Maybe you’re writing a screenplay or novel. Maybe you’re trying to get in shape for the first time in years. Maybe you’re sifting through thousands of Google Images of “giant burgers” to try and find the right one to put at the top of your blog post.
Huge projects always feel overwhelming, daunting, and exhausting, but there are easy ways to trick your brain into believing you’ll reach your goal…
I’ve spent the past year working on a massive project (big announcement/shameless plug coming soon!), and I definitely feel buried and stressed at times, but these methods help to keep me feeling (mostly) productive and optimistic…
- Chop It Up
Writing a screenplay seems impossible. I’ve written five, and I’m still pretty sure it’s impossible. But what about writing one page? Or fleshing out a character’s backstory? Or making a list of alternate endings? That sounds doable. In fact, it sounds like you could do it in a day. And that’s a great place to start.
At the start of each day, I make a to-do list beginning with a task I know I can finish that day, and ending with a larger task that I want to finish by the end of the week. It isn’t about seeing how much work I can complete in one day, it’s about making sure I finish at least one task every single day. If your only goal is to write a screenplay, it will be a very long time before you reach your goal. The longer you go without getting a sense of accomplishment, the more frustrated and hopeless you get, and the more likely you are to quit.
Don’t write a screenplay. Write a one or two page synopsis of your story. The next day, write the outline. The next day, write the first scene, and so on. If you can’t write a scene a day, then make your goal to write a single page. If you’re ever feeling burnt out or blocked along the way, give yourself a goal of reviewing what you’ve already written, and noting places to make improvements. Eventually, all of those small tasks add up to one big screenplay, and what used to seem impossible, now just seems like the natural result of doing a little bit each day. Dividing a huge task into a bunch of attainable small tasks makes you feel like a productive overachiever, which constantly feeds back into your confidence, willpower, and determination to finish what you started.
- Switch It Up
Being productive is great, but it doesn’t always protect you from being bored or outright miserable. Part of the trick to completing a big project is making every step as enjoyable as possible, and part of that is giving yourself the freedom to break your new routine. Most people view a big endeavor as all or nothing. If you want to get in shape, you need top go on a strict diet, and exercise every day, and vary your exercises to maximize your results, etc. If you want to write a screenplay, you need to read and write every day, and you need to build on what you wrote the day before, and when you get stuck, you need to tie yourself to the chair and bang your head against the wall. It’s true that going all in is the quickest way to see results and reach your goal, but don’t feel bad if it isn’t for you.
Finishing a huge project isn’t about trying to be as fast as possible with maximum efficiency. It’s about not quitting. And if you repeatedly force yourself to do things you don’t like, sooner or later you’ll get sick of it and quit. If you’re sick of the treadmill, ride a bike. If you’re sick of cardio, lift weights. If you’re sick of trying to figure out a scene, skip ahead to the next one. If you’re sick of writing dialogue, work on your plot. If you’re sick of writing, read a script from a movie you like to see what you can learn from it. And yes, you’re allowed to take a day off from writing. Maybe even two. Not three though. Three is too many.
When you’re facing down a monstrous project, it’s easy to find excuses not to start, and even easier to find reasons to quit. People who finish big projects aren’t always the most talented, or the ones with the best ideas. They’re the ones who’ve found that setting small goals, and making those goals as interesting and enjoyable as possible, keeps you moving forward until all of the small things turn into something big.
Don’t be afraid of having gigantic goals, and taking on impossible projects. Just figure out one small step you can take tomorrow to make it just a little less impossible. Write it down. Finish it. Cross it off. Do it again the next day. And always remember that the only thing that can stop you from finishing is quitting.
Here’s one last bullet point…
- Don’t Give Up!
And one more picture of a big hamburger.