If you keep a projects list (and I recommend it), you probably have a few projects that have been lingering there for a little while, nagging you to either finish them or banish them from the list.
I hate those kinds of projects.
How great do you feel when you knock one of these projects out? When you finish a project like that, that’s been dragging on your mind, it’s like a huge burden off your shoulders. You breath a sigh of relief, and your day is that much better.
While it isn’t always possible, I suggest trying to knock out such a project all in one go. That’s right: instead of breaking it into little chunks (as you often hear recommended), do it all at once, and get it out of the way. If you can, it’s often the best way to get your projects done. Devote a chunk of time to the project, and complete it.
1. Carve out a block of time. Estimate how long it will take you to finish the project if you do it all at once. Most people underestimate how long it will take. To prevent that, do one of two things: 1) multiply your estimate by 1.5 or 2) break down the project into smaller action steps, estimate how long each one will take, and put a little time padding into each step … and then add up the steps to get a total.
Once you’ve got a reasonable estimate, you’ll need to find a chunk of time to complete the project. Block out a few hours, half a day, an entire day, or even a couple of days if possible … however long it’ll take. You may have to reschedule appointments or meetings. Let others know you’ll be unavailable during that time. Don’t let anything infringe on that block of time.
2. Get set up. If possible, get everything you need to complete the project ready ahead of time. So instead of starting your chunk of time dedicated to the project by doing research, or getting materials ready, or emailing people for information, do that beforehand. For example, I like to get all my research material bookmarked or saved, so that when it’s time to do the actual work, I’m ready to go.
This preparation, which shouldn’t take that much time, will make completing the project in one go actually doable. It’s worth the time.
3. Info from others. Often what holds a project up is waiting on information from others, or tasks to be completed by other people. If that’s the case, you may not be able to complete the task all at once. But you might consider two approaches:
- Break off your chunks. Sometimes it’s possible to break off chunks of a project that you can complete on your own. Divide the responsibility for parts of a project so that you are responsible for one part, and others are responsible for their parts. Don’t allow them to interlock if possible, so that you can do your chunk without waiting on others.
- Work around them. Sometimes it’s just not worth waiting for other people. They might have too much on their plate. So instead, see if you can do without them, or if you can do it yourself. For example, sometimes when I’m waiting on info from somebody, if they are taking too long, I’ll see if I can get that info myself. Sure, I’m doing work for them, but sometimes it’s worth it because then I can complete the project.
4. Make a project modular. Similarly, sometimes there’s a project where it would be impossible to do all in one go. It might be too large, or sometimes you have to wait for certain things to happen before moving to the next phase of the project. In those cases, see how you can make the project modular, so that you can complete one module of the project all at once, and then worry about the rest of the project later.
For example, if it would be impossible to complete a project because I have to wait for a certain report to come out before completing certain actions, there might be a chunk of the project (a module) that I can break off and complete before the report comes out. In that case, I would make that module a separate project all in itself, and celebrate its success just as much as I would the completion of any other project.
Don’t think of this module as just an action step in a larger project … think of it as a project in an of itself. You can work on the other modules of the larger project at a later date, but for now, focus on the project you can complete now.
5. Commit yourself to someone. If you don’t tell anyone that you’re going to finish this project all at once, it’s too easy to let yourself slide. You have to commit to someone … your boss, a colleague, a client, someone. Tell them you’re going to finish it all at once, and when you’ll be done. Then email them the completed project (or call them, or whatever). Be accountable, and it will motivate you to finish.
6. Crank it out. OK, you’ve set aside your chunk of time, you’ve done all the preparation, you’ve told others you’re not available. Now it’s time to get the actual work done.
Well, this step is self-explanatory (just do the project!) … but it’s worth noting a few tips for actually getting the project done:
- Don’t get sidetracked. If you’ve taken the trouble of setting aside a block of time for this project, don’t waste that block of time by fiddling around with email or IM, or any of the million other distractions you love to do. It’s easy to put off the project and work on smaller (but still important) tasks, but you have to keep your focus here. You want to get this project done, at all costs.
- Work in bursts. If you’ve set aside an entire day to work on a project (for example), it can be a bit intimidating to have an entire day staring at you and an entire unfinished project just waiting to be done. Instead, focus on the first step needed to move the project forward, set a short time limit (say, 20 or 30 minutes), set a timer, and get to work. When you’ve completed that step, celebrate with 5-10 minutes of goofing around, or take a short walk, or get a glass of water. Then focus on the next task, and so on. You’ll make a lot of progress this way.
7. Wrap up or schedule more time. Once you’re done with the project, you’ll want to wrap it up. Go over it for quality control, email the finished product to whoever you committed yourself to, check it off your project list, clean up the materials, etc. And celebrate! Feel good about getting this off your list.
If, for some reason, you weren’t able to complete the project, you’ll want to schedule another block of time to finish it. Don’t let it linger on your list any longer. Schedule the time, make the commitment, prepare yourself, and then get it done.