If you’re like me, you have a zillion unfinished projects sitting around. One of my goals in 2020 is to get some completed. But where do I start? In this post I describe an adaptation of a popular time management technique I’ve created to help complete my stack of projects.
The Original Method
The Eisenhower Method is a method of organizing tasks to determine which are priority and which are not. I first encountered it in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but you’ll see it in all sorts of places.
The way it works is you create a square with four quadrants, each corresponding to combinations of two conditions: Urgency and Importance.
Urgent Not Urgent Important A B Not Important C D
You organize all the tasks you need to do accordingly. Tasks that are urgent and important go in quadrant A. Tasks that are Not Important but urgent go in quadrant C. Etc.
The advice for this process comes from labels applied to each quadrant: Quadrant A is things to “Do” now. Quadrant B contains tasks that you should “Decide” when you’ll do – that is, set aside time to work on those tasks in the future. Urgent but unimportant tasks in quadrant C are for “Delegating.” In the business context this system is used in, these are tasks you’d give someone else to do. Finally, unimportant tasks that are not urgent are “Dropped” – you simply don’t do them at all.
This system comes out of theories of management and makes several assumptions about the tasks at hand, but I’ve found it useful through my life. As an individual with no one to delegate to, quadrants B and C get ambiguous, but identifying which tasks to do now and which to do never is very useful.
My Adapted Method
It occurred to me that a similar system could be used to help me organize all the endless set of hobby projects I have in the works. Importance and urgency aren’t quite applicable to hobby projects though. Nothing is forcing you to do your hobbies (and if they are, you have created a hobby job for yourself and good luck with that.) What categories would be useful then?
I’ve settled on excitement and recency. Does a hobby project excite you when you think about it or are you blasé about whether it gets finished right now? Which of your projects pique your interest the most? It might help to rate all of your projects on a continuum of most-to-least interesting. It’s okay if there are ties – you’re just trying to spread them out along an axis.
Recency is more straight-forward: how long has it been since you’ve worked on a given project? Simply rank the projects by when you last touched them. It’s up to you what constitutes work. Just be honest with yourself.
With those two properties determined, you can place them on the quadrant.
More recent Less recent More interesting A B Less interesting C D
I’ve come up with clever mnemonics to help explain my advice for what to do with projects in each quadrant:
More recent Less recent More interesting Flow & Fun Find Less interesting Finalize Flush
Projects that land in quadrant A, “Flow & Fun”, are the projects you should work on right now. They’re the ones you find most interesting so you’ll be like to get into a flow state. And because you’ve worked on them most recently, you won’t have to spend much time remembering all the details about them and can get right to the fun parts.
The things that end up in quadrant B, “Find”, are the ones you should think more deeply about. Try to find the core of them. What is the essential part that makes them interesting? Is it some central component or capability? Is it some specific exercise of design or craft? Spend a little time while you’re waiting in traffic to examine these projects. Maybe try taking things away until only the interesting parts remain. Projects in this quadrant are the ones you’ll get to soon.
Projects that are less interesting but still recent are often the those that you’ve worked through all the fun parts. Maybe they’re incomplete, but the part that’s left is boring. These are projects you just need to finalize. Perhaps its wrapping them up, but more than likely its putting them away for another day. You could try writing up your thoughts on how the project went and what you found originally exciting. Maybe you make a little video to share online. Don’t make a project of finalizing the project – you want to capture all the tacit knowledge about it that’s in your head while it’s still fresh. It’s a recent project now, but in 6 months will you remember all the little details? Future you will appreciate the notes you jot down now.
Finally, the fourth quadrant is D, “Flush.” These are the project you’ve still got in your closet or on your desk that don’t have much going for them. Flush them out! Time to send those things on down the river. They’re no longer as interesting as your other projects and you haven’t touched them for a while. You probably don’t remember why you even started them in the first place. Send the parts to the recycler or give them to a friend. If that set of oil paints you never really got around to using is still good, there’s someone out there who would really appreciate a free set. Maybe trade them for a favor, or just gift them to a friend you think would like them. It’s time to get that project out of your hair.
I’ll be trying this framework out this year to re-engage with a giant pile of projects I started last year. I’ve gone around my work room and taken a quick catalog of all the projects I have sitting around in boxes and bins. It didn’t take long at all to sort them into these quadrants and now I have a clear set of projects to focus on. Hopefully this process helps clear up some decision paralysis you might be having in your own spare time.