Choose One Project

Posted by on Oct 31 2009

I’m just like you — just like every entrepreneur I know. I have a million ideas and I want to do them ALL right away!

But I learned an important and enlightening lesson last year that I’d like to share with you. By focusing all my attention, energy, time and resources on one big project, I increased my income (even during a recession), and more importantly I was happier and more relaxed.

I was shocked! Even though experts had been telling me for years to focus on just one thing, I didn’t want to give up my freedom and creativity. I liked having multiple projects to work on. It made me feel vibrant and alive. But it also made me feel unproductive, cranky, overwhelmed, and a nervous wreck. And guilty because I was having a hard time completing just one of those projects to my satisfaction. Hmmmm.

Imagine you are driving down a busy highway at rush hour. Now imagine that there are three other people in the car with you, all trying to have a conversation with you. Now your cell phone rings. In between all this talking, ideas pop into your head so you pull out your mobile device to type in some text notes.

Crazy, right? You’ll have a car accident any minute now. Yet that’s exactly what you’re doing to your business when you try to focus on multiple projects or multiple goals simultaneously.

Multi-tasking Myth

In the 1740s, Lord Chesterfield said, “There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once — but there is not time enough in the year if you will do two things at a time.”

Doing more than one thing at once doesn’t get more done and doesn’t make you more efficient. Recent studies by several research teams prove this point.

According to researchers at the University of Michigan, when you toggle between multiple tasks or multiple projects, you are using what’s known as the “executive control” process. This mental CEO has to choose priorities and allocate thinking/creativity resources. The more you switch between tasks, the longer it takes to re-focus attention and resources.

David E. Meyer, a cognitive scientist at the University of Michigan said in a recent New York Times article, “Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes.” When it comes to your business, mistakes will cost you. Can you afford to lose time or money?

On a practical level, working on multiple projects simultaneously made me feel scattered, out-of-control, and diffused my intellectual and creative abilities. When I slowed down and focused on one major project for a full two months I felt more in control, much more relaxed, my confidence soared, and I was able to get the project completed a full four weeks ahead of schedule. It was as if I had been released from a multi-tasking prison of my own making. Talk about freedom!

Choose One, Master It, Move On

In his book, “Getting Things Done,” David Allen suggests you create a list of “Areas of Focus.” Start by looking at the areas you manage in your business (you can create a separate list for your personal life). In business you may have these areas: marketing, customer contact, product/service development, operations/administration, long-range planning, etc.

Next, list all your possible projects in each of these areas. Once you have your full projects list, look them over and ask yourself:

  • Which project will most likely lead me towards my large business goals?
  • Which project will lead me in the direction I want to take for my business?
  • Which project am I ready to tackle now?
  • Which project inspires me?
  • Which project scares me?

Then choose one project that will have the biggest impact on the success of your business. If it scares you, ask yourself why. Figure out where you’ll need some help or some education in order to complete that project.

In speaking with some of my mastermind group members about this subject last week, they reminded me that you don’t have to focus on one thing for an entire year. Try it for three months or six months, and see what results you are getting, both financial and emotional.

Once you complete a project or master a new skill, then you can move on to the next one on your list. In this way, you can have BOTH things in your life: a successful business and getting multiple things done in one year.

First, choose one project. Finish it. Then move on to the next.

   

17 comments for now

17 Responses to “Choose One Project”

  1. Don Osborne : Profit PuzzleNo Gravatar

    As a small business owner who serves small business owners it seems like my first project is to choose an area of business or business function to choose a project in. I choose marketing and securing more clients. Now I need to review all my options for doing that and choose my focus. Lots of choosing going on, but that’s my choice.

    31 Oct 2009 at 7:21 am

  2. Beverly BergmanNo Gravatar

    Thanks for a timely reminder. I just returned from David Neagle’s ERS and realize that since what I have been doing has not produced the relaxed lifestyle I deserve, I must do something differently. One project to promote my business at a time.

    03 Nov 2009 at 12:00 am

  3. Liz JenkinsNo Gravatar

    Karyn – while I don’t just have one project, I have realized that I need to focus on each at different times of the work day/week. So I stuck 6 index cards up on my window over my desk – each with the name of the project or goal. One was just completed so I took the card down. It’s my touchpoint on whether the work I do at any given time impacts one of my goals. But I did prioritize and pick the one most important and focused on just that whenever possible. So now I’m on to the 2nd one on my list!
    Really good point in this post. If you don’t have the focus, how will something get done? I think sometimes it is scary because if you really focus on something and it doesn’t work out – then what. But, as I say to my daughter, what’s the worst that could happen?

    04 Nov 2009 at 5:01 pm

  4. Karen HodgesNo Gravatar

    Karyn:

    I’m totally with you on this—better to focus on less than more, and yes it is so hard to not get sucked into the myth.

    I’ve written about this in my blog post, Tyranny of Multitasking.

    This is a great time of year to be reviewing what worked in your business and looking to see what you will focus on in 2010 as a business owner.

    11 Nov 2009 at 4:16 pm

  5. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    I like the way you put it, Don…choose a business idea or project first, then review all your options in that one area before deciding what to work on first.

    12 Nov 2009 at 5:25 am

  6. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    So, Beverly, which project will you choose?

    12 Nov 2009 at 5:26 am

  7. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Hey, Liz, I really like your idea of using index cards to help deliniate and create focus on specific projects! It’s true that sometimes we DO have multiple projects to work on, but we can choose to work on ONE at a time…even if it’s working on one specific project each day of the week. Great suggestions.

    12 Nov 2009 at 5:28 am

  8. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    I really liked your blog post, Karen, thanks for posting it!

    12 Nov 2009 at 5:28 am

  9. Mikelann ValterraNo Gravatar

    I love this, Karyn. It’s a great reminder. I always think of your “bright shiny object syndrome”. Of course there are many things I like to do– the fun of being self-employed– but the cost of pursuing them all is my sanity. And as you rightly point out, I will actually make more money if I focus. I’m putting together my 2010 income and spending plan for my business, and I have to keep your advice front and center. More income streams does not always equal more money!

    17 Nov 2009 at 4:16 pm

  10. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Mikelann, I believe in having multiple streams of income, but not in trying to create/design all those streams simultaneously. Can you image trying to write two books at the same time, or launching two new programs at the same time? My head would spin off!

    But having several strong streams of income can really be a success, especially in tough economic times when people may move away from your prime offering to something less expensive (yet more “passive” for you).

    For me, the key is to work on one project, one task at a time, complete it to the very best of your ability, then move on to the next one.

    Next year, for instance, I’ll be launching one new teleclass series, and one new mastermind group. I won’t launch them at the same time, though, or even work on them at the same time. I’ll probably work on designing and filling the mastermind group in January through May, take a break in June and July, and in August begin designing the new teleclass series. (I find taking a break after a big project is a huge motivator for me. I keep thinking, “Just finish this ebook and you get the whole next month off to play!” Geez, I sound like my Mother…”Eat your peas, Karyn, and you’ll get ice cream for dessert.” Darned if the promise of a reward still works for me, all these years later! Thanks, Mom! )

    18 Nov 2009 at 8:18 am

  11. BethNo Gravatar

    Great topic! I have found that when I slow down my pace in life consistently, I get far more accomplished. This I am assuming is because my body stays healthier, I practice self-care more, and my brain has the time to process information far better so I become much more focused and have more clarity about everything. I make sure to incorporate using all my senses in my daily life as well. That’s a powerful thing for me.

    When I slip back into older patterns, and rush around doing several things at once or even in a day, my mind gets fuzzy and jumbled and I make more mistakes plus feel frazzled.

    I now use a daily planner sheet that I print out. On the top I list the one main thing I commit to accomplishing each day towards my current goals. Underneath it is a box I list things that would be great if I had time left over to do. On the right side I list appts. There is also a place for chores and what exercise I plan to do,etc.
    This has helped me immensely. The satisfaction of getting that one important thing done helps motivate me. Best of all I am now actually achieving my goals, and my life is going much more smoothly.

    03 Dec 2009 at 3:09 pm

  12. Margie CherryNo Gravatar

    Interesting post, Karyn, and provocative, too, in an era where women especially have been seen as model multitaskers, and so now are expected to multitask on both the homefront AND the workplace, increasing expectations and the accompanying stress!

    And paradoxical, too, as more companies try to replace several staff members with fewer people, thus making the keywords “strong multitasker” ubiquitous in most new job postings- we must split up our attention, distribute our efforts, AND somehow be more productive at the same time!

    I am curious about Beth’s method. I am hoping she has a template of her daily planner sheet to share.
    Do you, Beth?

    03 Dec 2009 at 5:35 pm

  13. FrancescaNo Gravatar

    After reading this blog message I think a light just came on. I have been feeling so lost and overwhelmed these past few months and now understand why.

    I am very bad for doing mind lists. My mind will think of a hundred different things that I need to do. I will write some down but I never thought to seperate my lists.

    I need to get focused for 2010, December is the perfest month to figure out the direction I want to go in and put my lists together than create an action plan.

    See here I go again.

    04 Dec 2009 at 10:34 am

  14. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Francesca, I can understand completely. Our minds are so creative! (And can always find a million things to add to the To Do list!) Writing it down helps get it out of your brain and on to paper. :)

    04 Dec 2009 at 10:42 am

  15. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Margie, isn’t that interesting? Employers want people to be multi-taskers, yet multi-tasking is essentially unproductive.

    I have a new mantra that I say to myself when I fall into the multi-tasking mode: “Focus, focus, focus…”

    :)

    04 Dec 2009 at 10:46 am

  16. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Beth, I do something similar, but I keep all appointments and tasks in my Outlook calendar for a week at a time. (I sit at my computer most days, so that’s the most logical place for me to put everything.)

    In addition, I have a To Do list in Word, divided as follows:

    1. Tasks for this week
    2. Tasks for next week
    3. Deadlines for the next six months
    4. To Delegate to Angee (my assistant)
    5. Tasks for next month
    6. Priority “B” tasks – tasks I want to remember, but are not as important as the ones I put in 1, 2 and 5.

    In this way, I have a document I can update any time I think of something that needs to get done. Every task gets assigned into just ONE category (1-6).

    Each Friday, I re-create my “Tasks for This Week” depending on priorities for the coming week.

    04 Dec 2009 at 10:51 am

  17. CandaceNo Gravatar

    Karyn, this is a great post… and I do have a problem with multi-tasking. This is an area I plan to work on in 2010… taking one project/task and getting it done, then more on to the next. It seems simple and stress free, but for many very difficult.

    Good luck in 2010!

    05 Jan 2010 at 10:07 am



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