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A framework for managing multiple hobbies.

"I have so many interests, how do I possibly pursue them all?" - it's a common question. I'm lucky - I've managed to pursue many of my interests - writing, music, photography, psychology, business, teaching.  I still find the amount of choice overwhelming at times, and I know a lot of other people do who never get as far with their interests as I do in mine.

I've developed this framework for handling multiple interests - a way of organizing yourself so that you can pursue multiple hobbies, as well as figure out what it is you really want to do with your time. These are just guidelines & you should adjust them to your own particular needs. It applies agile project management methods combined with certain cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to the problem of handling multiple interests.

Step 1: Write down your high level goals. This is important. Get them written down, don't let them keep spinning out of control in your head. Once you're done you should have a list of (for example) a half dozen to a dozen things you want to accomplish. Once you write them out, you may find that the list isn't nearly as overwhelming as you thought.

Step 2: Turn each of these goals into small, realistic projects that can be accomplished in, say 2 weeks to a month if you dedicated some time each day towards accomplishing it. Try to keep the number of projects down to a realistic level. Assuming that you may spend an hour on any given project at a time, then I'd suggest no more than the number of free hours you have per week, and in any case no more than two per day - so a maximum of 14. If you only have weekends free, then 4 (2 projects per day x 2 days). If you're willing to set aside an hour per weekday (5), and weekends (2x2=4) then that would be 9. These are just guidelines.

Step 3: Rate each of these projects according to the following on a scale of 1 to 10:

These are just guidelines, make up your own if you have other criteria.

Steps 2 & 3 are optional - if your goal is "learn to play guitar" then there may not be a specific 2-4 week project you can think of. Or maybe your project is to set aside some time for journaling & you find that setting a specific goal ("write a novella") is overwhelming and you'd rather just set aside time for writing.

Step 4: Write each of these projects down on index cards and shuffle the cards. Each morning pick a card at random & work on that project. You're allowed to pick the next card if you don't like the first one you pick, and you're allowed to work on more than one thing a day. You're also allowed to "cheat" and select a specific card from the stack if the mood strikes you. Selecting a card is sort of like the "flip a coin" decision making process - sometimes it helps clarify what you want because when wha tyou don't want comes up & you wish it hadn't.

Step 5: On each day that you work on a project, put a check mark (✓) on that card. The goal is to accumulate 10 to 14 or 30 checks, at which point the project should be done or close to done (remember these are 2-4 week projects). If you skipped steps 2 & 3 then there is no "done" just ongoing projects.

If you skip a card, put a minus sign (-) on that card. If the card accumulates more minus signs than checks, re-evaluate that card - why are you skipping it? Is it too difficult? Too boring? Too poorly defined? Is there some other obstacle that you need to overcome before you can begin? (e.g. "buy a guitar")

Step 6: Once a month, review your major goals & each of the cards. Should you ditch any of the cards? Should you add any more cards? Are you stuck on any of the cards? Review the ratings that you gave the cards in step 3 - in light of your progress, do you think the ratings require adjusting?

Create pin-up board in your house where you can display completed cards for yourself, or otherwise keep them around as mementos.

You can add ongoing projects to cards - like going to the gym or practicing music or "try one new food every week" but if they're daily activities, then you may want to think of another way to track them (perhaps still with cards, but they're not the random cards you draw, they're a separate deck for daily/weekly activities that happen non-randomly).

When reviewing cards don't feel guilty if you don't spend much time on certain pursuits - just use them to recognize patterns in your behavior. This framework isn't just for managing your time, it's for figuring out what it is you want to do with your time, so it's natural to drop some projects in favor of others.

December 26, 2011

© Mark Wieczorek