What is a project? Some common definitions include any piece of work that is undertaken or attempted or a planned objective requiring concerted effort.
These are both true and do capture the essence of ‘projectness’; nevertheless, as a pragmatist, I feel that fellow productivity expert David Allen offers a much more practical definition in his book Getting Things Done. He states “I define a project as any desired result that requires more than one action step.”
In other words, a project is anything that involves two or more tasks for successful completion. Of course, this means that goals can be viewed as projects as well; however, I believe these are a special kind of project and should be treated as categorically different. Goals are really super-projects.
Remember: your important projects should be directly tied to your goals. Likewise, tasks that you give priority should be linked to your current active projects. Like water flowing down from a mountain in early spring, your priorities for the moment should be set by your targets for the future like so:
To replace your generic ‘to do’ lists, you’ll really need this better system, where Annual Goals, Active Projects, and Current Tasks are tracked on three different lists. Each list really needs to be reviewed daily. This is the very best way to maintain your long-term plans and also live in the present.
Creating a project list is sometimes difficult as these lists sometimes are extremely large. What I suggest is just taking one morning or afternoon to review everything that you want to get done in the next 30 days and add them to this list. You can use a stream-of-consciousness technique, just to get them all out of your head. Afterward, determine what is really important and is aligned with your goals. You should double check with your goals list. Then give each project a firm deadline and when you will begin by doing the first task (e.g. making a phone call, reading a book).
The act of making your initial project list can take a few hours, but it is well worth it in the long run. After the list exists, as new projects flow into your life, just add them to the list.