Work/Life Balance

4 Reliable Strategies That Help Me Tackle Big, Scary Projects

By | Monday, September 26, 2016



Taking six university classes means sometimes having six long-term projects happening at once, as well as dealing with the absolute chaos that comes with scheduling that type of deal. I’ve mentioned a bunch of different strategies I have for planning ahead and tips and tricks I’ve learned to effectively schedule myself and keep on-task when Netflix is such a convenient and available option. But before I can actually sit down to work at my desk and put any of these tips to use, there is some big-picture planning that needs to be done. Sure, I can put on classical music and get myself a carbonated or caffeinated (or both, please?) beverage to sip while I study or write, but that will mean nothing if I haven’t mapped out some sort of Project Completion Strategy to keep myself on a timeline and ensure that I get the dang thing done.

I have a few different strategies whenever a big, long-term assignment is handed to me, although the first (and arguably most important) step is telling myself (because I sometimes do need some convincing) that I can and will complete the project to the best of my ability. But what comes next?

This is how I outline every project I’m assigned to make sure I don’t fall into the (very fun and comfortable) trap of doing nothing until the last second and then freaking the fuck out.

1. Set realistic goals.

When I get handed a long-term assignment at school, I love to stare at the requirements for a minute and promise myself I’ll get it all done this week so I won’t have to think about it for the rest of the semester. Which obviously never happens, because life happens instead, and then I feel super disappointed in myself for setting a goal that I didn’t even come close to reaching, which puts me in a bad emotional headspace to begin the project with, and then I probably perform at a much lower level, or procrastinate even further to avoid dealing with a project I’ve already disappointed myself over. Don’t be like Mary. Definitely start sooner rather than later, and definitely set goals for yourself, but don’t set yourself up for failure by making promises to yourself that aren’t realistic — which pretty much goes hand in hand with my next point.

2. Cater your timeline to your life schedule, not the other way around.

An ideal project timeline would often mean working on a little piece of the thing every single day until it is eventually complete. However, this is not always consistent with the timeline of life. I love the idea of chipping away at one hour of work a day, but two days of my week are way busier than the other days, so when I have a big project to work on, I don’t usually schedule any of my project time for those days. It is important to schedule a flexible project timeline around your life to avoid disrupting the other stuff you’ll still have to get done and instead schedule your project to fit in seamlessly with your lifestyle.

3. Swiss cheese your task.

That is, poke holes in your project, whenever and wherever you can. For me, this usually happens in small ways, when I think of little things I can do with a spare few minutes here or there that will relieve me of doing this part of the project later. Sometimes, that just means opening up a Word document and writing my name and the title of the paper I’m writing, then saving it. Having the document prepped and ready for me to write is a little task, but having it done makes me feel like I’m chipping away at the project, even if it is happening slowly.

4. Set your own “due date” that is earlier than your actual due date.

Vow to have the project finished at least a few days before it is actually due to be finished. Do whatever you can to make sure you truly believe this fake deadline to be your real deadline. Having everything finished and ready to be handed in three or four days early gives you time to let people look it over for you, or make a few of those tiny changes you always realize should have been made the day after you hand a project in. Additionally, this means you get to act smug AF about the fact that you ~finished your work early~, which is always a huge bonus in my book.


It’s not a perfect system, but these four strategies help me complete big projects on time (and without losing my mind), even though I am definitely prone to putting them off. It’s all about knowing yourself, and getting ahead of your worst habits!

Mary writes every day for TFD and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at!

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