How to Tackle Big, Boring or Complex Projects

by Marie on January 10, 2013 · 6 comments

There are times when an assignment or project, either at work or at home, is just so big, so boring, or so scary that you just can’t get motivated to get it done.Here are 8 tips on how to tackle those projects.

Take that first step.

You have all heard the saying, “The longest journey starts with a single step”.  How about that great advice that Mary Poppins, the nanny, gave to her charges to get them to clean up the nursery? “Well begun is half done”

So, when you have a boring thing to do, just start – promise yourself just to work on it for a few minutes – whether it is figuring out a project at work, cleaning the house or bringing peace to all human kind – just get it started. You will feel great about it and probably want to keep working on it.

If you don’t start, you will NEVER finish.

Work on the project for a short period each (and every) day.

Do the project a piece at a time, but do it persistently over time.

When I needed to re-paint the boy’s bedrooms – I first had to sand the walls down. Both rooms were huge and had great high ceilings. The prior owner had let their daughters dip a brush in paint and the fling the paint drops onto the walls – as a means of decorating them. The paint splatters stuck out and I could see no way (short of replacing all the wallboard) to make the walls smooth enough to paint over without sanding.

It was a very boring job – standing on a ladder, using my little mouse sander with fine grit sandpaper. At first I tried sanding all day both weekend days, but soon tired of that routine! Since I wasn’t in a big hurry to get it done, I set myself to sand for 20 minutes each and every day – I even used a timer.

The 20 minutes was manageable in my schedule and I can stand most things for that short of a period. The rooms both got done and now look great to me.

Work the project task by task.

Most pieces of work can be lined out as linear tasks to do. Instead of thinking about the entire assignment, pick out one small task and get it done. Again, do that every day. The small tasks you accomplish add up to a finished whole.

When hubby retired, one of his goals was to re-work the entire landscape on our 6+ acres. The fields were overgrown with brush, many trees were dead but standing and he had a picture in mind of new plantings he wanted on the acreage.

Each day since retiring, he has surveyed the landscape, picked out a task that could be accomplished in a few hours or a couple of days, and then just did that task.

Break your project into smaller, simpler tasks.

If you have a huge and impossibly complex project to do, instead of freaking out about how in the heck you can get it done, spend the time figuring out how to break the work down into smaller pieces that you can wrap your arms around.

At work, I was the project manager of an enormous (a hundred thousand staff hours) legacy mainframe computer transaction processing system re-design. Everyone in the company was scared of it, as it involved the meat of the system. Everyone in the company had a different idea of what should or should not change.

No one person knew exactly what the old legacy system actually did and we absolutely positively could not add any execution time to the batch processing. Monetary penalties would ensue if we broke multiple client contractual processing requirements.

To get started on the project, we broke the system into conceptual areas – for example, an area for retirement plan transaction entry, another area for automated clearing house transaction processing and etc. Then we called in company experts (luckily they were still with us at the time) for each area – to describe what is done today, what problems exist and what the future held for that area. We developed a high level plan with all of the pieces and then tacked the pieces up on a wall to start playing with them, to re-arrange the flow or review the process involved. From there we came up with a sound high level design that could then be sectioned out and details filled in.

Keep the big picture in mind as you work – what is the end result?

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People author put it succinctly as: “Begin with the end in mind”.

If you are a factory worker, putting in one little piece of a car and are so very bored with just putting in that one little piece – think about what you are making! You make it possible for all of us to hop into a cushy, comfortable, computer controlled, fast and powerful automobile. Because of what you do, we are able to travel enormous distances in relatively short periods of time. There is nothing boring about that!

Spice up the chore.

Do something a bit different, out of the ordinary to make it more interesting for yourself and others. If you are writing technical documentation, for instance, throw in a bit of humor or some unexpected illustrations.

If you are conducting meetings at work, bring some toys for the participants to use to release their creative juices. I used things such as play dough, small bouncy balls, spinners and etc in my meetings at work when I wanted fresh ideas from my staff.

Make a contest of your work.

Hubby’s work involved processing benefit cases and he had a quota to fill. He made it interesting by seeing how many work items over the quota he could complete with a certain degree of accuracy.

Once when checking out at Walmart, the store associate let me know that he was timing himself – making a game of trying to get faster at checking customers out.

Do a bet or a contest with a coworker on who can do the most the best or the fastest.

Reward yourself.

Remember the Mary Poppins song – “Just a Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down”? It works! Try rewarding yourself as you reach the milestones along the way to getting that big, boring, complex job completed.

What do you do to get through unappealing work?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 krantcents January 10, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I usually break down big projects into smaller tasks too. You get this feeling of accomplishment every time you complete a task. I would create rewards too particularly for the projects I did not really want to do. The reward could be just taking it off the list, lunch out, or some other reward.


2 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues January 10, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Thanks for the confirmation krantcents! I too believe that just taking it off the list – or checking it off as done is a reward.


3 Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin January 11, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I like breaking my projects up into small pieces and as you stated work on that persistently over time. This method is what I use the majority of the time professionally and personally as well. All great points!


4 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues January 11, 2013 at 5:30 pm

That goes along nicely with your handle – Brick by brick!


5 KK @ Student Debt Survivor January 13, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Breaking things down is helpful. I tend to want to do everything at once and plow through with no breaks, which isn’t always the best strategy and leaves me feeling burnt out. Depending on the task I like to take little breaks to listen to music or go for a walk. I love the play doh idea!


6 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues January 14, 2013 at 9:37 am

I picked up that play dough idea in a class at work on getting teams to be more creative.


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