How many projects can a human do simultaneously?

By johannatime On September 22, 2014 Under Productivity vs Procrastination

When there is a lot on your plate, work and life can feel overwhelming. Overwhelm can cause paralysis and then you get the awkward situation of being crazy busy and getting nothing done: ‘it is all too much’. So how many projects is enough? Of course, that depends.

About projects

The Getting Things Done® (GTD®) definition of a project is in short: every outcome you need to achieve that requires more than one action step. With this definition, even sending a birthday card to your sibling would be a project, so my guess is that everybody has several projects to do.

What does your to do list look like? Does it hold projects? Or just single actions? To increase your productivity, you’d best differentiate! So go ahead and make a projects list; a list of desired outcomes you would like to achieve in the near future. They must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely). So you know it when they’re done and you can tick them off your list.

Every project you are doing requires a next action to move it towards closure, so other than your projects list, you need a next action list, too. Technically, your next actions list has at least as many actions as your projects list has projects. And of course, you can add single actions to this list whenever needed.

The trade off

When you want to move quickly, make sure you only have a few projects going at the same time. When you do many projects simultaneously, they will move only slowly towards completion. When you have too many, nothing gets done, because the pace at which you make progress is simply to slow to even notice. When you are doing a project like writing a book, all by yourself and you’re not depending on others for your work, I even recommend doing just that: writing the book. Because when you make fast progress, you create incredible momentum for great quality results.


The brain can only do one conscious thing at the same time. By having lost of work on your plate and not tracking any by having a projects list and a next actions list, your brain will feel that it constantly fails to do what it should. You feel overwhelmed. And overwhelm is productivity’s worst enemy.

Personally, I have a maximum of 50 projects. I try to do only 2 big ones simultaneously. The rest is only a couple of actions worth of work, or they are just carrying on in the background, moving slowly. How many projects have you got going at the moment? Do you track them on a projects list at all? Please comment below:

Johanna Jansen

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