A few months back, I outlined a set of steps to follow to help you set a project plan for your life. ICYMI, I fervently believe that failing to plan is planning to fail, and your life is no exception. If you don't take the time to contemplate what you want out of life, how will you ensure that you get it? The first step in project managing your life is to define just that--your requirements.
Getting started on an ambiguous task like this may seem daunting. If it is, set a timer. You can accomplish each of the numbered steps that follow in 15 minutes or less. You can divide up the list into manageable chunks over the course of a week. When you've got your timer ready, start with step #1:
1. Identify the key areas that make up your life (5 mins). The list may not look the same for everyone, but here are some common categories to help get you started:
Children and/or Significant Other (you may want separate categories for these major family relationships)
2. Assess how you're doing now (15 mins). A lot of people will tell you that you need to narrow down your list immediately, to the top 3 or 4 priorities. I think it's hard to prioritize unless you've first statused each of these areas, or hotspots, to borrow a term from productivity expert Chris Bailey. So, go through your list and grade yourself on how you're doing in each of these areas. Home may be an A+ -- you wouldn't change a thing. Friends may be a C -- you don't see them very often, and you wish you had the time to nurture stronger relationships. Don't worry about precision here; the grades act as a relative measure.
3. Choose a time horizon (5 mins). Are you looking to review these hotspots over the course of the next year? The next month? The next 10 years? That will make a difference later in the exercise. Daniel Pink's book When suggests that timing is everything. We tend to do better if we begin new projects on auspicious dates, whether that's the beginning of the week or month, your birthday or anniversary, or by the end of the calendar year.
4. Prioritize (15 mins). Now's the time to refine your list. What hotspots do you want to focus on? Most people probably can't afford to pay close attention to more than 3 or 4 of these at a time. If your list is lengthy, this demands brutal honesty. Consider that you may be OK with getting a C in some areas. For example, your friendships may not be perfectly healthy, but if you had to be honest, you're not really interested in making the extra effort to turn your C into an A. Other categories may be less important to you but wouldn't take much effort to raise the grade, so they might be worth pursuing. Remember that no one else is seeing this list but you--so don't be nervous about offending someone.
5. Decide and document what you want to achieve within each of these areas (15 mins). The goal can be amorphous at this point (e.g., lose weight.)
6. Educate your goals to make them SMART (15 mins/goal.) Here is an example of how to take a "dumb" goal and transform it into a SMART goal:
Specific: Why do you want to lose weight? I want to lose weight to become healthier for myself and my children.
Measurable: How much do you want to lose? I will know I have succeeded when I have lost 20 pounds, and I can fit into my favorite pair of jeans.
Achievable: How will you achieve the goal? I will lose weight by going to the gym 3x a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6am before work.
Realistic: How will you deal with the pitfalls in your plan? This one is critical and will likely take the most time. For the lose weight example, your train of thought may look like this: I haven't been to the gym in a while, but I have a membership still. I will look on the website and find some fitness classes that I would enjoy. If I don't enjoy the classes I pick, I will try new ones. I will pack my gym bag the night before so it's easier to get ready in the mornings. I will go to bed at 9pm the night before so I can get up early. I will set an alarm for 8pm the night before to remind myself to power off my devices and wind down so I am ready for sleep by 9pm.
Time-bound: You already set the timeframe earlier in our exercise, so you're done here!
Now that you've got your goals ready to go, and contemplated what steps you must take to achieve them, you're ready to move on to addressing stakeholder concerns. Stay tuned for what to do next!