staying-focused-on-projects

Like most of us I have my fair share of ideas that I want to pursue. For many years I had many books, many courses, many projects, etc. that I wanted to pursue but never really getting them done. Recently talking to a friend about a few of my recent projects that I finished or very close to finishing, he mentioned that he has too many ongoing projects to finish anything. This really resonated with me as I had once been the same but over the last few years have slowly improved. So I got inspired to write this post, how I learnt to finish projects.

I struggled a lot getting things done, I would have too many projects ongoing at the same time all with differing levels of completion and ongoing progress. Over the course of a lot of iterations I managed to come up with the following process.

1. Write down your project ideas

Grab a piece of paper or a blank page in your notebook, grab a cup of coffee (or your beverage of choice) and grab your pen or pencil. The next step is to write down any projects that you are working on or idea that you are thinking of. No project is too small, no project is too unreasonable. Put everything on the page. I find this is helpful to get the vague cloud of ideas out of my head.

2. Transfer to a Kanban board

From here I like to take those projects and put them onto a Kanban Board, my go to service is Trello. I sort them into different columns representing their state, as below:

  1. Concept – just an idea at this stage
  2. Promising – an idea that I would like to work on sometime in the future
  3. In Progress – projects that are in progress
  4. Complete – the idea has been executed to a point where it is considered done
  5. Rejected – the idea has been rejected as not feasible, lost interest, etc.

I find this helps me to get a view of where my ideas are as well as a central places where my they sit, so I never lose an idea.


Kanban Board

3. Define

To me, this is the hardest step. Each idea needs to be defined. The goal of the idea is to execute on it but what is it exactly? I like to set SMART Goals to help define what the end looks like. If a project’s goal is too open ended it is easy to just keep putting along and never really feel like you finish anything. This list of goals can be as long as you want but please temper the goals with if you want them or think they will be useful. I find these goals can often help with the project management aspect in setting up tasks.

4. Prioritize

Now you have everything down on your kanban it is time to prioritize. Within each column prioritize with the more important/urgent task towards the top. I’ve found this helps with figuring out what to do first.

5. Constrain

For those familiar with Kanban will be familiar with WIP Limits (Work in Progress limits), where a column has a limit on how many items can be in each column. For my board I use a limit of 2 on In Progress and 5 on Promising which I have found to work for me. If you have too many tasks in these columns, move each to the previous columns. I would warn against having too liberal of a limit on In Progress, it is very important to limit the amount of concurrent tasks.

I have found this to be the most important step, granted it takes a lot of self control. For me 2 ongoing tasks is enough to keep me focused but enough flexibility to do something else if I get bored.


WIP Limit on Kanban Board

6. Get working

This is the fun part! Well, depending on how you view it. Grind towards the goals.

7. Fall off the wagon

This is going to happen, you are going to fall off the wagon. It happens to me once in a while, don’t worry about it. Maybe your prioritization is wrong. All I can really say, is re-evaluate your idea’s prioritization and the ideas in the In Progress column.

8. Finish

Once I move an idea into Complete I like to have a ceremony. For me it usually ends with a blog post (for example CMD Resume, Fit on a Floppy, Multiline JavaScript Converter, Commit Comp) and a nice meal. Choose another task and go back to Step 6!

?. Clean up

Once every few weeks I like to do a clean up on the board. Adding more ideas, rejecting ideas that I change my mind on, moving finished ideas to complete, moving items to in progress, reprioritizing, etc. A Kanban board is pointless if it isn’t up to date.

I hope you are able to find some use in my process. Like I said, it has been an evolving process which I’ve moulded for my purpose, but your mileage might vary and customization is required.

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