How to Make Progress on Lots of Projects, All at Once

pen-calendar-to-do-checklistI got a great email from a reader in response to my recent post, “Are You a Tortoise or a Hare?” She said that realizing that she was a tortoise was really empowering, because she didn’t have to feel bad that her progress wasn’t happening fast enough; it was happening at the right pace for her.

I love when that happens! Timing is just not something that’s our business, so it’s such a misplacement of energy to worry that something’s not happening fast enough.

And then she asked, “I seem to have a LOT of projects that I don’t follow through on. Just thinking about them, I overwhelm myself! Any tips on getting–and staying–organized and tracking progress?”

I responded with some thoughts to her that I’m now incorporating into this blog (in a little trick called leveraging, where you use the efforts you spend on one thing to help you on another thing, but that could be a post all on its own!).

Here they are:

Give all those goals one home. Write down everything you’d like to accomplish, in one place, where you can look at them and see everything in one fell swoop. Doing so gives all those various projects a container so you don’t have to carry them around in your head. Just writing everything down will help you feel better and like you’re remembering all the things that are important for you to do.

But that is NOT the list you want to look at everyday when you’re trying to decide what you want to work on, otherwise you’ll just want to go back to bed! Ha. Keep it in a separate notebook, or in the back of your daily planner.

Use that master list to make littler lists. Once you’ve got your big-ass list of goals, use it to set monthly and weekly goals. A monthly goal can be a pretty good-sized chunk (say, do 6 exercise classes), but then you get to parcel it out based on what each week looks like. You might have a slow week when you get to three classes, and a crazy one when you only get to one, but that’s OK, because you’ll still hit your monthly goal.

Aim for progress, not completion. For me, a monthly goal might be to write two chapters for a ghostwriting client. So for my weekly goals, I don’t necessarily write “finish half a chapter.” Rather, I put “work on a chapter for three hours” — because I want to list something I’m going to be able to complete, and I may not actually finish half the chapter. But if I worked on it for three hours, I get a lot closer to completion, and I get to feel accomplished, which is important for staying motivated and feeling good.

In the end, progress is the name of the game and not completion. Completion is a mirage anyway, because once you finish something you just enter a new phase with new goals. If you keep waiting to feel good until you’re “done”, you’ll be waiting forever. So you’ve got to celebrate your progress and every little step you take is a win. That’s more of a mindset shift than anything else.

Get help. I think it’s extremely helpful to have someone — either an accountability partner or a coach — whom you check in with each week to say what you want to get done that week and to assess how well you did the week before. This check-in is also the perfect time to celebrate what you do accomplish and brainstorm how to get done what you didn’t.

I recently got an accountability partner and it has made a ton of difference in how much I get done, to know I’ll be reporting in to her and to get her insightful feedback when I share what didn’t go as I had planned.

A coach can also be a great collaborator in this way, so you get the objectivity, the accountability, and just the right amount of push-back to make sure you’re really being true to yourself when you’re setting those goals (and not doing them because you think you should or because it will make someone else happy).

Change the way you look at your master list. It’s easy to try to talk yourself out of doing some of the things that are calling to you, because your inner critic—and maybe some well-meaning friends or family members—will try to tell you that you’re trying to bite off more than you can chew. Also, looking at a long list of things you want to do might trigger some thoughts of, “I’m so scattered,” or “Why can’t I just pick one thing and focus?”

But you know what? You’re not flaky. You’re multi-passionate. And that is a wonderful thing to be. So feel good about it. If we were all multi-passionate and made regular—if not, perhaps, wildly fast—progress toward the things we cared about, the world would be a better place.

So get on with it, you gorgeous, multi-passionate creature, you!

Oh, and one more thing: It’s always a good idea to plug up any leaks (here’s a link to a post I wrote about that).

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