PARA Part 6: Small-Batch Projects for Focus, Creativity, and Perspective (草翻)

In P.A.R.A Part I, I argued that the Project List was the lynchpin of modern productivity, serving as a dashboard of your current commitments and the bridge between actionable and reference systems.

But formulating a Project List is also one of the most difficult exercises for most people to complete. And I’m not the only one to notice. David Allen has written:

“One of the most bizarre phenomena I have encountered in 30 years of working closely with some of the brightest and busiest people in the world is how difficult it is for most to grasp the idea of what a “project” is and to consistently manage their total inventory of same.
People complain about “too much to do,” and yet most couldn’t give you, in the moment, a complete and accurately defined inventory of what they’ve committed “to do” if their life depended on it.”

The reason it’s so hard to make a Project List is that it’s not just a matter of writing down what you’re currently working on. Hidden inside this simple exercise is a whole new paradigm for what a project even is.

What a Project List calls for are “small-batch projects.”

Here’s a definition:

Small-Batch Project (n.): 1) A tightly scoped, short-term commitment with 2) clear desired outcomes that describe end states and 3) a deadline or delivery date (which becomes a review date when passed)

Let’s take a look at each of these three elements one at a time.


但制定项目清单也是大多数人最难完成的工作之一。而我并不是唯一注意到这一点的人。David Allen曾写道。

"在我与世界上最聪明、最忙碌的人密切合作的30年里,我遇到的最奇怪的现象之一,就是大多数人很难掌握什么是 "项目 "的概念,也很难始终如一地管理他们的总清单。


项目清单需要的是 "小批量的项目"。





P.A.R.A. implies a major change in how we define projects — making them much, much smaller.

P.A.R.A.意味着我们对项目的定义发生了重大变化 —— 使项目变得更小。

To make it possible to dynamically flow pieces of knowledge between notebooks, it’s not enough to save the inputs in small, discrete notes. You must also make sure the outputs — the projects — are small and discrete, or else your system will get clogged up and stagnant.

为了使知识碎片在笔记本之间动态流动,光是把「输入」的规模缩小是不够的。你还必须确保输出项目 —— 是小规模且非耦合的,否则你的系统就会被堵塞。

This isn’t an arbitrary requirement by the way — it describes how the world is moving anyway. Everywhere we look, knowledge work is rapidly becoming more “project-based.” People, teams, and organizations come together briefly to execute projects, and then quickly disperse once it’s finished (sometimes called the Hollywood Model in reference to how films are made).

顺便说一下,这不是一个粗暴的要求—— 它仅仅描述了当今世界是如何运动的。放眼望去,知识型工作正迅速变得更加“基于项目”协同。个人、团队和组织短暂地聚在一起执行项目,然后在项目完成后迅速解散(有时被称为好莱坞模式,指的是电影的制作方式)。

I believe the move to project-based work is a more fundamental shift than remote work, distributed teams, multi-teaming, lifestyle businesses, or digital nomadism. The atomization of work into discrete projects is the key needed to unlock the true potential of all these other trends.


But this isn’t a matter of doing the same old projects with outsourced contractors instead of full-time employees. It isn’t as simple as chopping up our typical projects into tiny pieces. Doing so without a corresponding change in mindset and methods just creates massive amounts of extra overhead work.


The fundamental nature of projects is evolving to make this type of collaboration possible. And its evolving because the environment in which they exist is itself changing.


The modern concept of a “project” was born in large, traditional companies, which are like factory farms: everything is designed for efficiency and scale. The primary threats are internal: bureaucracy, politics, cost-cutting, deprioritization, and competition for resources. To survive this environment, projects became large, bloated, meticulously planned, long-running, with vague objectives. All the things we hate about modern mega-projects are actually features they adapted to survive the endless path through the bureaucracy.

现代的 "项目 "概念诞生于传统的大型企业,它们就像工业化的农场:一切都是为了效率和规模而设计的。主要的威胁来自内部:官僚主义、政治、削减成本、取消优先级,以及对资源的争夺。为了在这样的环境中生存,项目变得庞大、臃肿、精打细算、时间长、目标模糊。我们讨厌现代巨型项目的所有东西,其实都是他们为了在官僚主义的无休止的道路上生存下来而适应的特点。

But put this fattened cow in the jungle of the digital economy, and it’ll get slaughtered. A “project” in the new economy has evolved to become a lean, agile tiger: small, adaptable, omnivorous, willing to hunt but preferring to watch for opportunities.

但是,把这头肥牛放进数字经济的丛林里,就会被宰杀。 新经济中的 "项目 "已经进化成了一只精干的、敏捷的老虎:体型小、适应性强、杂食性强、乐于猎杀,但更喜欢观察机会。

With project-based work, remote teams of contractors wait until the last possible moment to jump onto a project, and once they do, they optimize for speed and intensity. This requires shedding as much of the decision-making, consensus-seeking, approval-seeking, and status-updating as possible. It requires reducing the project down to the minimum essential core of productive activity.


Thus making our projects smaller is not a question of marginal improvement. It determines whether our projects survive. Whether they become good ideas that never quite see the light of day, or impactful results delivered in a steady rhythm.



The most important component of a small-batch project is its desired outcome, which describes the criteria for success. What exactly needs to happen for this project to be considered complete? This is to avoid the biggest risk one faces as a contractor — a half-dead zombie project that staggers on for months with no clear resolution. This is a far bigger risk than the project outright failing, which robs them of both the opportunity cost of pursuing other projects, and the learnings that would have come from clear success or failure.

一个小批量的项目最重要的组成部分是它的预期结果,它描述了成功的标准。这个项目到底需要发生什么才算完成?这是为了避免作为一个承包商面临的最大风险 —— 一个半死不活的僵尸项目,踉踉跄跄地走了好几个月,没有明确的解决方案。这是比项目彻底失败的风险要大得多的风险,这让他们既失去了追求其他项目的机会成本,也失去了从明确的成功或失败中获得的经验教训。

There’s a good reason most people are tremendously resistant to writing out clear success criteria, even for their personal projects: that would be suicide in a traditional company. When you break out the 20 or 30 outcomes you’re pursuing, you become much more accountable for their progress. Instead of reporting that you’re “still pluggin’ away at Mega-Project X” for the 20th week in a row, you have to explain why “write outline” is still on your list after a whole week.

大多数人对写出明确的成功标准有一个很好的理由:在传统的公司里,即使是对个人项目也是如此:这在传统的公司里无异于自杀。当你把你所追求的20或30个成果分解出来,你就会变得更加负责任。与其说你连续20周都在汇报 "还在为Mega-Project X插科打诨",不如说你要解释一下为什么 "写大纲 "在整整一周后还在你的清单上。

What you’re doing, in Toyota terms, is “lowering the water level” on your work commitments. This exposes the crud and the excess fat in your workweek: the excuses, the procrastination, the vagueness, the miscommunication, the lack of responsibility. You will only consider doing this if you value learning at the expense of comfort.


If you really want accountability, make a Project List exactly as I’ve recommended, and then show it to everyone who will listen. Show it to your boss, to your clients, to your direct reports, to your spouse. This takes courage, humility, and openness to hearing feedback. You’ll either gain trust as people learn they can take you at your word, or you’ll hear very quickly what isn’t working.



Defining a desired outcome is only meaningful if you also decide “by when.” It’s too easy to declare ambitious goals with a forecast of “someday.”

And again, our resistance to doing this makes complete sense in the context of traditional organizations. In a large company, putting yourself on the hook for a delivery date for a project you don’t completely control is crazy. Much better to keep everything hazy, so blame for delays can be passed around and diffused. Survival in a large company depends far more on avoiding blame than producing results.

But as we move to an economy of more-or-less free agents, accountability is devolving to the individual. No longer do you have a boss, manager, or colleagues to look over your shoulder and make sure you’re on track. No one cares if you had a productive day.

As implicit accountability fades away, you now have to replace it with explicit accountability. You have to put yourself on the hook for something. This starts with being honest with yourself about what you’ve committed to, and by when. Like any muscle, your word needs a hard surface to push up against.

只有当你也决定了 "什么时候",确定一个预期的结果才有意义。用 "总有一天 "的预测来宣布宏伟的目标太容易了。





One of the key tenets of P.A.R.A. is that you can manage vast amounts of information, on one condition: that you organize it by horizons of actionability, not by topic.



By staging your files according to how actionable they are (or when they’re likely to become actionable), you allow yourself to focus your attention on one horizon at a time. Paradoxically, the smaller your projects and the cleaner the edges between them, the larger the amount of information you can manage on all horizons. You can only focus on something that is distinct from its surroundings.

If everything is potentially actionable at any given time, of course you’ll experience information overload. Of course you’ll want to limit your exposure, cut down your consumption, and dial down your commitments. But information overload is not a feature of the external world. It’s not even a feature of how much information you consume. It is a function of how much you allow to occupy your attention at any given moment. By narrowing your attention to only one actionable stack most of the time, you allow the other stacks to grow exponentially larger with no impact on your attention.

But this all depends on having very clean edges between the stacks. You need to know exactly where the Projects stack begins and ends, so you’re not using precious attention to figure out that boundary on the fly.





The three components of a small-batch project — scope, outcome, and deadline — ARE the edges of your projects. They determine the exact moment when a project becomes active, and the exact moment it is considered complete. It is these moments that trigger their transfer to the Archives, to make room for more salient information.

小批量项目的三个组成部分 —— 范围、结果和期限 —— 是项目的边界。它们决定了一个项目开始活动的确切时刻,也决定了它被认为是完成的确切时刻。正是这些时刻触发了它们转移到档案馆,为更多的突出信息腾出空间。


This is much less intuitive, but clean edges are also essential for creativity. This may seem counterintuitive: haven’t we been taught that creativity requires messiness?

Consider that your collection of notes is a network — each note is a node, with the hyperlinks, tags, and common keywords forming connections between them.

There is a property of networks that is essential for new ideas to take root and thrive, known as the “small worlds” property. Instead of a perfectly even, densely interconnected global network (as in the leftmost image below), it is much healthier to have small “neighborhoods” that are distinct and separate from the wider network (as in the rightmost image below):



网络有一种属性,是新的思想生根发芽、茁壮成长所必需的,被称为「Small worlds」的属性。与其说是一个完全均匀、紧密相连的全局网络(如下图最左边的图片),不如说是一个小的 "邻里",与更大范围的网络(如下图最右边的图片)截然不同、相互独立的小 "邻里 "更健康。


Think of how Facebook started: they launched first at Harvard and other elite universities, waiting until they’d built up a critical mass in these smaller networks before moving to others. If Facebook had launched globally from day one, they probably wouldn’t have succeeded. There wouldn’t have been enough connections on such a huge scale to keep people coming back.

The notes, notebooks, and stacks of P.A.R.A. are the small worlds of your knowledge network. Each note provides a little contained playground for a fledgling idea to first take flight. When it’s ready, it can expand into its own notebook, helping it attract and collect related ideas. The stacks act like seawalls preventing early ideas from being drowned out by more “important” and “urgent” notes.

The clean edges of your organizational system can increase the likelihood that your riskiest, most original, and most subtle ideas are protected and incubated to maturity.


P.A.R.A.的笔记、笔记本和堆栈就是你的知识网络的小世界。每个笔记都为一个初出茅庐的想法提供了一个小范围的游乐场,让初出茅庐的想法第一次飞起来。当它准备好了,就可以扩展成自己的笔记本,帮助它吸引和收集相关的想法。堆栈就像一道海堤,防止早期的想法被更多的 "重要 "和 "紧急 "的笔记所淹没。



One thing you’ll notice when you start scoping your projects smaller is that you have many more of them, and they come and go much more quickly. At first this might seem like a step backward in your productivity. You’ll be spending more time creating, titling, prioritizing, scheduling, and archiving projects.

I’ve come to understand that this is exactly the point. Increasing project turnover is an explicit goal of adopting small batches.

Think about the practice of performing a Weekly Review. We all know we should do it. We all know we would benefit from it. But most people don’t do it regularly. The truth is, unless you have small-batch projects, there’s no need. The answer to “What will I be working on this week?” is the same answer as last week.




What rapid project turnover creates is the need to review these projects on a more regular basis. You better believe that if half your active projects get completed in a given week, you’ll most certainly see the value in doing a Weekly Review to activate a new batch. This trains you in a higher level skill: project portfolio management. You become less attached to the success of any particular project — why worry about one arrow in your quiver when you command an army?

As you spend more time reviewing and planning your small-batch projects, more opportunities for strategic improvement will come to light. Operating more often from this higher perspective, you’ll start to think in terms of systems and principles, instead of being dominated by a single, massive mega-project that never seems to end.

In his wide-ranging book on the nature of satisfaction, Gregory Berns came to a startlingly simple conclusion: “I have come to understand novelty as the one thing that we all want.”

项目的快速周转带来的是需要更定期地审查这些项目。 你最好相信,如果你的活动项目有一半的项目在一周内完成,你一定会看到每周回顾一次,以激活新的一批项目的价值。 这可以训练你一个更高层次的技能:项目组合*管理。 你会变得不那么执着于任何特定项目的成功--当你指挥一支军队时,为什么要担心你的箭矢?



Lying at the nexus of commitment, motivation, fulfillment, curiosity, pain, and pleasure, novelty seems to be what our brains are wired for. But seeking novelty can sometimes feel at odds with productivity. We are encouraged by habit formation experts to lock down our environment and remove all uncertainty, to avoid taxing our willpower.

Small-batch projects promote a different set of habits that benefit from novelty, instead of being threatened by it. These are habits more expansive and powerful than your daily routine: constantly moving into zones of greater leverage; transferring momentum from one project to another; designing projects so they are more than the sum of their parts; timing projects to take advantage of external events. These are the dark arts of productivity. “Dark” only because so few have access to the project throughput required to practice them.

The ability to accelerate project turnover simply by reducing the size of projects gives you the ability to produce novelty on demand, for even the most boring administrative tasks. If I encounter a project I’m resistant to, I simply keep making it smaller until the reward feels more tangible than the pain. This gives me control of the drumbeat of fulfilled deadlines, which I tune to maximize my sense of self-efficacy.

This may feel like cheating. But once we realize that there is no inherent unit of work, we become free to choose the one that makes us feel like we’re making progress.

Choose wisely.


而小批量的项目则促进了一套不同的习惯,这些习惯*受益于新奇,而不是受到新奇的威胁。这些习惯比你的日常工作更具有扩张性和强大的力量:不断地进入更大的杠杆区域;将动力从一个项目转移到另一个项目;设计项目,使其比部分的总和更多;安排项目的时间,以利用外部事件的优势。这些都是生产力的黑暗艺术。说 "黑暗",只是因为很少有人有机会接触到实践所需的项目吞吐量。

仅仅通过缩小项目规模来加速项目周转的能力,就能让你即使是最枯燥的行政任务,也能按需生产出新奇的产品。 如果我遇到一个我很抗拒的项目,我只需不断地把项目做小,直到感觉到回报比痛苦更实在。 这让我控制了完成的最后期限的鼓点,我把它调到最大限度地提高自我效能感。



PARA Part 6: Small-Batch Projects for Focus, Creativity, and Perspective - Forte Labs(EN)