If you’re like me, you probably have a wide variety of personal and family projects that threaten to occupy your mental space when you're supposed to be doing other things. Sign the kids up for camp! Plan the summer vacation! Buy shelves for the basement! While you want to have these projects done at some point, they don’t have to be done tomorrow. But in that nebulousness lurks a problem, because all these personal projects start to mass together in the mind. They loom on your mental docket, where the sheer volume of them, together, starts weighing you down. If you're not careful, a long list of personal projects can keep you from focusing on work during work hours, or enjoying your kids when you're playing in the basement and keep seeing that, yep, the basement really needs some shelves.
Is there any way to lighten the load?
What I’ve found helpful — borrowing a page from David Allen — is to keep making a someday/maybe list consisting of these kinds of projects. I add to it as I think of stuff. But then this is key: I assign myself one non-urgent personal project per week. Just one! So one week I sign my kids up for camp. The next week I buy the plane tickets for our June trip. The next week, I hit IKEA and buy shelves for the basement. After that I finish readying my chunk of the taxes for our accountant.
I make this personal project schedule several weeks in advance. That way, if I find myself thinking of shelving while I’m on Travelocity looking at plane tickets or (worse) while I’m supposed to be editing an article on deadline, I can tell myself there’s a time for shelving, and now is not that time.
As an added bonus, if you assign yourself just one personal project per week, you’ll probably do it. One is doable. Certainly, in the course of a week, you can find 15 minutes to buy those plane tickets. In the course of another week — a different week — you can find 30 minutes to fill out the camp forms and make copies of the kids’ medical records. Finding an hour to go to IKEA and another hour to wield an allen wrench on those *#$*# bookcases is a bit more complicated, but that’s why you schedule that project for a week that's a bit lighter on the professional side.
Sure, you may be tempted to try to tackle more than one project at a time. But that’s when projects get derailed. Slow progress is powerful as long as its steady. If it’s not steady, then you stop making progress, and that’s when life starts to feel overwhelming again.
When do you tackle personal projects? How do you fit them into your life?
Photo of my new IKEA shelves in the basement. Tuesday's Women's Money Week topic is finding time and boosting productivity.