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Doing, Doing, Done! Finishing that Big Project
By Julie Cohen
Big projects are daunting, whether it's a strategic plan, a screenplay, a new business plan or a book. Although you want to complete it, you find that things prevent you from attaining the goal - getting it done.
During a large project it's easy to become distracted. Procrastination sets in, you lose focus, you become frustrated, and you check email 47 times a day. You doubt your competence and ability to do what you set out to do. These factors pull you away from the task at hand. What is needed to stay on track, feel good about your progress and finish?
To tackle the project, you need to approach the work from two perspectives: internal preparation and external preparation.
- Internal preparation gets you mentally ready.
Answer these questions: What is the mindset I want to have about the project? How do I create realistic expectations? What's my biggest fear about the project? What will completing it mean to me?
- External preparation gets you physically ready.
Answer these questions: What resources do I need to start this project? What do I need to move ahead? What environment is most conducive to my productivity? These answers will lay a foundation for starting and maintaining momentum.
Before you begin, map out what needs to be done and when. Break down tasks into the smallest piece possible. Start with the date you want the project completed, and work backwards. If the project is going on over weeks or months, you'll want to have clear goals for each time period.
Continue breaking down your work in to daily accomplishments, and even what you want to complete in each work session. As you can see, planning is not a one time event. It is an integral part of your work. You will be adjusting your plan regularly as you complete before or behind schedule.
Your work area needs to be a productive area. Remove distractions and don't allow interruptions. For example, turn off your email and shut down your internet access (unless it's specifically needed for your work) and don't answer the phone. Jane, a client, was in the process of completing her PhD dissertation. She loved to garden and take care of her lawn. She had her desk and workspace facing her yard which caused her to often daydream about being outside instead of engaged with her project. An easy rearrangement of office furniture significantly enhanced her productivity and focus.
When a very large task looms in front of you, even if you know what to do and how to do it, the perceived enormity of the work itself can be a road block. "Just Do It" doesn't always work if you're overwhelmed.
Begin with baby steps. Committing to just one action at a time that moves you towards a bigger goal can begin the momentum. Instead of sitting down to write the first scene of a play, take the baby step of deciding on the setting or a character or a theme. Once the first task is completed, you can move on to the next step. These steps add up quickly, and each success is the foundation for more progress.
Committing time every day will also support your momentum, no matter how small the allotted time. This will help you develop a routine so that missing a day working on the project will not feel like an option anymore.
While working steadily is a desired outcome, it's important to invest time in the most important tasks of the project; the components of the project that will have the most impact on completion. Sometimes these tasks feel like the most difficult. But, when they are completed, significant progress is made.
While Stephen Covey stresses focusing on the 'important vs. the urgent,' many clients, when faced with intimidating goals, focus on the easy vs. the important.
When doing a job search, John spent the bulk of his time posting resumes on job boards as it was easy. He had a small network of former colleagues that he was not utilizing because it was more challenging to set up calls and meetings to discuss his skills and possible job opportunities. Once he focused on more important actions, he felt better about the work ahead and began seeing concrete results.
With all of this work, work, work, will there every be time for anything else until the entire project is done? You must make this a resounding 'YES!'
Although it may feel counterproductive not to work 15 hours a day on your project, if you ignore other areas of your life, a large quantity of work time will not lead to the quality of work that you want or to the level of productivity that is possible.
Jack, while writing a novel, was working 12+ hour days in order to complete his first draft. He spent this time without breaks for the gym, times with friends and family or keeping up with his laundry. When he cut back to six to eight hours a day, he found himself more energized, effective and efficient in his writing and not resenting the work he previously loved to do since he had time for other meaningful things in his life.
You will hit roadblocks, you will get frustrated AND you will finish, if you keep moving ahead with the work you've defined. When barriers seem insurmountable, this is when you must get in to 'tortoise mode' - keep working no matter how slow progress seems. Inertia breeds more inertia and activity breeds momentum - choose action no matter how small.
Robert purchased a timer that he could wear around his neck. When he felt himself pulled away from his project (to email, to call his wife, to get a drink) due to a challenge in the work, he would set his timer for 15 minutes and not allow himself to leave his desk before the timer went off. During this short time frame, he usually refocused his energy, got over the desire to stop and made some progress. If he walked away from his desk in response to the immediate challenge, it would have been very difficult for him to resume that day or even that week.
Lastly, don't go it alone! Even if this is your novel, your business plan, your project, others can help you in getting it done. Whether you join a writing group for encouragement, ask a colleague if you can regularly check-in with them about your marketing plan or hire a professional for support and accountability, seek support from others. A partner can mean the difference in getting from 'doing' to 'DONE.'
Keeping these seven 'Ps' in mind and in action as you progress on your project will lead to powerful productivity and a finished project. Congratulations on getting it done!