How To Make Progress When You Want To Do Everything But Can’t Finish Anything.

How do you manage when there’s a dozen things you want to do at any one time? When there are so many ideas flitting through your mind that you have to dive in and try them all out. You find yourself moving from interest to interest, constantly distracted by the next shiny idea, never making headway in any.

I have to confess that this is something I’ve struggled with. There’s always something I want to do, to try, to explore. And yes, I get lots done but there’s still that bitter taste in my mouth when I think of great ideas not yet explored and half-finished projects left to gather dust. Life is never boring but it can be so frustrating.

So how do you get the best out of yourself when you find it difficult to stick to anything long enough to see it through?

How do you stop yourself going from idea to idea never getting past the surface?

How can you be multi-passionate and still deliver on your goals?

Here are a few ideas that may help.

1. Embrace your multi-passionate nature

For years I felt horrible about the fact that I had lots of interests, wanted to pursue a variety of avenues and could not for the life of me choose just one. I would look on with admiration at those who had focused in on a specific area and acquired expertise. Why couldn’t I be like that? I knew that if I too could focus I would make better progress and faster.

Yet when I looked back at my life I realised that I’d always had multiple interests. Snapshots came of changing majors from Biology to Mathematics to Computer Science to today being fascinated by human behaviour, mythology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, the list seems endless.

My day of liberation came when I realised that it was OK to be me. It was how I was wired and there was nothing wrong with it. I realised that instead of trying to be what I wasn’t, I could embrace and celebrate who I was. Being excited about learning and experimenting wasn’t a problem – my path was just different and I would have to use different strategies to get to where I wanted to go.

Since then I’ve come to discover that there are millions of people who are also wired that way. In fact there are several names coined for it: scanner, multi-potentialite, renaissance person. These are all terms used to describe our unending desire to explore and learn and to pursue many paths.

So if any of this sounds like you just remember that you are fine and you’re not alone. Don’t think of it as a negative, instead start to look at it as possibly one of your biggest assets. It is the first step to realizing your potential.

2. Create your ideas list

What are your interests and ideas? What are your hobbies and passions? What are the things you’ve been wondering about that you just haven’t got round to checking out yet? Don’t hold yourself back, write them all down. Make them concrete by taking them out of your head and putting them on paper. You will keep adding to this list as things come to mind but it will also act as your source of ideas when you start creating a plan of action.

There’s nothing more distracting than an idea in your mind that you’re trying to hold onto because you don’t want to forget it.  By writing it down you clear your mind and this allows you to calm down and focus.

3. Categorise the items on your list

In this post, I stressed the importance of knowing what the ‘end game’ is before you start anything. This is important in getting past analysis paralysis and it’s also true when you are working on a number of things at the same time.

Review the items on your list and quickly assess what kind of item each is using these two broad categories: Explore and  Deliver.

An explore item is one you know very little about. Perhaps it’s research that you want to do on a particular subject or a new technique you want to try out. Explore items tend to be less concrete.

On the other hand, you may have a very specific task, for example, creating a webpage or writing an article. That would be a Delivery item as it is clear and specific (you know what you need to do to make it happen).

The aim of this step is to quickly figure out whether an item on your list is something you know very little about that you need to explore further, or whether it’s understood enough that you now have some specific outcomes you want to aim for.

4. Prioritise, select and schedule

Now that you’ve categorised the items on your list it’s time to prioritise the ones you will spend on. How many is too many? There really is no set rule but you may want to limit to three or so items at any one time. They may span multiple themes, for instance, you could be working on health and fitness alongside finances or personal development. The mix is really up to you.

You may also find it useful to pick items from both pots. Perhaps a couple of delivery items alongside an explore one. The key is to be aware of how much time you have to dedicate to these tasks and let that dictate which and how many you select. If there’s a lot going on in your life it’s ok to focus on one delivery item with a clear, specific goal.

Your list becomes a living document

The beauty of having your ideas list is that you can go back to it at any time. If something needs to be parked for a while because your personal circumstances have changed, it can.

You may be in explore mode on a couple of items, and realise that you really don’t want to spend any more time on it after some time. It gets taken off your schedule and another explore item takes it’s place.

You can add to your list, cross stuff off it, change an item, it becomes a living, breathing document.

The key to remember here is that you set the rules. You decide what is important to you, what you want to work on and for how long. It’s a great place to be.

Set clear priorities

Decide upfront which items are more important. Life will happen and sometimes you may not get round to working on all the things you intended to on a particular day or week. Knowing what things have to happen will help you narrow your focus.

4. How to ensure you make progress

It’s great to be in explore mode, having fun, learning for the sake of learning, dabbling in this and that, trying this out with no commitment. However, it’s not a very effective way to make progress on your goals.

The key to success I’ve found is to create structure around your delivery items. Order and method (as Hercule Poirot would say) is the key.

  • What is your goal and why do you want it?
  • Break the goal down into smaller tasks.
  • Identify the things you either need to learn or do to accomplish that task.
  • Create a plan, write it down, schedule it in with start and end dates.
  • Take action.

Whether your goal is to get better in some area on the way to achieving mastery or create some tangible outputs the key is consistent action.

Avoid multitasking

You get to work on multiple items but the trick is to focus on one at a time. Once an item has been scheduled in, show up to work on it. Research shows that productivity can drop by up to 40% when we multitask so avoid the temptation to flit from item to item. Multi-task effectively (i.e. work on multiple things) by single tasking.

Schedule the fun stuff too

In the same way, you need to explicitly schedule time into your calendar for explore items too. If you’re multi-passionate you will want to work on different things. Scheduling the fun stuff alongside the things with hard, concrete deadlines will ensure that you work on all the items that are important to you. You gain confidence that the other things sitting on your list will also get their turn and you are more likely to stick with the process.

5. Head off the inevitable distractions

You’re working on a task when all of a sudden something triggers a thought or idea which sparks your curiosity. You decide to do a quick google search with the intention of getting right back to work. An hour later you’ve completely forgotten about what it is you were working on, you’re no longer in the flow and progress has stopped. You feel annoyed with yourself … again.

Ideas will come and that’s a great thing – welcome them all. You just need to have a strategy for dealing with them right away. You need to be able to have the idea, record it and then get back to the task at hand. To do this, while you’re working keep your ideas list handy so that when an idea pops up you can just add it to the list. That could be a notebook, a memo or Evernote list, it doesn’t really matter. If you don’t have your list to hand, jot it down on a piece of paper or your phone, and add it to your list later.

Remember if the idea is intriguing enough you will find a way to explore it at the next available opportunity so there’s no need to worry about not getting round to it. By making a note as soon as it comes to mind you get to retain any ideas that come but by sticking with the task at hand you get immense satisfaction finishing what you’ve started. This builds confidence and motivates you to keep going.

Distractions will come but they don’t have to completely knock you off track.


Your growing list of unfinished projects can be a thing of the past

Whether it’s solving a problem, exploring a whole new area or creating something new, you really can do it all. By adding structure, showing up consistently with focus and discipline, you can make remarkable progress. You’re multi-passionate and that’s a wonderful thing. Embrace it as the gift it is and start taking the steps to finally realizing your potential.


Now over to you.

Are you multi-passionate?

How do you make progress when you have lots that you want to do?

Let me know in the comments.

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