Breaking It Down

Previously, I wrote about the benefits of writing things down. Today, I’m going to challenge and expand on that thought a little bit. To do so, I’m going to talk about big projects, complex ideas, abstract goals, etc.

Let’s suppose you pick up your list of things that you’ve written down to complete, and are looking for the next thing to work on right now. On your list, you read something like “Finish writing a book about cat physiology” or “Complete iOS app to identify plant species via a scanned photo” or “Get promoted to VP Finance.” What happens if you decide to pick one of these up as your next action? To paraphrase Boromir:

One does not simply get promoted to VP Finance.

I’d probably start by asking myself: how do I do that? Should I get certification X? Should I get an MBA? Should I get a management role first? Should I switch companies to get further experience? Should I ask the CEO what path I should take? What should I do first? Which can I finish most quickly? How can I multitask?

All of these questions can be overwhelming. Very quickly, I may become subject to decision fatigue. And as I grow confused and anxious about what to do next, I may start to tend towards my defend axis. And just like that, my thoughts may become controlled by my automatic system.

This isn’t where I want to be. Was it really valuable to write those things down?

Yes, everything I mentioned about writing things down still applies. But like I said, that is just the first step. I’m going to begin to hint at some of the future steps now.

David Allen defines a project as anything that requires more than one action to complete. Picking up a project as your next thing to do is a non-starter. A better way to deal with projects is to keep track of these on-going projects, and then when looking for something to do, ask “What is the next action I should take to move closer to completion?”

By keeping track of on-going projects, we can prevent the issues that may arise from not writing things down. By starting with choosing the next action, we can prevent the downward spiral of falling into decision fatigue, tending towards the defend axis, and losing control to our automatic system.

So referring back to “Finish writing a book about cat physiology” or “Complete iOS app to identify plant species via a scanned photo” or “Get promoted to VP Finance,” these are all examples of projects. These should be tracked as on-going projects, and each of these projects should have a task or next action assigned to them based on the question “What is the next action I should take to move closer to completion?”

Trying to complete a project as if it were a next action is a sure way to frustrate oneself. Breaking it down can keep you at peak performance and help build the self-confidence that will help you achieve the whole project.

One thing at a time. Most important thing first. Start now.

–Unknown

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