How many projects do you have on your projects list? How many balls can you keep in the air?
I submit that the more projects you have, the less likely you are to
complete each one. And the reverse is also true: the fewer projects you
have, the more likely you are to complete them.
Photo by iBjorn
If you recall my Haiku Productivity post (subtitle: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential), I
recommended that you set limits for everything you do … forcing
yourself to choose only the most essential, and nothing more. Three Most Important Tasks a day, and One Goal, were a couple of the keys to Haiku Productivity.
Today, I recommend that you limit yourself to three projects. Only three.
This application of Haiku Productivity may be one of the most useful
and powerful (along with the two I mentioned above), transforming your
ability to get projects done from one of juggling to one of focused
Why Haiku Productivity Projects are powerful
Aside from our goals, our projects are one of the most fundamental and
important units of our work (and personal) lives. Our ability to
complete projects makes a big difference in our lives.
Sure, it’s good to knock a bunch of tasks off our lists … and I’ll
acknowledge that (as David Allen says) we cannot “do projects” but only
do actions. But doing an action only gets us a step further toward
completing something major. We can complete a whole host of random
actions without actually completing something major.
Projects are much bigger steps toward something major — and in fact are
often the major things themselves. If you get a project done, you’ve
done something worthwhile, something notable, something that will gain
you recognition and satisfaction and long-term benefits. A task can’t
And so, our ability to complete projects is something that can have
a major effect on our lives. If we can get projects done, we can change
It starts with completing tasks, of course, but completing projects
means that you’re completing tasks with a focus on what you really want
to get done, not just doing random acts of activity. So let’s figure
out how to get projects done.
Why too many projects is a problem
Take out your project list, and count the number of projects on the
list. If you don’t have a project list, take a few minutes to make a
quick one: all the projects in your life, from getting your car fixed
to finishing that report to planning that party to training for that
marathon. Anything that takes multiple actions.
If you have a long list, there are several likely scenarios (or variations on these):
- You’re getting a few of the projects done but some have been on the
list for a little while and a few have been on there for a long while.
The ones that have been on there longer are nagging on your psyche, and
stressing you out a bit.
- You’re doing them GTD-style, with a next-action for each one
written on one of your context to-do lists, so that you’re always
moving each project forward. Each day, you try to do as many of the
next-actions on your context lists as possible, but of course you can
only do 3-7 of them a day (unless they’re really small) and so your
entire list of projects is moving along glacially, with new projects
being added daily. The project list grows longer, and very few projects
are getting done.
- You’re juggling a whole bunch of projects, and having a hard time
managing all of them, and not completing many. More projects keep being
added. It’s really stressing you out.
- You’ve got timelines and actions for each project, but because of
the large number of projects, you are constantly pushing the timelines
back, which stresses you out.
There may be other scenarios. And then, you may be able to have a
long project list and complete all of them without problem, and not get
stressed out. If so, you probably don’t need this article. :)
In any case, you can see how a long project list can lead to stress and a lack of completion of any of them.
How Haiku Producitivity Projects Works
So the rule of Haiku Productivity Projects is to choose the three
projects you most want to get done soon. Perhaps the most important
projects, or perhaps the ones you’re almost finished with, or some
combination. But choose three, and only three.
But why not just one project? If you read the second paragraph of
this article carefully, you saw that I said ” the fewer projects you
have, the more likely you are to complete them.” The logical
conclusion, of course, is that one project at a time is the best —
you’re sure to complete it!
And this is true. But imagine that to finish this project, you’re
waiting on information or an action from someone else. And you know
this happens all the time. So in this case, if you only had one
project, you’d be stalled with nothing to do but read Zen Habits (what
a shame that would be!).
So pick three projects: if one gets stalled, you can work on another. Although I’m not a fan of multi-tasking at the task level, I recommend multi-tasking at the project level (but
then “multi-tasking” would be a misnomer … let’s coin a word:
“multi-projecting”). But only on a limited basis: too much
multi-projecting leads to incompletion and stress.
So three projects. Start with a new index card (or blank text file,
or whatever you use to make lists), and write “Three Projects” at the
top. Then list your three projects, with the desired outcome next to
each (”submit to editor”, “email finished code to team leader”, “make
my Porsche look like new”, “beat Fred323 at WoW Level 70″).
Below that, I have an “On Deck” lineup of the next projects that
will go on my Three Projects list. This list can grow long, but I don’t
work on any of them or worry about any of them until I’ve crossed out
all three projects on my Three Projects list.
Then: you focus only on those Three Projects until they’re
completed. Work in bursts to make sure you get them done. Really focus
on them. Worry about nothing else. Even put off your routine daily
tasks until later in the day, after you’ve worked hard on at least one
of your three projects. See if you can get all three done this week.
Clear off an entire day to complete one project. Make sure that most of
your Three Most Important Tasks (MITs) each day are tasks that move one
or more of these projects forward.
Do what it takes to complete all three.
Then go to your On Deck list, and choose the next three.
Why Haiku Productivity Projects works
It works because it allows you to focus, and thus to complete. It works
because it forces you to choose the most important projects, and to put
the rest on hold until those three are completed.
It works because you’re not letting all the new, incoming stuff put the more important stuff on hold.
It works because it simplifies project management greatly, and focuses on the essential.
But what if you don’t control your projects?
There are some of you who have your projects set by your boss, and can’t just decide to do only three and put the rest on hold.
If so, you might not be able to apply Haiku Productivity to your
projects. But before you decide that’s the case, consider whether you
can do one of these strategies:
- Accept as many projects as your boss gives you (or alternatively,
as few as you can), but focus only on finishing three of them over the
next few days (or over the next week). Surely your boss can’t expect
you to complete your entire project list in a few days.
- Talk to your boss and tell him you are really trying to work on
completing your projects, rather than just incrementally moving them
along. Tell him you want to focus on just a few at a time, get them
done, and then focus on the next few. He’ll probably like this idea, if
you really execute it. Allow him to choose the three he’d like you to
focus on first.
- Alternatively, if your boss piles more stuff on you, when your list
is already full, show him your project list and ask him to choose which
you should work on, and which you should put on hold, realizing that
you only have a finite amount of time to work on them. Or at least ask
him which three are the most important right now. If he won’t let you
choose, then choose yourself.
- If none of the above strategies work, still just focus on three,
but when your boss asks for progress on the others, renegotiate to get
more time on those while you complete the first three. He’ll be happy
when you get the three done, so there shouldn’t be a problem.
What are your thoughts on Haiku Productivity Projects? What’s your method for completing projects? Let us know in the comments.