How can you do it all? Running a marathon, setting up a successful business, getting organized and achieving your dreams aren’t easy to do. Even after you take the important step of deciding what you want out of life, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the size of everything you want to accomplish.
A method I’ve been using for years to tackle this problem is with short-term projects. This approach helps form a bridge between end results and right now. Best of all, I’ve found that creating short-term projects you see work as a game instead of a sacrifice towards something bigger.
What is a Short-Term Project?
Short-term projects are a very specific type of goal. While a goal can range anywhere from what you want to accomplish over the next year to what you want to do this afternoon, short-term projects have a few qualities that make them easier to stick with and more motivating to approach.
Here are just a few of the conditions that make up a short-term project:
- Time is from 1-12 months.
- The focus is on building, not achieving.
- Only one project at a time.
I’ll discuss why these three major conditions are important and how you can use short-term projects to work smarter.
Deadline is Between One Month and One Year
Goals can range from daily activities to decade-long milestones. A project differs by being restricted within one month and a year. Although these restrictions are somewhat arbitrary, there are valid reasons for making sure your projects stick somewhere within this range.
Projects that are too short won’t accomplish much. A well-written article might offer a few new ideas. But a well-written book can organize hundreds. Longer projects have the advantage of concentrating your effort to build something meaningful.
Projects that are too long are risky. If I wanted to spend the next five years writing a book, I’m making many assumptions when I start. Lengthy projects may need so many alterations that they begin to look like Joan Rivers by the time you finish. Keeping projects in a shorter time-span ensures you can maintain a direction the entire time.
The Focus is on Building, Not Achieving
The focus of a goal is achieving something you desire. Losing 20 lbs is a definite achievement that isn’t directly connected with any work. A project, however, is based on building. Building the habit of going to the gym is directly connected with work. There is considerable grey area between these two extremes, but projects emphasize enjoying while you build instead of reaching an outside benchmark.
Currently I have an annual income goal for this website and a project for releasing my next e-book. The income goal is a benchmark that isn’t directly associated with any work. The e-book is entirely based on the effort I put into it, whether it sells any copies or not.
It’s easy to get discouraged or frustrated when trying to achieve a goal. Often the results don’t match up with the effort or ideas you put into it. But in building you can stay motivated because your efforts are usually matched by completing more of the project.
One Project at a Time
Too many objectives will defeat the entire purpose of setting goals in the first place. If you have a goal to focus your energies, then having six or seven different goals is no better than setting zero. Short-term projects are only useful if you only commit to one of them at a time. Since a project can be fairly short, it’s easier to focus on one completely.
What’s the Difference Between Goals and Projects
Here are a few example goals and potential projects you could use towards reaching them:
- Goal – Lose weight. Project – Set up the habit of exercising.
- Goal – Earn more business income. Project – Create a new product.
- Goal – Learn computer programming. Project – Make a small application.
- Goal – Save more money. Project – Complete a 3-month budgeting trial to see how low you can bring down your expenses.
- Goal – Become more productive. Project – Commit to following GTD for a month.
- Goal – Set up a successful freelancing business. Project – Design your personal website.
Projects lie somewhere between tasks and goals. They are larger than short tasks. But their focus on building, rather than achieving contrasts them from goals. This difference makes projects great for working on long-term goals. While you may experience set-backs in progress and motivation with achievement, you can always keep building towards your project.
Keeping Projects Aligned With Goals
Projects are great for staying motivated because they can provide a constant stream of reward for effort. But it is important to monitor your projects to make sure they stay aligned with your goals and that they don’t start to expand.
The best way to ensure your projects stay aligned with your goals is that you regularly review the entire project and that you keep them small. If you waste four months on a project that didn’t help your goal (a failed product, bad habit trial, etc.) then you haven’t lost too much time. But if a two year project fails, you’ve wasted a lot of time and energy.
Do a semi-weekly review of your big projects to ensure that they aren’t growing too large and that they are still relevant to the goals you have. If your goals change, you may have to give up projects. I spent over a year working on a computer program before my goals changed and I decided to start this website. Giving up projects can be hard, but if your interests switch, you need to pull the plug.