Do you ever feel like that? Scattered, unfocused, and unable to keep up with the zillions of things on the go… it sucks!
Then, I read two books, and everything changed for me.
David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” was the first one. I learned about Project Lists (which we talked about last time), and I felt immediately calm because I could finally keep track of all the stuff on the go. But I had an awfully long list of stuff! Something was missing; I still felt overwhelmed.
Then, I read Leo Baubata’s “The Power of Less” (he also authors the Zen Habits blog). Leo’s big idea is to keep things simple by setting clear limits and modest expectations. Better to under-commit and over-deliver than the other way around. Nice idea! Not new, but we all need reminders. When it comes to projects, here’s what I learned: Limit yourself to three active projects at a time.
When I thought back on my most productive times, I noticed that this is exactly what I did. When I build a website, for instance, I often spend a few days of long hours doing only that. I avoid almost everything else. My email piles up, I ignore the dishes in the kitchen, and my personal hygiene is, at best, questionable.
Okay, so maybe letting your hygienic practices lapse isn’t exactly the best advice, but the key is to avoid spreading your efforts too thinly. On my scattered days, I was making an inch of progress in a million directions, instead of a mile in one.
You probably understand this intuitively. Some friends just told me they planned on starting a big house renovation only after their wedding. It might have fit in before, but they knew they’d have enough on their minds with the wedding plans. Wise choice! But too often, we forget our wisdom and take on too much at once.
I’ll admit I’ve had good months and bad months with the practice – it’s been a multi-year experiment, and the results are clear: I’m way more productive when I choose just a few “active projects” at a time. When I try to do more, I end up accomplishing less, feeling worse, and watching even the simple projects drag on longer than I want.
So, here’s your job now: Choose your three active projects. What are the three things that you definitely want to get finished in the next two weeks or so?
A few things to consider:
- The number 3 isn’t set in stone: You might want to choose some other small number. Experiment if you like, but be realistic.
- Work vs non-work: You may want to apply this concept separately to work and personal life. Perhaps you have three active work projects, while you have two different focal points at home.
- Keep your projects small. Leo Baubata suggests keeping projects at a scale where they can be completed within 2 weeks. If it’s bigger than that, chunk it down to make it more manageable.
Switching between projects is mentally costly – it’s hard to develop any momentum if you’re constantly switching gears from one project to another. Set modest goals, limit your focus, work hard, and knock it out of the park. You’ll build confidence, and you’ll be that much more excited to take the next step.
Decide what’s most important, and go do it!