I, more often than I’d like, feel overwhelmed with the amount I have to do and frankly, it’s rather bloody annoying.
At heart, I’m a pretty laid back person so a lifestyle of madness isn’t ideal so I’m constantly trying to find ways to complete the same (or an even larger) workload with a lot less stress.
When I actually get time to stop doing “stuff” and examine what needs done, I often find it’s only a couple of projects that are giving me the illusion of being overwhelmed.
Not only that, these projects are often ones that I haven’t even started. They are just hovering in the corner of the office like ninja stealth bombs waiting to make you have a bad day.
Occasionally you look up, your eyes meet theirs and they give you a slow nod like a loan shark who you owe £100k*.
I can’t be the only person to be plagued by problematic projects so I thought I’d share my thoughts about how I deal with them.
What’s the deal, why is it so frigging
hard to start a project?
Unless you are a person blessed with a special set of powers, starting a project can sometimes be the hardest part of the whole project.
We never only have one project in front of us at any one time. We have our work projects, our domestic projects (how tidy is your room?), our friends projects (when was the last time you saw ….?) and many, many more.
So that’s good news, we’re not totally useless! We probably get around 80% of our projects started and completed on time but I find there are always one or two that I keep putting back and only tackle it because it’s either do or die (well lose business or get an almighty bollocking, neither of which are very appealing to me).
More specifically, why are projects so hard to start?
I want to have a closer look at why some projects are so hard to get into.
The number one reason that I struggle to start a give project is because I try to complete a project in one fell swoop. They are often large projects that require a lot of work, partnerships with others and last over a period of a few months.
For me, one reason is that talking about the project is very easy. It’s not that I’m too busy talking about projects, it’s more about how I frame projects when I talk about them.
When I talk about a project, I tend to focus on the final outcome of the project which is inspiring, worthwhile and exciting but at the same time an epic task of terrifying proportions.
This is a problem, you don’t do a project, you do actions. However, when you are talking about the final project, my brain looks at the whole project as a single action and to expect to be able to complete a project in a single swoop is madness.
So what’s the magic fix?
There is enough written on this subject to sink the Spanish Armada, but by far the best is by a man called David Allen.
Mr Allen, or David if you prefer, developed a system called, ingeniously, Getting Things Done (GTD). It’s about focusing on actions rather than projects and is a godsend for the more time challenged of us.
Ok, so it’s not magic, it’s just applied common sense in a very good framework. Unfortunately, you still have to do the work but it allows you to work more productively.
The last person I talked about this to, I claimed it could increase productivity by a third. That’s not a solid fact, more a gut feeling.
So how does it work?
GTD works on the premiss that you need to have a todo system that you completely trust. A system that allows you to write down your todos and have total confidence that they will get done.
This confidence, allows you to remove all the little reminders in your head and focus 100% on the task in hand. This is an incredible experience that increases your productivity and creativity and reduces your tiredness and procrastination.
The framework of the todo list then forces you to turn your projects and ideas into physical actions. Instead of having to bury the neighbour’s cat you didn’t see this morning, it makes you write “buy shovel on way home”.
But the real magic to GTD is the weakly review. It allows you to review all the projects in your life, both long and short term. Always wanted that car, holiday, boyfriend? GTD allows you to design the best path to get there and act on it every day.
The power of the day to day side of GTD is in the context based working. Instead of working on a project from 9am-11am, it organises working into contexts such as emails, phone calls, research, paper and procrastination to take advantage of economies of scale i.e. you don’t have to keep opening your email or clear your desk.
Where can I learn more?
Here is the link to the book.
* For the record, I’ve never owed a loan shark money. I have seen them in movies. They don’t seem very nice.