Demon Sketch

One of the problems I (and apparently a lot of other people) have is that there are a million things I’d like to work on at any given time, and not nearly enough time in the day to work on them all.

I’ve tried numerous ways to handle this in the past, but today I’d like to talk about one method that works particularly well for me. It’s hard to do, but brings instant relief and opens up plenty of time to get things done.

Make a Sacrifice

While this is obvious in retrospect, a great way to free up your time to work on something new is to give something up.

Instead of optimizing every second of your day (which is do-able, but very difficult to maintain), I believe the better option is to make a sacrifice.

Thinking of a new project you’d like to hack on? Maybe it’s a website you’re sure will get a million users. Maybe it’s a basketball team you’d like to join. Maybe it’s that book you want to write. Whatever it is, think about it.

Is this new project something you really want to do? Is it more important to you than the things you’re working on currently? Would you be willing to give something up in order to work on this new project?

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, maybe you should reconsider. If you’re not willing to sacrifice an in-progress project, that’s a clear giveaway that your new idea may not be worth pursuing.

Still not sure? Throw you new idea onto a list and wait it out.

If you’re willing to give something up to work on your new idea, then do it! Don’t delay! Don’t half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing (credit for this saying goes to Ron Swanson).

Practical Advice

In my own experience, I find it really, really hard to let go of projects I’ve already started working on. Most of them were my ideas, and as such, it’s hard to kill them off. I have some innate attachment to my projects (particularly websites) that makes me want to keep holding onto them no matter what (even after losing interest).

While I’ve yet to perfect the act of successfully managing my own projects, I’ve made some great progress over the past year in this arena. Here’s how I do things.

Keep a Project List

Whenever I have a new idea for a project I think might be fun to work on (whether it’s a website, open source project, business, article, etc.) I immediately throw it into a Google doc I maintain, titled Ideas.

In this document I keep my projects sorted by category:

  • Work projects.
  • Open source projects.
  • Business projects.
  • Writing.

This way, no matter what I decide, I’ve at least got a centralized collection of my ideas that I can refer to in the future.

Keep a TODO List

In addition to my project list, I also keep a Google doc titled TODO open at all times. This is where I store a list of the things I’m currently committed to doing:

  • Work projects.
  • Personal projects.
  • Meetings.
  • etc.

Each day when I sit down at the computer, this is the first thing I open up. This lets me easily pick something of high priority to work on, and immediately make some progress towards my goals (whatever they are).

Every time I finish one of the things on my TODO list, I immediately remove it from my list completely. Other than the great feeling that goes along with removing items from my TODO list, I can easily look at the size of my TODO list and instantly know whether or not I’m currently overcommitted.

If my list has more than about 20 items, I know I need to start saying no more frequently, and if my list is getting too short (this has never happened), I’d know that I should probably get to work ;)

Making Sacrifices

When I decide to pursue a new idea, I carefully analyze my TODO list and try to determine what is least important to me at the time. It’s incredibly difficult to review a list of things you care about knowing you’re going to be killing one of them off, but incredibly rewarding.

Once I’ve found the project I know needs to die, I’ll take a few minutes to completely kill it off. This might mean:

  • Emailing the people involved and letting them know I’m done with the project, and that even though I’d love to keep working on it I simply don’t have the time.
  • Calling or talking to my collaborators (if necessary).
  • Shutting down any dependent services (am I paying for servers to power this?).

And lastly, I’ll remove the item from my TODO list, effectively sealing the project’s fate.

This step is important because it’s all too easy to trick yourself into partially working on multiple projects instead of making a clean cut – but I promise that if you do things this way, you’ll regret it in the long run.

Committing yourself to too many projects concurrently is a recipe for disaster. It leads to stress, frustration, and poor performance. It’s a much better idea to firmly decide on your sacrifices, and quickly kill them off immediately after you make your decision.

It’s Difficult

Making sacrifices, especially when it comes to deciding what you’re going to focus on with your time and energy, is a difficult thing to do.

Each time I do it, while I know it’s for the best, I can’t help but feel sad.

One of the things I’ve tried to do as I make sacrifices is to do my best to maintain a positive attitude. Instead of focusing on the killing aspect, I’ll try to focus on how this is a good move for me right now, and how life’s too short to focus on everything and accomplish nothing.

In the end, you’ve got to make the best decision for yourself – so don’t feel too guilty about it.

The next time you’re looking to get started on that new idea, don’t forget to make a sacrifice.