The Best Way to Get Work Done
December 12, 2009 8:58 AM   Subscribe

I have some ideas I want to bring to fruition. Is it best to focus on each one at a time until I either complete it or go as far as I can go with it? Or is it better to schedule my time so I work on each of them a little each day and move them all forward at once?
posted by CollectiveMind to Work & Money (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Pick your most important one and focus 80% of your efforts on that, but use 20% of your time to move the other projects along.

How do decide which one is most important can be difficult. Which idea has the most likelihood of succeeding? Which one can be completed in the shortest amount of time? Which idea will have the most impact if it does succeed?

More detail about the general nature of the ideas would allow for more detailed answers.

It is very important to finish one of the ideas. Then you can evaluate how it went and the other ideas will benefit from that.
posted by SantosLHalper at 9:16 AM on December 12, 2009

It's very obvious, but actually useful to do: make a quadrant grid to help you prioritize. One dimension is quick-to-do vs. time-consuming; the other dimension is high-payoff vs low-payoff. E.g. a space divided into four, with, say, top left as quick high-payoff, top right as quick low-payoff, bottom left is high-payoff long-term, and lower right as low-payoff long-term.

Putting your ideas in the appropriate quadrant makes it easy to know what ideas to use as "quickies" in the downtime between spells of working on the bigger projects. And just shelve the low payoff long duration ideas.
posted by anadem at 9:57 AM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

As a writer, I'm always moving back and forth between projects. I have something I'm working on now, which gets most of my attention. The others are pitches, scripts and treatments I'm sending out waiting for interest or feedback.

I try to focus my energies on getting the current project to the next sellable point, or the next point where I need feedback. Then as soon as I've sent out the current pitch, or script, I'm off to the next project. That way I keep cycling through the projects.

It's important to finish things, meaning get things to the point where you can send them out. Things you don't finish and can't send out are a waste of time. Sometimes you're just stuck and need to move onto the next thing. So don't be fanatical about finishing things. But keep going until you can send things out or until you're really stuck.

Anadem's quadrant idea is a great one. Of course, sometimes you're not sure what the payoff might be. That's when you need someone to talk things through. I have an agent. You may just have a friend. But even if your friend doesn't know anything, you may find that talking things through makes clear to you what you need to be doing next.
posted by musofire at 10:15 AM on December 12, 2009

I'd say that depends almost entirely on how you, personally, work.
Some people hate shifting gears from one thing to another. Some people get frustrated dealing with the same topic for weeks at a time. Some people get most of their progress done in the last 10% of the time they've allotted for a project. Some people like thinking about something in the background while working on something else, and thus get a lot done when they switch projects and can put those ideas into action.
Know yourself, and do what works for you.
posted by aimedwander at 10:30 AM on December 12, 2009

Do whichever works best for you. Seriously. There is no objective answer to this.
posted by Nattie at 11:31 AM on December 12, 2009

Refuse To Choose might help you with this question, depending on your personality/habits. It changed my life, seriously.
posted by Rykey at 1:39 PM on December 12, 2009

I agree, it depends on your personal preferences and on the nature of the projects. At work, I do best if I have one main project and a couple of background projects— but I start flailing if I have multiple projects of equal priority, and I get frustrated if I don't have something to switch to when I need to mull something over. Some of my coworkers have very different preferences though.

I'd think about a few things:
  • how much work do you have to do to switch from one project to another? Is it just a matter of opening a different document or do you have to re-set-up all your machine tools (eg)?
  • How much cognitive work is it to switch? Can you keep more than one project in your mind, or do you have to spend a while picking up threads whan you go back to something?
  • The answer to the last one will also depend on how many balls you're keeping in the air and how frequently you come back to a given task.

posted by hattifattener at 3:50 PM on December 12, 2009

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