This is the fifteenth entry in a twenty part series discussing the wonderful time and priority management book Making It All Work by David Allen. New entries in this series will appear on Tuesday mornings and Friday mornings through December 10.
Allen opens the chapter with this question and it really underlines everything that this chapter is about. Goals. Commitments. Things you’ll need to get done or plan to get done over the next year or two in your life.
Usually, these goals and commitments are connected to (or propped up on) the areas of focus mentioned in the previous chapter. For example, one of my goals is to write a third book – accomplished in the next year or two – and that’s firmly propped up on top of my focus on writing. Another goal is to teach my son and daughter basic mastery of arithmetic – and that’s firmly propped up on top of multiple areas of focus.
What distinguishes a goal from a project, though? Allen’s description of goals, on page 236, doesn’t really distinguish between them:
Goals, like project, are outcomes that can be completed and checked off as “done.” Restructuring an organization, publishing a book, getting out of debt, sending your son off to college, launching a new product line, running a marathon – these would be the kinds of aspirations you might expect to have on this list.
So, what’s a project and what’s a goal? Here’s my take on this.
A project can be finished in less than a year, while a goal is clearly longer than a year away from completion.
A project is one where you can clearly outline all of the steps you need to execute to get there. That’s scarcely true with a goal outside of some general guidelines and ideas.
A goal is often composed of a number of smaller projects.
I’ll give an example in my own life. A goal of mine is to write a third book. The first project within that goal is to define what I want to write. Another project might be to outline the entire book. These projects, together, lead to achieving my goal.
How often should a person re-evaluate their goals? Allen offers a take on page 237:
It makes sense to rethink the substance of annual and longer goals at least once a year. In most organizations this process is fairly automatic because of planning and budgeting meetings, which can be tied to the start of the fiscal year if that’s different than the calendar year. It’s also common to revisit the annual goals on a monthly or quarterly basis, for course correction and recalibration, if requested.
I actually am in favor of reviewing such big goals more often. I look at mine roughly every three months, because I often feel that my life’s priorities change subtly enough over a given three month period that it can really impact my goals.
As with Allen, I involve my wife in such goal discussion (and plan to involve my children in the future). On page 237:
My wife and I go through a rather unsophisticated exercise in this regard at the end of every year. First we spend about half an hour taking an inventory of everything we accomplished and everything noteworthy that we did that year. Major projects completed, new places we traveled, significant events that we experienced – all are just dumped out into a long list. [..] During the next half hour we simply ask ourselves what we would like to have on that list at the end of the following year, and capture those goals on another list.
We do something similar to this, but it’s more organic and happens more frequently than annually. Our shared goals are a semi-regular topic of conversation between us and, often, our children overhear this conversation as well.
Of course, such large-scale goals are simply what I would call a direct manifestation of what we want out of our lives as a whole, which is what we’ll be talking about next time.