Some tasks and projects fit nicely into broader goals, and other times, they don’t seem connected to bigger-picture items. When you’re looking at an uncategorized To-Do list, this isn’t that big of a problem because it’s all work. The downside of looking at an uncategorized To-Do list is that it’s really easy to work on the wrong things just because they’re on the list.
One of the core tenets of what I teach about productivity and planning is to tie daily actions (tasks) to broader goals (objectives) by way of projects. Every action ties into some project that matters, which itself ties into some broader objective that matters. (Tweet this.) The upside to this method is that it helps you focus on the stuff that matters; the downside is that “loose” tasks and projects become harder to keep track of.
A former student of our old Momentum Planning e-Course asked a question about this:
I’m working through this course. For background, I’ve been using the Weekly and Daily Momentum Planners since March, so in other words, I’d started really working with the planner before you launched this course. It has been helpful, although I’ve never succeeded in allocating time slots to daily tasks.
Both before and after I switched to the Planning Course, I’ve been perplexed about the relationship between monthly objectives and weekly projects. What do I do about all the projects on my plate that aren’t connected to one of my monthly objectives? Somewhere along the line, don’t I need to see everything that needs to be done, not just those items related to the objectives?
Example: my partner had a talk last week for which I needed to create slides. I included that talk in my list of Major Events, but I didn’t identify it as or include it in my list of Objectives. Yet I certainly needed to leave time in one of the weekly sections to create those slides. We can multiply this example by 3 or 4 times to cover the myriad things I’m involved with weekly and daily.
Yet if I include everything that’s on my monthly plate in Objectives each month, then I lose the meaning/importance of the Objective.
What follows is my response to her:
This is always a tricky one and the best I’ve been able to do is advise people to under-plan objectives and have a standing “Complete Recurring and Emergent Projects” objective listed to trigger a review of these projects. It’s a placeholder, yes, but it helps you make sure that you’re looking at it when you do the weekly planning. The Action Item Catcher and Individual Project Planner can be a good combo to catch and process these things.
In any event, I’d risk having a trigger placeholder on whatever view you’re looking at, rather than leaving it off and hoping that you remember to account for them.
[I’m adding more here that I didn’t in email because she had greater familiarity with the system.]
In her case, the project in question clearly fit with a broader strategic goal related to public speaking, so it’s not like she was wasting time working on something that didn’t matter. The problem is that it is but one of many projects that require some energy through the course of the month.
My suggestion to have a placeholder for these types of projects and actions is based on the block-based approach to planning that’s baked into the system. If we take our limited capacity seriously, we know that there’s only so much we can do, and when there are a lot of loose projects, allocating some of the blocks we have available at the monthly level is the best way to make sure we can see that we don’t have that free space.
Another scenario in which a placeholder can come in handy is when you have a backlog of projects to catch up on. If the focus of the month is going to be to catching up on those projects, “Work on Project Backlog” can be a great monthly objective that captures that. If you have a lot of projects to catch up on, you may have only that one other objective that month, in which case I’d suggest X’ing out the last three blocks in your objectives.
Sure, you could leave those blanks open, but that might not give you the at-a-glance perspective that you’ve got a busy month ahead of you with what’s already on the plate. You also don’t need to see all of your projects in the monthly objectives block to get a sense of how full the month is.
One last thing to remember: if you start laying out your weekly projects on the Monthly Momentum Planner and it gets filled up with projects that aren’t tied to your monthly objectives, you’ll either need to change those weekly projects, change your monthly objectives, or figure out some other way to get the work off your plate. There’s only so much you can do, after all, and the planners are designed to help you see this.
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