In Dire Need of a Sense of Completion! How to Focus on Multiple Projects and Feel the Progress
Photo courtesy of Brian Weisbord.

In Dire Need of a Sense of Completion! How to Focus on Multiple Projects and Feel the Progress

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity

Maybe you can relate to this scenario.

You start working on a task, maybe writing that guest post for that big blog on which you want to get published. You get two-thirds of the way done and then you need a break. You take your break. Then you try to go back to it, but your brain doesn’t feel like writing anymore. It wants you to use a different part of your brain, to change things up. Your multipotentialite need for variety kicks in.

So instead of finishing the article, you take a look at the other projects on your roaster. Maybe you decide to use the auditory part of your brain and continue mixing your album, which you’ve been working on for the last three months. You do that for a couple hours, and then your eyes begin to glaze over.

Perhaps then you shift to clearing out your inbox, but you have so many emails, that you are only able to respond to half of them.

Suddenly, it’s almost the end of the day and you feel as though you have accomplished nothing.

The truth is that you’ve gotten a lot done. You put a good chunk of time into that guest post, you made some solid progress on your album, and you’ve lessened your inbox clutter by 50%.

But it doesn’t always feel like you’ve completed a lot, does it? Nothing actually got finished.

Sometimes, it feels as though you’ve gotten nothing done, because you haven’t hit any end points. That post is unfinished, that album is unfinished, that inbox clearing is unfinished. So much is unfinished, and it all feels like even more of a mess now since you’ve opened up all these new cans of worms!

It can be enough to make you want to throw it all in and attempt a life of specialization. (That is until you get bored with that and crave the variety again. Can’t fight who you are.)

So, what is a multipotentialite to do? How do you focus on several projects, while still experiencing that sense of completion?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Break it down

This may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to get a sense of completion is to break down your larger projects into small tasks and just aim to accomplish one of these at a time.

2. Plan out a weekly list of goals

One day might not be enough time to get a sense of completion on any one project, but if you zoom out and write down a weekly list of tasks to complete then you will be able to get that feeling of completion at least once a week. I got this idea from my friend Jon, who’s also the Director of Tribe Happiness in the Puttytribe.

Every Sunday, write down your list of goals for the week. This will give you more time to work on your projects and allow you to relax a little when at the end of a day, you feel like you haven’t completed anything. Now it’s okay because you have the rest of the week to get to it.

3. Pair up a small task with a long-term project

Instead of working on two longer-term projects in one day, try working on one long-term project and one task for a project that can be easily completed in a few hours. This will allow you to make progress on your long-term project, while still experiencing that nice feeling of completion.

Another way to do this is to spread it out over your week. Spent a day or two only knocking out those smaller, more urgent tasks. Then dedicate your Thursday and Friday to your long-term projects.

Getting those pressing tasks out of the way, will give you a sense that you’ve gotten your work done, and will allow you to relax. You can even see working on your long-term project as a reward for knocking out those smaller, quicker to complete tasks. Then you can relax and give yourself the gift of not having to worry about completing anything.

4. Shoot for just one project per day

This works better for some multipotentialites than others. If you’re someone who likes to go deep for many hours before shifting gears, then you might want to simply assign one project to each day of your week. This will allow you to get that feeling of completion more easily.

This used to be my main productivity technique: one central project or task per day. Lately, however, I’ve been finding that I want more variety in my days.

That’s fine. We all go through periods where we want to focus on one project only (I call this being a sequential multipotentialite) and other times when we need to switch between multiple modes of thought (and hence, more projects) regularly. This can fluctuate, but if you’re in a place where you can focus on one project only for a day or week or longer, then use that and go all out on your project.

5. Celebrate your Small Wins

In the Puttytribe, we have a section of the Forum for celebrating your small wins. No matter how small (or big), that is the place where you can let everybody know what you’ve gotten done.

Even if you don’t have a group of supportive people to share your accomplishments with, it’s really important to take note of the fact that you have indeed gotten work done, even though it might not initially feel that way.

Buy yourself a notebook or keep a document on your computer, and list all of your Small Wins. It doesn’t matter how small they are, write them down. Then when you’re worrying that you’re not accomplishing everything, take a look back over your list and you’ll be amazing at what you have actually gotten done.

Oh yeah, and celebrate. Give yourself a real pat on the back and acknowledge your wins. It’s important and will help give you the momentum to get even more done. Also, start learning to notice and correct those inner voices when they say “I didn’t get enough done today.” Look back at your list or progress and say, “No, inner bully, that’s just not true! Chill.”

6. Put a Project on your Back-burner List and/or Assign it to a Future Week or Month

Remember that there’s plenty of time to get to all of your passions and projects. Don’t feel bad that you haven’t been able to study functional medicine yet (Yes, I’m talking to myself here). Instead, tell yourself that this interest will be your main focus for the month of, say, September. But right now your main priority is to finish up your current projects.

Remember that all of your projects you choose to pursue will get their time in the light. You don’t have to deny your future projects completely either. You can explore these interests in little bits right now, during your Scanning Time.

Finding Joy in the Work Itself

There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve been lagging on a project that you really want to focus your efforts on. A regular feeling of completion, or at least that you’re making headway, is important. It keeps you moving forward and makes you feel effective.

However, you also want to start shifting away from ends-based thinking. Learn to derive joy, not from the fruits of your labour, but from the work itself. The Hard Work, that flow state, that is what matters.

Yes, deliverables are important too, but only insofar as they launch you into action and allow you to get into a flow state. THIS is where the magic happens. The work itself is your prize.

Your Turn

How do you get a sense of completion when you have multiple, long-term projects on the go?

15 Comments

  1. Annie says:

    Great post! I will definetly take some of them in to my daily use. Just finished secondary school and I feel that now I know a multipotentialite I will focus on pursuing my interests more and taking my life ino my own hands. Most of the time I feel like I am just dilly dally-ing throughout my interests; never really acheiving anything. Weekly goals, paring up smaller tasks with larger projects and celebrating the small wins are techniques that I feel will really make a difference. Already started with next weeks plan:-)

    • Emilie says:

      That’s awesome, Annie! It’s great that you’re already figuring this stuff out at your age. Sounds like you’re a self-starter too, which is going to make a huge difference. Keep it up!

  2. David Delp says:

    I would say planning every week has been the biggest source of focus for me. I learned it originally from Steven Covey’s “First Things First” and have refined it to a spiritual practice. As a multipotentialite I have many roles I play: Artist, Singer, Breadwinner, Designer, Father, Gardner, Writer, and many more. At the beginning of the week I write down a goal for each role that needs my attention (about 5-8). Each goal needs to be completely realistic and also mark “progress” toward being my best in each role. As a plan these goals paint a picture of a great week— not just in accomplishments, but by what my heart and brain get to focus on.

    Planning my week takes about 20 minutes and it always calms my spirit and helps me feel whole.

  3. Benjamin says:

    Cool post, been struggling with this at times as well and have found a system that works for me.

    1. I have 4-5 small goals I do daily to keep the flow of energy in them. And to build up momentum. Sort of like Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break The Chain” idea of productivity where I create a streak. (If you are new to this don’t do 4-5 small goals, just start with 1).

    2. Then I use Emilie’s suggestion about focusing on making progress on one main project a day.

    This usually gives me the ability to get in the flow and make massive prorgress. But I also have the sense that I am moving forward on the 3 important projects I am working on.

    Good luck!

  4. Emilie says:

    Interesting. I haven’t heard of Seinfeld’s theory before, but I’m going to go Google it now. Sounds like you’ve got a really good system going.

  5. cotey bucket says:

    So much great stuff here in the post and the comments.

    For the general day to day stuff I sometimes use a trick I call mini-tasking. It’s basically the Pomodoro technique but I can adjust the times to whatever seems appropriate and instead of doing the same thing (say writing) all the way through I can move from task (doodling) to task (photo editing)as I go. I like how it breaks up not only the work but sometimes even where the work is happening.

    I’m totally going to start implementing the weekly check list now too :)

    • Emilie says:

      Awesome! Thanks for sharing that idea. Do you try to fit a number of tasks in a 25 minute pomodoro? Or do you just shorten your pomodoros to be less time?

  6. Leah says:

    It’s uncanny how this post came along only a few days after I figured out a new system for keeping track of my progress for my goals! I kid you not, a few days back I was sitting outside (because it was one of those rare days in Beijing when you could actually see the sky, not a layer of smog), jotting down ideas in my notebook.

    And it came to me that I had a TON of ideas, and I did relegate them to a “to do” list, but every day that list was getting longer… and longer… and every day I would only be able to knock out a few tasks over the course of a few hours.

    So I made up a spreadsheet. I am in love with spreadsheets; they’re so chart-like and orderly! One page is “Monthly Projects,” and I divide the month up by week, and delegate 3 main projects to each week to work on.

    Then I have a page that’s “To Do Today,” with smaller tasks that I can tackle in a few hours each day.

    And then I have a section that’s “Do Later,” with smaller tasks that I think of during the day, but that would overwhelm me if I added them all to my “To Do Today” list.

    Hrmmm… I’ve been thinking of revamping my rather sadly neglected blog. This might be good post material, because then I could post screenshots, too. :)

    Thanks for the post!

  7. Michaela says:

    I am completely feeling this in my life right now, I have three big projects to work on (plus another one lurking asking to come out!) and probably only time for two max. I am determined to make it work though as I am equally excited about all of them!

    It really is such a bad feeling to have worked on things all day and still feel there has been such little progress made so thank you for sharing your ideas on this. I think I will definitely try some of your suggestions!

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