Paulo asked commented on Internal Scorecard #1,
"How is your planning/managing (in terms of life) when you have too many projects going on?"
I think there's three questions here:
1. How do you coordinate multiple projects that don't overlap?
2. How do you know how much is too much to be effective?
3. If you accidentally get into that "too much to be effective" category, what do you do?
First, how to coordinate multiple projects that don't overlap?
That's easy. First, you realize that you can only do one thing at a time, so you prioritize just one thing and realize everything else will come in a distant secondary place in prioritization. You basically must do this, because you can't do two different things simultaneously. So you pick what's most highly prioritized, and you do that.
Last week, my split of focused building hours was 30+ GiveGetWin, 10 Consulting, 6 Personal, 2 Writing. That's about normal for a successful week: when I look at hours, I rarely see even splits. It usually comes down along those lines.
With multiple projects, it's even more important than normal to have clear priorities. You need to sit down with paper and identify what's important. I recommend using paper and not a computer for this, and especially don't get distracted and multi-task this with email, internet usage, etc.
Then, you need to go into Terminator-mode on what's most important and get it done. Flitting around is dangerous always; it's especially dangerous when you have multiple things going on. You work your top priority until it's done.
Second, how much is too much to be effective?
Lately, I'm a believer in doing less things at the same time. If you're doing 15 different initiatives, what are the odds that they're all equally valuable? It's very, very low.
Lately, my life has been about cutting complexity and cutting areas of focus and cutting projects (and turning down intriguing ones). I get great ideas all the time that would be incredibly exciting to run, but the fact is I already have a few areas of interest where I can clearly make huge gains by putting creative time in there.
While adding more is generally not a great idea if you've got very important things to work on anyways, there's three kinds of work that are reasonably safe to add on:
1. Discrete things that start and end relatively quickly: Writing an essay, a client project, etc.
2. Things on autopilot: I write this blog regularly as a matter of course. I've been doing it so long it doesn't even count as work. Likewise, if you've played piano for ten years, sitting down and playing each evening isn't going to be as mentally taxing as someone, for instance, learning a new piece on the paino.
3. Things that hook into other key main areas of your life: Right now, I need to improve the nonprofit governance and get best practices in place (meeting minutes, transparency, etc) at the charity. So I'd happily help out an external organization with any of their meetings or finance, because it fits in with what I'm doing. If you're developing skills and resources more efficiency than you would if you self-studied and they're important skills, then it can make sense to do something.
Rule of thumb, by the way -- more than six "big areas that matter" is always too many. For people who have a lot of creative energy, 3 might be the sweet spot. There's of course advantages to doing just 1 at different times in your life.
If you wind up with too much going on and you're ineffective, then what?
I just spoke with a client who has around eight major business campaigns going on. They're all critical and can't be canceled.
This is just barely over the overwhelm threshold. So, our gameplan is like this:
*Pick 2 areas each week to work on that are most important.
*Prioritize working on campaigns that will finish and close.
Of those eight areas, four are ones that, after between 30 and 200 hours of work, will be complete and only need minor maintenance going forwards. So if you wind up with too much on your plate, you might paradoxically decide to work on your fifth area of priority intensely if you can get it done and closed successfully in a week or two. Get that book that's almost finished written, just finish your damn taxes already, get the tech in place, or whatever.
There's a certain dignity in quitting things, and if you realize you're actually really never going to do something that's on your campaigns, then quitting might be the right call. If you need to quit projects with other people, let me advise you this: Do it slowly and intelligently.
I've done it both ways in the past, and I'll never quit a project quickly again. The old adage about tearing the bandage off fast is wrong. People you've worked intensively with, partnered with, or so on will be important to you later in life, almost without fail. If it takes you a few weeks (or even a couple months) longer to elegantly extricate yourself from a situation and not leave people hanging, do it. Great allies in the world are rare, and people who you treated well on the way out the door are willing to go to war with you later, help you, and so on. They also tend to know you really well and become sources of good advice. So if you're going to quit something with other people, quit slowly and leave everyone in a good place.
Finally, and this ties in with all three questions -- you need an elegant "capture and prioritize system." We can get more into this in another post, you can use Getting Things Done, or whatever, but you need a good capture/prioritization system or you're going to go insane. So get one of those in place ASAP, too.
Thank you, Sebastian. I'm already acting on it.
This approach of going full energy in one thing until it gets finished is really effective, I'm putting into use now.
'I'll never quit a project quickly again... The old adage about tearing the bandage off fast is wrong. People you've worked intensively with, partnered with, or so on will be important to you later in life, almost without fail... They also tend to know you really well and become sources of good advice."
-That's powerful. Most of the best opportunities in my life have come from people I've known and worked with. If people trust you not to drop the ball it's amazing what can happen.
'...you need an elegant "capture and prioritize system."'
-Interesting topic. I've noticed that high performers do this sort of intuitively with pieces of paper, post-it notes etc, but there is certainly room for improvement if they do the process consciously. And it doesn't require getting entrenched with the latest cult-like productivity tricks.
Made me think - thanks. I am getting much more ruthless on putting new ideas in my Someday/Maybe GTD list rather than my Do this week list and then reviewing them in my weekly review. Random thoughts on this topic:
1. Schedule the tasks in a calendar (paper or online) - that way you are clear that a certain block of time is only for one project and if you want to do extra tasks/projects you either need to do them on later free days or delete or delay an earlier task. To be clear these tasks are not meetings with clients etc that have a hard day/time, they are appointments with yourself. When I used a Planner Pad (paper system) I did this sometimes with good results.
2. How much can you delegate? If you were out sick for a month how could you keep things moving on just 4 hours a week? I learned this question from a Tim Ferris interview video and it made me radically rethink some of my tasks.
3. I like the idea of knocking out smaller projects to get them off your list. That is similar in concept to the Snowball debt reduction method where you pay extra money on the credit card with the smallest balance first. While mathematically paying extra on the one with the highest interest rate is best, emotionally it is best to get a small win faster by getting one card totally paid off to give you a pat on the back for paying off debt. That makes it more likely you will stick with the program. I know when I start my day getting smaller (and even psychologically harder) tasks off my GTD list I have momentum to then tackle larger tasks that might be more important in terms of results.
4. I often get a head start on creative projects like writing by forking off a part of my consciousness to work on it while I am doing other things, even sleeping. I just set the intent that I spin off a piece of my consciousness and that it will come up with good writing and that it will check back with me later with the results. Usually when I come to do the writing it just flows out of me. Or if I need a new idea I have it when I wake up. It is a pretty common magic and healing technique that can be applied to business. Note: it is important that you include the intent that the forked part of you does come back or has a time limit for existence of say a day. You don't want random pieces of you wandering around unguided...
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude for the huge value that you deliver through your blog and your newsletter. I often use your advices, striving to become better and more self-disciplined.
I am a junior engineer working within the automotive industry. This is a demanding job and I work at least 45 hours a week. As I want to become independant (i.e. being able to work on my own projects from any place in the world) as soon as possible, I am starting to create my first business (I'm currently researching a niche market).
I have GTD'ed my schedule and eliminated most of worthless activities such as video games, TV shows and compulsive internet browsing.
On the second day that I was visiting her in Toronto, Annie brought back a pile of books from the library. On the top was a tiny book with a cover so simple that it looked like it might be a children's book about potty training.
"A little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick)"
It seemed like a fluffy bit of entertainment. Something like "The Tipping Point" which is fun to read but not exactly a life changer. I was wrong, though. Dead wrong.