Sometimes simple questions can provoke profound responses. Take, for example, the question, “Is this your project?”.

Most busy professionals, once they have built a trusted GTD system to manage all their commitments, end up with upwards of fifty projects on their list. Yet I must cheekily point out that we human beings all begin life with none. It is the parents or other caretakers who assume responsibility for us at the outset – including basic activities like putting food in at one end, and cleaning it up at the other.

It is perhaps not surprising then that the parents of teenage and young adult children sometimes struggle with defining project outcomes in relation to their children. Parenthood itself is an ongoing area of focus. But the nature of the parents’ responsibility in relationship to specific projects is evolving at this time, often rapidly.

For example, the project outcome, ‘Enrol child at appropriate educational institution’ clearly belongs to the parent in the child’s early years. But is it still appropriate in relation to graduate school? It is a question worth asking.

Simply assuming one owns a project can often lead to frustration. Sometimes, this assumption is due to an outdated understanding of one’s role. Take the case of newly-promoted managers who haven’t updated their self-image from ‘individual doer’ to ‘team success enabler’. Fortunately, the clarity they once created for themselves in relation to their own projects is a transferrable skill. Furthermore, a simple change of wording can sometimes lead to a change in attitude.

For example, a sales analyst newly promoted to managing the analysis team might change a project that they are tempted to assign to themselves as, ‘Submit sales analysis for sector XYZ’, which is now Tim’s job to do, to, ‘Support Tim in submitting sales analysis for sector XYZ’ instead. Later, when Tim has gained this manager’s trust, they might instead simply track these items on a ‘Projects Delegated’ list as e.g. ‘Tim – submit sales analysis for sector XYZ’. The key is acknowledging that Tim owns the project – the manager is simply supporting and/or monitoring its progress.

Likewise, in any form of co-habitation or partnership – be it business or romantic – determining who owns what project goes a long way toward avoiding duplication and missed opportunities. Here again one can assign a related project of ‘support’, ‘monitor’, ‘assist’, or ‘optimise’ – but knowing that this is actually someone else’s finish line to cross, not yours, can help you avoid running hard and fast in entirely the wrong race.

If you have been struggling to define a project outcome, or to find the appropriate next action, consider that it may not actually be your project to take on. If so, assigning it to yourself, and pretending that it is yours, is a recipe for confusion at best, and often hurt feelings.

I am guessing that you already have plenty of your own projects. Getting clear, early and often, about what is not yours to do goes a long way toward making sure you keep focused on what is squarely within your level of responsibility and authority to complete.

If it’s yours, see it through. If it’s not, see it off.

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