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From Responsibility to Independence: 3 Lessons from Project Management
By Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, Founder, Cheetah Learning

Having more independence requires taking on more responsibility: it’s a lesson teenagers hear again and again from their parents, and yet it rarely seems to result in teenagers actually bearing the burden of more responsibility. Fast forward to these imagined teenagers’ adult lives. As their parents promised, they now have a range of new freedoms and shoulder many new responsibilities. The more they become accustomed to each of these, however, the easier it is to forget the old lesson: that independence and responsibility are related.

In this article, we will be discussing independence, responsibility, and doing good Project Management. Whether or not you hold the title of Project Manager in your current work, adopting good Project Management practices can allow you to take on more responsibility in your career and personal life, and, in turn, bring you greater independence. When you master the Project Management skills of prioritizing your daily projects in alignment with your goals, managing your time effectively, and keeping sight of the big picture, you set yourself up for success in your projects and a more independent existence overall.

  1. Prioritizing your daily projects in alignment with your goals. In your day to day life, how often do you give conscious thought to how well your daily to-dos line up with your personal and career priorities? For many of us, the answer is, “not much.” Instead, we tend to run on “autopilot,” going through our daily habits without much thought. This makes sense – our brains crave consistency, and as our daily activities become habitual, our brain has to do a lot less work to carry out these activities.

    The downside of this is that our habits, rather than our goals, can start to dictate the direction of our lives. One important step we can take toward taking on more responsibility and achieving greater independence in our lives is by consciously reflecting on our habits, and changing those habits that don’t get us closer to achieving our goals. Ask yourself these questions: Where in my life could taking on greater responsibility help me enjoy greater independence? What steps do I need to take to take on more responsibility in this area? Which of my daily habits might prevent me from taking on this responsibility?

    Work to change just one or two small habits at a time by, first, consciously recognizing when you’re engaging in unproductive habitual behavior (like starting out your work day by checking social media, or turning on the television as soon as you get home from work). Then, identify a few possible activities you could do instead that bring you closer to reaching your goals. Keep track of each time you successfully steer yourself away from an unproductive habit, and reward yourself along the way to reaching your goals.

  2. Managing your time effectively. Much like aligning our daily activities with our larger personal and career goals, managing time effectively can help us break unproductive habits and set us up to take on more responsibility and achieve more independence in our lives. Put simply, managing your time effectively is like adding on more hours to each day: you’re able to do more in less time.

    The first step toward managing your time more effectively and efficiently is something we’ve already described: prioritizing your daily to-dos. Many of us are guilty of the phenomenon I like to call “procrasti-working:” doing all of the simple or easy tasks on our to-do list first so we can put off doing the more difficult, complicated, or unpleasant one. However, it is likely the case that the task we’re avoiding is actually the most important one. Do that task first. Yes, it will be difficult, and you’ll likely find it hard to get going on that big, unwieldy task at first. Do it anyway. You’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment upon finishing it, and will be free to move onto easier tasks with a burden taken off your shoulders.

    Over time, it will get easier to take on that “big task” every morning. The satisfaction you experience from finishing it will give you a burst of energy to take on more (and comparatively easier) tasks throughout the rest of your day.

  3. Keeping sight of the big picture. When prioritizing your daily tasks in alignment with your goals and learning to manage your time more effectively, you’ll likely need to set up smaller goals along the way to reaching your big goals. Trying to change one unproductive habit, for example, is a small goal. In order to make a major change in your life that will allow you to take on new levels of responsibility and achieve unprecedented independence, however, you need to remind yourself periodically of the “big picture:” your larger, long-term, audacious goals.

    Each time you accomplish a smaller goal – successfully doing the most important task first thing in the morning, for example – take a few minutes to reflect on how this is helping you reach your larger goals. Is that most important task something that will help you advance in your career or reach a personal goal? If not, what is something you could do every day to help you reach your big, courageous goals? As you become more skilled in managing your time, find ways to work in tasks that will bring you closer to reaching your long-term goals every day.

    This often means learning how to say “no” to other, more enticing opportunities in the moment. Let’s say you have been invited to a big family vacation in Hawaii in six months, but to go, you’d have to miss taking a class that is an important prerequisite for a program you want to apply to attend. Completing this program will open up more lucrative career opportunities for you in the long term. Keeping sight of the bigger picture, you will be able to see that taking the class will ultimately bring you more long-term independence and outweigh the benefits of attending the family party in Hawaii.

About the Know How Network and Cheetah Learning

The Know How Network is a monthly column written by Michelle LaBrosse, the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. Distributed to hundreds of newsletters and media outlets around the world, the Know How Network brings the promise, purpose and passion of Project Management to people everywhere. Visit www.cheetahlearning.com to learn more about Cheetah PM, the fastest way to learn about Project Management and get your PMP. You can also get your career in gear with CheetahWare, free Project Management tools from Cheetah Learning.

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse is the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. An international expert on accelerated learning and Project Management, she has grown Cheetah Learning into the market leader for Project Management training and professional development. In 2006, The Project Management Institute, www.pmi.org, selected Michelle as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World, and only one of two women selected from the training and education industry. Michelle is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner & President Management program for entrepreneurs, and is the author of Cheetah Project Management and Cheetah Negotiations. Cheetah Learning is a virtual company and has 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide.

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