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  • Welcome to an episode of Zen and the Art of Work.

  • My name is Kourosh.

  • I wanted to show you one way that I've been able to

  • handle a large number of projects recently.

  • Some of them had deadlines, some of them didn't, and

  • there's no really right way to do this sort of thing, but

  • this particular approach has worked for me.

  • And I wanted to at least present a principle that could go behind

  • working on multiple projects.

  • The thing is,

  • juggling multiple deadlines, knowing what to start and when,

  • knowing what you'll be able to take on a few months from now

  • these are not simple matters.

  • Each project you take on will likely last

  • an unclear amount of time, and

  • you probably have other responsibilities to take care of in the meantime.

  • To find some degree of calm, we need to

  • feel that we can work from let's say a simple

  • set of decisions, like a short list.

  • And then feel that that list and our system in general are supportive.

  • We need to feel that the things we see

  • on our list, the decisions we can make from them,

  • that these items are useful

  • for now, for the present, for where we are.

  • And that other work will stay out of our way until they're needed.

  • One of the things we can do to help us on the way there

  • is to plan the beginning of our projects.

  • This is the central idea of today's video.

  • plan the beginning of your projects.

  • When you do this, you can create a buffer.

  • It gives you confidence that you'll get to something when needed,

  • that you'll have time to be creative with it,

  • and you'll have a relaxed pace to do your work.

  • You can be more focused with where you decide

  • you want your attention to be.

  • So again, while I consider this tip itself simple,

  • there is a certain advanced quality to it in that

  • it rests on you having some time and task management skills.

  • Now, specifically, these

  • are at least that you have some trusted system,

  • something that you can regularly review to

  • put what you want in front of you when you want it to be there.

  • That you can have certain projects active and set other ones aside.

  • You can be using pen and paper.

  • You can be using any particular system that you find to be useful for you.

  • And of course, good systems always are developing, so

  • I'm not saying you need something to be perfect. You just need something you're working on.

  • It could be a daily list.

  • You also need some way of outlining or brainstorming.

  • That could be pen and paper if you'd like.

  • Finally, you'll need to have some practice with what I call "Workflow Fundamentals".

  • These are things you may already be doing, but

  • I'm adding a label to them here, and I'll describe them briefly in a moment.

  • For this particular video, though, I'll be using a couple of tools.

  • One is MindNode for outlining,

  • and the other is OmniFocus for task management.

  • The Workflow Fundamentals that I just mentioned

  • are specifically, being able to

  • decide on a piece of work,

  • being with that work, and then

  • doing that regularly.

  • These sound simple, and again

  • we often already do this. But as anyone who has ever

  • procrastinated can attest to, these are not so simple.

  • I'd say they are more practiced than they are fully mastered.

  • Rather than be all talk, I wanted to show off a sampling of my own projects.

  • This is roughly, quarter 4, 2016

  • extending into the beginning of 2017.

  • Some projects - I've removed,

  • some smaller ones, some things, I just don't think should be public, ...

  • some parts I've anonymized a bit, but for the most part

  • this represents what I've been able to do.

  • Some of these had deadlines, some of them didn't.

  • Some of them are about me working on the same project, actually,

  • during two different time spans.

  • The thing is, if I actually looked at this timeline,

  • I don't think I would have done the work.

  • I'd probably have been more overwhelmed than anything else.

  • While I was doing all of this, I wasn't overwhelmed.

  • I was able to focus, calmly.

  • I still saw my clients,

  • I spent time with family, I did the dishes...

  • practiced piano, enjoyed video games ...

  • do things that are generally good to do.

  • Certainly there were days of stress, too, but that's more about

  • life throwing things at me because that's what life likes to do.

  • It wasn't though about a sense of inability or some dread of doing work.

  • And it might sound like or look like that I'm showing off a bit, and

  • possibly I am. I do look at this with

  • some excitement and say hey look at all the stuff I managed to do.

  • Go me. But, I also wanted to

  • present that the ideas are not

  • far-fetched and that you can do it, too.

  • So, how did I get there from a simple list?

  • I'll show an example of how I did this recently.

  • So, I've been in the middle of a bunch of

  • public talks that I've needed to prepare.

  • The presentations are each meant to be about 1-3 hours.

  • And, they are effectively performances.

  • I need to put some ideas together,

  • some ideas I've already written, some things I haven't.

  • And then I need to practice them, too. Have, like an ongoing flow to the presentation ...

  • And then I need to practice them again, right before the presentation,

  • so that I have the ideas fresh in mind when I'm presenting.

  • So, my general approach to working on a project is to

  • start it early, preferably as soon as it's assigned,

  • and then sit with it regularly.

  • Usually I do that daily until it's done.

  • I have a task in my system that

  • repeats daily so that when I mark it complete,

  • it disappears today and then appears again the next day.

  • Smaller, non-repeating tasks, more routine

  • clearing type things,... they'll sit there, too.

  • At any one time, I tend to have about 1-3 of these projects going.

  • These basically become my "big rocks" of the day.

  • So, more likely, I have multiple repeating tasks that I touch on every day.

  • Here's an example of how my daily list actually looks.

  • You can see the top three as my ongoing projects,

  • and I also work on music every morning, regardless of what's going on.

  • And on the day I took this screenshot, it was the weekend.

  • So, you can see my weekend task of updating

  • and filing things on my computer, too.

  • Other projects are effectively on hold.

  • I have a way to maybe do the, let's say those

  • tiny 2-minute or less tasks for side projects, but

  • for the most part these projects are set aside.

  • The problem was that I had about 8 of these presentations

  • to put together over the course of several months, and

  • I also had other obligations to take care of,

  • and I don't particularly like working

  • on multiple presentations at once. I just feel that

  • creatively I get my wires crossed.

  • So maybe I'd want one of these to be

  • the project I was working on while the others could be about

  • say, family or my psychiatric practice.

  • So I had to figure out, how do I make sure I have enough time to do each project?

  • I never know quite how long a project will take,

  • and, I don't know what the work landscape's going to look like

  • on the day that I want to start either.

  • So a few months ago, I started sketching an outline of

  • the talks that were on my mind.

  • This is MindNode. You can see

  • these were just the initial talks that I was needing to prepare.

  • I added some dates of presentations that I

  • remembered, other ones I didn't. I just had a general idea...

  • I still needed to talk to some people about things...

  • And I kept fleshing out the plan.

  • I added some titles, some dates,

  • and eventually, I had a list of all of the presentations.

  • I just needed to start adding dates as to when

  • to begin preparations for each one.

  • I eventually came up with a series of potential start dates,

  • aiming for at least a few weeks or a month beforehand.

  • I just wanted to make sure that I was able to start something by a particular date.

  • Again, this wasn't a due date. It was a "try to start by" date.

  • So now I had to add those lists of dates to when I would start the projects.

  • And, maybe the simplest way to do this could be a calendar, so

  • if you want to do that, go for it. That could work fine.

  • Personally, I wanted to integrate it as part of OmniFocus.

  • So I created a group of tasks under the heading "Navigation".

  • And, I added defer dates to

  • the tasks that represent each project

  • that I needed to start by a certain time.

  • You can see that these tasks are grayed out, which means that they're not

  • active. I wouldn't see them in my daily list.