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The Secret To Completing An Overwhelming Project Effectively

The Secret To Completing An Overwhelming Project Effectively

You’ve just been assigned a monster project at work or school.

You’re feeling a bit intimidated and rightly so…there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.

Where do you begin? How can you ensure your work moves along at an even pace and doesn’t fall through the cracks?

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Here are seven tips that will help you take on that huge project like a productivity pro!

Plan slowly to move quickly.

Making plans before starting work on a project is always a good idea. An even better idea is to take the time to develop well-thought out and solid plans. Don’t just slap down a brief three-sentence plan and get to work! Get to the heart of your project by thinking about all the different components involved, including goals, targets, deliverables and tasks. Write down the general stages or sections for your project, and then work your way down to specific tasks. Create a first, second or third draft of your plans as necessary. The more thorough you are in your planning, the easier and quicker it will be to execute each specific task or item in future.

Build-in time for testing and reviewing.

Working on any project is difficult enough and you certainly don’t need the added stress of trying to find time for your project when you’re in the thick of things. As you develop your project’s plans, be sure to include time for you to test, review, proof and finalize your work or materials. Depending on the length and scope of your project, you may need to add in a couple of extra days, weeks or months. Even if you don’t use your time buffer for testing and reviewing purposes, you’ll still have the luxury of using this time to take care of any other loose ends related to your project.

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Define and accept when something is good enough.

While you should be proud of the work you produce, being overly nitpicky and obsessive about the quality of your work when it’s perfectly fine as is won’t be much help to you if it makes you miss a deadline! There really is such as thing as work being just “good enough.” Set specific guidelines as to the features or aspects your project must have as a finished project and quantify information where necessary. When your project has reached your guidelines, it’s time to stop working on it, no ifs, ands or buts.

Make a clear division of labor.

Projects can become unnecessarily complex and confusing when roles and responsibilities aren’t properly spelled out. Take into account the people who will actually be working on the project. Who are the project managers, supervisors and staff? What are their roles? What specific tasks are people responsible for? Who should people report to if there is an issue or concern? Be sure to review your notes a couple of times to make sure items are not duplicated, repeated, or improperly assigned. It might also be helpful to have someone else take a look your notes to make sure you didn’t forget or overlook something.

Ask for help when you need it.

Even the best worker needs a bit of help now and then. If you are in need of help during a project, don’t be afraid to be vocal about it! Be specific in your request including what type of help you need, when you’ll need the help, where you’ll need the help and so on. You should also be sure to keep in touch with your helpers to make sure they are completing the assigned tasks as directed and address any questions they may have.

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Keep communications clear.

Communication is key in any project. Lots of time can be wasted when information is misinterpreted, misread or misconstrued. Give instructions and directions in clear and simple terms so there’s no confusion. You should also strongly consider specifying communication methods people should use for a project, be it via in-person meetings, phone, text or email. This way, information can be communicated quickly and efficiently.

Document your progress.

You don’t have to create a full-blown status report each and every day as you are working on your project, but it is helpful to take general notes to track your progress. Write down what items have been completed, what issues came up as well as other concerns or snippets of information you’ve learned along the way. You’ll have a helpful reference tool to show you where you are in your project and how far you have to go until you complete it.

What concerns you the most when it comes to completing a large project? Leave a comment below.

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Featured photo credit: VFS Digital Design via flickr.com

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Rashelle Isip

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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