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The Project-Based Mindset

Often, our minds are scattered. We do all sorts of stuff, but none of it really brings us closer to our goals. Projects focus our attention on one single achievable aim.

Everything can be approached with a project-based mindset.

Let’s just take a book as an example, as it is something that we all understand and deal with on a regular basis.

The book itself is a project.

So is every single chapter and sub-chapter.

Someone who is writing a book, will perceive the complete book as the final goal. Every single chapter, is a milestone in the completion of that project. And every single sub-chapter, is yet another milestone on the path to success.

Let’s just say that the book consists of 12 chapters, with every chapter consisting of 10 sub-chapters.

This means that if your goal is to finish the whole book in one year, then you have three days worth of time for each sub-chapter. And one month time for each chapter.

You have a clear goal for…
… the next three days (one sub-chapter).
… the next month (one chapter).
… the next year (the whole book).

This means that you are working on one specific activity at every single point in time. Your full attention is always focused on the completion of one particular sub-chapter.

Once all sub-chapters are completed, so is your book.

Compare that to those people who simply start writing — without giving any thoughts to the structure of that project.

Their attention is jumping back and forth between different sections of the book. They don’t know how much time they have for any particular section, in order to get the whole thing done on time.

They are constantly getting lost, because they don’t know what they should be focusing on next.

In short, they are lacking clarity on how to proceed.

The basics of project-based thinking

Whether it is a book, a marketing campaign, or a whole start-up — everything can be approached like a project.

Here’s what you need to make it happen:

  1. A specific end goal: (“what does the project look like, when it’s finished?”)
  2. Clearly defined milestones: (“what things do I need to get done, in order to turn that final project into reality?”)
  3. A realistic time-frame: (“how much time do I need to allocate for every individual step that needs to get done?”)

The main goal of project-based thinking is that at every point in time, you know exactly which aspect of the end goal, you need to be focusing your attention on.

One of the biggest killers of any kind of project is when ones attention is divided. Instead of going step-by-step to get all the necessary aspects of the project done, you are trying to do everything at once.

In short, you start multitasking.

The result is that you start doing a poor job at everything, instead of doing a great job at one thing.

All your attention should flow to ONE single thing. Once you’ve completed that, then you move on to the next ONE thing.

I was once involved in a start-up that was selling tourism deals (hotels and activities) as customisable packages together with other services.

We needed to negotiate with different service providers. Market the packages to consumers. And all the while, develop the technical infrastructure to make it happen.

As a bootstrapped business, our team consisted of two people and some occasional help from freelancers.

So, we were trying to do everything at once.

From morning till afternoon, we drove out to different service providers to negotiate any new deals. From afternoon until evening, we were uploading the deals, taking care of technical aspects, and doing the marketing.

As you can imagine, the whole process was a mess.

We should have focused on first getting the technical aspects right. Then, negotiating the deals with service providers. And only after that, started the marketing process.

But we wanted to see results quickly.

We were so much in a rush of wanting to make money quickly, that we didn’t get any of the three aspects right. Not only did we screw up most aspects of the business, but we were also constantly stressed and overworked.

All of this happened, because we didn’t follow the basic principle of dividing a large project into smaller tasks, and then getting them done one by one.

Some final words:

You may think that as a start-up, you have different people involved in the business. And different people can take care of different aspects of the project simultaneously.

And sure, you are completely right.

That is the whole point of having multiple departments in a business. So that one team can focus on ONE thing, while another team can focus on ONE other thing.

My point is that nobody should focus on the execution of multiple aspects of the business at the same time.

This would only lead to confusion and poor results, as the person is dividing his or her attention.

Any project needs to be broken down into its various components. And these different components need to be tackled one by one.

People with a project-based mindset always keep in mind:

  1. what the end goal of the whole project looks like.
  2. which different sub-goals and milestones are necessary to get there.
  3. which sub-goal is currently at the highest priority.
  4. what the next step for the achievement of that sub-goal is.

In this way, the focus of every single person is always on the completion of the single next step that needs to get done, in order to finish the project as a whole.

There is only ONE thing for you to do right now.

Figure out which single thing should have the highest priority right now. Get that single thing done, and only then move on to the next.

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