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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Fresh Start: Replace one project

If you don't have one already, draw up a list of all the projects that are on your radar screen right now -- all the active or dormant projects that will require some kind of task work (or even just mental bandwidth) by the end of this month. If you're doing Getting Things Done, you probably already have a list like this, but it might not hurt to just grab a piece of paper and do a fresh "mini-dump" of all the obligations and outcomes that are squatting on the edges of your brainpan.

Study your list, and think about the real value of everything you've theoretically undertaken. Any of these apply...?

  • something I feel obligated to do (but have no real interest in ever doing)
  • something that stalled long ago and could easily be removed
  • something that takes massive amounts of fuss for consistently annoying results
  • something I haven't seriously thought through yet
  • something potentially interesting that's very poorly defined right now
  • something I can't really do anything about for a while
  • something that's been on my lists so long that I just keep it out of sentimentality
  • something I could, quite frankly, just not care any less about

Got it? Good. Surprised at how much you actually have on your mind? You ain't alone, sister.

Okay, so now set that list down, and grab a fresh sheet of paper.

Without thinking too deeply about it, start jotting down all the things you'd love to be starting right now. Be reasonable; this isn't about fantasies of unassisted flight or basement alchemy so much as garden-variety growth, development, and fun. What are the things that, given the proper focus and time, would bring you the most satisfaction for the time you spend on it -- or could serve as a bridge to achieving higher aspirations you've been smacking down because you're "too busy" with other stuff?

Good candidates:

  • fixing a small, stupid problem that's been driving you nuts for years
  • finding ways to reconnect with people who are important to you
  • getting help to start a group or even a new business that would do Good Things
  • learning a skill -- like a programming language or accreditation -- that will give you more career flexibility
  • volunteering someplace important to you, taking a dance class or learning CPR or sign language
  • planning baby steps in the direction of some Huge Life Change™ that you've always been curious about exploring

Bottom line? Find something that gets you really excited and makes you feel energized and hopeful about the prospects in your life. Pretend for a moment that you can finally scratch an itch that you may never have acknowledged until now.

Now the fun part. Officially pick one project from Column A to set aside and one from Column B to start. Excise something stupid, and undertake something cool. Go through whatever motions in your job (or "your system") that would shelve or delete the oldie and promote or highlight the new one. Yay! New project. You win.

So, the point here is not to go out and quit your job, join a socialist mime troupe, or start dressing like a hippie -- the trick is just to make a couple conscious decisions about using your time for the things that really matter to you. And to start becoming more aware of the time you (maybe unconsciously) spend thinking about dumb, pedestrian, and ultimately unnecessary stuff. (Hint: for most of us, the answer to that is "a LOT.")

I'd be surprised if you didn't find at least one crufty project you can get off your plate and out of your mind without incident; and I'd be just as surprised if you couldn't replace the space on that shelf with something much cooler that brings fresh energy and perspective to everything you're working on right now. Make the time to do something that's worthy of your attention.

David's picture

Nice, I'm glad I was...

Nice, I'm glad I was directed over here. One thing I would have to say is that I've spent the last year unlearning some of this. I went from being part of a team to be being the only person left. A lot of assumptions about urgent vs important or the ability to dump things actually hinge on there being someone else, normally junior to you, who will pick them up and complete them.

I'd say the biggest thing I have learnt in the last year, and I am far from finished even beginning to understand the challenges, is the skill of "do it now". Often it means taking time out from my urgent and critical project to complete a small, apparently meaningless and certainly not critical thing. What I learnt to my cost is that all of those little items build up and suddenly customers and suppliers are complaining about poor service and you have absolutely no viable defence for not having done it.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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