What to Do About That Big Project You've Been Putting Off

It’s your most important project of the month, but somehow, you can’t get it done.

Whether it’s a lengthy ebook for a client or household spring cleaning, there’s always that big project that can’t seem to get crossed off your to-do list.

There are many reasons why you’d call it a “big project.” It could be because of the time and effort required to accomplish it, the money you’ll be paid for it, or how it’ll greatly affect your life and career. Or it could be all of the above.

We can just cross this off as procrastination and over-analyze what it means. Or we can make sure that you stop putting off this project and start crossing it off.

Ready? Let’s get this project over and done with.

Create milestones for your project. Break down your big project into smaller tasks – as small as you’re comfortable with. It’s a similar approach to the Next Action steps from David Allen’sGetting Things Done“. Doing this helps you see the small hurdles you need to go through before you can say you’ve accomplished the project.

Setting milestones works well for big projects for several reasons: you can find the tasks that you can automate or assign to others, you can have a more definite idea about how much time it’ll take to finish your project, and crossing off the milestones act as a great morale booster.

Find out what prolonging the project is costing you. It’s already obvious that it costs you time and money, but those two things are still too abstract for most people. These delays are costing you time that should be spent on other projects, relaxation, or leisure. As for the money, this only counts if your project pays or if you’re delays in the project also cause delays with your work. Spend a few minutes listing some of the things that you’re sacrificing because you’ve been putting off this big project.

Once your list is finished, place it in an area you’re likely to see while working on the project. This could be your computer monitor, your table, or a wall in your office. The point of this list is to remind you what’s at stake when you postpone working on the project – deliberately or not.

Get a “Boss”. For freelancers, your client is automatically your boss. But what if they don’t intimidate you enough to finish their project asap? Find another partner to report to at the end of the day. If your chosen partner is someone you greatly respect, an authority figure in your life, you’ll probably be ashamed to have nothing to report to them. Let them know their special role in your project and it’s likely that they’ll be glad to help.

Don’t do it in one sitting. Since your project is probably laborious and time-consuming, it’s not possible for you accomplish it in one long working session. Spread out your milestones into a workable, but highly efficient schedule. Finish it as soon as possible, but without the paralysis caused by too much pressure.

However, if you think you’ll procrastinate more if you have more working days…

…do it in 24 hours. No, I’m not kidding you. This is the approach to take if you work best under pressure – but only if you’re absolutely sure about it. Also known as “The Rule of 24“, this efficient type of cramming allows you to focus all your energy on your big project for an entire day.

Keep in mind that when you apply this rule, you shouldn’t choose the 24 hours before the official deadline set by your client or supervisor. Setting your own deadline before the official one avoids the need to send a dreaded “I’m sorry, but is it possible to extend the deadline” email. This type of email does not make people happy and makes you look unprofessional.

Reward yourself. Completing a big project deserves a big reward. You can take a few days off, go out, spend time with friends and family, or buy yourself something. Your rewards don’t have to cost much, they just need to be something that you’ll look forward to when you’ve finally crossed that project off your list.

Or, sometimes, the feeling of accomplishment you get when finishing off a big project is reward enough.

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