I don’t know about you but I love to work on big projects. I love to work on big things. I get such a sense of pride and accomplishment when I finish them.

But I have two issues with it. For the first one, I start off really well-motivated, I’m eager. I’m keen, I dive on in and I start work on it. And yes, I get the bulk of it done really quickly. But that just triggers the 80/20 rule. That’s where 8% of the work is done in 20% of the time but the remaining 20% of the work takes 80% of the time. I quickly get demoralised when I hit this because I’ve done all the interesting stuff, I’ve done all the shiny stuff, and now I’m just doing those little tweaks, those little changes. It just gets me down.

The other issue I’ve got is some of my projects, when you write them down, sound really easy. An example here writing a novel sounds really simple doesn’t it but when you come to actually start working on it you realise how big, how difficult, and how hard it is. When that happens I go into panic mode, I freeze, and I end up doing nothing.

The way to counteract this is what I call “working on small things.”

Small things make a big difference. There’s that old saying, look after your pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.

The first thing I do with any project is to spend a short amount of time understanding what the project is going to be about. I then break it down into a series of smaller steps. This may take a few minutes, if it’s a really big project it could be a day or so.

Each step you’ve got is an endpoint. You may have a deadline. You may have a certain amount of functionality. You may have it to a certain stage of development. Spend a few minutes, come up with that plan, and come up with those smaller steps. Then all you’re going to do is work on smaller steps.

The smaller steps add up and deliver the big project.

One of the benefits of breaking down the project comes if you’ve got a team. If you’ve got people you can delegate to, breaking it down lets you think about it and farm out that work for other people. You’re no longer doing it yourself, you’re getting others to help with the project. Isn’t that a productivity booster already!

The other benefit of breaking it down into these smaller steps, with each step having a completion point you can turn them into reward points. We’ll cover them in a bit more detail shortly. The idea is you reward yourself for completing a step. Earlier we introduced writing a book. It’s nice and simple. it’s three little words. When you come around to doing it, when you sit down to start on the project, it’s so hard. How do three little words transform into a book?

If we break it down rather than trying to tackle the big project, we split its work into small steps. The small steps help us to achieve that big project. With writing the book, we may come up with some steps such as “create a broad outline for the book.” That’s easy, well I’m saying it’s easy obviously it isn’t, if not everyone would be writing them. But all it is saying is “I’m going to create an outline,” that’s my plot, not worrying about chapters, not worrying about character details, just what’s going to happen hand ow it’s going to happen.

Once you’ve done that, look at that outline and start to flesh out the details. By fleshing out the details, you come up with characters. You add a separate step to develop the characters. You come up with a series of chapters, you’ll have a separate step to talk about each of the chapters.

You’ve now got an outline. The next step is to work on the characters. You break this step down into a series of other smaller steps, which could be one step per character.

I’m taking big things and I’m using my time to think about what I’m trying to do. I’m splitting it down into small steps that are really easy to achieve. This way you can achieve something that is very hard. You do it by completing things that are very simple. You’re taking a big scary project, breaking it down and coming up with something that is easy to do.

I mentioned rewards. I think rewards are really important. These are ways of helping you to celebrate success, celebrate completing a step, and also boost your own motivation.

The reward doesn’t have to be big. It could be going for a walk, a bar of chocolate, a bottle of wine bottle or spirits, a night out, or a weekend away.

You don’t want to be doing big rewards for small steps. If you do a small step, give yourself that bar of chocolate. If you’ve completed a major milestone, that’s where you may think I’m going to have a weekend away.

Reward yourself, and yes I know you’re rewarding yourself but it still makes a difference.

If you’ve got a team this is even more important. When you reward a team it is a little bit harder. You need to get to know the person you’re rewarding. You need to know what kind of rewards they would appreciate. If you’re giving someone a reward that you think is nice but has no meaning to them, you’re not rewarding them, you could end up demotivating them. Think about the reward, think about the person, and try and match it closely.

An example here, I said earlier on about a bottle of wine. If you’ve got someone who’s teetotal, it’s pointless giving them a bottle of wine. If you’ve got someone who’s diabetic, do you want to give them chocolate or can you get some diabetic chocolate? Just think about it.

In summary, work towards the big things. But work towards the big things by working on small things. Small steps that you’ve planned, that you’ve thought about, will move you towards your goal, keep you motivated and enable you to grow your productivity.