In January I wrote about how 2021 would be a year for me to focus on my health and wellbeing. It’s not exactly a ‘resolution’ and I don’t have any firm objectives, but I am aiming to build some consistent habits. To do this successfully, I’ll need some kind of plan, and I decided to try and approach the year in the same way that I would if I was leading a project at work.

I used most of January to develop my plan, knowing that I have the rest of the year to commit to it (so it’s not too late to make a focus for 2021!). I reviewed the previous year (a focus on personal finance) to check for lessons learnt that could be applied here, figured out some of the logistics for various activities and planned out the details to remove any potential barriers or excuses. I’m not looking for perfection, or an optimally healthy lifestyle, but I will be aiming to make most of my daily decisions with health and wellbeing in mind. This means putting this value first for a year, behind others like saving money.

Clarify the long-term benefit and ensure it fits with broader strategy

The first thing that any project manager needs to clarify is how the project benefits the organisation and how it aligns with the broader strategy. There’s no point in creating a new interface for customer orders unless you have a good indication that it is needed to generate more sales. And there’s no point in generating more sales if the marketing strategy says that you need to focus on getting new customers to the site in the first place!

Similarly, your ‘project’ should be a focus that stems from your established set of values, (your ‘life strategy’) and you should articulate what the long-term benefit is. The benefit should extend beyond the immediate ‘why’ and link to something that you are 100% passionate about. For health and wellbeing, my benefit is being physically fit enough to do multi-day hikes and being mentally fit enough to take up additional opportunities. I then add this benefit to my values card in my Getting Things Done system to keep it front of mind.

Establish scope

A project needs to know what is in and what is out. It’s important to help manage expectations and is needed before a proper plan can be made.

I split my health and wellbeing project into two aspects; physical and mental. The scope for improving both of these is almost limitless but I’ve chosen a few sub-aspects to focus on. For physical, these are exercise (cardio, weights and flexibility), diet (food, water, alcohol) and flossing. For mental, these are organisation, stress induction and stress reduction. This list already covers a massive amount of lifestyle change and I deliberately excluded a bunch of things that I decided were not yet a priority.

Set some goals (optional) or establish a benchmark

Wait – a productivity lifestyle blog that says goals are optional?! Goals for saving money worked well. They could be clearly defined, planned in detail and be continuously monitored. The most important factor was probably that there was a clear cause and effect and this effect was directly linked to my long-term benefit. If I didn’t spend money I would save it, which would contribute towards my financial freedom.

Health and wellbeing is much more complex. Doing more exercise doesn’t always result in loosing weight (building muscle mass for example weights more than fat), and it might be unclear whether or not diet or gym sessions are contributing more. Loosing weight would not be directly contributing towards my long-term benefit of being able to do multi-day hikes either (unless you consider having less body weight to carry as the benefit?). Same goes for getting to a certain dress size. There are a bunch of other reasons why having a specific goal is not necessarily good for achieving success (see the Mad Fientist’s post on this). Instead of a goal, I’ve decided on a rough benchmark to help me monitor fitness. This is to run 5km in 30 mins, which I feel is a good measure of being able to do a long hike but not something I’m going to overly strive for.

Understand the boulders and the pebbles

When setting up projects, I split the things that need to be done into ‘boulders’ and ‘pebbles’. The boulders are the big, chunky, discrete tasks like ‘write code’ and the pebbles are the smaller, regular tasks like ‘report on status’.

This translates really well to lifestyle changes. The boulders are discrete things like buying running shoes or buying a healthy eating recipe book, and the pebbles are the consistent tasks like going to the gym and meal planning. Plan these out in detail – what kind of diet will you be eating? Which days will you go to the gym and at what time? How many cardio/yoga/weight sessions do you plan to do?

Plan implementation around available resources

Once you have a list of the specific tasks that need to be done, plan their implementation based on your available resources. This is both money and time available.

Last year, I set up a regular budget which I will continue to use this year. As saving money is not my main focus for 2021, I can plan to allocate more financial resources to health and wellbeing by planning to spend more on groceries and eating out (healthy options tend to be more expensive). Planning this in advance means that I won’t be wrestling with decisions on whether I need to save the extra dollars or make the healthier food choice.

Put ‘boulders’ into an annual plan, and the ‘pebbles’ into your weekly routine, or regular checklists. If any of the boulders are required before other tasks can begin (particularly pebbles), prioritise them and plan to get them completed as soon as possible. Use this planning process to assess whether or not what you had planned is actually sustainable and where you might need to slow down or cut back. It’s much better to commit to less but be able to continue as a lifestyle, rather than overdoing it in the first few weeks and burning out.

Do a risk assessment

Any project has a risk assessment, where risks are identified and analysed and mitigation strategies put in place. These strategies can be to de-risk a negative effect or to increase the likelihood or consequence of a positive effect. For my financial focus last year, the key thing I did to reduce risk was to establish an emergency fund. This meant that any unexpected expenses could be paid from this and wouldn’t impact on my savings goal (in theory at least – I didn’t risk manage for a hailstorm that wrecked our car!).

For health and wellbeing, I’ve tried to risk manage against making bad decisions and make it more likely that I’ll make good decisions. De-risking activities include things like having a few healthy emergency meals in the freezer for if I have to work late, making sure I meal plan and grocery shop to that plan, and bringing my headphones to the gym to listen to podcasts whilst running. Increasing the likelihood of good decisions involve things like knowing the alternative drink that I’ll order if I go to the pub, and having my long-term benefit written somewhere that I’ll see it often.

Monitor and review

Projects need to be monitored to ensure that tasks are going to plan, and regularly reviewed to ensure that these tasks are still contributing toward the long-term benefit and delivering within allocated resources. Just as tasks need to be planned out, monitoring and review activities also need to be planned. I have planned to conduct this exercise as part of my monthly checklist.

Evaluate the project

Once a project has been completed, it should be evaluated as soon as possible to glean the lessons learnt and determine whether or not it was successful. I put my evaluation of the year into my annual checklist, to be done over the Christmas holidays. It’s a period where I know I’ll have at least some downtime, and I’m already thinking about the New Year and the refresh of priorities and values that this brings.

Further reading

What do you have planned for 2021? How are you articulating your plans? Share your aspirations in the comments!