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Flourish or Flounder: Analyze Your Personal Projects

personal project analysis

Whether you flourish or flounder depends on your personal projects.

I recently came across the concept of Personal Project Analysis, which is a methodology that was created by personality psychologist Brian Little. Personal Project Analysis is about asking yourself how you’re doing.

Since our lives are very complex, you may not be sure of exactly how you’re feeling or how well you’re doing. The way to fix this is to stop thinking of your life as a whole. Instead, take a look at each individual unit of your life. That is, take a look at your personal projects.

A personal project is defined by Little as follows: “a set of interrelated acts extending over time, which is intended to maintain or attain a state of affairs foreseen by the individual”. To simplify this definition, personal projects are goals. They’re commitments that we make to courses of action that will allow us to achieve something we want.

Here are some examples of personal projects:

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  • Lose 20 pounds.
  • Apply to graduate school.
  • Take a Massive Open Online Course on gamification.
  • Learn to draw.
  • Write a novel.
  • Run a 10K.
  • Learn Python.
  • Redecorate the living room.
  • Go skiing in Colorado at the end of the year.
  • Become more conscientious.
  • Boost self-esteem.
  • Be an understanding and supportive spouse.
  • Be a better pet owner.
  • Spend 15 minutes a day meditating.
  • Mentor an at-risk youth.
  • Start a blog for your company to improve brand awareness (personal projects include work-related goals).

In this post, you’ll discover how to conduct a Personal Project Analysis so you can increase your happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being. That is, so that you can flourish, instead of floundering.

Personal Projects and Happiness

Little explains that our happiness levels are closely related to our personal projects. As an illustration, look at the following two people:

  • Ann is pursuing several personal projects which she considers to be important and meaningful. Although she’s at different stages of completion for each of her projects, they’re all progressing well. In addition, her projects give her a sense of control and autonomy.
  • Billy is pursuing several personal projects. He doesn’t find any of them meaningful and feels that others are forcing him to work on these projects—his boss, his parents, his girlfriend, and so on. In addition, one of the projects is incredibly boring, another one is very difficult, and a third is something that he’s sure that he’ll never be able to achieve.

Which of these two people do you think is likelier to be happy? Obviously, Ann is probably a lot happier than Billy. Right now, would you say that your life is more similar to Ann’s life, or to Billy’s life?

One way to increase your overall feelings of happiness and wellbeing is to reevaluate your personal projects.  You can do this by following the five steps described below.

Make a List of Your Personal Projects

A personal project can be something trivial, like “Organize my Closet”. It can also be something bold and audacious, such as “Create a social media platform that will rival Facebook”.  Sit down and make a list of all the personal projects that you’re currently working on, or considering.

Then, narrow your list down to your 10 most important personal projects. Choose projects that you intend to be working on during the next few months. Now that you’ve completed the first step in Personal Project Analysis, move on to the next one.

What Do You Think About Your Personal Projects?

The next step in Personal Project Analysis is to ask yourself what you think about each of the 10 projects that you selected in the step above. You’re going to do this by rating each one from 0 to 10 (where 0 is the lowest rating and 10 is the highest) on the following dimensions:

1. Importance – How important is this project to you? How meaningful is it to you?

2. Difficulty – How difficult is it for you to carry out this project?

3. Visibility – How visible is this project to the people around you?

4. Control – How much do you feel that you’re in control of this project?

5. Initiation – How responsible are you for having initiated this project?

6. Time Adequacy – Are you spending enough time on this project?

7. Likelihood of Success – How likely do you think it is that you’ll succeed on this project?

8. Self-Identity – How aligned is this goal with the way in which you see yourself? How aligned is it with your personality?

9. Other’s View of Importance – How important do the people around you think that this project is? (The social messages we receive about each of our projects will have an effect on how we feel about that project.)

10. Value Congruency – How congruent is this project with your values?

11. Challenge – How challenging do you find this project? (You don’t want to be overwhelmed, but you don’t want to be bored, either.)

12. Absorption – How engaged do you feel when you’re working on this project? To what extent do you feel deeply engrossed when you’re working on this project?

13. Support – How much support are you getting from others (this can be emotional support, monetary support, guidance on how to carry out the project, and so on)?

14. Competence – To what extent do you feel competent to carry out this project?

15. Autonomy – To what extent do you feel that you’re acting autonomously when working on this project?

16. Legacy – How much of a lasting legacy do you feel this project will create?

How Do You Feel About Your Personal Projects?

The third step in Personal Project Analysis is to ask yourself how you feel when you’re working on each of the personal projects that you selected for this analysis, or when you’re thinking about these projects. You may feel things like the following:

  • Angry
  • Upset
  • Frustrated
  • Happy
  • Stressed
  • Satisfied
  • Hopeful
  • Enthusiastic
  • Discouraged
  • Relaxed
  • Gleeful
  • Wretched
  • Delighted
  • Other Emotions

The emotions that you feel when you’re working on any of your personal projects will impact both your ability to complete that project, and your overall sense of wellbeing.

If you’re working on several projects that make you feel frustrated, or wretched, you can clearly see how that would have a negative impact on your quality of life. On the other hand, if most of your personal projects make you feel happy and satisfied, that would have a positive impact on your quality of life.

How Much Progress Have You Made?

Next, to continue with your Personal Project Analysis, you’re going to ask yourself how much progress you’ve made on each of the personal projects that you’re evaluating. Use the following scale:

  • Thinking about getting started.
  • At the planning stage.
  • Have taken the initial steps.
  • Have completed about 10% of the project.
  • Have completed about 20% of the project.
  • Have completed about a quarter of the project.
  • Have completed about one third of the project.
  • Have completed about 40% of the project.
  • About half-way through.
  • More than half-way through.
  • Have completed about two-thirds of the project.
  • Have completed about three-fourth of the project.
  • Almost finished — you’re basically done but you’re reviewing what you’ve done and making some revisions.
  • You’re done—you’ve successfully completed the project.

Personal Project Analysis

Once you’ve completed the steps above, the final step in Personal Project Analysis is to analyze the information you came up with. You’re going to do the following:

  1. Determine which projects you should keep and which you should discard.
  2. Determine how you should modify the projects that you decide to continue working on to make it more likely that you’ll complete each of them, and that each project will have a positive impact on your wellbeing.

Here are the questions you should ask yourself:

  • Which projects should you discard? Take into consideration what you think about the project, how it makes you feel, and how far along you are in the process of completing that project.
  • Of the projects which you decide to keep, which should you prioritize?
  • For those projects which scored low on meaningfulness, how you can make them more meaningful? Keep in mind that sometimes you can make a project more meaningful simply by the way you frame it. Think of the story of the two brick layers. One thought of himself as simply a brick layer. The other one thought of himself as someone who was building a cathedral.
  • If you feel that you’re not getting enough support from others for your project, how can you get more support? Do you need to find someone to partner with on the project, join a group, take a class, or find a mentor?
  • If the project is boring, how can you can make it more fun?
  • If  the project is too difficult, how can you simplify it to make it easier?
  • If the project is currently unmanageable, how can you make it more manageable?
  • How can you modify the project to make it more engaging?
  • Do you need to try new projects? If none of your projects are meaningful for you, or if they don’t make you happy, then you should really consider coming up with new projects.
  • How can you make more time for an important project that isn’t getting all the time that it needs?
  • If you feel that a project has little likelihood of success, how can you change that? Is there a skill you need to acquire? Do you need to lessen the scope of the project? Do you need to increase your feelings of self-efficacy?
  • If a project is making you feel negative emotions, such as anger or discouragement, why is this happening? How can you modify the project so that you no longer feel those negative emotions when you’re working on the project or thinking about it?
  • How can you increase the positive emotions that you feel when you’re working on each of your projects?
  • If a project isn’t aligned with your personality—but you still want to pursue it because it’s very important to you—how can you better cope with having to act out of character? For example, if you’re an introvert but your project requires that you give presentations and interviews, make sure that you spend some time alone after each presentation or interview so you can restore your energy.

Here’s some guidance from Little on which personal projects to choose: projects that are “meaningful, manageable, and connected with others, and that generate more positive than negative feelings”.


Little indicates that “bringing our personal projects to successful completion . . . seems to be a pivotal factor in whether we thrive emotionally or lead lives of . . . quiet desperation”.  Use the analysis above to start bringing more of your projects to completion.

Live your best life by conducting a Personal Project Analysis.

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