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Back to Basics: Projects

Back to Basics: Projects

Back to Basics: Projects

    One of the things that is so hard to grasp about “next actions” or “tasks” is that they are single actions – buy something, call someone, go somewhere, look something up. In and of themselves, they have no end goal other than their own immediate completion.

    People don’t think like that way, for the most part, and it is the challenge of productivity experts like David Allen or Stephen Covey to lead their students to do so. The first thing a newly-arrived student of productivity wants to put on his or her list is “write novel” or “write grant proposal” or “acquire Acme Co.” or “sue Google” or “save marriage” – big, huge undertakings that can’t just be “done”. You need a plan, you need resources that you probably don’t have immediate access to, you need coordination with other people, and you need time.

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    These big undertakings are projects — “bundles” of actions devoted towards the achievement of some goal. In the lingo of GTD, a project is anything that takes more than one action to accomplish. I’m not a big fan of that definition, because it gives no sense of where to divide the stream of motion and time into discrete “actions”. At a small enough scale, everything requires more than one action to accomplish – to brush my teeth, I have to wet my toothbrush, apply toothpaste to the brush, open my mouth, brush my the back of my furthest-back molar, then brush the back of the one in front of it, and on and on through the bicuspids and incisors and the tops and fronts and gums and…

    But brushing my teeth is not a project. Nor is sharpening a pencil, or driving to work, or calling the power company with a question about my bill. Common sense tells me that.

    What, then, is the defining feature of a project? For me, a project is not about the number of actions but about the outcome of those actions. A project is a set of actions that are intended to bring about a transformation in my life. Brushing my teeth is a change (dirty to clean) but it’s not a life transformation.

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    Writing a book is a life transformation – you become an author. Saving your marriage is a life transformation. Building a company is a life transformation.

    But the transformation doesn’t have to be that drastic. A project can be part of the bigger transformation of your life – writing that grant proposal so you can launch that social program so that you can build up your organization’s community profile so that you can build up your own career – those are all little transformations directed at the big transformation of becoming a philanthropist (or maybe becoming the President of your company).

    Even those little transformations change us, though – they move us in meaningful ways towards life goals, and nobody except the shallowest of people reach life goals without changing along the way.

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    Heavy stuff for a project, yes? But I think that this internal view is important, because from it flows the motivation to continue plugging away at something over days, weeks, months, or years. Looked at this way, projects become less a way to organize our tasks — which the productivity gurus frown on, anyway — and more a way of structuring our lives.

    On a practical note

    Of course, projects are a way to organize our files as well. Unlike a todo list or contextual task lists, which are meant to be referred to constantly, project files only need to be referred to when you’re actively working on that project. Your task list cuts across your projects, telling you what to do and when, while project files tell you what you need to know to work on your project.

    Because of this, project files can “live” safely out of the way most of the time, being taken out only as needed. Active projects should be within reach, but not in your main working area. A desktop file box or desk filing drawer is ideal for active projects, unless your projects consist of things like “Invade Syria” or “Build skyscraper complex” — in which case, you’re going to need at least a file cabinet just for active files.

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    Into your active file goes everything meaningful associated with that project. Evaluate everything before filing it — is the information on it something you’re likely to need to complete the project. If not, leave it out of your project file.

    One thing you probably are going to want to make sure goes into your project file is a plan. You can buy planning paper at your local office supply store, download templates from DIY Planner, or make your own — the important thing is that you have a few essential pieces of information:

    • Objective: What do you hope to gain by completing this project?
    • Requirements: What resources do you need — materials, but also personal contacts and skills you might need to develop — in order to complete the project?
    • Milestones: What “chunks” of the project do you have to do, and by when do you want or need to do them?
    • Actions: What are the actual tasks you need to do in order to finish the project?

    Including a list of actions or tasks in your project plan is, I should say, very un-GTD — the whole point of which is to focus your attention on the very next thing you have to do to move the project forward. If you’ve developed that “mind like water” flow state, more power to you; I, and most other people, like a little more to go on than that.

    When a project is finished, the folder moves from your readily available active files to long-term storage — a filing cabinet or file storage boxes. Not everything in the file needs to be kept, though — make sure you weed out everything but the essentials. In many cases, you won’t have anything in your file worth keeping, and that’s fine — empty the folder, slap on a new label, and use it for your next project.

    Projects are important because they are the basic building blocks of a meaningful life. Actions can advance our projects, but they can also move us away from our goals. Having a set of well-defined projects, then, can help make sure our actions and goals stay in line.

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    Last Updated on October 13, 2020

    How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

    How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

    Have you been stuck in the same position for too long and don’t really know how to get promoted and advance your career?

    Feeling stuck could be caused by a variety of things:

    • Taking a job for the money
    • Staying with an employer that no longer aligns with your values
    • Realizing that you landed yourself in the wrong career
    • Not feeling valued or feeling underutilized
    • Taking a position without a full understanding of the role

    There are many other reasons why you may be feeling this way, but let’s focus instead on learning what to do now in order to get unstuck and get promoted

    One of the best ways to get promoted is by showing how you add value to your organization. Did you make money, save money, improve a process, or do some other amazing thing? How else might you demonstrate added value?

    Let’s dive right in to how to get promoted when you feel stuck in your current position.

    1. Be a Mentor

    When I supervised students, I used to warm them — tongue in cheek, of course — about getting really good at their job.

    “Be careful not to get too good at this, or you’ll never get to do anything else.”

    This was my way of pestering them to take on additional challenges or think outside the box, but there is definitely some truth in doing something so well that your manager doesn’t trust anyone else to do it.

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    This can get you stuck.

    Jo Miller of Be Leaderly shares this insight on when your boss thinks you’re too valuable in your current job:

    “Think back to a time when you really enjoyed your current role…You became known for doing your job so well that you built up some strong ‘personal brand’ equity, and people know you as the go-to-person for this particular job. That’s what we call ‘a good problem to have’: you did a really good job of building a positive perception about your suitability for the role, but you may have done ‘too’ good of a job!”[1]

    With this in mind, how do you prove to your employer that you can add value by being promoted?

    From Miller’s insight, she talks about building your personal brand and becoming known for doing a particular job well. So how can you link that work with a position or project that will earn you a promotion?

    Consider leveraging your strengths and skills.

    Let’s say that the project you do so well is hiring and training new entry-level employees. You have to post the job listing, read and review resumes, schedule interviews, make hiring decisions, and create the training schedules. These tasks require skills such as employee relations, onboarding, human resources software, performance management, teamwork, collaboration, customer service, and project management. That’s a serious amount of skills!

    Are there any team members who can perform these skills? Try delegating and training some of your staff or colleagues to learn your job. There are a number of reasons why this is a good idea:

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    1. Cross-training helps in any situation in the event that there’s an extended illness and the main performer of a certain task is out for a while.
    2. As a mentor to a supervisee or colleague, you empower them to increase their job skills.
    3. You are already beginning to demonstrate that added value to your employer by encouraging your team or peers to learn your job and creating team players.

    Now that you’ve trained others to do that work for which you have been so valued, you can see about re-requesting that promotion. Explain how you have saved the company money, encouraged employees to increase their skills, or reinvented that project of yours.

    2. Work on Your Mindset

    Another reason you may feel stuck in a position is explained through this quote:

    “If you feel stuck at a job you used to love, it’s normally you—not the job—who needs to change. The position you got hired for is probably the exact same one you have now. But if you start to dread the work routine, you’re going to focus on the negatives.”[2]

    In this situation, you should pursue a conversation with your supervisor and share your thoughts and feelings to help you learn how to get promoted. You can probably get some advice on how to rediscover the aspects of that job you enjoyed, and negotiate either some additional duties or a chance to move up.

    Don’t express frustration. Express a desire for more.

    Present your case and show your boss or supervisor that you want to be challenged, and you want to move up. You want more responsibility in order to continue moving the company forward. Focus on how you can do that with the skills you have and the positive mindset you’ve cultivated.

    3. Improve Your Soft Skills

    When was the last time you put focus and effort into upping your game with those soft skills? I’m talking about those seemingly intangible things that make you the experienced professional in your specific job skills[3].

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    Use soft skills when learning how to get promoted.

      According to research, improving soft skills can boost productivity and retention 12 percent and deliver a 250 percent return on investment based on higher productivity and retention[4]. Those are only some of the benefits for both you and your employer when you want to learn how to get promoted.

      You can hone these skills and increase your chances of promotion into a leadership role by taking courses or seminars.

      Furthermore, you don’t necessarily need to request funding from your supervisor. There are dozens of online courses being presented by entrepreneurs and authors about these very subjects. Udemy and Creative Live both feature online courses at very reasonable prices. And some come with completion certificates for your portfolio!

      Another way to improve your soft skills is by connecting with an employee at your organization who has a position similar to the one you want.

      Express your desire to move up in the organization, and ask to shadow that person or see if you can sit in on some of their meetings. Offer to take that individual out for coffee and ask what their secret is! Take copious notes, and then immerse yourself in the learning.

      The key here is not to copy your new mentor. Rather, you want to observe, learn, and then adapt according to your strengths.

      4. Develop Your Strategy

      Do you even know specifically why you want to learn how to get promoted? Do you see a future at this company? Do you have a one-year, five-year, or ten-year plan for your career path? How often do you consider your “why” and insure that it aligns with your “what”?

      Sit down and make an old-fashioned pro and con list.

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      Write down every positive aspect of your current job and then every negative one. Which list is longer? Are there any themes present?

      Look at your lists and choose the most exciting pros and the most frustrating cons. Do those two pros make the cons worth it? If you can’t answer that question with a “yes,” then getting promoted at your current organization may not be what you really want[5].

      The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. —Mark Twain

      Here are some questions to ask yourself:

      • Why do you do what you do?
      • What thrills you about your current job role or career?
      • What does a great day look like?
      • What does success look and feel like beyond the paycheck?
      • How do you want to feel about your impact on the world when you retire?

      Define success to get promoted

        These questions would be great to reflect on in a journal or with your supervisor in your next one-on-one meeting. Or, bring it up with one of your work friends over coffee.

        Final Thoughts

        After considering all of these points and doing your best to learn how to get promoted, what you might find is that being stuck is your choice. Then, you can set yourself on the path of moving up where you are, or moving on to something different.

        Because sometimes the real promotion is finding your life’s purpose.

        More Tips on How to Get Promoted

        Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

        Reference

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