Charting Your Success

Tap your inner geek to help prioritize your goals

Posted Sep 29, 2011

My project list was overwhelming. I had a book proposal to finish and another idea vying for my attention. I had two blog projects that needed to be fed content and two deadline projects from the clients who provide my regular source of income. And the novel I've been working on for longer than I care to admit in public was crying out to be finished. Add to that the daily tasks of paying bills, putting food on the table, and the care of maintenance of a marriage, not to mention my own care and maintenance-exercise, healthy eating, maybe a little downtime-and I was paralyzed by how to get it all done.

Sound familiar? We all have out own set of "projects" to juggle, especially when we're trying to drive towards a new goals, while taking care of our current obligations. So how do you decide what floats to the surface and what gets put on the shelf for a while?

Our natural instinct is to feed the dog that's barking loudest. For me, that was the client with the check in her hand and the blog that I've committed to posting on daily. The book projects quickly slipped by the wayside.

But the book projects are important to me. They're the projects I'm passionate about and the ones that feed my long-term goals. I had to find a way to prioritize and still feed my soul and not just my bank account.

Being a bit of a geek at heart, I made a chart and drew a graph. OK, stay with me here, I know it sounds like nothing more than a procrastination technique, but I was surprised by the results.

Here's what I did. Feel free to play along with your own set of must-do's:

Step 1: Make a Chart

I sketched up a grid and listed my six major projects down the left hand column. In the column heading, I listed the factors to consider. In my case, the things I considered where Length of Effort, Intensity of Effort, Monetary Reward, Non-Monetary Reward.

Length of Effort relates to the duration of the project. The client projects are always short-term, taking around a week to complete. One book project is medium term, needing about a month's work, while the other, the novel, is long-term, needing six to twelve months of my time.

Intensity of Effort is self-explanatory. The blog is low intensity because I have a list of posts and all I need to do is sit down and write them. The book proposal is high, because I need to do in-depth research and crosscheck references before I can even begin to write.

Monetary Reward is simple, although not an exact science. The book could potentially bring a high income and the blog is low income.

Non-monetary reward is where it gets interesting. I looked at all the other benefits of my projects. For example, my novel project has a high non-monetary reward. It's a labor of love and I'm passionate about getting the story out and calling myself a novelist. Finishing the book is a big step towards my long-term goal. The client's projects have almost zero non-monetary reward. They don't support my long-term goals or my passions; they are quite simply a paycheck, critical to keeping a roof over my head and food on the table, but not a part of my long-range outlook.

Step 2: Assign a Value

This is where the geeky bit starts. For each project, assign a value in each category. So, for the Effort categories, short-term or low intensity is a 3, medium equals 2, long-term, or high intensity equals 1.

For the rewards categories, for both Monetary and Non-Monetary Rewards, high=3, medium=2, low=1. Assign your ratings, and yes, it's okay to use half numbers if you're uncertain.

Step 3: Add Them Up

Add up the four numbers for each category to get a grand total. This will give you an overall weighting for each project.

Step 4: Draw a Graph

Plot the values on a graph, with the projects listed across the bottom and the weighting up the side. It's worth taking this extra step, especially if you're a visual person, as you can clearly see what your priorities really are.

Step 5: List your projects in order of weighting

And here is your list of priorities in order of importance. In my case, the book proposal made it to the top of the list, telling me clearly that I need to carve out some time and just get it done. The client's projects made number 4 on the list. Yes, they provide an income, but they don't serve my long-term goals.

There were two surprises on my list. The first was my novel, which came in at number 2. Even though it's a long-term project, requiring a steady input of effort and no guarantee of monetary reward, it's a project that's really important to me on a personal level and will give me the most satisfaction and feeling of success in the long run. So, I know I need to create some time for it on a regular basis.

The other surprise was my blog, which made the bottom of my list. It's a long-term effort (I've committed to blogging daily), it requires medium effort, and it doesn't provide any income, so the monetary value is very low. However, it does have a medium-high non-monetary rating, because it benefits some personal and professional goals. It's also important to me personally, so how do I move it up the list so that the effort involved matches the rewards reaped?

By looking at the four factors I was able to see clearly what needed to change. I could:

1.     Increase the monetary value by finding a way to make the blog pay

2.     Increase the long-term value by making sure the related book gets written (it's now at #1 on the list)

3.     Reduce the effort by cutting the frequency of my posts, recruiting guest bloggers, or using clips from the book project as posts.

With my current workload, the current solution is to temporarily cut back on my posting frequency, until I can wrap up some of the other projects and make the blog a higher priority again. That knowledge alone will allow me to take a deep breath and feel better about focusing on my top priorities.

Granted, this method isn't foolproof. When my client comes with a new job, I'm going to take it, and I'm going to remain committed to my blog at some level, but I'm also going to make sure that my two book projects get the time and energy they deserve and make it to the top of my priority list most of the time.

Even if you don't have a geeky bone in your body, try this method with your own priorities and your own reward system. I'd be interested to hear if you have any revelations about your own work habits.

About the Author

Lisa Manterfield is the creator of and the author of I'm Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood.

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