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Want to Be More Productive Than Ever? Treat Your Personal Life Like a Work Project. It pays to emphasize efficiency and efficacy when managing personal time.

By Nickie Rowley Edited by Matt Scanlon

Key Takeaways

  • Accomplishing personal goals can require a project manager mindset.
  • Define objectives and create deliverables in your personal life.
  • Find a project management framework that suits your needs.
  • Utilize online tools to stay on track.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you audit your personal time in terms of what you said you'd accomplish versus what you actually did, the results would probably surprise you. For some people, the breakdown might look something like this: I only completed 30% of what was needed, and 70% got pushed to the next week. At a corporate job, this level of productivity is a recipe for unemployment, but when it comes to personal lives, we tend to extend ourselves so much grace it can sometimes border on self-sabotage.

Why? Well, because we can. You have less accountability: no boss threatening punishment and no colleagues depending on you. In your personal life, you're also less likely to prioritize the efficacy (I'm getting it done) and efficiency (I'm getting things done faster and better) of what you're doing. This often manifests in procrastination, a lack of initiative and sidelined projects.

If this sounds familiar, it might be time to start thinking differently about your personal time — leveraging the tools and systems connected to how we operate on a granular level. This is good project management, and it's a skill you can translate to your personal time.

Define objectives and create deliverables

The first step in applying better management to your personal life is to have clearly defined objectives. This includes breaking them down into smaller deliverables and defining the time needed to achieve each one. Consider the task of cleaning out the garage. Instead of saying, "This is a goal, and I'll do it on Saturday," a better mechanism might be to tell yourself that "Section one of the garage will take 40 minutes, and section two will take 50 minutes." You've broken tasks down and assigned a duration to each, so now you can monitor if it took more or less time than anticipated.

Related: Why Inner-Mastery is the Key to Self-Growth

I've found the two most important things about setting objectives are:

  • Describing exactly what needs to be done. A lack of information leaves room for ambiguity, so make sure goals have a defined scope.
  • Emphasizing measurement. The objective should have dates, durations and progress attached to it.

Setting objectives and deadlines in business is often straightforward: You have a deliverable, and your client or customer expects it at a certain time. Your personal life is more fluid. You might have a list of to-dos or goals with no urgent deadlines, so it's crucial to hold yourself accountable. For every objective, set a date by which you'll complete it — and keep track of your progress. If you keep missing deadlines, reassess your workflow. Writing down due dates and having them within eyesight of your workspace can be a motivator for those who struggle to stay on track.

How to find a project management framework that works for you

Once you have an objective, think like a project manager and decide on a framework suited to your needs. These are ways to organize and manage your tasks, first developed in the early 20th century and later adapted by business leaders and social scientists across industries.

There's no one-size-fits-all strategy; different project management frameworks will cater to different working styles. It also depends on the goals themselves. Are you trying to do it all on your own? Are you relying on others? Many project management frameworks are designed for teams, but there are also approaches perfect for solo ventures. Consider the following frameworks to help project manage your personal life:

Waterfall

One of the most widely used management frameworks, waterfall, is a linear way of organizing projects. By clearly laying out objectives and tasks, the framework requires you to complete each stage before moving to the next. There are five phases: requirements (big-picture outlines), design (figuring out the how), implementation (putting it in action), verification (testing the efficacy) and maintenance (keeping things going). As you move down the waterfall, you move forward with your project. This is a great framework for straightforward projects like building a backyard shed. Waterfall does not cater to more complicated and multifaceted projects, though, as there's little room to adjust for unexpected hitches.

Agile

Often used in software development, agile is a more adaptive approach than waterfall. Its main tenets are that it's iterative and can change depending on the needs of stakeholders — whether that be altering methods or shifting strategies altogether. Whereas the waterfall approach is linear (moving from one step to the next), agile allows for more flexibility throughout the project: incorporating feedback and tweaking your methods as you go. It's a good approach for personal projects that involve lots of moving parts, such as planning a wedding.

Kanban

Kanban, which is somewhat of a sub-framework under agile, utilizes visual cues to keep projects on track. Developed in Japan, kanban means "signboard" and involves an actual board (physical or digital) on which you place cards to track progress. It's an especially helpful approach for projects with lots of tasks and development stages — editorial work, for example, which might involve drafting content, sending it in for edits and publishing.

Lean

The objectives of a lean framework are all in the name: Cut waste and build a straightforward path to your goal. The thinking? By eliminating wasteful and burdensome practices, you can reach your goals with less work and more efficiency. It's essential to identify these practices upfront, and this is a framework best suited for individuals who find themselves procrastinating, wasting time and exerting lots of energy on what should be simple tasks.

How to prioritize all your tasks

Among the most challenging parts of project management is beating the syndrome of I know what to do, but there's just not enough time to do it all. Such a phrase is a common indicator of an overwhelmed calendar and a lack of prioritization. In most cases, your deliverables or goals can be arranged according to importance.

One organizing method I apply is the "P1 to P5" scale:

  • P1 (Critical): Anything that needs to be addressed immediately
  • P2 (High priority): Important but not time-sensitive
  • P3 (Neutral): No immediate deadline, but it still needs to be addressed
  • P4 (Low priority): Should be completed when there's time
  • P5 (Unknown): No estimated or outlined deadline

The trick is in assessing your tasks and properly categorizing them in the scale. Some might be obvious — fixing a burst pipe is clearly a P1 task, for example. But when goals don't have a set deadline or due date, you need to think about that task in relation to the others. Start by categorizing deadline-driven tasks, then write down your other ongoing tasks. You can do this as both a high- and low-level exercise: prioritizing tasks for the quarter, month, week or even just a single day.

The priority of your tasks can also depend on the project management framework you've chosen. If using a waterfall approach your tasks will be more linear and deadline-driven. If using the agile framework, though, you'll likely deal with moving parts that require constant reprioritization.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Project Managers

Curating your schedule

Creating a comprehensive timetable can be tedious, partly because of shifting priorities attached to deliverables, unexpected challenges and the fact that things don't always go according to plan. In an ideal world, you'd build a schedule, stick to it and complete your tasks right on time. The reality, however, is more complicated.

One way to stay on track amid all the hiccups and hurdles is to invest in a scheduling tool to automate and help recalibrate when these variables arise. This is not to say that you won't need to manually intervene on occasion; it'll just help you capture and manage more details over time. A few tools to consider include Wrike, Asana, Trello and Smartsheet.

What's the best project management tool for you?

In addition to managing and curating schedules, project management tools can keep you on track, measure progress and organize tasks. Benefits of using these tools include:

  • Seamlessly updating schedules and priorities
  • Quantitative assessments to track how many tasks were planned versus accomplished
  • Identifying potential risks to create contingency plans
  • Connectivity to existing schedules on Google or Outlook calendars

Much like a project management framework, the specific tool you choose will largely depend on your goals and personal needs. Regardless of if your personal initiatives are easily achievable or require some scaling, consider the following online tools to manage them:

ClickUp

ClickUp is a centralized hub for project-related activities and offers a wide range of features to help teams and individuals effectively plan, organize and collaborate on projects. Key features include task management, team communication and custom tools, such as templates, kanban boards, time-tracking and progress-tracking.

Cost: Personal plan is free; business plans start at $12/month

Zoho Projects

Zoho Projects is a project management and organizational tool leveraged by many startups. In addition to its robust task management features, Zoho Project also allows for task automation, progress charts and time tracking.

Cost: Free for up to three users; enterprise plan starts at $10 per user/month

Monday.com

Monday.com is a popular project management solution that boasts a visual and intuitive interface for streamlining workflows and staying organized. The platform's customizable workflow allows users to create boards, tasks, project components, due dates and checkboxes, enabling them to capture and track project information. It also features tools that allow individuals and teams to monitor what percentage of tasks have been completed. This is a great platform for solo ventures, but it can get more expensive if you scale personal projects.

Cost: Free for two users; up to $16 per user/month for Pro plan

Notion

Notion is a versatile tool that combines note-taking, document-sharing, task-tracking and interactive dashboard creation to provide a highly flexible and customizable workspace. Your dashboard can look however you want, with pages, databases, lists, tables and kanban boards. If you decide to scale, the team collaboration aspect is also one of Notion's selling points: Multiple team members can edit and contribute to documents, tasks and other project elements simultaneously.

Cost: Free for individuals; up to $15 per user/month for larger businesses

Related: 5 Best Project Management Tools of 2023

The payoffs

Any capable project manager makes it a point to document progress, as well as lessons learned, and the same should apply to how you organize your personal life. You might be thinking, my personal goals are separate from work, and I should approach them differently. But the fact remains that when you implement better systems, you have more consistency, discipline and focus in your tasks — whether they be personal or professional.

Nickie Rowley

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of Luxurious Web Design

Nicole Rowley is the CEO and Founder of Luxurious Web Design, a web development and online marketing company. She is an online instructor with more than 7,500 students in 85 countries. Rowley advises legacy businesses on digital transformation and startups on market entry.

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