As we approach a new year, it’s a natural time to sit down and think about all the things you’d like to accomplish over the next 12 months. For some, a whirlwind of ideas, goals and tasks threaten to overwhelm. For others, nothing is more satisfying than creating mountains of lists or downloading the latest productivity app and filling it to the gills with every last task and sub task from January 1st to December 31st.

I propose a middle ground involving three steps to start the year off on the right foot. It centers on identifying and plotting out a series of milestones.

The term ‘Milestone’ is standard project management jargon. The original meaning of the term is a series of markers along a path to indicate progress. Milestones in project management refer to major achieve­ments or events along the path leading to a pre-defined goal. For example, a milestone can be the completion of a project, or the “shipping” of a product. A milestone indicates when something starts or finishes and can also indicate one big event like “online store goes live.”

There are a couple steps to take before determining what your milestones are — namely, setting goals and defining the projects and activities required to accomplish those goals. Once you’ve figured out these two pieces, you can plot a series of milestones along a time line (a high-level plan) on which to base JIT (Just in Time) planning throughout the year.

Together, these three steps can make some sense out of the jumble of ideas swirling around in your head, as well as prevent overly detailed planning that will be obsolete by the end of January.

Each of the steps below are six basic steps that make up most project management methodologies:

project management lifecycle

For this series of posts, I’m leaving out the estimation step, to provide a bit of a shortcut recipe to get started. In the next post we’ll talk about step 1, setting goals.

In the meantime, can you think of some milestones you reached in 2012?