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Hoarding Projects: Minimise the Trouble

Since I can remember, I've always tried to bite more than I could chew. Every time I'm stressed, or overworked I end up adding one or two new projects. I don't know how. I try to pick up a new language, or start to play go again, or decide it is a good moment to learn stenography. These days, for example, added to my usual schedule are a new blog about meditation, I finally started the series on our road trip to Iceland and I am fighting my schedule to learn Gaelic. And this only for blog-related tasks! Have you ever done this?

This has a good side effect: when I'm procrastinating on my expected work, I end up doing one of these new tasks which are always focused in learning new abilities or improving forgotten hobbies.

It also has a bad side effect: stress and problems from context switching. Having too many tasks at once has a very taxing effect, as all Getting Things Done people know.

Where does the name come from?

A few weeks ago I was reading Reddit and saw a post in the AMA (Ask Me Anything), where the poster was a social helper devoted to people with compulsive hoarding, a mental condition where people tend to accumulate lots and lots of "stuff" (usually useless) without being able to discard anything. I found it interesting and read for a while the questions and answers.

Then I realised that, in some sense, I act exactly the same with respect to my projects. I add them, work a little on them... And I am unable to give up on them, I'm always coming up to old, discarded projects. Do you share this problem with me?

Letting go?

The easier answer would be to just let them go. If the project is not important and you just need to drop it, forget about it. The problem is, I grow too attached to projects where I devote my resources. I can't give up on learning something: if it was important a year ago, it is also today.

Usually, the moment I decide to drop a project from my schedule is not because I don't enjoy it. It is either because I have found a shinier task or because my usual schedule got tighter (for example, because I have to give classes).

This means that the letting go was not because it was uninteresting, it was because there were not enough resources. When in some future moment I have more resources available, I want to tackle this again!

Minimising the trouble

I bet we all want to minimise the trouble of having too many projects at once. The solutions I have do not imply letting go, simply because I can't do it.

First keep track of all your projects: Have a list (computerised is better) with all your projects. If possible, add colours to indicate which are ongoing, which are on hold. Remove the finished ones.

A problem of this approach is that you may be overwhelmed after seeing so many projects, all together. Sort them as active and inactive, and if possible, hide the inactive ones from view when you want to see your project map.

Don't stress out about having too many projects. Detach from them any sense of time-frame, outcome or deadline. You have to treat them like you treat ads in a webpage. Ignore them unless they are your focus for the moment.

Second work on them on a weekly basis: There is no problem in having a ton of projects at the same time, you only need to manage them correctly. And the only way to do so, is by working on them.

A project is like a plant. Some of them are cacti, others are orchyds. In any case, they need to be taken care, at most on a weekly basis. Some can survive with two weeks of inattention, and some need to be worked on daily.

Once a week, review your list of ongoing projects. Add a tick to the projects you have worked on last week, and add a cross to the ones you didn't. If for some unknown reason you have worked in a project which was held, add a tick to it. Every two weeks review your project list.

  • Ongoing projects with two ticks are ongoing
  • Ongoing projects with one tick and one cross are to be re-assessed
  • Ongoing projects with two crosses should be put on hold
  • Held projects with one or two ticks should be moved to the ongoing list
Third give up when you have to: The fact that you can add projects indefinitely and can manage them does not mean that you should do so forever.

When there is something that no longer interests you, or that has been superseded by bigger tasks don't be afraid to remove it from your list. I stopped playing chess seriously when I was 17, but didn't remove it from my mental list of tasks until I started to play Go when I was 20 or 21. I found the game of Go much more appealing, and completely superseded playing chess.

These are the solutions I use for this problem. What is your approach to project hoarding?

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Written by Ruben Berenguel