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.


John Ek

I’ve had problems with this in the past. Now I envision how I will feel when I’m holding that CHECK! That combined with thinking about how I will help my client improve their business usually gets me going.

Amie Gillingham

I’d have to say this post is very timely since I have a monkey on my back which in turn is holding up my partner with his huge back-monkey. Right now, my method for coping is setting aside an hour a day that is spent focusing on this project without stopage or interuption. I suspect as I get closer to the end of my project, it will probably turn into longer sprints until it’s done. But it is nice seeing progress even after just a few sessions of concentrated effort. Just getting all of this crap literally off of my desk will be a reward in itself.


I’ve found that the best reward for me is just getting the project finished and off my list. I don’t seem to be motivated by external rewards like buying something or an outing with friends.


Assigning a cost is a great way to combat procrastination. Usually people just think that they are just delaying the current work they have, but they are also damaging future work.

That is, if you are screwing up your current project, you are also sending a message to your editor or boss that you will probably screw up your next project. So you’re losing money on both ends.


Marsello Oentoro

I like the first part where you supposed to break the big project into smaller pieces. If I may add, I usually batch the similar parts of these pieces, a process I learned from Tim Ferris. It usually helps speed up the work.


Even if the 1.0 version is not going to live up to your expectations, get something built. Do it fast but pace yourself and do it in pieces. Good advice in this article…

Jack Keller

I have been battling with two rather lengthy projects the past couple weeks. These are freelance projects so they are being done in the evenings and weekends. I made the mistake of not working on the second while awaiting approval of portions on the first. This put me into a deadline bind. I ended up finishing both by their respective deadlines but what a tremendous amount of stress. Great tip, I will try this on a project I have coming up mid-month!

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