I never finish anyth
August 15, 2007 1:02 PM   Subscribe

How can I better manage my projects?

There have been several (non-work) projects over the last few years that I've been really excited about. However, due to loss of momentum, personality conflicts, or lack of organization, most of them have gone stale. The situation has really gotten me down, and I've been questioning my effectiveness.

My contribution to the problem has been largely my perfectionism. I'll keep the project in a holding pattern for as long as it takes for me to digest certain problems. It's easy for me to lose perspective while spending hours, days, weeks, on one detail.

The overall gist of my question, I think, is how I can learn to manage projects so they don't rely on whims, and are likely to be completed in spite of myself (and others).
posted by evil holiday magic to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
David Allen, Getting Things Done.

Keep in mind that most people never have a good idea. If a brilliant person accomplishes a mere 2% of their ideas, then they're already ahead of the battle.
posted by letahl at 1:07 PM on August 15, 2007

Response by poster: letahl,

I've read GTD, but maybe I should re-read it. Does anybody actually use the 43 folder model? Just wondering.

Are you suggesting the projects mercifully lose steam because the ideas all suck? Could be. I feel more ambitious people have taken much worse ideas than mine further, though.
posted by evil holiday magic at 1:19 PM on August 15, 2007

Also, I have a tendency to start a million things and finish few of them. It resulted in this question, and the recommendation for Refuse to Choose, which does also cover how to finish projects (or know when to give up on them), but it's geared towards people with a certain personality (which there's a good chance you have).
posted by drezdn at 1:30 PM on August 15, 2007

Figure out where your time really is going and if you are really allocating your time as you would wish.

Perfectionism is a problem. Do like Ms. Frizzle says: "Take chances! Make Mistakes!" Just get started even if your knowledge or the situation is not perfect.

Don't have too many concurrent projects. Pick 1 and work it to a reasonable stage of completion.

If you want to change things, pick something to work on, make a reasonable schedule (evening or weekend hours) for working on it. Then do it whether you really feel like it at the time or not. If after a period of time (I mean weeks), you find you really don't like working on it, then you've learned something.
posted by DarkForest at 1:35 PM on August 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Have you considered that you may have undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder?
posted by Merdryn at 1:46 PM on August 15, 2007

Does anybody actually use the 43 folder model? Just wondering.

Well, there's a whole website dedicated to just this concept, including a wiki. Personally, I think that the whole GTD thing is something like a gimmick, and you just have to find something that works for you. I've yet to really find something that works, so I can't say much.
posted by philomathoholic at 2:19 PM on August 15, 2007

Not sure if philomathoholic has read GTD but I have and it's helped me a tremendous amount.

There are a bunch of free GTD tools such as iGTD . I've never met someone who uses the literal 43 folders since it's an analog solution. The digital ones just use a calendar such as outlook, entourage, ical, google cal or whatever.
posted by roderashe at 4:08 PM on August 15, 2007

Are you breaking the job down into manageable tasks (i.e. each a few days at most)? Are you establishing dependencies for each task (i.e. which previous tasks must be completed for a new one to begin)? Are you estimating how much time each task will take so you know how far ahead or behind you are? When I fail to do these things, I find it easy to get off track on my projects. I'm actually taking a class in formal (business-style) project management at the moment through my staffing agency; you might find a book like this one handy to at least look through.
posted by kindall at 5:33 PM on August 15, 2007

If you are working with other people, making the project management more businesslike will probably be a big help. However, one of the reasons businesslike project management works is arbitrary and artificial deadlines, and if you are only accountable to yourself, it is hard to believe in those. People sometimes find ways to become accountable to others, as an end run around this problem. Groups that meet to discuss each others ideas on a regular basis, for example.

My working theory is that I need a mix of small and large projects, and I need to constantly remind myself that if it isn't finished it is nothing. Constant reminders combined with only large projects cause severe self worth questioning and no progress, but small projects that are completed fairly easily keep me feeling useful. For me, small projects are things that take up to about 10hours, large ones maybe 10-20x as long. Anything that would take more than 200 hours is more like a long term goal..

The above being purely personal project related. When meals and rent, or professional obligations to your employer enter the picture - well, that is entirely different.

How to manage in the grey area between professional and personal is a much harder question.. :)
posted by Chuckles at 7:34 PM on August 15, 2007

And ya, if one gets all postmodern about it, my 'small project', 'large project', and 'long term goal' breakdown, combined with severe self discipline about completion, starts to look a lot like businesslike project management with arbitrary and artificial deadlines.. Oh well.. :)
posted by Chuckles at 7:38 PM on August 15, 2007

It seems as though a subset of the scrum project management methodology would be applicable to just about anything that can be broken down into smaller tasks. I could see having a scrum board type thing for my personal tasks being particularly useful, particularly for remembering what I decided I wanted to get done.

I don't have any online references to recommend, everything I've learned about it has been from books or in person. Anyone have anything there?
posted by flaterik at 8:03 PM on August 15, 2007

The 43 Folders: I kinda sorta use them. Assuming you know how the setup works, I'll give you my $0.02 on the actual folder system.

If you need something that's on paper (or just want to use paper in your system) on a regular basis, I think the 43-folder "tickler" file can be really useful. Personally, I don't need these paper things often enough that I always check the folders, which means I don't always check them, which means I'm not getting as much out of the system as I could.

This is mainly because I work for a large company that runs on MS Outlook. If I was more organized around the house, I could really see the 43f as a good basis for a lofi organization system.
posted by altcountryman at 8:32 PM on August 15, 2007

The GTD thing can be a gimmick. I read "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity" in 2001 and have been using the principles therein since with great result. I've modified the plan a little, but its still largely his. And it works fabulously for me. Yes, if you buy the book and don't actually do anything then that makes it a gimmick, but it doesn't have to be.

I do not use the 43 folders. I think those kinda got popular after my trist with the 2001 book (which I reread every so often).
posted by letahl at 6:33 AM on August 16, 2007

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