For most of my adult life I have worked hard, but never seemed to get anything done. Why?
As a kid I was easily distracted, had no real goals, and struggled with organization. Just cleaning my room seemed like an overwhelming challenge.
Somehow I managed to graduate from college, but only after changing majors and schools half a dozen times, and even then had no clear idea of what I wanted to do or why.
So I went backpacking for six months, found God, and then began working as unskilled labor.
In my late twenties I read about the importance of setting goals to people who managed to accomplish something with their lives. But I found it difficult to write down meaningful goals and even more difficult to accomplish them.
Still, I did begin to set goals for myself and achieved some of them. I set a goal of becoming an actuary, began studying for the exams, passed some and was hired. Even with my exemplary record.
This is part of the secret to knowing what you’ve accomplished. When you set a goal, write it down, and accomplish it, you have a written record of what you’ve done. You know you’ve accomplished something.
The people who did really well on those actuarial exams knew how many pages they had to read, how many problems they had to work, when they would begin taking practice exams, etc. They had all these milestones on some kind of timeline with due dates. That’s a project: a goal with a roadmap and timetable for its realization. That’s the second part of knowing what you’ve accomplished: that written document of milestones, due dates, and done dates.
David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done really helped me with just this one idea: what’s the next action. That was specific enough, clear enough, and short enough to get me from writing down the goal to accomplishing it. Writing those next actions down is the backbone of a project. Doing them turns a goal into reality.