5 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Project

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motivational speaker Bill StaintonWith apologies to William Shakespeare: some create projects, some inherit projects, and some have projects thrust upon them. It happens to all of us. Sometimes they come in the form of assignments, sometimes in the form of opportunities (and the two are not mutually exclusive). But before we go any further, let’s define what we mean by “project.”

A “project” isn’t just something your boss tells you to get done by 5pm. Consider these other “projects”:

  • You’re given the chance to be the assistant coach for your son or daughter’s Little League team.
  • You’re debating going into business for yourself, or expanding your existing business into new areas.
  • You’re considering marrying your high school sweetheart.
  • You’re realizing the need to move your parents into an assisted living facility.
  • Your life itself, from a “big picture” perspective, could be considered one grand project.

Whatever projects may come your way (or, as in the case of your life, whatever projects you may already be involved in), see if you can incorporate any or all of the following five questions into your planning and/or implementation:

  1. Are you passionate about it? Or, if not passionate, at least interested. But passionate is better. Is this a project that you feel strongly about, that you can get excited about? Does it capture one or more of your emotions? Does it make you eager to wake up in the morning and begin work?
  2. Is it in your skill set? Or could it be, with a bit of education and practice? If the project requires you to perform brain surgery, and you still have trouble applying a Band-Aid®, it might not be the best fit.
  3. Will it make a difference? When Apple founder Steve Jobs approached PepsiCo president John Sculley to become Apple’s CEO, Sculley was hesitant. Jobs famously said to him, “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?” I’m not saying you have to change the world, but will your project make a difference (preferably a positive difference) to somebody, somewhere? Will it make a difference to you?
  4. Will it stretch you? Question 2 asked, “Is it in your skill set?” But “skill set” and “comfort zone” are not the same thing. Singing opera at the Met was within Luciano Pavarotti’s skill set, but every new role stretched him, took him out of his comfort zone. Playing Rafael Nadal is within Roger Federer’s skill set, but each match stretches him (both of them, in fact). Don’t spend your life playing it safe. Look for projects that will take you a little outside your comfort zone. Look for projects that will stretch you.
  5. Is it fun? Look, I know that work isn’t all fun and games. But there’s no rule that says you can’t enjoy what you’re doing. In fact, I’m a firm believer that you should enjoy what you’re doing! I love my job as a motivational speaker. I don’t particularly relish waking up at 2:30 in the morning to catch a 6am flight, but I have a blast every time I’m able to be with a new audience! Can you say the same about your project?

I’m not saying the answer to all of these questions has to be yes. But if the answer to all of them is no, then you basically have four options:

  1. Do the project, but be angry and bitter about it. (Not recommended, but be honest—you know people who routinely choose this option, don’t you?)
  2. Politely decline the project. (Probably not the best option if the project is your life. Otherwise, this may be your best bet.)
  3. Change the parameters of the project.
  4. Change your attitude toward the project.

I can’t tell you which is the best option for you. That’s your choice. After all, it’s your project.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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  • Jayne says:

    Very good reminders. If your heart is not in it don’t do it!

  • Doug Bailey says:

    Thanks for a great article Bill, you nailed it!

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