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If you audit time in terms of what you said you’d accomplish versus what you actually did, it’s not uncommon to see deltas like, “I only completed to my satisfaction 20% of what was needed: 70% got pushed to the next week, and 10% wasn’t done well.” Normally at a corporate job, this level of productivity is a recipe for unemployment, but when it comes to personal lives, we tend to extend ourselves so much grace that it can border on self-sabotage.
Why? Well, because we can. There’s simply less accountability within a personal space not governed by a passion to be more effective and efficient with time (efficacy here essentially means “I’m getting it done,” while efficiency translates to “I’m getting things done faster and better”). And the only way someone can ever truly embrace both is by leveraging the tools and systems connected to how we operate on a granular level. This is what good project management does.
Define objectives and create deliverables
The first step in applying better management to your personal life is to clearly define objectives. This includes breaking them down into smaller deliverables and defining the time needed to achieve each one. Say you need to clean out the garage: Instead of saying, “This is a goal, and I’ll do it this Saturday,” a better mechanism might be detailing that “Garage section 1 will take 40 minutes, and section 2 will take 50 minutes.” You’ve broken tasks down, assigned a duration to each, and can now monitor whether it took less or more time than anticipated.
I’ve found that the two most important things about setting objectives are:
- Ensuring what needs to be done is detailed, as lack of information leaves room for ambiguity. In other words, make sure goals have a defined scope.
- Emphasize measurement: that dates, durations and progress can be attached to the objective.
Among the most challenging parts of project management is beating the “I know what to do, there’s just not enough time to do it all” syndrome. Such a phrase is a common indicator of an overwhelmed calendar and a lack of prioritization. Suppose deliverables are schedule-arranged according to the level of importance. In that case, there will be a strategy for choosing immediacy or delay and a schema to dictate later calendar development.
One organizing method I apply is the “P1 to P5” scale:
- P1 (Critical): Anything that needs to be addressed immediately
- P2 (High priority): Important but not time-sensitive
- P3 (Neutral): No immediate deadline, but it still needs to be addressed
- P4 (Low priority): Should be completed when there’s time
- P5 (Unknown): No estimated or outlined deadline
Creating a comprehensive timetable can be tedious, partly because of shifting priorities attached to deliverables, taking longer than expected, forgetting pre-requisites (what needs to be completed first) and the inevitable fact that people won’t always adhere to what we forecasted for their time. Investing in a project management scheduling tool for personal matters is great, as it introduces automation to help recalibrate these many variables. This is not to say that manual intervention will not be required on occasion; it is just that more detail will be captured and better managed over time.
- Ease of schedule updating, as it lives in the cloud and can be categorized by master or sub-schedules, allowing for both high- and low-level granularity.
- Quantitative assessments can be made to show, for example, how many tasks were planned versus accomplished, along with time overruns and scheduling delays.
- Resource tracking can help hold people accountable for completed tasks.
- Incorporating the often overlooked, such as potential risks, will make it easier to create contingency plans.
- Connectivity to existing schedules on Google or Outlook Calendars to provide additional visibility.
Any capable project manager makes it a point to document rigorously, including lessons learned, and the same should apply to ways personal lives are organized. This may seem at first like a needless expenditure of effort, but consider the business corollary: If you were late on deliverables 25% of the time or if high-priority items were not being handled well, the effects would be dramatic. Putting better systems in place requires consistency, discipline and focus. Still, you’ll find that practice quickly becomes a habit — that what once seemed fussy translates into real-life improvement and better results in all of its aspects.