I have always had a fascination with planning. For as long as I can remember I have made plans for what I wanted the future to look like. I have tried to envision the future in various sized blocks—what do I want to accomplish this week; what I do I want to achieve this year; what is on the ‘to-do list’ for today? Always a question, always looking forward.
This year I am doing something different in terms of planning. Rather than just write out ‘annual goals’ which I have done for years, I am trying to be more intentionally focused on shorter blocks of time. Rather than imagining great improvements that would be radical changes, I am trying to shorten the range to the immediate steps that can occur more quickly. Rather than staring at an annual plan, I am focusing on 3 months at a time. 90 days is more manageable than 365.
The shorter perspective has been working. I feel as if I have done more in the first six months of this year than I have in some years altogether. I have made progress in a number of directions. I have accomplished many items both personally and professionally. I have tracked these changes on a daily and quarterly basis. I have focused more on taking smaller steps. It is good that I have made some progress because I know how far I have to go. This has produced a list of items not for which I look for recognition; it is a list of reminders that being focused on the right things will move me in the right direction. Focusing on the more immediate has moved me further than I would have anticipated.
In line with that, I am seeing the difference between goals, projects, and tasks in a new light. Sometimes people, myself included, have wonderful goals—great aspirations in positive directions with the best of intentions. But goals do not always translate into actions. Businesses and organizations and churches can have noble goals, but until they discern the directions and decisions that will make these more manageable, those goals remain elusive. Goals can make pretty pictures, but the lines are sometimes fuzzy.
‘Projects’ is a way of talking about the goals that are broken into reasonable units. If we want to move from X to Y by t, from here to there by then, then we need to plot the steps along the way. We do not move through life by one enormous leap after another; progress is typically slower. Breaking goals into projects is a healthy way to get focused on the next steps to be taken. Projects make the picture clearer.
Projects are made up of tasks. Each portion of the project has certain tasks that have to be finished in sequence (usually) to bring about completion. Tasks are something that are easy to handle. I have time during the day to do many tasks—make a call, make a decision, read a chapter or article, write 1,000 words, send an email, respond to an email, offer a prayer. It is the accumulation of all those tasks directed towards some end that moves life along. Tasks may not require a ton of energy or effort, but steady completion of tasks takes me to new places that would not have been possible otherwise. Tasks mount up over time. I can see tasks completely in one day—not only focused, but also finished.
Focusing on the right dimension—goal, project, task—with a reminder that progress takes steady effort has yielded many positive changes this year. Focus has been the key. The clearer I am able to see both the big picture, the intermediate markers, and the immediate tasks, the more effective and efficient I become. Choosing the right lens brings clarity. Focus is what brings it all into view.