How to Make Progress on Big Projects

Last week, Molly Gage wrote about a new research study that found writing—specifically, writing a to-do list for the next day—can promote sleep. While it may be strange that tallying to-dos promotes sleepiness, it turns out that writing about as-yet-undone tasks is both relaxing and practical.
In fact, the utility of ending the day by planning for the next day should be obvious: it saves time and provides immediate focus when you sit down bleary-eyed in the morning.
This logic also holds true for big projects—especially big writing projects. Projects that require days, weeks, or months can become all-consuming and feel overwhelming. It’s easy to get decision fatigue and lose sight of the big picture, which then paralyzes our ability to make real progress.
But there are some simple, practical tactics to avoid this seemingly inevitable loss of productivity—namely, by ending each day planning for the next.
1. Each day, take quick stock of what you’ve accomplished. It helps to note progress, however slight! (And remember, even discovering roadblocks is a kind of progress.)
2. Check in with the overall project timeline. If you’re off track, what resources do you need to get back to where you need to be?
3. Make that to-do list for tomorrow. Take special note of the first thing you’re going to do when you sit down, so that you can be off and running without having to think about it.
4. Write it all down! There’s something magical about committing your ideas to paper (or screen)–studies have put hard data to the fact that writing down goals makes us more likely to achieve them.
This kind of “parking downhill,” as our writing consultant friends like to call it, works. It helped me finish my dissertation in my graduate school days of yore, and it helps me now when I’m working on big client projects.
Give it a try. It may give your productivity (and your sleep) a boost.