In addition to clarifying focus, defining the purpose for a project expands options. This is the opposite of what we might expect — we might expect a clear definition of purpose to be limiting rather than broadening.
And it is limiting in a sense — it directs your thinking and energies towards those things that will produce the outcome you want and away from those things that won’t. But, in doing this, it opens up your sights to a whole host of things that align with our purpose but which you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. It’s as though the clearing out of options that aren’t aligned with your purpose creates room for a whole host of new things that are aligned with it to “show up.”
Here is how Allen puts it in Getting Things Done (pp 65-66):
Paradoxically, even as purpose brings things into pinpoint focus, it opens up creative thinking about wider possibilities. When you really know the underlying “why” — for the conference, for the staff party, for the elimination of the management position, or for the merger — it expands your thinking about how to make the desired result happen. When people write out their purpose for a project in my seminars, they often claim it’s like a fresh breeze blowing through their mind, clarifying their vision of what they’re doing.
But your purpose must be clear and specific:
Is your purpose clear and specific enough? If you’re truly experiencing the benefits of a purpose focus — motivation, clarity, decision-making criteria, alignment, and creativity — then your purpose probably is specific enough.
But many “purpose statements” are too vague to produce such results. “To have a good department,” for example, might be too broad a goal. After all, what constitutes a “good department”? Is it a group of people who are highly motivated, collaborating in healthy ways, and taking initiative? Or is it a department that comes in under budget?
In other words, if you don’t really know when you’ve met your purpose or when you’re off track, you don’t have a viable directive. The question “How will I know when this is off-purpose?” must have a clear answer.
In sum: Defining your purpose expands options, along with providing motivation, clarity, decision-making criteria, and alignment. But your purpose must be clear and specific. You know if your purpose is specific enough if you can clearly tell from it not just when you are on-purpose, but when you are off-purpose.