At a Glance: Get a handle on major projects and research papers by creating a series of small pieces and then plotting out deadlines for each step.
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It doesn’t matter how many research papers or end-of-year reports you have under your belt — big projects can still feel overwhelming. Just figuring out where to begin can make your head spin and pull you down the dreaded path of procrastination (which, of course, only makes matters worse).

While you can’t change the scope of your next big project, you can change how you approach it. One of the most effective ways to do that is by breaking down the beast into a series of small, manageable pieces, and then assigning each of those pieces its own mini deadline. Here’s how:

Step 1: Break it down

As soon as a big project lands in your lap, sit down and map out the individual pieces required to get you to your goal. Start by making a numbered list of each piece of the project. Take research papers, for example. The small pieces might be:

  1. Choose a topic
  2. Ask your instructor for feedback on your topic
  3. Narrow down the subject and create the objective or thesis
  4. Start gathering information and keeping notes
  5. Create a rough outline
  6. Write a rough draft
  7. Touch base with your instructor on your progress
  8. Edit the rough draft
  9. Write the final draft
  10. Polish and proof the final draft
  11. Submit the final draft

Step 2: Map it out

No more fear of deadlines — when you break them down, deadlines are a powerful and essential tool for reaching your goals. Once you’ve listed your small pieces, print out clean calendar pages that cover the time span between now and the day your project is due. Then, working backward from the due date, chart out specific “mini deadlines” for each piece along the way. For example, a month before a report needs to be on your boss’s desk, block out a day to gather the necessary data. A week prior to a big group presentation, reserve a morning to do a dry run through. One day prior to when a classroom writing assignment is due, make an appointment with yourself to spend 30 minutes proofreading.

Bonus tip: Try planning to give yourself a reward when you complete one of the more difficult sections of the project — maybe dinner out with your family or buying yourself a new shirt. Setting up a reward system might be a powerful tool to help you stay motivated!

You’ve planned the work; now work the plan. And get ready to enjoy a big project process that’s smoother than you ever thought possible.

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