How to Decide Which Projects to Focus On
Image courtesy of Christian H.

How to Decide Which Projects to Focus On

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity

This is part 3 of The Multi-Focus Maverick Series. This series is all about how to split up your time effectively so that you can focus on many things and still make progress on your goals.

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A common objection to having many projects on the go, is that time is limited. This is a hard one to argue with because… well, it’s true. There really is only so much time in a day.

So yes, unfortunately the number of things you can focus on at once is limited. However, it’s not nearly as limited as the multi-focus haters claim that it is!

There’s a Middle Ground

The assumption is that if you’re not fixated on one core project, it means you’re chasing a million other things.

Not so.

It’s not an either/or equation. It’s a spectrum. And there’s a huge range between focusing on one thing and focusing on everything.

Having a Few Core Projects on the Go

With a bit of structure and planning, multipotentialites can absolutely make progress on more than one goal at a time. It just involves some deliberate planning.

Two things need to be in place:

  1. You need to define your current core projects.
  2. You need to break each project down into small, actionable steps.

But Even Focusing on Everything is Okay Sometimes

Lets just get this out of the way. Focusing on “everything” is not a good way to make progress on your goals.

However, focusing on “everything” is a good way to research which projects you’d like to focus on more seriously in the future.

That’s what scanning mode is for. If you recall, focus mode and scanning mode are distinct. At any given time, you’re either in one or the other. In this post we’re talking about the activities that take place while in focus mode only.

How Many Plates Can You Spin?

Some multipotentialites enjoy having a few priority projects on the go, while others are more sequential in nature and may only have one or two main focuses at a given time. There’s no official rule here (or to any of this stuff), but in my experience, keeping your core projects down below five is a good idea. Once you move beyond five, you may start to get overwhelmed.

I’m not saying to limit yourself to five interests. I’m saying, limit your core projects – the priorities – to five. You can keep all of your other interests in your life and work on them in scanner mode. You can also put them on the back burner for a later date when a core focus spot has opened up.

Assign Core Projects to Specific Weeks or Months

I like to have no more than two or three core projects on the go at once. For the month of June, my biggest priority was writing my book. That’s almost done now and once it is, I’ll be filling that slot with my main July project: a spec script for Bored to Death.

That’s how I like to work- with two or three core priorities in my life and a back burner list of projects that I assign to future months and occasionally dabble in during my scanning time.

I know multipods who like to do this with weeks instead of months. Either way, it’s a cool method because you don’t need to worry about things not getting done. Every project will get its turn.

But as a general rule, keep your core projects down below five and focus on your lower-priority projects while in scanner mode and/or put them on your back burner list for the future.

Criteria for Choosing Your Core Projects

Lets say you’ve been dabbling in many things during your scanning time and you’re ready to shift some of those interests over to focus mode so that you can make tangible progress. How do you decide which projects to prioritize?

I was going to write up a long list of criteria, but the truth is, I only consider two factors. Here are my criteria plus some additional ideas that were sent to me by some awesome puttypeep on Twitter.

1. Personal Significance

How much do you care about this project? How in line is it with your values and your vision for your life? How much do you yearn to do it?

Remember that a lot of resistance is often a sign that a project is really important to your core. Don’t let fear dictate your decision. Seriously consider those big goals that make your heart flutter with both excitement and fear.

As Kathryn puts it,

Derek Sivers writes about how you should only take on projects that make you say “HELL YEAH!” and pass on everything else. I agree. Ideally, you want to get to a place where all of your main focuses are “HELL YEAH!” projects.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen right away. The reality is that sometimes one of your core focuses needs to be something you’re slightly less enthusiastic about because it’s slightly more profitable in the short run.

Lach, makes a good point here:

I like to view the core projects that aren’t mad fun as stepping stones- temporary activities to sustain you till you’re able to fill your days with only the projects that light you up, which is what you are working towards.

An example would be sticking with a day job while you build up a side hustle or doing freelance work for a limited period of time, to prepare for a big life change.

However, you should always try to have some HELL YEAH! projects in your life. Otherwise you’ll eventually become bitter and unhappy. I mean, if you’re not working on something meaningful, or working towards working on something meaningful, then you’re just wasting your time here.

Life is short. Spend your time on things that matter.

2. Profitability

The first thing I want to stress is that profitability and meaning aren’t necessarily opposites.

I actually believe that the profit is ultimately where the passion. The reason being that you end up working 1000% harder on projects you care about. And hard work and determination are what make the difference between success and failure. 

I work a lot of hours, probably more than most people with full time jobs. It just doesn’t feel like work because there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. Work is a pleasure.

Anyway, that issue aside, some projects will naturally result in more immediate income and may be less fulfilling. It all depends on your situation. Weigh the pros and cons and try to mix it up a little- work some passion-based projects into your life, along with the more profitable ones.

Think Both in Terms of the Long Term and Short Term Benefits

Meg reminded me that it’s important to consider both the short term and long term benefits of a project:

How urgent is your situation? Can you afford to also work on a few long term projects that won’t produce income for a little while? (Yes you can. Start a side hustle and start small- but start!)

Here are some more great Tweets that add to what’s already been said:

What criteria do you use to determine your core projects?

Share them in the comments!

5 Comments

  1. Every January I make one financial goal that I have all year to accomplish – i.e. this years goal is to have my company become profitable (it’s in its 3rd year). Every decision or short term goal I make throughout the year has to align with this goal, this year. And, believe me there are many.

    Also during the year I sort of ‘dream up’ what my next year’s goal will be, this is fun. When something is really enticing me to the point where it starts to distract me from this year’s goal, I just remind myself that I can make that next year’s goal. It becomes a scanning thing then.

    I pretty much allow myself to work on whatever short term, middle term or long term goals I want as long as I accomplish the one financial goal per year. That way I don’t feel guilty and my financial needs are taken care of.

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Julie,

      I like that approach. I definitely have “themes” for my years. 2011 was about “variety”, (which is pretty hilarious. Could I have come up with something more obvious/multipotentialite? Haha)…

      And I guess “become financially independent/stable” was a big one for me this year too. Oh and “find a community where I feel comfortable”. But see, I can’t even decide on one yearly goal! :P

      Good for you though. It’s all about finding a model that works with your own scanning style. Sounds like you’ve done that.

  2. Holli says:

    Love the middle ground point. And the putty-tweets add fresh insight and a little variety to this post.

    This provides affirmation that my two criteria while not the same as most is perfect for me.

    Thanks!

    • Emilie says:

      Awesome, thanks. And what are your two criteria, again? (for the rest of us :)

      • Holli says:

        Well, I have two little kids (under 5 years old); so, my life is a constant re-prioritizing process. On a daily basis, I have to reassess my goals based on:

        1. What I feel most on fire about
        2. What is most timely and helpful

        For example, I may want to try out a new recipe but the day’s activities don’t give me the time. So, I will need to think about what my real “fire” desire is: in this case trying something new. So, instead, I might show the kids how to make a new craft or play in a new – to them park – being with little kids provides a new perspective, they see things we usually miss like ants carrying a honey bee.

        Hope that helps:)