Have you ever had a big project to do – whether it was at home, at work, for volunteer purposes, or for school – for which you had no idea what the first step should be?
Yeah, I have a lot of times. Most of the time, actually, when a project is handed to me.
Recently, I’ve battled this twice in the last few months; one for work, one for school. My afternoons were spent staring dumbly at a blank Microsoft Word page wondering where I should start, and how I was going to iron this all out by the due date.
After scrambling at the last minute to put together something that resembled what the project was supposed to look like, I learned my lesson and found a way to ensure productivity.
A few things have been successful get me going on a project and provide clarity. Here is how I’d recommend tackling them:
Make Yourself A Table Of Contents
As a first step in any project, I’ve learned to map out a Table of Contents. Even if you don’t need a Table of Contents in the project, pretend that you do. Pretend that the project is a manual, guide, or a long document of some sort. Make yourself a Table of Contents, or an outline, of whatever it is that you need to do.
This is a mapping tool, and it is really helpful in envisioning where you are going with the project. It gives you the structure that is needed when you don’t know how to start on something.
It doesn’t have to be formal, and you don’t have to have the titles in the right order. This is just a tool to help you envision the project.
Make A Bulleted List
Ask yourself “What do I know about this project?”. Start writing things down. They could be words, phrases, calculations, whatever. Copy and paste links into a document. Make a list of all the things that relate to the project.
I even put words in the list, fleeting thoughts or things that I don’t think that I will need to write down. More often than not, if I tell myself that I’ll remember something instead of writing it down, I’ll forget it and be kicking myself for not putting the idea on paper.
The list doesn’t have to be organized yet, because the idea is to just get everything down.
Organize The List
After making the list, organize it into sub topics. Say your project is to make a training program for the person replacing you in your position when you leave. Organize the list that you just made into subtopics which will make the list easier to read.
This will help organize the list in your brain too, and can help create the work flow process.
If you are a visual person, you can make a flow chart or even just create a post-it note for each subtopic.
Start With The Easy Stuff
After you do the table of contents and organize the list, you may have a clear idea of where the project needs to go and what you need to do on it, but you still may be stuck as to where to start.
If this is the case, pick a place. Any place. Start with the tasks that seem easy. When starting project that I have to present in a report-type form, I tend to start with the introduction. It’s easy, and it sets the tone for the rest of the report. If I’m starting a huge, hands-on project at work, I start with the smallest, most basic thing that I need to do.
This could even just be printing off reports I need, or setting page numbers if it’s a written report, or getting my office supplies ready. Once you get started, you may find that the momentum will keep you going.
Book Time To Finish It
If I`m working on a project and it has competing priorities, I find it extremely helpful to book off some time to just focus on the project.
Not only does that put me in the mindset of that particular project, but I won`t be blindsided by due dates that are creeping up fast than I`d bargained for.
How do you know where to start when it comes to big projects?