Do you limit concurrent projects?

ivanjay205

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Just curious, I am a fairly busy executive who gets thrown a ton of ideas on A regular basis along with my own. Each of these being established is of course a project plus my own multi step items.

Do most of you group projects into someday and only allow a few at a time to be moving forward (to help with the pace) or let a wide range of projects to be active at once, which I guess has the advantage of keeping them all moving forward although at a slower pace. of course priority and urgency comes into play but just curious. I feel like I am making very slow progress on things now, although they are all moving forward, because I have about 16 active projects.

Thanks!!!
 

mcogilvie

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My work projects fall into three areas: research, teaching and what colleges and universities call “service” and “shared governance”, I.e., mostly administration and committees. Each area has its own characteristics.

Teaching projects typically have deadlines, and they are not very flexible. There is a little someday/maybe but not much. I recently signed a contract for a graduate-level book, so that is a bit different, in that I need to pace myself on writing, but have a long-term deadline.

Admin is a mix of stuff with hard deadlines, “best by“ deadlines, the ongoing and the episodic, with occasional incidents of dumbfounded incredulity at the variety of human nature. There’s some someday/maybe, stuff I would like to see happen, but again not too much.

Research is what everyone agrees I should be doing in my oh so copious “free” time. Progress here is a pipeline. An idea either is plucked from someday/maybe, is suggested by current work, or seems so good I start on it immediately. The ideas gets explored, developed, maybe there’s a mindmap, certainly there’s an outline, writing starts, cycles of writing and thinking, a complete manuscript, submission for publication, and then more steps after that. At any time I have multiple projects at various stages. My job is to keep the people I work with moving along so the pipeline moves at a good pace, and certain other goals are met.

I go into as much detail as I have because my projects are not alike, and I’d guess yours aren’t either. I would never arbitrarily limit my projects, because I can’t for one thing, don’t want to , and wouldn’t know how to set a limit anyway. I think most people have some projects with deadlines, some that are part of a pipeline, et cetera. It sounds like you need at least one pipeline for ideas. Areas of focus (sales, marketing, accounting,..) are a natural way to manage that, giving perspective on importance and urgency to you and your company. And just as I have a pipeline in my head for my research, I also have ones for home and other personal areas of focus. In general, the more control I have, the more the pipeline metaphor makes sense.
 

Gardener

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I definitely limit the number of projects I'm working on, to the greatest extent possible.

I'd suggest, among other things, reading about Kanban and Work In Progress (WIP) limits. Working too many projects at once appears to be very, very expensive, due to task switching. It also seems to produce more error and lower quality.

And even if you assume that task switching costs zero, working many projects at once means that each project will take longer to start producing benefits.

Imagine, say, that you have ten one-month projects and each project will start to "earn" you ten dollars a month after it's done. If you work those projects in parallel, then AFTER ten months you start to earn a hundred dollars a month. If you work them sequentially, you get ten dollars in month two. Twenty dollars in month three. Thirty dollars in month four. By the end of month ten you've already earned 10+20+30+40+50+60+70+80+90=450 dollars--and you still get the hundred dollars a month going into the future.

And that's assuming that the world doesn't change. If you started the tenth project at the beginning of the tenth month, you would be nine months closer to the world that that project will launch into. Maybe cobalt blue is no longer the popular color for widgets. Maybe ranch flavoring is out of fashion. Maybe the neighborhood that that storefront is in has gone downhill. And you can act on those changes, because you didn't start nine months earlier than you needed to.

I am emphatically in favor of limiting the number of projects.

Edited to add: Now, if these projects don't need much of YOU, if they're primarily being driven by other people, then some things change. If the people working on the projects are allowed to focus on one or two projects and no more, then the task switching issue is dealt with. And while it's still good to finish a project sooner, there's also an inherent inefficiency in too-large teams. If a project will take a three-person team six months, that does NOT mean that an eighteen-person team can finish it in one month.

I'm assuming that we're talking about the number of projects that you, personally, can be heavily involved with.
 

ivanjay205

Registered
I definitely limit the number of projects I'm working on, to the greatest extent possible.

I'd suggest, among other things, reading about Kanban and Work In Progress (WIP) limits. Working too many projects at once appears to be very, very expensive, due to task switching. It also seems to produce more error and lower quality.

And even if you assume that task switching costs zero, working many projects at once means that each project will take longer to start producing benefits.

Imagine, say, that you have ten one-month projects and each project will start to "earn" you ten dollars a month after it's done. If you work those projects in parallel, then AFTER ten months you start to earn a hundred dollars a month. If you work them sequentially, you get ten dollars in month two. Twenty dollars in month three. Thirty dollars in month four. By the end of month ten you've already earned 10+20+30+40+50+60+70+80+90=450 dollars--and you still get the hundred dollars a month going into the future.

And that's assuming that the world doesn't change. If you started the tenth project at the beginning of the tenth month, you would be nine months closer to the world that that project will launch into. Maybe cobalt blue is no longer the popular color for widgets. Maybe ranch flavoring is out of fashion. Maybe the neighborhood that that storefront is in has gone downhill. And you can act on those changes, because you didn't start nine months earlier than you needed to.

I am emphatically in favor of limiting the number of projects.

Edited to add: Now, if these projects don't need much of YOU, if they're primarily being driven by other people, then some things change. If the people working on the projects are allowed to focus on one or two projects and no more, then the task switching issue is dealt with. And while it's still good to finish a project sooner, there's also an inherent inefficiency in too-large teams. If a project will take a three-person team six months, that does NOT mean that an eighteen-person team can finish it in one month.

I'm assuming that we're talking about the number of projects that you, personally, can be heavily involved with.
Thanks I think this really helped the vision in my head. I am heading on vacation next week so in that get it all done before I close off for a week mode. I think in looking at my project list there is just so much on there it is kind of like how am I going to get to shut down point before heading off to vacation. Really what I should do is just shut every project down and put in waiting until I return unless it needs to get done this week. Giving me clear focus to what I need to finish this week.
 

Oogiem

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Do most of you group projects into someday and only allow a few at a time to be moving forward (to help with the pace) or let a wide range of projects to be active at once, which I guess has the advantage of keeping them all moving forward although at a slower pace. of course priority and urgency comes into play but just curious. I feel like I am making very slow progress on things now, although they are all moving forward, because I have about 16 active projects.
I tend to keep active any project that I could work on this season, i.e. this 3 month period. I have added 12 Week Year ideas on top of GTD and that does have me limiting my projects a lot more than I used to. However, I am comfortable with long lists, and my work is highly seasonal in what is possible. Even with that in my past I have slowly been limiting my projects more and more.

However, 1 thing jumped out at me about what you said. You only have 16 projects? Do you include subprojects in those 16? Or are you ignoring projects on home or some other area? I can't fathom only having 16 projects at all. I used to run with about 250 projects active at any given time and even now in what I call a severely reduced state I still have 200 active of which 126 are available with current able to be done next actions now. The others are pending a start date sometime during this season. These include ones for routine recurring projects that are the same from year to year. I've done the thinking and don't want to reinvent the wheel on them. I also use GTD for everything, from my work projects, the household and personal stuff to even hobby projects and philanthropic activities I am doing. Only 16 would give me nightmares about what i was forgetting or not doing or the unbalanced life I was leading but everyone is different.

I could never put projects on hold just because I wasn't sure I could get to them in a week, that is far too short a timeframe for my. Weather and other issues can so dramatically affect what I can do that I need to have a good selection of projects I can work on to be most productive.
 

ivanjay205

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I tend to keep active any project that I could work on this season, i.e. this 3 month period. I have added 12 Week Year ideas on top of GTD and that does have me limiting my projects a lot more than I used to. However, I am comfortable with long lists, and my work is highly seasonal in what is possible. Even with that in my past I have slowly been limiting my projects more and more.

However, 1 thing jumped out at me about what you said. You only have 16 projects? Do you include subprojects in those 16? Or are you ignoring projects on home or some other area? I can't fathom only having 16 projects at all. I used to run with about 250 projects active at any given time and even now in what I call a severely reduced state I still have 200 active of which 126 are available with current able to be done next actions now. The others are pending a start date sometime during this season. These include ones for routine recurring projects that are the same from year to year. I've done the thinking and don't want to reinvent the wheel on them. I also use GTD for everything, from my work projects, the household and personal stuff to even hobby projects and philanthropic activities I am doing. Only 16 would give me nightmares about what i was forgetting or not doing or the unbalanced life I was leading but everyone is different.

I could never put projects on hold just because I wasn't sure I could get to them in a week, that is far too short a timeframe for my. Weather and other issues can so dramatically affect what I can do that I need to have a good selection of projects I can work on to be most productive.
Only 16 in this new system, I just adapted a new tool :) So it is quickly building. I think it is north of 30 right now already. And one of my biggest weaknesses I need to get way better about it is if I dont work on something immediately instead of planning out the project and putting it in someday or a waiting spot I let it sit as a simple next action. Bad habit I need to fix. It is my rush through clarifying that does that
 

mcogilvie

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Only 16 in this new system, I just adapted a new tool :) So it is quickly building. I think it is north of 30 right now already. And one of my biggest weaknesses I need to get way better about it is if I dont work on something immediately instead of planning out the project and putting it in someday or a waiting spot I let it sit as a simple next action. Bad habit I need to fix. It is my rush through clarifying that does that
Yeah, it's a bad habit. Identifying multi-step open loops is the key to happiness and tranquility Getting the right cables and things to connect a new laptop to an old display is a project. Hosting a visitor for 2 days is a project. Coordinating car repairs with a spouse is a project. The gtd approach to projects enables you to tackle everything in your life on a level playing field and gives better perspective.

Similarly, the idea that you would want to go through any kind of shut-down on projects to take a week-long vacation suggests that more attention to gtd basics might be a good investment. Having clear areas of focus and doing good weekly reviews can really raise your comfort level.
 

Gardener

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Only 16 in this new system, I just adapted a new tool
I'm realizing that I assumed, based on no evidence :) that you were using a sort of corporate definition of "project"--line items that might be on someone's quarterly PowerPoint. Like I used to be the lead programmer on...seven? Nine? Eleven? different codebases, each of which would probably represent a dozen or a dozen dozen GTD projects, but if a manager asked me "What are your projects?" I'd name those eleven codebases plus a few more similarly large efforts. (And, yes, it was essentially impossible to make any of those line-item-size projects progress, unless I ignored all but one or two.)

So I still agree with myself :) in my earlier post, but it might be useful to define what you mean by "project" in the sense of your 16-going-on-30.
 

ivanjay205

Registered
Yeah, it's a bad habit. Identifying multi-step open loops is the key to happiness and tranquility Getting the right cables and things to connect a new laptop to an old display is a project. Hosting a visitor for 2 days is a project. Coordinating car repairs with a spouse is a project. The gtd approach to projects enables you to tackle everything in your life on a level playing field and gives better perspective.

Similarly, the idea that you would want to go through any kind of shut-down on projects to take a week-long vacation suggests that more attention to gtd basics might be a good investment. Having clear areas of focus and doing good weekly reviews can really raise your comfort level.
Thanks for the response. I just want to dig into the second paragraph a bit more. And Understand what you meant by that? It might just be because of the actual system I use. I use an app called FacileThings. It allows me to have projects be “active” or “waiting” so what I have been trying to do as of late is fully plan out my projects but only have the ones I want to actively focus on as active. The others as waiting. So this way they dont show in my next actions. Kind of a way to limit and prioritize my focus. As I finish a project or two I add another project or two into the list That is active. Of course if something is pressing it goes right into active.

So for me I moved everything that is not important to be wrapped up by Friday into a waiting status this way I have a target to drill down to. Upon returning from vacation I will shift 10-15 projects back into active and have at it.

Does that make sense or something not quite right with that thought process?
 

ivanjay205

Registered
I'm realizing that I assumed, based on no evidence :) that you were using a sort of corporate definition of "project"--line items that might be on someone's quarterly PowerPoint. Like I used to be the lead programmer on...seven? Nine? Eleven? different codebases, each of which would probably represent a dozen or a dozen dozen GTD projects, but if a manager asked me "What are your projects?" I'd name those eleven codebases plus a few more similarly large efforts. (And, yes, it was essentially impossible to make any of those line-item-size projects progress, unless I ignored all but one or two.)

So I still agree with myself :) in my earlier post, but it might be useful to define what you mean by "project" in the sense of your 16-going-on-30.
Completely and 100% agree with you. This has been my one major weakness with GTD thus far in my latest system. Internalizing projects vs really mapping them entirely out. It is a work in process. Perhaps you are right though and maybe I should just block out one significant chunk of time to take all of these next action “catch all” placeholders and define them as projects so my system is set. That might be a good idea. Right now I am trickling through it which means I am working while organizing. I know that can be problematic.
 

Oogiem

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And one of my biggest weaknesses I need to get way better about it is if I dont work on something immediately instead of planning out the project and putting it in someday or a waiting spot I let it sit as a simple next action.
Definitely need to work on that if you plan to practice GTD. You don't need to plan out the project during clarifying but you do need to decide if it is really a project and at least make the proper place holders and then the first action might be draft an outline of the project plan for project X in tool Y as the next action for Project Z.

I would take your time off and re-read the GTD books, Personaly I get more out of Making it All Work now than I do re-reading GTD but both are excellent. You might also look at and do some higher level work. Search here for info on yearly or quarterly or solstice reviews. Over on the Mac Power users forum there are a lot of current active threads on Personal retreats/yearly planning and the like tht have some good ideas.
 

Longstreet

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Remember, it is all about focus. The old Chinese proverb is pertinent here: He who chases two rabbits catchers neither. Dr. Morton Hansen in his science-based study entitled "Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More" showed that the principle of "do less, then obsess" is important if you indeed want to become a top performer. Now, with that said, of course we will have more than a couple of projects to keep active, but really look at what you have committed to doing. What will move the needle the most in your field? There is your focus. I use someday/maybe A LOT.
 

Longstreet

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Definitely need to work on that if you plan to practice GTD. You don't need to plan out the project during clarifying but you do need to decide if it is really a project and at least make the proper place holders and then the first action might be draft an outline of the project plan for project X in tool Y as the next action for Project Z.

I would take your time off and re-read the GTD books, Personaly I get more out of Making it All Work now than I do re-reading GTD but both are excellent. You might also look at and do some higher level work. Search here for info on yearly or quarterly or solstice reviews. Over on the Mac Power users forum there are a lot of current active threads on Personal retreats/yearly planning and the like tht have some good ideas.
I agree -- David's book "Making it All Work" is a goldmine. I STILL learn so much on control and perspective from this book. And my previous answer is heavy on perspective! :)
 

mcogilvie

Registered
Thanks for the response. I just want to dig into the second paragraph a bit more. And Understand what you meant by that? It might just be because of the actual system I use. I use an app called FacileThings. It allows me to have projects be “active” or “waiting” so what I have been trying to do as of late is fully plan out my projects but only have the ones I want to actively focus on as active. The others as waiting. So this way they dont show in my next actions. Kind of a way to limit and prioritize my focus. As I finish a project or two I add another project or two into the list That is active. Of course if something is pressing it goes right into active.

So for me I moved everything that is not important to be wrapped up by Friday into a waiting status this way I have a target to drill down to. Upon returning from vacation I will shift 10-15 projects back into active and have at it.

Does that make sense or something not quite right with that thought process?
It may be that Facile Things is so in your face with projects that you can’t have a good vacation unless you hide them, or you may derive psychological comfort on vacation with “out of sight, out of mind” On the other hand, it’s always good to ask the “why?” question. With GTD, we are seeking to be comfortable with the choices we make to do or not do, and we want our systems simple. Let me ask a question: while away on vacation, would you also hide all your personal, home-based projects?

I would also like to also call your attention to your words “[W]hat I have been trying to do as of late is fully plan out my projects but only have the ones I want to actively focus on as active. The others as waiting. So this way they don't show in my next actions. Kind of a way to limit and prioritize my focus.” GTD sees projects as fluid and focuses on next actions as steering towards the desired outcome. There is a lot of value in not planning when you don’t have to. I can get more done, with more ease and creativity. While sometimes we all need to prioritize and focus, too much of it is limiting.
 

Gardener

Registered
Only 16 in this new system, I just adapted a new tool :) So it is quickly building. I think it is north of 30 right now already. And one of my biggest weaknesses I need to get way better about it is if I dont work on something immediately instead of planning out the project and putting it in someday or a waiting spot I let it sit as a simple next action. Bad habit I need to fix. It is my rush through clarifying that does that
When you say "planning out" AND "putting it in someday...", I feel that you may be doing unnecessary planning. I would consider whether sometimes that should be planning out OR putting it in someday/maybe, or even just an ideas list.

Edited to add: Ah. As already stated, above me. :)
 

mcogilvie

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When you say "planning out" AND "putting it in someday...", I feel that you may be doing unnecessary planning. I would consider whether sometimes that should be planning out OR putting it in someday/maybe, or even just an ideas list.

Edited to add: Ah. As already stated, above me. :)
But you were admirably succinct! :)
 

Gardener

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Let me ask a question: while away on vacation, would you also hide all your personal, home-based projects?
I'm curious about the general trends here.

I don't want to see, on vacation, anything that I don't specifically want to do and/or actively think about while on vacation. This applies to both work and personal stuff.

But there are some things in my system that I do want to do and/or actively think about on vacation--my novel, next year's garden, the Books To Read and Recipes To Try list. And when work thoughts come up I want to dump them in the system for post-vacation processing, so that I feel safe letting them fall out of my head.So I will be accessing my systems.

So I do actively hide stuff before I go on a vacation of longer than a weekend.

I suspect that this may be tied with my intolerance for long lists and my vehemence about limiting projects. I have very limited tolerance for too many un-sought inputs. (I specify un-sought inputs, because it's not as if I minimize input. I just seem to need my input level to be Just Right.)
 

mcogilvie

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I travel pretty frequently these days without a laptop but with iPad and keyboard. While more capable than a phone, I can’t do everything with it. It has its own context, and things on that list tend to be smaller, quicker and more fun than the stuff on @computer. In general, work or personal, I’m good with just looking at the contexts available to me on vacation, so I don’t move stuff in or out. If I am at a conference, I may have temporary contexts: @conference_center or @hotel.
 

ivanjay205

Registered
Definitely need to work on that if you plan to practice GTD. You don't need to plan out the project during clarifying but you do need to decide if it is really a project and at least make the proper place holders and then the first action might be draft an outline of the project plan for project X in tool Y as the next action for Project Z.

I would take your time off and re-read the GTD books, Personaly I get more out of Making it All Work now than I do re-reading GTD but both are excellent. You might also look at and do some higher level work. Search here for info on yearly or quarterly or solstice reviews. Over on the Mac Power users forum there are a lot of current active threads on Personal retreats/yearly planning and the like tht have some good ideas.
I am in the process of re-reading Getting Things Done right now. But I will take a look at Making it all work behind this reread as I never read that one
 

ivanjay205

Registered
It may be that Facile Things is so in your face with projects that you can’t have a good vacation unless you hide them, or you may derive psychological comfort on vacation with “out of sight, out of mind” On the other hand, it’s always good to ask the “why?” question. With GTD, we are seeking to be comfortable with the choices we make to do or not do, and we want our systems simple. Let me ask a question: while away on vacation, would you also hide all your personal, home-based projects?

I would also like to also call your attention to your words “[W]hat I have been trying to do as of late is fully plan out my projects but only have the ones I want to actively focus on as active. The others as waiting. So this way they don't show in my next actions. Kind of a way to limit and prioritize my focus.” GTD sees projects as fluid and focuses on next actions as steering towards the desired outcome. There is a lot of value in not planning when you don’t have to. I can get more done, with more ease and creativity. While sometimes we all need to prioritize and focus, too much of it is limiting.
Let me clarify that a bit.... I am moving "work" projects into "Waiting" in FacileThings only. All of my personal stuff is still very visible. For me, and maybe this is just me, it is the personal focus of knowing that work shuts down next week. So certainly when I filter contexts I get that I will not see work stuff anyway. But it really helps me have a very clear list of what needs to be finished before I leave for vaca. It is a click of a button to active all the projects and boom we are back in action when I return.

The personal stuff is all very visible and will be next week as well.
 
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