Here you are: Your anxiety is building. You’ve put it off for weeks, only contributing to the sense of impending doom. Finally, there it is in front of you, The Big Project — capital “B,” capital “P.”
You’ve been staring at it all day and all night, only finding yourself yet another day behind on your timeline because you have no idea how to tackle this mountain.
What if is wasn’t a mountain?
What if you could just chip away at it and make several easy little hills to traverse until you meet the finish line?
Learning to break down huge obstacles is an act of self-care that is sometimes easier said than done. Occasionally, you have to call in the help of others to help you step back and see the big picture, break it down, and allocate time and ideas to each task or activity.
Figuring out this life skill is an act of self-care, even though it may feel like a lot of work. It’s important to remember that not all acts of self-care are just about immediate relaxation or indulgences. Sometimes you have to put the time and effort into creating better habits and behaviors to prevent yourself from drowning in anxiety and overdue deadlines, as well as the unfortunate consequences that come with them.
Need a little help? Here are a few tips to break down your next Big Project so that you can save yourself a bit (or a lot!) of stress.
1. Break The Project Into Standalone Tasks.
If you were building a house, you wouldn’t try to do things all at once. The same should go for any large project. Figure out what the foundation is and build out from there. Select the bits of the project that make sense to stand alone or be grouped together.
You can start with the infrastructure of your project. What has to be done before you can move further? Is there research that has to happen before you can write or act beyond it?
2. Prioritize Tasks.
What are the building blocks of your project? What must you complete before you can move to the next step? Once you have a solid grasp of the importance of each part of the project, you can begin to arrange the tasks in order of what must be done in order to reach the next goal.
If you are working with others as a team, this is an excellent time to hone in on each person’s strengths and interests. Where will your strengths shine brightest throughout the project? If you’re on your own, think about your strengths and plan a little extra time around your weaker points.
Once you have these tasks arranged, it’s time to put them on your calendar in manageable mini-projects.
3. Ask Yourself: What Does “Manageable” Mean For You?
GradHacker has a golden nugget of advice: not everyone’s idea of useful or manageable is the same. Some folks live out of their Google Calendar, whereas others need a good old pen-and-paper planner in order for them to commit it to memory and carry it with them. Keep in mind what you can realistically get done in one day; having too much space in the calendar may actually cause you to over-schedule your tasks and just feel worse (and consequently uninspired) when you can’t tick each of those tasks off of your list for the day.
The idea is that if you don’t overplan, you aren’t overwhelmed and may actually be able to meet your goals for the day. It’s great to have high aspirations, but only if you can actually meet your needs in the process. If those aspirations are too daunting, you need to give yourself realistic goals.
4. Build Extra Time Into Each Task
When breaking down your project and building out your schedule, allocate a bit of wiggle room into your calendar. When you know you’ve got wiggle room, you can trust yourself to complete the tasks and not stress should you occasionally miss the small deadline. As you calendar each task, think about what will be a breeze for you and what will require a little extra time. Plan accordingly.
If there is built in space, then it’s okay if you miss it by a day. Bad days happen, as well as sick days and the need for a little mental health time. When you don’t push the deadline to the very last minute, you have the wiggle room for the curve balls that life occasionally throws at you.
5. Embrace Helpful Apps
Sometimes technology can be overwhelming and distracting, but often it can truly help you manage your time and thoughts. Helpful apps like Trello are great for project management of any sort — from creative endeavors to school or the workplace.
Once you learn how to break projects into smaller tasks, the seemingly impossible becomes a series of realistic goals that you can meet. You can do it, no matter how hard it may seem.