I love tools and tips. I can spend hours reading how to be more productive, become a better leader, save more money, manage my time wisely, work smarter and faster, etc. I’m an improvement junkie.
The problem is, when it comes to an actual project, I can spend more time reading and thinking about it than actually doing it. Can you relate?
It’s so easy to get lost in the details, the planning, the worst-case scenarios, the over thinking. It can be overwhelming. And stressful. Due dates pile up and deadlines loom, but you start and stop, get sidetracked, start over, or start somewhere else.
So how can you gain clarity in this muddle? Where do you actually start?
Begin with the end in mind.
That’s a catchy phrase from a chapter of Steven Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. But it works. You need to know where you want to go. Mind map; chart a course. Plot it out on paper. Or on a calendar. Whatever works best for you, but get it down and make it tangible. Tell yourself: This is what success looks like, this is what the finished product will be.
Break it down. Check it off.
Once you’ve got the end, the final product firmly established, break down the process. What specific things do you need to do in order to arrive at the finish? Divide these into manageable daily and/or weekly tasks. Create a timeline and deadlines. Measure your progress regularly.
And if you stall, don’t wallow. It’s important to do something, to keep moving. Revisit your map, remind yourself of the end goal, adjust tasks when necessary, and take the next step. You don’t want to lose your momentum.
End with the beginning in mind.
When you’re wrapping things up for the day, ask yourself what comes next. What needs to happen first thing tomorrow? Write it down. If possible, lay out what you’ll need, so you can kick into gear immediately. Having a defined starting point reduces stress, uncertainty, and aimless shuffling.
Another way to look at it is to stop while you’re going good, when you know exactly what to do next. Hemingway had some good advice on this point:
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”
Taking these steps can help you avoid procrastination, confusion, and burn out. Plotting your project from end to beginning and beginning to end will keep you on course and moving toward your destination.
What About You?
Do you freeze up when you’re overwhelmed with a project? How do you keep yourself productive and on track?