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What to Do with Your “Not Now” Projects
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been sharing tips to close out the first half of the year — and have been following them as a team, too. If you’ve been doing this on your own, you might be like us, ending up with a stack of “not now” projects. These projects didn’t make the cut as we looked at the remainder of the year and reconfirmed that as much as we’d like to, we can’t do everything.
So the question becomes: what to do with those projects that have become unmoored from our calendar and are now drifting about, taking up head space? We have a few options and I’ll cover each in turn:
Delay/defer/reschedule them for later
As much as it can feel like it, “Not Now” is not the same as “No.”
The power of “Not Now” is that you don’t have to decide right now, but therein lies the rub: the reason a lot of people feel the tension with “Not Now” is that they’ve either lost so many “good” projects or know, deep down, that they’re not going to do those projects.
Here are some tips to help with this option:
If you don’t have a sense of where they should go yet and aren’t ready to let them go, consider an idea garden or someday-maybe list or project board — a place to store all those ideas and projects until they’re ready to be prioritized and worked on. (Momentum has this feature now, too: the action item catcher.)
Careful with the deferring/punting projects, though. While it frees up some of the “open loop energy” these open projects generate, it’s not the same as the relief you’ll get when you…
Finish projects by dropping them
Too many people think completing all of the steps/tasks of a project and achieving its outcomes is the only thing that counts as finishing. The reality is that dropping or quitting a project often makes the most sense and also counts.
As I said in Start Finishing, projects are bridges to where you want to go. Doing all the work to build a bridge that doesn’t take you where you want to go doesn’t make sense AND displaces a project that will.
Dropping a project is hard in the short term, but in the long term, it’s one of the best options for projects that don’t win a cagematch. The pickup/review/punt cycle gets old for our personal work and it’s even worse in a team setting as it adds a lot of noise and erodes trust for no real gain.
A reason a lot of people hang on to weak-sauce projects that won’t win a cagematch is that they’ve conflated the project with the result/outcome they were looking to achieve. If you can’t trace a project back to an outcome that matters, you’re probably hanging on to it just because a past version of yourself or team said you’d do it. If it is tied to an outcome that matters, is that project the only one to get there? (When I’m helping clients through this, they often realize that they achieved the outcome via some other project.)
If a project is still hanging around and needs to get done, the next vector for handling it is to give it away via delegation or outsourcing.
This might mean that you find a peer/partner to help with the work, and each of you takes a part of it. Or you might send it off to a teammate to incubate it for a while until you have time to come back to it.
Who knows? Your teammate/partner might decide to push this one across the finish line themselves, and you get to both see it completed and be off the hook for the doing.
You might come up with some combination: chunk down the project into smaller parts and then hand off a section or do some now and pick up the rest two quarters from now when you have more time.
What other ways can you free up your now by capturing and dealing with those unmoored projects?