Q&A: How to start working on big projects

One of my email subscribers, Alyssa, recently asked me:

I'm trying to increase both the amount of things I can get done in a work day and the quality of the things I get done.

I specifically get really bogged down and hazy with long term projects. I'm good with a large amount of small tasks, but when there's a large project that spans over an extended period of time (specifically when it's something a little outside of my comfort zone) I get overwhelmed on dispersing the time and also knowing where to start.

There are a few questions here, so let's unpack this a bit.

For starters, I think Alyssa is thinking about her productivity in the right way. Quantity and quality are very similar to how I typically think of productivity in terms of effectiveness and efficiency.

When working on big projects, I like to tackle these by firstly breaking down and dissecting the project into all the smaller tasks that need to be completed. Then go through the process of time blocking to work out when you're going to work on the specific tasks. I often find it helps if you start at the end (i.e. when you'd like to have the project finished by) and work backwards. If you don't want to be as specific as planning when to work on specific tasks, you can add blocks of time to your calendar to show when to work on the project in general.

I've been doing this recently with a mini-project that I've been working on. I'm redesigning my consulting packages and over the last month or so, I've dedicated a few hours each week to planning the new format. I simply add an appointment to my calendar each week that shows when I'm going to work on the project. Becuase this project doesn't have a due date, I've been chipping away at it a little bit each week.

Don't even worry about where to start. Just start. I'll often start a project by brain-dumping the tasks and my ideas down in Asana or using a mindmap. Start on something easy, even if it's not the best thing to start on, and that little bit of progress will quickly grow and add momentum to the project. The brain-dumping exercise itself is a way of starting the project and you'll often your motivation building after you've spent a little bit of time planning things out.