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Selecting Projects to Work On


Blue Pill Red Pill

If you’re an avid organizer or someone who frequently seeks out new challenges and things to do, one of the more common problems that you’re likely to run across is having too many things to choose from – and not knowing which to start with. One way around this is to use the idea of limiting choices, and combine it with a simple decision making process that will help you prioritise, and then identify which project you should be working on next.

This is something that really be applied at all sorts of levels – whether it’s in your personal life with side projects you have going on (start a blog, reorganize the garage, redecorate the kitchen, etc) or in your business (staff development vs documentation vs new IT system).

Clear to Neutral

The first thing you want to do is prepare, and you do this through using the Clear to Neutral process.

What you’re likely to find is that you have a lot of small 5-10 minute tasks in your todo list, things like paying certain bills, return a certain phone call or little administrative tasks like renewing your domain names for the next year.

What you want to do is set aside a day and clear all of these in succession. It will likely take you the whole day, but that is fine – make it your main outcome for that day.

The problem with not clearing these things, is that they make it harder to make clear decisions – they are what I like to call “excess energy traps”. Namely, they suck up your attention, concentration and mindspace when you should be focussing on bigger and better things.

Straight Line Theory

Once you’ve cleared away all the clutter and minutia, you want to move onto the main event – working out which project to tackle next. The first thing to recognize is that it isn’t physically possible to tackle 10 projects all at once – it is better to pick one, get through that, reassess and then move onto the next.

Sometimes you’ll be in the situation where certain projects have to happen at a particular time. That is fine, and if that is the case, then either: 1) the decision on what to work on next has already been made for you, or 2) you won’t be leading the project in which case it won’t be your primary focus of attention.

Working out which project to handle next can be done in a couple of ways. AE Thanh’s method using Covey’s quadrants is one way. I do it a little differently.

First, I ask: Which context is the most important to me right now?

What you need to recognize is that your time is, for all intensive purposes, finite, and that progressing in one area means putting other things on hold for the meantime. For example, committing to a new and rigorous workout and eating routine will take time away from say starting a side business or website.

The important thing here is the emphasis on right now – our needs and wants change so often (probably because we’re bombarded with so much information and choice nowadays) that it is better to work with the present to near future, rather than the distant future.

Once you’ve established which context you’ll be working in, you will have a much better idea of what you want. Here’s where Straight Line Theory™ comes in.

As silly as it sounds, you want to ask: What’s the fastest way to get to what I want, with minimal expenditure of resources?

The answer to that, is usually the project you want to work on. Because it’s something you want (the context you picked), and you know that you can get there fairly quickly (minimum resources), you’re more likely to complete the project, and thus create momentum that will drive you forward to the next project.

You are essentially drawing a straight line between where you are right now, and where you want to go, and picking vehicle (project) to help you get there. There may be other things you want to try out, other projects that have spillover benefits into other goals, but the straight line approach is usually the simplest and most efficient.

Next Actions

  • Clear our excess tasks and minutia.
  • Work out the most important context in your life.
  • Work out the fastest way to get there, with minimal expenditure of resources.
Photo by: irargerich

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