I have a mental process that tends to drive my husband crazy. Some might call it back-asswards. I call it detail-oriented. Let me give you an example. When we started remodeling our bathroom, I was focused on what, in my husband’s mind, were minor details (shower tile), before we had settled on the big items (picking a contractor). But in my mind, I had a vision of the finished bathroom which included a shower accented with a very specific penny tile. Which would look best with a specific porcelain floor tile. Which meant we needed a tile guy. And our first-choice contractor was great at tile, so we wouldn’t need a subcontractor, which would save time and money. But we would need to pre-order the penny tile to make sure it was available when we needed it. And the penny tile was a bit expensive so we should choose a basic subway tile for the rest of the shower to offset the cost. And, and, and…okay, so you see what I’m getting at. I was attacking the project from the end, when my husband was starting at the beginning. But picturing the details of the final product allowed me to work backwards to create a more complete project plan.
As annoying as it is for my husband, this technique was super valuable to me when I worked as a project manager. I would start with the completed project, a new office layout, for example, and do a mental walk-thru, envisioning how each work area was used, where traffic was congested, where garbage was stored. Working backwards, I then built those details and contingencies into the project plan.
So this year, I’m applying the same technique to my personal and professional goals. I’m starting with what I want my life to look like at the end of the 2014. Laura Vanderkam frames this in the form of the Christmas letter, writing down what you want to tell the world about what you accomplished or experienced in the previous year. I think of it as creating a mental image of myself living my best life. By documenting my 2014 accomplishments now, I can work backward into creating an action plan that will actually help me achieve them.
As I’m building my project plan, these are some of the questions I ask:
- What strengths can I build on and what weaknesses will I have to address?
- Am I including a goal that I have failed at in the past? If so, what skills do I need to build to overcome that obstacle?
- Do I need external resources – financial, technical, emotional?
- What’s going to keep me motivated? And conversely, what could potentially derail me psychologically?
- Where will I find feedback and encouragement?
- What are my key milestones and how will I celebrate them?
I’m not a big fan of resolutions – the “I’m going to do X, Y or Z when I turn 30. Or 40. Or in the New Year” variety. If you’re not committed to doing it right now (smoking less, exercising more, reading the classics) then you probably won’t be motivated to do it at some arbitrary date in the future. But I do believe in the power of a good project plan.
How about you? How do you approach your goals for the New Year?
(Photo credit: Microsoft)