Here’s a thinking tool that might help when you’re stuck on a big project. Let’s call it project-centered journaling.

  1. Take out something to write on (I like legal pads for this purpose).
  2. Start writing about the project without self-editing. You might write about the ultimate goal of the project, a problem you need to solve, important variables you might be ignoring, or even your current feelings about the state of the project. Keep writing until you either run out of things to write about or reach a new level of understanding about the project.
  3. Read what you’ve written and extract next steps.
  4. File or toss what you’ve written.

Project-centered journaling is distinct from regular journaling in that while you’re writing about a specific topic (the project at hand), you’re not writing for posterity or future use, so there’s no pressure to write well or even clearly. You may never look at these notes again. The process is the point, and its goal is simply to help you identify a path forward, right now.

I recently changed jobs, and I’ve found project-centered journaling to be extremely effective in helping me make sense of the big new projects I’m working on. I’m not sure exactly why it’s an effective tactic (or even whether it will work for others), but I’d love to hear your thoughts if you give it a try or if you already do something similar.