Around this time last year, I was posting my first Thought (see Thought #1: Conquer the Fear of Completion), rebounding from a failed attempt to flee the country, and settling into a new job at City College of San Francisco. In the midst of all this transition, I was also avoiding the culminating project for my master’s degree, which had been nagging at me for over a year.
Then early on January 28th, Graduate Studies finally sent me the congratulatory email that I had been anxiously awaiting since I submitted the final draft of my culminating project in November, closing out the largest and most complex project I’ve ever attempted and validating a significant chapter of my life.
Aside from completing my culminating project, my blog, Thoughts, has survived its first year of publication, my business has grown and created opportunities for me to consult with great non-profit and private clients, and I’ve learned a lot about what I want and how I can be valuable to young people and professionals who are seeking access to college and fulfilling careers. With my culminating project and Grad School officially behind me, I’m excited for my next big projects: securing a gig as an English Instructor and expanding the Critical Thinkers’ catalog of online boot camps.
For Thought #17, which is coincidentally the first Thought of 2017, I wanted to re-visit the fear of completion and share some new insights on how to conquer big, intimidating projects that I’ve learned in 2016. The following are 6 tips to conquer the fear of completion in 2017.
Breakdown the Task
Big projects are a huge source of anxiety, and it’s hard figuring out how to break down large tasks into manageable pieces. Fortunately, I have a three-step process to break down any project and Get’er done.
The first step is to visualize the final product. In order to visualize what my project needed to look like, I had to take the time to gather information about a couple of key things, such as the purpose, content requirements, and style and tone (if writing). Once you have this information, then proceeded to the second step, which is to establish a timeline and milestones. In terms of my culminating project, chapters became the milestones that measure my progress and success.
The third step is to create smaller tasks that you can you use to generate easily accomplishable daily to-do lists. For me, reading and summarizing one article per day became a daily to-do list item while I focused on completing the literature review chapter of my project. Breaking down a task into smaller and more manageable pieces, such as reading and summarizing one article per day, is a great way to practice discipline and keep yourself motivated.
Not Perfect, but Complete
Big or important projects can be overwhelming. When you’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. When you get stuck in a rut, it’s easy to lose steam. When you lose steam, your progress is probably going to stall. When your progress stalls, you never complete your project, which is not good; however, the solution is simple: Get’er done!
The feeling of being overwhelmed is often the result of a lack of clarity. When you find yourself overwhelmed, ask yourself how good of a grasp you have on the scope and deliverables of your project. If there are any specific requirements outlined, prioritize meeting those requirements first – focus your attention on refining and perfecting your work last.
Furthermore, our estimation of good work and bad work is sometimes misguided or incorrect, so feedback is critical. The sooner and more you produce means the more opportunity for valuable feedback and revision – look at the acknowledgments section of An academic book, and you’ll learn that masterpieces are often the result of shitty first drafts and a healthy portion of peer review and revision.
Practice Discipline & Motivation
Discipline and motivation are tough – that’s a fact. Still, discipline and motivation are required to conquer the fear of completion and successfully complete any project.
According to Life Hack (see 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick), consistency is key in getting any new habit to stick. After you’ve broken down your project into smaller more manageable tasks, consistently completing those tasks is key. In my case, checking readings off my to-do list helped me to monitor my progress, plus it was extremely motivating to see the project shrinking as I check items off my to-do list and complete milestones.
Self-Evaluation is Key
A habit I picked up after years of working for Seven Tepees Youth Program is evaluation. After any event or trip, the staff would come together and evaluate the project. We used a simple Positives & Deltas evaluation format where we would list project successes and areas for improvement, which I find to be a balanced and easy approach to evaluation. Plus, it’s easily adaptable to self-evaluation.
As you hit each of your project milestones, consider what went well and what could’ve gone better. I can guarantee that this process will be illuminating and help you identify your strengths and areas where you need more support or improvement.
Fearlessly Advocate for Yourself
Sometimes life places roadblocks in the way of you completing a project. These roadblocks sometimes come in the form of people or imposing institutions. When this happens, throwing in the towel and calling it quits might seem appealing, but it’s necessary to advocate for yourself.
Completing projects requires proactive risk management. Build dealing with bureaucracy and other barriers to project completion into your contingency plans because nobody is going to advocate more on your behalf than you.
Keep Making Moves
Good things come to those who move. No matter what life throws your way, keep making moves. If you make it your goal to complete one task, big or small, every day, that will move you forward towards a goal or aspiration, and your efforts won’t be in vain.
Just because you stall on a project, that doesn’t mean that your entire life has to come to halt. Conventional wisdom says complete one project at a time; however, I say never put all your eggs in one basket and try to keep your eye on the bigger picture. If fortune gifts you an opportunity that excites you, take it! Alternately, if something doesn’t excite you, say no. Whatever you do, however, don’t be still.
If you enjoyed Thought #17, be sure to like or leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you! Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website to get notified of new posts.