5 Steps to Make Big Scary Projects Seem More Manageable

productivity May 14, 2020

I don’t know about you, but I (Beth) often let overwhelming tasked freeze me from making any progress. Sound familiar?

Recently, I opened up a request-for-proposal project that I THOUGHT I had also completed last year, and I THOUGHT was a short, easy task. I had about 24 hours to hand this project over to my supervisor so that she and her boss could review it and submit it in a reasonable timeframe. When I opened it up, I saw a 65-page document and realized this was NOT the same step in the process I was previously involved with.

I froze. Then I made the decision to approach it, because, well, it was due that day!

As I dove in, I realized I was getting a really solid handle on the project, very quickly. So I observed and took note of how I was doing this. And from this experience, I devised 5 steps to making tasks like this seem more approachable and more manageable.

1) Take a deep breath. This is important when your increased heart rate causes you to choose the “freeze” response instead of fight or flight - that’s my regular reaction, anyway. Remember: you’re about to DO these things. And as a result, the things will get done. That’s how it works.

2) Complete the tasks that come easy to do you. I like to plan to get my brain fired up and ready to execute that plan. The first concrete action I took was to lay out what I was going to do. I took stock of the sections I was responsible for, made a timeline for completion, and told my supervisor when I would have the document to her. Then I went through and simply updated the year, stats, and language that I knew off the top of my head. Planners, maintainers, closers are going to feel differently about their “easy” tasks, so listen to yourself (perhaps during step #1), to notice what DOESN’T feel like work, and do that thing.

3) Skip the hard things, but list them out. While doing your “easy” tasks, list out everything else that you know you need to do, choosing not to stress about it. While I was scanning through the text and replacing stats and information I KNEW, I kept another document open where I placed a running list of the “hard” pieces, things I wasn’t sure about and needed to dig for, and what I needed to ask my supervisor about. I didn’t pause to address any of those things yet because who knows what kind of rabbit hole some things can turn into!

4) You actually have to do the hard things. But by now you’re organized, you’re feeling like a super hero, you’re on a roll, and you probably feel like you have much more of a mental handle on the big, hard tasks that are to come. All of a sudden, it’s become much more manageable and you’re more motivated to get through it. Taking the time to get organized and ease yourself into the task ramps up your motivation to approach the harder parts.

5) Finesse. Save the last tweaks, updates, and perfecting for last. These are the changes that no one would really actually NOTICE if you walked away from it right now. Little edits and personal preferences. Do this last, rather than trying to perfect things while you’re stressed.

One last tip - build in breaks to walk around or do some stretches between steps, to let your body and mind know that you’re taking care of them while you ask them to perform for you. They’ll perform better if you care for them, trust me.

Then, just like that, you’re done! Drink some wine, or do what you do to reward yourself.

How did it go? Likely, you got through the first two steps and realize you feel invincible, because you’re currently DOING something you were telling yourself you couldn’t do just a short time ago.

I hope this works for you! Share your “easy” and “hard” tasks in the comments! I’m excited to hear your modifications to this process.

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