The Impact of Long-Lived Projects, and a Potential Workaround

PARA (Projects Areas Resources Archives) is a system for organizing information by how actionable that information is.

Last week, I wrote about how to distinguish between different components of PARA.

Two of these components are:

  1. Projects (tasks with a deadline that have multiple discrete next steps) and
  2. Areas (components of life in which a standard must be maintained over an indefinite period of time).

Something like “Complete Building A Second Brain” has a deadline (ie. the last class is on June 8, 2021) and has multiple steps (eg. do homework for unit 1, watch pre-lecture video for unit 2). Thus, it is a project.

Something like “Lift weights” refers to a standard (ie. progressive overload) maintained over an indefinite period of time. Thus, it is an area.

In taking the Building A Second Brain online course, I noticed that a lot of the mentors were stressing another characteristics of projects: short durations.

Projects that can be completed in a 1 to 2 week span have a couple of important benefits:

  • They help build a feeling of momentum. Long-lasting projects that never leave your to-do list can leave you feeling stuck. Regularly moving projects from your active projects list to your archive will motivate you to maintain your progress.
  • They help build trust in your system. Would you trust and invest in a personal assistant who regularly let things slip through the cracks and wasn’t helping you to make progress on your goals? You won’t use your system if you see it as a place that projects go to sleep or die. Completing projects helps to demonstrate that your system is working and has value.

This brought me to a conundrum: something like “Complete Building A Second Brain” appears to be a project, but it would remain in my active projects list for almost 2 months. Similarly, I have other projects such as “Get my driver’s license” and “The Sum of Us B.O.O.K. Club” that meet the project definition but live long enough to potentially impact my sense of progress and my perception of my system’s value–the former is a project that will likely remain open for over half a year!

To address this, I’ve decided to shake things up a bit.

What I’m trying instead is making “Complete Building A Second Brain” an area and then creating smaller projects coming out of that area (eg. “Complete the Capture unit”).

This means that “Complete Building A Second Brain” represents a standard I want to maintain over a period of time. While completing the course, I will be maintaining a standard of participating in the course and continuing to practice as the course progresses.

“Complete the Capture unit” has a deadline (ie. we pivot topics and move onto the next unit every Wednesday) and multiple discrete steps (ie. pre-lecture videos, homework assignments, participate in mentor groups). It is also achievable in a smaller timespan (~1 week) than completing the entire Building A Second Brain course.

Taking this approach allows me to keep my projects and areas separate (which is important for keeping only the most immediately relevant information in focus), build a sense of progress, and develop a sense of trust and value in my system.

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