I created my purpose worksheet for one of my coaching clients last year to aid her in developing a new structure for approaching her work sessions.
Like most of us, she had a to do list, but she was struggling with what to actually DO when she sat down to work. What she lacked was an explicit purpose for her labor.
I use the worksheet myself, and it’s my favorite way to work because it blends multiple productivity practices and helps me identify and prioritize the best use of my time and energy. While the purpose worksheet is great for writers, you can use it to get down to business on any task you want to accomplish.
Below, I walk you through each of the worksheet’s five steps and then share a link to download the worksheet in PDF and Word format for free so you can use it to tackle your own big and small to dos.
Step 1: Main Purpose
You are more likely to complete the specific tasks you want to accomplish if your objective is explicit and linked to a purpose. So, starting out with a clear purpose—like revising a section of a paper or cleaning out your closet—will help you stay on task.
Step 2: Specific Tasks
This is where you identify the exact tasks you hope to accomplish as well as your purpose for doing each one of them today. “Today” can mean a whole day, or it can mean just one work session—the length of time you use an individual purpose worksheet for is up to you! The key here is to make the tasks actually achievable, which will serve as a motivator when you check them off your list. Pick just one to five for your day, and if you like, you can prioritize them in terms of their return value or importance.
Step 3: Real Talk Planning Process
It’s time to make practical plans for accomplishing each one of your selected tasks. First, see if you need to break any of your tasks down into smaller parts or steps (my blog post on using lists to tackle big projects includes a how-to on this process). It’s possible that in breaking down your one to five tasks you’ll discover that what you thought was just one task was actually many more. If this is the case, reevaluate and update your original step two list to reflect your new list of up to five steps. If you’re not sure what to cut, move the lowest priority tasks to another day (my post on the must-do method teaches you how to do this).
Next, set a realistic goal for how long you’ll spend on each task. The purpose of timing your tasks ahead of time is twofold: 1) it will help you set boundaries around your output (if you say you’ll spend just thirty minutes editing a paragraph, truly stop working after 30 minutes), and 2) it will help you evaluate the number of tasks you can accomplish in one work session and their priority on your list. It’s important to be honest with yourself and give yourself adequate time to do your tasks well, with focus, and in a way that motivates instead of discourages you.
The last part of step 3 is to name how much of your personal resources each task will require. Personal resources might include emotional, mental, or physical energy, spoons, focus, and even how much you care about the particular task (you can learn more about personal resources here). I use a 1 to 10 scale to rate my projected personal resource expenditures so I can see roughly which tasks are more taxing, and this helps me to plan which activities I should do first, last, with a friend or accountability buddy, and if there are any tasks I should reschedule for another day.
Step 4: Work Time!
I recommend the Pomodoro method to my clients because I think it’s helpful for focusing and tracking progress. This section of the worksheet allows you to identify your work session goals and record what you do during breaks. This will help you to stay on track and also encourage you to step away from your work every now and then. While a traditional Pomodoro session includes 25 minutes working and a five minute break, the length of your work and break sessions is up to you—just be sure to “pulse” (work with focus and avoid distractions until your break) and “pause” (step away, stretch, rest your eyes, drink water, etc.). My worksheet includes two Pomodoro sessions, but you can do as many as you like!
Step 5: Track Your Progress
The last step in the worksheet is to record your progress for your work session/s that day. If you didn’t accomplish all your goals, don’t beat yourself up! Instead, write down what went well and what you’d like to change for your next work session. The next time you prepare to work, review what you accomplished last time and use your reflections as guidance to choose your new to do tasks.
If you’re ready to get down to business and you want a copy of my purpose worksheet, you can access it in both PDF and Word versions via this link.
You’ll receive both versions of the worksheet immediately, so you can print as many copies as you like and/or edit it on your computer. Have fun getting down to business with purpose!