Get more specific: Priorities to Goals to Projects to Tasks

Once you’ve set your priorities, you need to make sure you’re living in accordance with them. To do that, you need to make your priorities actionable. But priorities are by definition at the big picture level. How are we supposed to make them small and action-sized?

The way to do that is to break down your priorities into goals, your goals into projects, and your projects into tasks. In this way you know that when you complete a task, it completes a part of a project, which fits into a goal, which supports your priorities. If you follow this scheme, even the small actions you take will be feeding into your goals and making sure you’re living in accordance with your priorities.

Often when we are engaged in a small, everyday activity, it can feel meaningless or boring. We lose perspective (why am I doing this?) and do the activity just because we have to do it. But if we follow this framework, no matter how small the activity, we can easily link it to our projects, goals, and priorities, so it quickly fits into our overview of our life and where we’d like to be.

For instance, if I am sitting in front of my computer and renaming files, it can get boring very quickly. But if I remember that I am doing this because once the files are renamed, I can analyze my data and find out the answers to interesting questions I’ve posed in my research, suddenly I know why I am renaming those files and feel more motivated to keep doing it.

Or if I am at home, standing in the kitchen and cooking for two hours, I may feel annoyed and may want to stop. But if I remind myself that I am preparing healthy food that will support and heal my body and ultimately help me to lead a more vibrant life, I may find myself suddenly energized and willing to cook.

What does it actually look like to break down your priorities into tasks? I will give an example from my own work. A priority of mine is to complete a PhD. One goal that belongs to that priority is to publish a paper. One project that belongs to that goal is to collect data. One task that belongs to that project is to schedule the participation of participant 1.

Priorities -> Goals -> Projects -> Tasks

It’s very helpful to have an overview of your priorities, the goals that you currently have for each priority, the projects that belong to each goal, and the tasks that belong to each project. This makes it easy to see how far you’ve progressed on a certain project or goal and how this fits with your priorities overall.

Here is an example of some of my goals and how I’ve divided them according to priority. Each goal contains a list of projects or simply tasks.

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