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Categorizing Your Projects and Setting Goals
Separate work projects from home projects.
This is one way to make two overarching categories for your goals rather quickly.
It will allow you to analyze how much time you want to commit to home versus how much time you want to commit to work.
This way you organize your goals overall, as well as organize your home and professional goals relative to each other.
- You can include more categories — school goals for example — if applicable.
- You can also separate urgent from non-urgent tasks.
Group projects with similar tasks together.
One way to make good use of your time is to do similar projects together.
This allows some people to get into a flow of doing a certain task and do it for all of the projects they are working on.
For example, if you are looking at making a budget for your bedroom remodel, you might go ahead and revise your overall home budget plan.
From there, you could catch up on the bookkeeping you’ve been avoiding at the office.
- This strategy may not work for those who get burnt out by repetitive tasks and need a little more variety.
- If you know you would become bored and struggle with multiple budgeting projects at once, this is not the strategy for you.
Group projects with similar outcomes together.
Projects are mostly started with the hopes of finishing them.
There is usually some kind of personal or professional reward attached to each project, whether it’s a nice patio, a pay raise, or just a thank you.
Grouping projects by their outcomes is another way to prioritize based on what you need.
For example, if you are struggling financially.
You can look at your list and avoid projects that cost more — such as building a new patio — while emphasizing projects that make money, such as a freelancing job.
- Some projects will have more of an incentive than other projects.
- For instance, you may have a vacation scrapbook that you’ve been meaning to finish for months and, at the same time, a painting you want to do for a friend’s birthday.
- Think about the consequences of not completing the scrapbook this weekend versus not completing the painting in time for your friend’s birthday on Monday. Completing either project would be rewarding, but completing the painting so that you can present it on time and not feel guilty or disappoint your friend is likely going to be more rewarding.
Set SMART goals.
The SMART method is a way to evaluate your goals and make sure that they are reasonable.
To use this method, write out your goal in detail, and then ask these questions:
- Is my goal Specific? If you have a clear goal (“I want to lose 15 lbs. by the end of May by dieting and working out five days a week”) as opposed to a vague goal (“get fit”).
- You will have more structure in your prioritization process.
- Being as specific as possible will help focus your efforts.
- Is my goal Measurable? In other words, establish a way to know if you’ve made progress toward, or reached, your goal. If your goal is to lose 15 lbs. in two months, you can measure this goal by weighing yourself each week and charting your progress.
- A measurable goal means you know exactly when you have achieved it — when you see that number on the scale.
- Is my goal Attainable? Think about if you have the time and the resources to reach the goal. do you have the ability and the drive to work toward it? Both are important. In some cases, a lack of ability can be made up for with drive. You can go learn the skills needed to reach your goal. In other cases, for example a 65 year old school teacher who wishes to be an astronaut, the odds might be stacked solidly against you.
- Is my goal Relevant? Ask yourself if this is something you truly want and why you want it. Will this goal be fulfilling to you as an individual? Do you truly want to become a neurologist, or is that something your family wants for you? Does this work with your other goals, such as to have a large family and travel frequently, or are they in conflict?
- Is my goal Time-bound? In order to keep motivated, most of us need deadlines. You have to have a timeline for your goal if you want to measure your progress and reach your goal. It may be helpful to break up long-term goals into multiple, short-term goals. For instance, before you achieve your goal of becoming a neurologist, you’ll need to pass the MCAT®, get into medical school, obtain a residency, etc. Plan these short-term goals with as much detail as your long-term goals, applying the SMART method to each one.
Evaluating Each Project
Make a list of all of your tasks.
Start out by listing out each and every project and task you need to complete in the specified time period (for instance, by the end of the work day).
Don’t think about how long the list is or putting anything in a specific order. Just get it all out on paper so you can begin to prioritize.
Identify any urgent projects.
Go through your list and look for anything that takes precedence over your other tasks.
For instance, do you have a meeting with a client at noon and you haven’t finished your presentation yet? If you don’t have the presentation finished, you’ll blow your chances with the client and may even damage your reputation.
Any projects with a looming deadline and serious consequences should go to the top of your list.
Find your important projects.
Once the urgent projects have been tackled, you’ll likely want to focus on important projects or projects with the most value.
There are many ways to assess value — one way is to think about how many people this project impacts; often, the more people involved, the more important the task. Asking yourself the consequences of not completing the task by the specified time period is another good way to assess its importance, as is whether you need to complete one project before you can tackle another.
- For example, if you are trying to prioritize between editing a chapter of your book or going to the store to buy a new router to fix your internet, what will happen if you don’t complete each project today? How many people will be affected if you don’t finish your editing versus fixing the internet? Do you need the internet to finish editing your chapter? Maybe you have a deadline to send the chapter to your agent by the end of today, but you can’t do that unless you fix the internet first. Both tasks are important, but asking yourself these questions may help make it clear which you should do first.
- Another consideration might be who the project is for — something that might normally be a low-priority task might become very important if it’s for the CEO of the company. Finishing a project for a client is usually more important than completing internal work for yourself.
- You may also want to consider cost and profit involved. When thinking of profit, it shouldn’t be just about money. This could mean the project will free up time, generate money, or bring in other resources in some way. Think about what the success of each project will mean, and be sure that you are thinking about the profit in a realistic way.
- Consider the amount of risk involved. Though many projects may seem to have fabulous outcomes, you have to consider what you might lose if the project falls short of success. Look at all of the costs of a project ― money, time, advertising, etc. This will keep your expectations grounded and lead you toward safe decisions.
- Rank your remaining tasks based on their importance and work your way down the list.
Assigning Order to Your Project List
Look at the projects with the highest priority in your evaluation steps.
The evaluations steps are a good start to deciding which projects will be a top priority.
But may not make the decision alone.
Trust your instincts about what you do and when you do it.
Re-writing your list of projects you intend to do in the order that they ranked is a good place to start.
Know when to say “No.”
It is very important that you understand how much you can take on at any one time.
Allow yourself a certain amount of time/money/etc. for projects and stick to it.
If you overextend yourself, you’ll do poorly on most or all of your projects.
Take effort into account.
If you have multiple important projects and you are still unable to prioritize them.
Think about how much effort each project will require.
It is recommended you begin with the project that will require the most effort.
But this doesn’t always work for everyone.
You may feel more motivated if you can complete another important task that takes less time and then dive into the lengthier project.
Just make sure you have enough time to complete the lengthier project if you do the other project first.
Compare projects by numerical data.
Risk and profit are both good ways to look at projects.
But either one can lead you astray by itself.
An effective way to prioritize many projects is by looking at the ratio of risk to profit.
A project that has a large yield with little risk involved should be a priority.
A project that will not yield any real benefit, but might cause serious problems should be delayed or possibly even cut altogether.
Look at head-to-head comparisons.
If you are still struggling to prioritize, it may help to take important projects and compare them directly. There are several options for head-to-head comparisons.
Methods such as forced ranking paired comparisons, and q-sorts can be used to look at the pros and cons of one project as they relate to another.
Forced ranking usually emerges by default if no other prioritization plan is put in place.
- Forced Ranking. Rank each project individually or in groups.
- The highest-ranked project gets done first, and the projects are done in order of rank until they are all complete or you run out of time or other resources.
- This method is not the most efficient method if you have too many projects, have to consult too many people on your decisions, or are working on complex issues.
- Paired comparisons. Take two projects and compare them side-by-side. Once you choose a high-priority project and a low-priority project from the two, you can bring in a third project and see where it ranks (above the high-priority, below the low priority, or in between them). This tends to break down with too many projects, but you can use a playoff approach to compare more projects when needed.
- Q-sorts. Have everyone involved in prioritization write the projects on separate index cards. Each person in the group will separate the projects into piles of very high, high, medium, low, and very low priority. Once you have sorted your piles, you compare and see what projects ranked the highest overall. Then, you can start working on your projects accordingly.
Create your own prioritization matrix.
A prioritization matrix is a way of assigning value to a set of tasks.
If you create your own, you can easily decide on what factors you consider most valuable (money, ease, etc.).
Be sure that you assign a numerical value, or weight, to each project and a numerical value, or rating scale, to each of your evaluation criteria.
The total prioritization score for each project will be the weight of the project multiplied by the score it received on the rating scale.
- This works great for evaluating projects that have considerations other than profit and risk.
Consider all of the factors.
When making daily priority lists, make sure to include simple tasks.
Otherwise, you might forget to do the little things!
Do not spend so much time prioritizing that you don’t get anything done!