control all the forces of chaos working against your project. But you can take steps to reduce confusion and prevent last minute scrambles. Make complete tasks, communicate tasks and dates clearly, and don’t rush.