I work a lot. Even when I’m having fun I tend to be working. So people ask me a lot how I can keep up with the billion projects I’m working on, be successful at them, and still find time to have a life. I suppose I can try to explain. By the way, this is my second blog post here on the new domain. Be nice and share the link with your friends and encourage me to continue! I’m trying to add blogging to my list of projects (you know, for “personal branding” and all that).
GatsbyTrack - My pet project. It’s a project management tool in the same vein as Basecamp except GatsbyTrack will be better. It’s named after Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby so it’s already better than Basecamp in a way
Goalie - Goalie is my todo list app. It works as a desktop app and an Apple Mobile Web App (add it to your home screen on an iOS device for an awesome experience)
Beautician - Beautician is a plain text/Markdown to HTML converter. Either type some text or upload a file, choose a template, and Beautician will generate a beautiful printable document. No more messing around in bloated word processors.
Write.app - Write.app is another desktop/mobile app. I built it to replace my Notes app on the iPhone. It’s pretty cool and I’m adding the ability to save notes to Dropbox soon.
Fractionless Boilerplate - Fractionless is a web development boilerplate I use for most of my front end design work. It gives you a great base stylesheet that lets your sites automatically adapt all the way down to mobile. It comes with a great set of tools, its simple to use and I like it. Its free and on GitHub too if you want to fork it.
Project CleverWeb CMS - This one’s not really my project but I was invited to help out with it and I think it could end up being pretty cool. It’s basically a CMS that wants to compete with big guys like Wordpress and Drupal. Hey, you never know, right? Why not give it a shot is what I say.
I could probably go on all night listing my projects - anyway, back to the point.
You shouldn’t do what I do
So the first thing I’d tell anyone who wants to work on a million projects at once is to simply not do it. Its not a good idea. It leads to burnout, you can get distracted, it can be frustrating, and you won’t have a life. How come I can do it but you can’t? I’m not sure but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life thus far its that we’re all born with certain talents and a certain amount of luck. Being able to keep up with an inhuman amount of work is just a talent of mine. Accept your talents and play to your strengths but don’t expect to acquire more than your fair share. Your talents are different than mine and while some envy how much work I can take on, I envy how easily they seem to be able to relax, or play guitar, or whatever other talent they have.
If you still want to try to take on a ton of projects without a loss of productivity then read on. If not, you’re probably better off. The people who read on are probably into sadism, self-mutilation, and are just plain gluttons for punishment.
Just over a month ago I gave a talk at a school in Joliet. I told a personal story, the details of which aren’t relevant to this post, and one of the presentation’s organizers presented me with a t-shirt with the word “Perseverance” on it. I really like that shirt and it reminds me of why I’ve gotten as far as I have in life whenever I wear it. If you want to take on massive amounts of work and still be successful, you’ll need to develop a strong will and perseverance.
When there’s a lot going on at once its easy to get distracted and have all your ideas jumble together. That’s why you need to compartmentalize. You don’t really need to have a set schedule but when you do sit down to work on one of your projects you should have a clear goal in mind and a time frame for reaching it. When I sit down to work I tell myself “I have X long to finish this and I’ll know I’m done for now when X feature is ready”. That way I make progress on several tasks and none of them consume my time.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Break a project up into very small milestones. Here are some of my most recent ones, for example:
Fix navigation buttons for Goalie
Add a file upload option to Beautician
Write one blog post this week
See what I did with those? I chose small, manageable tasks that could be completed quickly. All of those read like todo list items instead of large projects in and of themselves. So that’s how you do it. Break up a big job into a series of small steps and that lets you move between unrelated tasks easily.
Set a finish line
Sounds obvious, right? When you work on the web like I do its easy to make tasks never-ending. After all, a web app is never truly finished. At some point though, you have to say enough is enough and declare a project done. So create a finish line so you can feel some closure when a project is finished. Once you reach the finish line you move on to other tasks and, if you feel like it, reevaluate the previously completed project and create a new finish line for it when you’re ready.
That’s about it for now. Those are the things that help me maintain my sanity while working on lots of different projects at once. It helps a lot if you love your work too. Remember, its best not to have a million things going on at once to begin with but if you do, my tips will probably help. At the very least, they won’t hurt.