When To Let A Project Go Dormant

This post was previously published. It has been updated.

I’m going through a rough patch in my life right now, and I know that I can’t keep up with everything. Unlike the past when this has happened, I am asking for help, offloading what I can, and letting some projects go dormant.

So how do you know what to let go of, even temporarily?

Letting Projects Go Dormant

I believe that this needs to be done by everyone from time to time. Life changes, and our goals, both long and short term, have to adjust. That means our lists of projects must be culled in order to make room for changes.

One important thing to realize is that letting projects go dormant doesn’t mean you’re saying no forever. It just means you’re saying no for now.

If you maintain a Someday/Maybe list as David Allen in Getting Things Done* suggests, then it just becomes a matter of moving the project. Otherwise, you will have to find some way to keep the project off the radar without completely discarding it.

5 Ways To Choose Dormant Projects


Some projects are better off in other people’s hands. I recently had to delegate some upcoming church duties to some other committee members. Once it is delegated, I cannot dictate how it is done, but only request that it be done.

Re-question Done

Some items on my list had branched in a way that I hadn’t foreseen and there was nothing else to do on them; however, I hadn’t marked them done because it didn’t meet the criteria I had set forth for “done”. (This is one reason I don’t list out outcomes anymore, ala GTD. Too often events carried me in a way I hadn’t foreseen).

At one point one of my projects was to try out a bunch of pizza dough recipes. The second one was a big hit, and everyone loved it. So why force myself to try the three other recipes I had listed? I marked the project as done, even though I hadn’t done everything I initially thought.

Less Important

Sometimes projects remain on my list out of habit. A craft I have been meaning to have framed was on the list for months, and I realized that while I would still do it, I wasn’t going to do it now. It was no longer as important given the load of the month.

No Longer Relevant

Relevancy can wreak havoc with a project list. I have to think about each project and decide if it is still relevant for what I am trying to accomplish.

An example of this was a book on a programming environment that had been on my list for months. It was a technical book, and the book itself is large and difficult to transport. I rarely brought it home from work, and I had little time at work to read it. Our team shifted into another direction, though, and this book was no longer the way we were working. It still took almost two months for me to pull it from my project list, though. I didn’t delete it outright, because the subject still interests me, and I intend to read the book at some point.

Go With The Gut

After processing through my project list using the above five steps, I then make one final pass and “tune in” to the projects there. Sometimes I feel a distaste for the project, and I have to reconsider why I wanted to do it to begin with. Often these are projects that are prefaced with “I should really….” These projects are often deleted outright.

Another reaction is a resistance to the project because of what it would mean to have it finished. Getting my will and guardianship papers set up has been a sticking point, as if not having the documents would mean that I would be immortal. In these cases, following through and finalizing the project not only gets it off the list, but lifts a psychological burden as well.

Clearing out your project list can be a freeing activity. Take a look at your list. Can it stand to hibernate a bit?


  1. Mike

    Great advice, it is very difficult to put something on hold. But many times it is for the best.

  2. Tim

    This is my second year doing NaNoWriMo. I pretty much put all home projects outside of the kid’s stuff on hold but I like your dormant criteria and I think I’ll try to sort through my list in a like manner in December before I try to pick projects up again.

    • LJ

      You amaze me. All you have going on, and time to write as well? You rock!

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