On top of that, every hour, you probably have a bunch of stuff pop into your mind, often accompanied by a phrase like, “I have to remember to do that!” Before long, you have a dozen different tasks and ideas being tossed around in your brain, and just like juggling balls, you’re trying not to drop anything.
This used to be a regular occurrence for me. It seemed like I always had too many irons in the fire. I felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t even keep track of which metaphor I was using. Thankfully, I found a method that changed my life.
The technique is this: Make a Project List. It’s easy, actually: Write down all the projects that are popping into your mind. Wherever you write it, call that your project list. I use a word document, but it can be pencil and paper, whiteboard, iPhone note, or anything you want.
Before you get going, you should know the difference between an action and a project:
An action is simple to-do item. It’s something you could spend a few minutes on and then check off your list as “done.” To-do lists (action lists) can be really helpful, but they don’t usually capture the big picture.
A project, on the other hand, is anything that has more than one action associated with it. “Draft a chapter outline” is an action; “Write my book” is the project. “Do the dishes” is an action; “Keep the house tidy” is the project.
Projects may be work-related, home-related, fun-related, relationship-related, or any other sort of related you can think of. They can be finite, where they have a definite end date - like “writing a book”, or ongoing, where you expect it to never really stop, like “keeping a clean house”. Most to-do items have a project associated with them somehow. Projects can have sub-projects too. David Allen explains this really well in his Getting Things Done systems.
You might be thinking that this sounds overwhelming. Why would you want to write down every single project you’re supposed to be keeping track of? There could be dozens of them! In fact, there probably are; I ended up with over 70 projects and sub-projects on the go when I first did the exercise. Sound stressful?
Actually, my stress level decreased! The benefit of writing everything in one place is that you can let your mind relax! By having it captured and organized somewhere, your brain can do the work of thinking about your projects instead of just trying to remember them all.
Give it a try. You’ll probably find it feels really good to get a visual overview of all that you’ve been trying to juggle in your brain. You may realize there’s some stuff you’ve been overlooking, or maybe there’s some stuff that isn’t as daunting as you thought! By having a complete list that you can keep updating and reviewing, you can be sure you’re focusing on the right things.
To summarize, making a project list will have a few benefits for you – here are my top three:
- You’ll have an overview of all your stuff on the go. The list will probably be big. You might actually feel proud about it. Either that, or you’ll be motivated to change!
- You’ll have great evidence to support saying “no” when it’s difficult. Just like clarifying your commitments empowers you to say no to new invitations, so too does clarifying your projects.
- You’ll avoid forgetting about important stuff. By reviewing the list regularly, you’ll minimize the chances of overlooking something urgent.
So try it! And if you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed, don’t worry. Next time, I’ll tell you my simple project-related productivity trick to help you stay calm while accomplishing more. It’s the secret to every great burst of progress I’ve ever made.