Kill, commit, or transform your projects


Johanna Rothman wrote a wonderful book this year about managing your project portfolio that can help you manage projects in your personal life as well. At the beginning of the year it’s a good time to take a look at your major ongoing projects and decide whether to kill, commit, kill or tranform a project.

You have limited resources—what are you going to devote them to this year? What successes are important to you in 2010. It’s easy to just continue what you’re doing but you probably have a bunch of open projects that you’re just "kind of" doing.

Johanna writes that "When you commit to a project, it’s a real commitment, not a partial commitment." You commit your time, find the people to help, ensure that there’s funding and resources. If you don’t fully commit, she explains, you’ll revisit your projects again and again.

You need to understand what is required to commit to a project—this should be concrete. Maybe you want to learn a new language or improve some hobby like drawing, photography or playing an instrument. Decide how much time each day that will take— half hour, an hour—and ask if you realistically can commit that time. If it takes an hour a day of practice and you can only commit to a half hour a day or an hour three days a week then you aren’t able to commit fully and you won’t be successful.

It’s tough but you need to face up to those projects you can’t or won’t commit to. You have two remaining options.

Perhaps you should kill the project. Johanna advises that "The key to killing a project is to make sure all activity associated with the project stops." This may give you pause. You may look at all of the sunk costs and feel that you can’t kill the project. You can.

You may think you’re being clever by postponing a project. It’s kinder and gentler. You’re not. You’re just putting it on hold for now. Johanna makes it clear that "Postponing a project is another form of killing the project." You’ll be happier later if you do this in an active way rather than just putting the project on hold and never getting back to it. A project on ice is one of David Allen’s "open loops" and will be a quiet but continuous source of stress.

The third option is a bit of a hybrid. When you transform a project you are committing to this new version. You’ve killed off parts of the old project and redirected it but you are now fully committed to the success of this new project. You might change the team, change the goals, or change how you go about your daily work on the project but you still need full commitment.

Take some time this weekend to look at your major ongoing projects and decide to kill, commit, or transform each one.

This post originally appeared in the Pragmatic Life blog.