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How to manage personal development major goals and projects March 28, 2007

Posted by Dennis Mellersh in Goal Setting and Realization.
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Dividing goals and projects into manageable components can make even a very ambitious self-improvement program much easier to master

The goal of completing a long-term or large project can often seem overwhelming when first starting work on it. But large projects or goals can be managed effectively if they are broken up into smaller bite-sized chunks. There is a saying that “You can eat an elephant if you do it one bite at a time.” Divide a big project into manageable proportions and it will not seem as daunting. In personal development, a lot of us can have trouble initially by setting up an ambitious plan of personal growth, but then becoming overwhelmed with it.

There are many ways to manage long-term goals and large projects and this short article will discuss one – that of tackling goals and projects by subdividing them. This approach may seem simplistic at first glance or so obvious as to not even warrant discussion, but it is surprising how many of us are intimidated by a large project or goal simply because we only see it as one mammoth whole, rather than as an integration of assembled components.

The “component” approach works with very long term goals and projects as well as short and medium terms ones. Ironically, in many ways, the tighter the deadline, or the shorter the time frame available for completion of the goal (within reason) the easier it is to break up the project or reverse-engineer it into executable goal- or project-time-chunks or task-accomplishment pieces.

There are many examples, but lets take one — specifically, that of a requirement for us to write a research report of 5,000 words on a complex topic with an inflexible deadline of four weeks from now. At first it may seem overwhelming until you effectively analyze the project or report on an individual components or task basis.

The first priority is to determine how many days or portions of days you will be able to devote to getting this project done. Say of the four weeks or 28 days, you effectively only have 15 days, or more probably parts of those 15 days, at your disposal to devote to this project from start to finish. Essentially, this means that you will have two weeks and a day to research and write the report.

Based on your knowledge of how you work most effectively, you’ll need to assess how much time you will need to spend on each of the project’s components. If you are good at writing, you will be able to spread out the time for required for the research, and will be able to leave the writing portion closer to the deadline.

If the reverse is true and you find the research easier, you will need to spread out the time allowed for writing. Either way, the good writer must do an equal amount of research and the good researcher must write an equal amount of words. In other words you allow less elapsed time for what you are good at and more elapsed time for what you have some difficulty with.

Even if the writing comes with ease, it would be difficult to crank out 5,000 words of quality writing, edit it, proofread it, and make final corrections in one day. So you need to determine how many words you want will need to write per day, how many days or hours you will need to edit it, how much time to proofread it, and how much time will be needed to make any required corrections.

Personally, I find that I can write with more facility than I can do research, so I might allow myself four days to write 1250 words each day for the 5,000 total and one day for editing, proofreading and making corrections, plus one day contingency, for things that might go wrong, equaling six days.

For the writing part, I then draw up a rectangle on a piece of paper and divide it into sections, or squares, one square for each word-count component. Then as I accomplish each, I shade in the appropriate square and can visually see my progress. Sometimes, if I need extra self-encouragement, I will make more squares, have a smaller word target in each and thereby can “see” the progress I am making more readily.

The same approach applies to the research, for which I would have nine days. I would allow one day at the beginning to scope out the project with a rough outline, determine how many research sources I would have to access, and then allocate a certain amount of research per day. The sources might be books, websites, blogs, and business colleagues or other experts. Once the number of sources is determined, you then allocate how many sources, or how much research you will need to do each day. In my case there would be eight days for research and one day for reviewing the research and developing a report outline based on it.

Then you can use the same approach of drawing squares on a piece of paper and then marking off or shading in each square as each component of the research is accomplished. The review day for the research notes you have made is very important as this is the day to read and re-read all of the research and to highlight it with a marker or by underlining key sections you may want to incorporate in your report.

At this point, key phrases or keywords will start to emerge through your reading, re-reading and then highlighting the your research notes. In fact, you will get an indication that your research could be nearing completion when you start to feel that your new research material is largely confirming or repeating information that you have already researched.

Then using both your knowledge of what the report requires, or is supposed to cover, and your key phrases or keywords, you can now write an outline in brief points, breaking the report down into topical sections. Once your outline is complete I usually find it helpful to then go through all of the highlighted sections of my research notes and write the applicable topic section or keyword or phrase beside the highlighted section. When you come to writing you can then aggregate the topic notes together as you move through writing the report section by section.

One of the hardest parts of writing, for most of us, is the beginning, or the lead sentence or paragraph. Instead of forming drops of blood on your forehead agonizing over this, you might want to try starting with the first section instead. By now you have a general sense of the thematic direction of the report, so what you write will most likely be on target. Then, when you have completed all the sections, the lead sentence will be more obvious —  essentially it should state the main theme of the report. Writing a conclusion can be difficult as well because you don’t want it to be simply a synopsis of everything before it. In conclusions, it is often helpful to state a forward trend that the content of the report is leaning towards.

In the case of this article for example, (if I have done a reasonably good job of providing some helpful hints) the conclusion might be that after reading it, you should have a better grasp of how to research, organize and write a report.

The one-bite-at-a-time or component approach I have outlined here can also be applied to other long terms goals and projects as well, including lifetime goals. For longer term goals there are some variables however, which will be the subject of future articles.