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Planning What's Realistic (and Doable)

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chessYesterday, I sat down with pen and paper and tried to make a decision about the projects I was going to be working on over the coming months. I wrote down those projects that were currently under way, as well as those I was most interested in pursuing.

The only problem was, by taking on the new projects, I was effectively doubling my workload, and I was barely keeping up with what was already on my plate. Something had to give.

For several hours, I tried to force a square peg into a round hole. I tried changing my perspective, thinking of it in different ways, rearranging my schedule over and over — all to no avail. It just wasn’t going to fit. I finally had to accept a few simple truths.

I Must Accept My Limitations
I had to be honest about my resources and availability over the coming months, as well as my commitment level to each current and prospective project. The truth was, I wasn’t completely committed to some of my current projects, and although I could be very motivated about some of the prospective ones, I knew that my resources and time constraints wouldn’t accommodate them. Plus, some of the projects would be best pursued after some of the others were well on their way to completion, if not 100 percent complete. That was the reality. Even though there were many things I wanted to do, I needed to accept what I could do, at least for the time being.

Seneca probably said it best: “Loads that are too heavy for the bearer are bound to overwhelm him.” I can continue to add to my schedule, to-do list, and obligations, but eventually, I will hit a wall. I’ll run out of time, energy and motivation, and resources, and on top of all that, the quality of my work and attention will decrease. I have to be very selective with my attention, if I hope for any of my efforts to count for something.

I Must┬áPrioritize, and Realize When I’m Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees

There are many times when I’m pulled in too many directions, and the only way to keep it all in perspective and get my bearings is to stop and remember why I do it. When I can reconnect with that, all the other influences fall away — money, prestige, sparkly things that eventually lose their appeal, and whatever else clouds my vision. I’m able to find clarity and see the forest again, and decisions become a lot easier to make.

I Must Stay the Course

There will be many times when boredom, restlessness, failure and distractions challenge my ability to keep a grip on one thing that really matters to my success — “sticktoitiveness.” “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” That’s a quote from Thomas Edison who said that he himself failed 10,000 times before succeeding. It’s hard to stay committed for the time it takes to see a business to success. Just ask Chris Brogan, Seth Godin or Darren Rowse. Standing by a vision takes a lot of patience; seeing it through takes even more persistence.

The bottom line is, things will never be perfect, and I can’t do everything at once, but I can start somewhere. I can pick the top few projects that are realistically achievable at this stage in the game, those few projects that help me with my “big why.” Once I select those few, I have to stick with them, in spite of all the things that will pull for my attention. If I do, other doors will open up down the line, and I can take on some of the projects I put on the back burner in times past. Until then, I have to remember a wise quote by Twyla Tharp: “Better an imperfect dome in Florence than cathedrals in the clouds.”

How do you stay on the course toward success, especially considering how challenging it can be to fit all the priorities into a day and fight back the seemingly endless supply of distractions?

Image from Flickr by nestor galina

8 Responses to “Planning What's Realistic (and Doable)”

  1. I use Labels in Google Apps – Once an email is dealt with, it gets filed. The benefit with Gmail is that if a response comes into my inbox, it gives me the full thread. This way, once I’ve replied I get it out of the inbox so it’s no longer distracting, and if there’s a reply, I never have to go digging in archives for the original thread.

    I use Tungle (disclaimer: I’m from Tungle) to eliminate scheduling hassles. It lets me send meeting invitations that propose multiple times, and then handles everything – time zones, double bookings, replies and even updating my calendar. If someone wants to meet with me, I can send them my link and let them propose times. It literally saves hours every week. More importantly, I’m not distracted all the time with those emails – “Tuesday doesn’t work me, but what about Wednesday at 3 or Thursday at 12?” – you know the ones.

    Finally, I use a good old fashioned to-do list (pen & paper) to keep my priorities in order. It helps me “see the forest through the trees” :)

  2. I also think if you’re wrestling with unprofitable projects, or projects you don’t want to do – don’t accept them. I try to only take on the projects I’m going to enjoy – which is why I stopped designing awhile ago so I could spend all of my time coding in CSS/HTML which is what I really love to do. I keep my iCal open so I can see when everything is do and schedule everything out, as well as the To Do list in iCal to hold the projects I want to add to the portfolio, clients who owe me money and the daily marketing tasks I try to tackle :)

  3. Here’s another one:

    I must drop any project that is of no value.

    Finishing stuff is an excellent thing to do, but killing unprofitable projects is better than finishing them.

    And another one:

    Make fast yet informed decisions. Procrastination is the enemy of success.

  4. I can certainly identify with pen and paper and just roughing out what can be done. Computers connect to Google that leads to every distraction possible. That was the main reason I got involved with writing MeshWrite so that I could flip to a distraction free view and concentrate on what’s important. No one solution is right for everyone and I certainly use my fountain pen and a pad of paper with my computer switched off if I really need to think about what really should be done next!

    Good article. I will certainly keep an eye on your future posts. :-)