Simplifying Productivity: The Back Burner Method

Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.


So once again I found myself overwhelmed. Changing priorities at work left me with the task of getting up to speed on a programming language I hadn’t done any serious work in for about 5 years (and that’s a lifetime in software development, folks).

I tried micro-tasking, and that helped break through tasks that had been stalled. But the target list was still more than half-unfinished at the end of the week.

I cannot just abandon these projects; they are too important to me at this point. I also do not want to have them sitting on my projects list, because this has two detrimental effects: 1) I see them and get overwhelmed; 2) I cannot choose between the projects and so nothing gets done.

Example of Project Overwhelm

One of the goals I have this year is to get through four e-courses. I have plenty of e-courses in my backlog, and I want to start making progress. So I chose the one that applied to releasing an ebook.

In January I decided I wanted to pursue my database certification. Besides making me more marketable, it would firmly establish me as a database developer, which excites me far more than standard coding. So the first book of preparation went on the project list.

In February, my employer announced it wants us all to bring our Microsoft Certifications up to date. They offered a free course to get us back in the swing of certification exams. So doing the certification course was added to the list.

In March, my client switched me to use my rusty skills. So I needed to refresh on the programming language, as well as learn about 5 interlocking new technologies (new to me, at least). Since this is not something I enjoy doing, it went on the list because I knew I needed to learn it, rather than from a sense of desire.

So I had four major projects on my list, and not enough time. So all of them sat, clogging up the list.

The Back Burner Method

Even though micro-tasking did help quite a bit, I still had a ton of things on the list at the end of the week. So for my next weekly planning session, where I set my weekly targets, I back-burnered a bunch of projects.

This doesn’t mean that I abandoned them. It doesn’t mean I stuck them on a Someday/Maybe list. I just pulled the planning pages out, clipped them together, and skipped over them. I put them on the back burner to simmer.

I will go through them at my next planning session, see if I have time for any of them, or not. If I finish a major project on my list, I will go immediately to the back-burner section and start actively working on an item.

The Result

I have substantially reduced the number of tasks on my weekly target list. I am down to one craft project from three; one learning session from four; many unimportant but nice-to-haves are no longer nagging at me. My target list went from 30 items to 8.

As a result, I felt less stressed about everything I needed to do, and as a consequence, I got more done.

Have you ever tried back-burnering projects? Or any other method to weed out the projects temporarily? Share below.


Photo by Susu Jabbeh. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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