Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Contaminated time is your enemy. Think of those tainted moments you spend worrying about one thing when you should be focused on something else–and more worthwhile, like your family or sleep. It’s the role overload, task density and time crunch that scatter your attention, tamp down your spirits and vaporize your impact.

One surprisingly simple solution is to literally get things off your mind, by putting them down on paper, be it print or digital. Productivity guru David Allen recommends maintaining a list of every single thing you are serious about accomplishing that requires more than one action step. In his experience, folks typically juggle 30-100 projects at a time. Sound familiar?

I’ve got 61 projects on my list, ranging from “promote YWCA t-shirt sale” to “plan remarks for James River Writers conference,” so I know personally the benefits of this exercise. But keep in mind that you don’t “do” projects. Rather, you just keep an eye on them. They are the finish line you’re running toward.

Click to Tweet: To progress, you’ve got to hurdle looming project tasks and monitor where you’re headed–and how fast.

A master project list gives that broader perspective. It doesn’t have to be chronological, categorized, prioritized or anything fancy. It just needs to exist in tandem with your serious commitment to review it weekly. Trust me, the periodic big-picture project scan is the key step that makes the list helpful and motivating, versus overwhelming. Confidence that you’ll check in with these written commitments weekly frees you from that unrelenting thought loop rehashing and reminding you of everything all the time.

I list all of my personal and professional projects, regardless of size, in a single Google document, for a holistic picture of my life. This month, I even printed the list and taped it to my wall calendar, so as to keep the big picture in mind as I schedule the details.

I have an ambitious agenda and I like structure, so my master project list is categorized. This helps me focus and ensure I’m not forgetting anything. During my weekly project review, I shuffle the categories, moving important but easily forgotten projects to the top. For instance, my current list has health and wellness at the top, because taking care of myself should always be a priority, but it usually feels less urgent than work responsibilities. I recently added the “Fun” category to the list to remind myself that play is important, too.

Here are my 19 current categories (alphabetically, here):

  • Camp
  • Community
  • Edx Classes
  • Family
  • Finances
  • Friends
  • Fun
  • Health & Wellness
  • Home
  • Links, Inc.
  • Professional Development
  • Reading Class
  • Real Estate
  • Supply Co.
  • Taste RVA
  • Technology
  • Travel
  • Website
  • YWCA

Every person’s list will vary depending upon individual interests and priorities. Set a timer for 15 minutes and draft your master project list–with or without categories. Remember, a project is anything that requires two or more steps to get done. Don’t hold back. Just get it all out at once. Then commit to checking back on the list weekly. Staying in touch with the big picture pulls us out of the weeds long enough to set our true courses. It’s the linchpin to getting our collective acts together. Let’s do this!

Question: Have you listed all of your projects out before? Does the thought of creating this 10,000-foot view of your life create excitement or anxiety for you?