How to Stay Motivated on Big Projects

When you’re working on something big, you often start off with great intentions … only to find your motivation gradually slipping away.

Whether you’re studying for a qualification, tackling a mammoth project at work, or writing a book in your spare time, you’re only going to succeed if you can stay motivated. (That’s particularly true of goals where you haven’t got a boss/parent/mentor checking up on you…)

So, here’s how to keep going:

Step #1: Break Your Project into Small Chunks

If you get a little way towards your goal then flounder, there’s a good chance that you’ve not broken your project into sensible chunks or milestones.

Sometimes, your project is already segmented for you – for instance, if you’re studying a degree program, you’ll have a certain number of classes that you need to take in order to graduate. You might want to create a list of these and put it in a prominent place, so you can cross off each one as you complete it.

Other times, you need to come up with meaningful divisions. Maybe you’re trying to write a book. Your “chunks” could be individual sections or chapters – or specific pieces of research that you need to complete.

Do it: Even if you’re not sure of all the steps to get to your goal, write down the next five major ones. You might want to add a deadline – make it a bit challenging, but realistic.

Step #2: Take the Time to Learn – and Implement

Whatever your goal is, you’ll get there faster if you spend some time learning things that can help you. And the more you learn, the more confidence (and hence motivated) you’ll be.

  • If you’re writing a book, get a good “how to” guide to help you
  • If you’re taking a qualification, learn about good study techniques
  • If you’re preparing to deliver a big presentation, take some public speaking classes

Don’t fall into the trap of learning without doing, though. I see this a lot with would-be writers who’ll read about writing – or attend courses and seminars – but who rarely finish work on an article or a short story. Every time you learn something new, look for ways to apply it to your project.

Do it: Find one good book or website that can help you. As you read it, jot down any ideas, questions or new tasks that relate to your project.

Step #3: Keep the Big Picture in Mind …

Whatever your project is, you’re probably motivated by the end result. You’re thinking of how great it will be to see your book in stores, or to get that qualification which will help you take your career to the next level.

Don’t lose sight of that big picture. It can be hard to stay motivated when the tasks on your list seem relatively mundane – editing a chapter of your book, for instance, or memorizing some facts before an exam. Create a reminder of your ultimate goal to keep you going.

Do it: Find an image that represents your goal. Keep it somewhere visible – you could set it as the wallpaper on your computer, or put it in your wallet.

Step #4: … But Focus on One Piece While You’re Working

Once you sit down to work on your project, you need to mentally “zoom in” to look at just one piece. If you keep on thinking about the whole finished thing, it can be hard to concentrate on what you need to do right now – and you might start to get overwhelmed.

For each “chunk” of your goal, write down specific action steps, like “read article X” or “write section Y”. Focus on one of these at a time, and don’t let yourself get distracted. If you can see yourself making clear progress, you’ll stay motivated.

Do it: Write down three – five tasks that will help you meet your next project milestone.

What project(s) are you working on right now? Have you got any motivational tips to share? If so, let us know in the comments!

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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