Your Projects: Assembling a Plan

This post is part of a series that goes into greater detail on the annual planning process.

Yesterday we talked about figuring out what you want to accomplish. Now it’s time to put all of your analysis and goal setting together into an actual plan for the year.

Projects vs Goals

You set goals yesterday, and now I’m telling you to put together projects. What’s the difference?

Sometimes, not much. One of my goals is to run 3 times a week. In order to accomplish this, I need to…

  • Run 3 times a week

So the project and the goal look pretty much the same.

But another one of my goals is to finish my MBA. This is a good goal, but there are many things I’ll have to do in order to accomplish it. I need to…

  • Pass all my classes

    • Buy books

    • Attend classes
    • Do homework
  • Complete a capstone project

So in this case, the projects are very different from the goal (there are a lot more of them, for one thing).

Projects are the things you have to actually complete in order to accomplish your goals That is, goals should describe a way you’d like to be, while projects should encompass things you need to do. (Technically, this means I should have phrased my goal as “I want to be a person who runs 3 times a week”, but I trust you’ll forgive me for shortening it.)

Coming Up with Projects

So given the above definition, in order to create a project, you need to figure out what needs to be done in order to accomplish your goals. Some goals, as in the running example, have such obvious projects associated with them that it seems a waste of ink to even write them down. Others, like the MBA example, can be a complicated hierarchy of projects (pass classes), sub-projects (pass MBAK609), sub-sub-projects (write this essay) and so on.

Even if the project seems obvious to you, take a couple minutes and really think about how you’re going to accomplish it. Say you want to lose 10 pounds. It’s obvious that the associated project needs to be eating better and exercising. But there are still lots of ways to go about that… are you going to join Weight Watchers, follow the Atkins Diet, take a nutrition class and design your own diet, follow USDA recommendations, or what? Are you going to join a gym, buy some free weights for the basement, take up running, swim 20 laps at the local rec center, walk to work, start gardening, take up basketball, or what? And how will you make it fit into your schedule? Will you make coffee in the morning to prevent the 400-calorie White Chocolate Mocha stop? Will you get up earlier on weekdays to give you time for your run, or schedule an employee baseball league at work? Will you allow exceptions for holidays, or are you sticking to it no matter what? (See if you’re a Moderator or an Abstainer before you decide.)

    Personal Story: I set my run-three-times-a-week goal last August, and my success has been very… spotty. It’s because I failed to take all of this into account, and wasn’t prepared to wake up early in order to run. By the time I’d figured it out, it was December in Colorado and I couldn’t run early in the morning (air is too cold for high activity), and had to change my plans again. It’s now April (almost May) and I’m hoping I can get back to running regularly again, giving me 4 months of running before I have to check back in again. And this August, I’m going to be a lot more specific about what I plan to do.

So for each goal, figure out what project(s) need to be completed in order to accomplish that goal. For each project, create a tracking system as described in Organizing Your Projects.

Eek! Overwhelming! Help!

It’s entirely possible (one might even say likely), that you’ll finish all of that, and find yourself faced with too many projects to handle. There are two opposing schools on how to handle this:

1) Pare it down
People usually overestimate what they can accomplish in a year; creating your projects can make that clear. If that’s happened to you, select only 1-3 of your “this year” goals, and move all the rest of them into the “5-year” category. Make sure your goals can definitely be accomplished this year, so that you can be proud of yourself at your annual retreat next year, and will have incentive to keep going. If that sounds good to you, just go back and move a couple of your goals farther down the timeline.

2) Ignore that problem
I’m personally a fan of setting Dangerously Unattainable Monstrously Big goals. Partly because I’m a scanner, I need to have a lot of projects to choose from, and I find it rather liberating to know that I’m guaranteed to fail… so there’s no need to worry about the outcome. The only question under consideration is how close I can come to not failing, and I find that much more pleasant than wondering whether I’ll fail or succeed. If that sounds good, go for it! (and check out Refuse To Choose, because there’s a good chance you’re a scanner, too.

And you’re ready for the year!

That was quite a process. But look where you are now… you have a clear idea of where you are and where you want to be, your partner is on the same page as you are, and you have a semi-detailed plan for how to actually get to where you’re going.

This upcoming year is not going to go exactly the way you have planned. (Sorry. I hate it as much as you do. Maybe more. But it’s still true). But it will go a lot better than if you hadn’t planned this at all. Now go achieve!

Resources for Further Reading
Tactics vs Strategy
Time Management For Me: Project Management
Achieving Personal Goals
Get Dumb: The Value of Unattainable Goals

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