Tricks to tackling that large, complicated project you've been procrastinating

Do you ever feel like you just can’t get going on a big project that is looming over you like Mount Everest? It seems to grow larger by the day. You know you’re procrastinating but don’t know how to get moving on it. Sound familiar?
I can be the Princess of Procrastination; watering my plants when I know I should be writing my weekly column, or answering emails when I know I should be working on a project that is due at the end of the month. 
Here are some tricks I use to get started on a project:
  • Create a loose outline of the project. Write the outcome I want at the top of the page and list the big chunks of work it will take to complete the work. Write a brainstormed list of tasks under each big chunk. Then I walk away. While I’m doing other things, that list begins to percolate in my mind all by itself. Whether I’m in the shower or driving, the outline begins to gel. Invariably, I think of something I forgot and I add it to the list. Pretty soon, I find myself finalizing my outline and--Voila! -- I have a project plan.
  • Start with the easiest and shortest task. I don’t have much luck starting with the biggest and most important. I find I have to back into the big stuff. If I start with something small, I find that it often leads me into the bigger part of the project almost as if I’m pulled there by some magic force. And if there are two or three smaller, easier parts to do, this nibbling gets me there faster.
  • A similar mind trick I use with myself is the “I’ll only work on it for an hour” game. I look at the clock and determine what time I will stop. It seems short and sweet and so doable. So I dig in and, more often than not, by the time I check the clock again, it’s two or even three hours later. This works best when I’m working in the late afternoon or evening. That way, I won’t be interrupted and an hour can turn into three.
  • I use others to get me jump started, too. If I delegate a part of the project—say, some research on a topic—that will not only give me a little peace of mind that at least something is being done, but it forces me to act on the information that comes back to me. This doesn’t work for all projects but for those with background work, it gets me going every time.
  • Call me a donkey, but the old carrot and stick work for me. I’ll set up a simple reward and tell myself, “If you get x done, you can go run that (fun) errand.” I use this when I find I’m running errands, going to the gym, cleaning the house and I think “Whoa! What am I doing? It puts the brakes on my procrastination and makes me sit down and do it.
  • If you’re like me, you get more done before you go on vacation than during any other week of the year. Sometimes if I have a fun weekend planned or I have a few days off, that trick will work for me. “I don’t want this hanging over my head all weekend. I want to have a guilt-free, light feeling, so I’m going to get some of this done before I go.”
Am I the only one who has to wrestle with my own brain, to fool myself into action on big projects? Maybe you have no problem getting your engine started, or you have different tricks that work for you. I’d sure like to hear about them. Email your ideas to me and I’ll share them with others who need a kick start.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
About Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd & Associates provide
FREE subscription to receive Joan's article by email

Email Joan to submit your question for consideration for publication, request permission to reprint an article for distribution, or for information about carrying Joan Lloyd's weekly column in your publication, or on your Internet or Intranet site. Visit to search an archive of more than 1700 of Joan's articles.
© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.