We all have big projects that seem insurmountable and just so big that they get postponed indefinitely. I have them, you have them, we all have them. Sometimes, I have my s*** together and I tackle a project right away, get it done, and cross it off my to-do list. Other times, that project will languish for days, weeks, or even months. When this happens, the project hangs over my head like a dark cloud, sucking my energy.
So how do I eventually finish the project? Heck, how do I even start the project?
First, I take a page out of Gretchen Rubin’s book (literally) and identify the problem. Do I know how to start? Do I not think I have enough time to start? Do I have all the materials or information I need? What exactly is the holdup?
Second, I try to figure out the smallest step to solve the holdup. If I’m missing information, I’ll make a point to figure out that tiny bit of information – whether it’s calling someone on the phone, Googling it, or looking it up. If I’m missing materials, I’ll take stock of what I have and don’t have, then add what is missing to the shopping list (or Amazon cart). If I’m lacking time, I will identify the simplest, shortest step I can take and do that.
Third, I knock out that simplest, shortest step. If I have trouble moving on to the next step, I identify the next simplest, shortest step to take. I will iterate this as much as needed until I finish the project.
Real Life Examples
This is all very well and good, but how does this play out in real life? Here are 3 specific examples from my life currently/recently.
The first example is that I want to make some cute baby headbands for some little girl babies coming into my life soon. The steps to do this include going to my study, finding fabric, cutting fabric, making the headband design or flowers, sewing it all together, wrapping it up, and getting/making a card. This is a SUPER SIMPLE project (which is why I’m doing it), yet I can’t seem to do it. In this case, my hold ups are time and access. My study is upstairs, where I never go unless I specifically need something. So, in order to get the fabric, I have to intentionally go upstairs. Most evenings when I get home, I walk the dog, check on the chickens, exercise, shower, make dinner, and then we have a short time before we go to bed. I don’t particularly feel like getting everything out to make these little headbands and going through all the steps in one go. But, I need to get these done before Saturday. So, I make a point to just go upstairs to pick out the fabric. That’s it. A tiny step that will take less than 5 minutes. I happen to know (from experience) that I’ll also grab my cutting mat, rotary cutter, and sewing machine while I’m up there. However for some reason, the thought of getting those extra materials sounds like more effort than my brain wants to put in. Ergo, I only assign myself the task of picking out the fabric. That’s it.
My second example is for a bigger project: I am making a weighted blanket as a (very belated) birthday/graduation gift. I have all the materials, but it’s a big project. So, I break it down into the smallest steps just to get started. So far, I have gotten all the materials and washed the blanket fabric. I had trouble getting past washing the fabric, so I assigned myself to pin the blankets together. Not to actually sew anything together – just pin it together. Done! Then, the next smallest step…make sure I had the correct thread on the sewing machine. Done! After that, sew one side. Keep going if I had time. Done! As so on until I get the whole blanket made. One tiny step at a time.
My third example is doing our taxes. It seems to be pretty universal that nobody enjoys doing their taxes and so we tend to put it off and put it off and put it off. So what do we do in the Way household to fill out those forms? We do it one step at a time. We gradually collect our tax forms as they arrive in the mail or email. Then, I take a few minutes (or 20) to make sure that we have all the forms. If we do, then awesome! If we don’t, I make a list of what we still need and we go get them. Once we have everything, I put our forms in order. After that, they usually sit on the counter for several days. We eventually go through the forms and we write in the numbers on the little boxes. One step at a time. By breaking this tedious task into smaller steps, it’s easier to face and we get it all done. One bonus step that I do to help me out is to create a calendar reminder to ping me when I need to start going through the forms. That way, I automate the need to remember.
The key takeaway from this is identifying the smallest step you can take to complete a project you have. It might be small (making dinner or a small gift) or it might be large (doing your taxes or planning a party). If you have something that you’re putting off, remember:
- Identify the holdup.
- Identify the simplest, shortest step you can take to eliminate or get around the holdup.
- Repeat as needed until you have completed your task.