There are many types of projects that dominate ones life. To find a simplified life of balance and peace, you must trim your doings to the minimum so that when you take something on, you do it with power and vigor, inspiration and joy. Your projects should not drag you down or feel like chores. You should not wake up dreading the work that you, yourself, have created. You may find yourself overwhelmed by obligations, started projects never finished, inspiring ideas with no outlet, and a myriad of activities that occupy your time, but yet you find no movement toward your grander goals.
Minimalism does not just extend to the things you possess but also to the activities that possess you! Perfection will never be achieved, but to seek toward a "trimming down," and elimination of all but the most joyous and important activates, you will find yourself light and free, unhampered by a "million things," but rather agile and able to attack each activity to completion.
To find change in ones life, you first must take stock. We have to make an honest assessment of our current situation. Namely, we must list out every possible project what rattles around in our head. Once we see the whole scope of all the projects on one page, or one spreadsheet, only then can we make an assessment and make changes for the better.
Without realizing it, you have so many things going on, things you want to do, things you need to do, things you have started doing and lost interested, things you have started and you enjoy doing, things you are obligated to do, small things that have to be done immediately, large things that get in the way, projects that will help other projects in the future, and so forth. If you just start working on whatever you have in front of you, or constantly jump back and forth, you will feel lost and overwhelmed, nothing will seem to get done, you'll be paddling in a river upstream, working hard but not getting very far.
The goal of this endeavor is to:
- Understand the different types of projects.
- Take stock of every possible project that is in your life.
- Clean your project closet of all projects that neither give you joy nor are required.
- Organize your projects in a sensible order.
- Finally, attack each project, one at a time, until completion, ignoring all but the basic needs of life.
What is a project?
A project can be defined thusly: "a project is a set of activities that will transform a current state of reality into a new state of reality; the new state of reality represents the completion of a project."
By this definition, almost anything you do is a "project". You could say that "watching a TV show" is a project because your current state of reality "not having watched the show" will be transformed into "having watched the show" with the completion at the show's end. This is true, and so you must be aware of those things that you personally define as projects worth completing. If it feels like a project, an undertaking, then to you, it is a project. To others, TV might just be a "relaxing activity", such as reading, eating, conversing, or exercising. What falls into the category of a project depends on each person's goals.
The point is, a project can be neatly defined, and you can endeavor to "take it on." Ambiguous things are not projects. "Be healthy" is not a project, it is a general goal, a general goal could be strived for through projects, specific projects. Without measurable changes in reality, this is just a generality. If you have a high level goal of "being healthy" perhaps this could be achieved by a project such as "I will lose 25 lbs." There we go! There is the change in reality, and with nothing else in your way you can attack this project!
Types of Projects
There are many types of projects that you have to think about when making your take stock list:
Projects I Am Obligated to Do (Musts)
These are projects that you either need to do legally (like taxes) or that have such dire consequences if you don't do them that they essentially must be done. Often this encompasses activities of your job/occupation, or client projects. Sure you could "not do" a large work project, but then you might have to look for another job. While nothing is permanent, you need to put some stakes in the ground, declare some things as immovable, so you can orient by these obligations. If you have committed to do an important project, the not doing of which would substantially effect your life: death, loss of job, loss of relationship, etc. then essentially you are obligated to do this project.
Projects I Am Inspired to Do (Wants)
These are projects that you haven't started but have popped into your head as possible ideas or things you "might want to do in the future." At some point you have thought "oh I would really like to organize my vacation photos and make some prints" while this is low priority, you are inspired to do this. A good measuring stick is that "if you could snap your fingers and have this completed, and live in a reality where it is completed, would you?" Often these projects are low priority things you would "like to do" or know you will want to do later in life. Pay attention to these as they linger in your mind and make you feel you have lots to do. Furthermore, those things that you are inspired to do should be pushed to the top of your list, as they will certainly fill your life with joy.
Projects I Should Do (Shoulds)
Projects that aren't that fun, but make your life better, or help out others. If you think you "should lose weight" but don't like working out, that falls in this category. Other things are small necessary projects of running a life "should clean the house", etc. These are often larger versions of things that take up "life running activates" just things that you have to do to live life, along with "relaxing activities."
Projects That Will Make Other Projects Easier (Preparations)
Here is a project you have planned, or want to do with the assumption that the new reality after its completion will make other projects easier. There is an order of operations with these projects. Some things can be done in any order, but others certainly should be done first. If one of your projects is "clear out the back field" and another is "clean and tune up the tractor" then you certainly would want to do the tractor one first as it would make the field clearing much easier and more pleasurable.
These projects can get out of hand though, you may find yourself jumping between many projects that would seem to make a longer term, more important project easier, but never to get to that longer term project. When these projects include things such as "earn xyz amount of money" then you know you need to re-assess, you are simply putting off starting important projects for the right conditions, which will never arrive.
Projects I've Started and Choose to Continue (Started)
A project you started, and are happy working on. When you begin this life changing process, no doubt you will have many projects already on your plate. You probably enjoy doing many of them. These are ones you should still list down, because you will need to order them so you can complete them with joy. It is worth noting, however, that once you do your full assessment, you may find that even projects you have started and that you like doing, are worth abandoning for greater goals. Maybe you are in the middle of a "try every Chinese food restaurant" project. But after taking full stock, you realize that your "lose 25 lbs." project is both higher priority and more important. You may decide to abandon the former entirely.
Projects I've Started but Nothing is Happening (Dormant)
This category encompasses projects that may also fall into many of the other categories, with one key difference, these must have been started, you must have had a time when you said "yes I want to change the current reality" and began the necessary activities. However for whatever reason, you stopped the activities, the project slowed down, you are in a limbo reality that you have not desired, something has started but not finished. But the present is the present, there is no going back, and so you are always presented with a "current" reality. With started and dormant projects, you need to decide "given this very current moment of reality, will I want to change it into a new reality that I originally wanted, essentially completing the project, or do I want to have a new reality where this project no longer clutters my mind."
"Eventually" is a sinister term, we want to get to a state where there is very little that isn't either "being actively worked on" or "an idea on paper" anything in between just gets in your way and clutters your mind.
Projects I Have the Opportunity to do Now (Opportunities)
This category is those projects that will come your way and present themselves as a time sensitive opportunity. These projects could be very lucky for you depending on your greater goals, or they could nicely tie in with your inspiration projects or preparation projects. A personal example for me is that I recently had the opportunity to purchase a quality DSLR to shoot video at a great price. My project of opportunity was, in a nutshell, to buy/clean/setup/get accessories for the new camera. My original state of reality was "don't have a camera that can shoot video" and the new one is now "I have a way to produce high quality videos." Given this project opportunity dovetailed with my greater project of "growing a YouTube following to 5000 subscribers" it was a no brainer to take on this project.
But Beware! Projects of opportunity have a sinister side. They will constantly jump in the way of your existing activities, and by seeming new and fresh and inspirational, you can justify them as ones you should pursue. But what if an opportunity turns into several new projects that clutter up your mind. Perhaps you see a deal on a used tool, are you ready for the mental clutter of projects such as "restoring the tool." You must balance opportunities with your existing projects, and your longer term goals.
Getting to the Ideal
You want to start to take change and get to a time when you have a short list of:
- The things you simply must do (important musts).
- The THING you are attacking with passion, vigor and joy.
- The several ideas that you might consider when you finish the THING
CAN YOU IMAGINE! The freedom and clarity of mind? You won't look around at a million things that need doing, you will simply calmly pursue a project, unhindered, if you can no longer move forward, then you have "relaxing activities" or "life running activates" that need doing, balancing out your life!
Remember: "Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished."
Multi tasking and jumping from project will not get you places faster, it will simply overwhelm you, this is what you have been doing thus far right? How far has it gotten you?
In "Attack the gas station" when asked "What do you do when a bunch of people. Attack you at once?" the protagonist replies: "No matter how many are they, I attack only one. Few days ago I was in a five to one fight. I attack only one. I didn't care what the other four did. I attack only one. Just one. Boom!" This is what you should strive for. You will be attacked on all sides by obligations, social and family, things that need to get done, errands, tasks. AHHH! so many things...
Only attack one.
You will defeat that and your skill and power and momentum will carry you into the next project like a wave. You will be an unstoppable doing machine that will rapidly change your reality into a new and glorious time!
A Simple Method to Get Stared
In Marie Kondo’s bestselling book, The Magical Art of Tidying Up, she asks us to "Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest." I find that here advice on dealing with items can be used for dealing with projects and obligations. Specifically, get all the stuff out in one place, and then go through it one by one, keep what you must or that brings you joy. Discard the rest.
Here are steps you can take:
- Make a Spreadsheet or Google Sheets, or list if you prefer. Simple is best. No need for complicated productivity tools, you just want a list.
- List out every project, obligation, must do, you have. Remember, a project is a set of activities that will transform a current state of reality into a new state of reality. It has to be "finishable."
- Assign each project a category, be honest:
Now you have it all in one place. Are you happy with the list? Are there any projects that you can quickly eliminate and wash them from your mind? If so do it right now! Now that you have your list, you can use other columns with a number to either set a priority or set a specific project as the one on which you are working.
Take the Next Step
The next step is to do! You should try to make your list shrink. You're no longer to say you have nothing to do! Attack each project one at a time, as best you can, until it is complete. Soon you will be in a more peaceful existence, fueled by inspiration rather then drowning in a "million things to do."