4 tips to stop putting those big projects off

It’s 1:00 a.m. and you’re sitting bleary-eyed and exhausted in front of your computer screen. You’re putting the finishing touches on that assignment you’ve known about for several weeks, but just kept pushing off until “tomorrow.” Now, “tomorrow” has arrived, and your procrastination means you’re left to crank out hours of work at the very last minute.

Don’t feel bad—we’ve all been there. Sometimes those larger projects can seem so daunting, we would rather just keep shoving them to the back burner than tackle them head-on.

But, we all know that unwillingness to jump in ends with those late, stressful nights and ultimately causes even more headaches. So are you ready to end the cycle and stay on top of those assignments? Here are four actionable tips you can use.

1. Remember the misery

First things first, take a few minutes to reflect on the last time you saved a big project for the eleventh hour. But beyond just remembering that terrible assignment that caused those late nights, think back to how stressed and anxious you felt trying to complete it in a compressed time frame.

It wasn’t fun, right? Take that feeling and store it in the back of your mind. The next time you’re tempted to push something further down your to-do list, return to that emotion. The memory of that frazzled state should provide at least a little inspiration to get started.

2. Set milestones

I understand the tendency to push those huge projects off. When you only look at the big picture, it can seem unmanageable. Forgive the cliché, but it’s time to stop looking at the whole forest and just look at the trees.

What exactly does that mean? Break that large assignment into smaller goals and milestones so that it feels less overwhelming. Beyond that, identifying those mini to-dos inside of a larger project also gives you a strategic action plan—you’ll know just what you need to get started on, rather than feeling aimless.

3. Tackle it first

Now that you know what tasks need to happen in order to complete the project, it’s time you put them at the very top of your to-do list. Start each day with one of those project-related duties—yes, even if you’re dreading it.

This is effective for a couple of reasons. First, it gets that loathed task out of the way immediately, meaning you can move on without it nagging at you. Secondly, it’s sure to make you more motivated to conquer the rest of your day—after all, the worst is already over. Force yourself to complete those smaller tasks one by one, and you’re sure to steadily chip away at that big assignment.

4. Reward your achievements

OK, now here’s the fun part. Sometimes nothing inspires you like a little reward. So go ahead and treat yourself when you manage to cross one of those big tasks off your list.

The key to making a reward system effective is finding something that works for you. Maybe you need something restriction-based like not allowing yourself a second mug of coffee until you’ve addressed that dreaded to-do. Or maybe it’s more incentive-based, like treating yourself to dinner at your favorite restaurant when that project is finished once and for all. Identify something that will truly motivate you, and it’s sure to kick your ambition up a notch.

We’re all guilty of pushing those big projects off until “tomorrow.” And that usually feels like no big deal—until “tomorrow” eventually arrives. If you tackle those seemingly overwhelming assignments piece by piece, they end up being far less daunting and much easier to manage. Put these four quick tips to work, and say goodbye to those stressful all-nighters.