Improve your success by treating weight loss or exercise like a project

Almost everyone who starts a weight loss of exercise program does so with good intentions. Many get off to a good start and see beneficial results, at least initially. Unfortunately, long-term success is uncommon.

There are myriad reasons for this, but the way people manage their weight loss and exercise efforts is certainly among them. Think about it: when someone takes on a new diet or exercise program it is usually added to their typical routine. The problem with this approach  is that most people are busy, and there is little extra time in their day. As a consequence, the diet and exercise doesn’t get the time or attention is needs in order for people to be successful.

This is where the lessons of good project management can be helpful. In the workplace a major project is usually accomplished though defining the scope to the project, appropriate goal setting, allocation of resources (including time), and a mechanism to assess progress.

But many people who approach projects this way at work tend not to apply this process to health improvement projects at home. The result is poor planning, setting unrealistic goals, and failure to allocate appropriate resources, including time.

Especially time. Time to set goals, time to plan and prepare meals,  time to exercise, and, perhaps most important, time to assess and adjust the plan along the way.

Many of these problems could be avoided through the same good project management techniques that would be used at work. The idea of treating weight loss, exercise, and other health improvements as a project is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


Think about the last time you tried to do something that was good for your health. Maybe you were trying to lose weight, eat a healthier diet, or start an exercise program. If you are like many people, your attempt wasn’t successful, at least in the long term. In fact, more than two-thirds of adults who lose weight gain it back and about 50% of those who start exercising quit within six months. The problem isn’t so much getting started, it is sticking to the program.

The number one reason why people abandon their diet and exercise is time. Dedicating time for exercise and to plan and prepare healthy meals is challenging. Most people are busy—maybe too busy—with work, family, and other responsibilities, so health improvement tends to take a lower priority.

Perhaps part of the solution is to treat health improvement like you would a project at work, rather than an “extra” activity. Using project management strategies that are common in the workplace could help you dedicate adequate time and resources to your next diet and exercise program. Here are some examples of how you can utilize the methods of one program management model to improve your chances for success:


Identify what you need to change, set goals, and determine what resources you will need. For example, if you want to lose weight you should have a goal weight and timeline in mind. You can, and should, set both short-term and long-term goals. Then, think about what knowledge or tools you will need to get started. You should also tell others about your plan and identify people who can provide support.


This is where you determine when and how you will put your plan into action. If you need information about what to eat or decide to join a gym to exercise, this is the time to put those components in place. Take out your calendar and make time for preparing meals and daily exercise. Make a weekly menu of meals and a grocery list before you go to the store. Set a start and end date for your project, decide how you will monitor your progress, the think about “what if” scenarios.


Once you have yourself organized, it is time to begin! Hopefully, this is a bit easier since you planned ahead, but keep in mind that you will continuously need to revisit and modify your plan. This is important because one reason why people don’t succeed is that they don’t allow flexibility in their plan; once things go awry, they give up.


As you proceed through your weight loss or exercise program it is helpful to get feedback on your progress. Keeping track of your weight is a simple way to monitor. You can also keep a record of what you eat or what you do for exercise to see how you are progressing. Tying progress to rewards is important for keeping you motivated, just make sure the rewards are consistent with your goals.


In the office, this is the end of your project and the time when you file everything away and move on to something else. Health improvement projects tend to be ongoing, so this is your chance to review what worked, what didn’t work, and what you need to do to maintain your good health habits. This would also be a good time to get rid of your clothes that are now too big—otherwise you may end up in them again someday!

Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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