Keeping motivated when a project seems to last forever…

Published: January 25, 2019

Are you someone who thrives on deadlines? I often find that urgent projects or projects with a definitive end date tend to awaken my inner productivity guru; I consider myself an organised person, but when the pressure of an impending deadline hits I find myself able to schedule my days more effectively down to the smallest chunks in order to clear the task quickly and efficiently and to the high standard I demand of myself.  Apparently, I’m not alone in this.  In the book ‘Work Less, Do More: The 14-day productivity makeover’, author Jan Yager claims that deadlines ‘help us by bestowing active status on a project and assigning it a tangible date to which we are committed, rather than allowing the task to fall into an open ended morass’. 

Evidence suggests that personal effort into the completion of a task can sometimes reduce if an individual is given a long or open-ended timescale in which to complete it.  This idea is highlighted by Parkinson’s law, which states that ‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for it’s completion’.  Motivation and effort levels appear to reduce as the perceived ‘deadline’ gets further away, a feeling that I can definitely relate too!  Some non-urgent tasks appear on my daily or weekly ‘to-do’ list for months before I finally get round to doing them, and even then they may not be completed in a timely manner. 

So what kind of tasks fall victim to the open-ended target deadline? These tasks tend to be primarily personal business projects, or could occasionally be ‘wish list’ tasks from a customer who is happy for you to work on them when you have the opportunity, but doesn’t need them turned around within the usual timescale.  However, despite their lack of urgency, some of these jobs could prove to be incredibly valuable to your business, so I’ve collated a few tips to help you complete those long, lingering tasks before the turn of the next millennium…

1.) Attribute a financial value to your task – if a task is for a client, then work out how many hours it is going to take you and think about the total value of that project to your business; it might be a one-off, but if a client has agreed to investing in your time in order to complete the project, it’s worth setting some time aside to complete it! That few hundred pounds extra in the business bank account could really help out in a quiet month.  If the task if for your own business, determine how additional income this task could bring in; if it’s a lead magnet, how many new customers do you think you could attract with it? If it’s learning a new skill or creating a new product, think about the financial rewards that that could bring to your business in the future.  Once you’ve got a financial value associated with the task, it becomes a lot easier to dedicate what you perceive as ‘non-billable hours’ to it! 

2.) Block out time in the diary, and stick to it! If the task doesn’t need to be completed all in one go, set some time aside regularly to complete the project.  If it would be easier to complete in a couple of sittings, clear a couple of days in the diary for the task.  Obviously, if urgent client work or an emergency situation prevents you from being able to stick to these times, don’t feel too guilty, but try to stick to them and get the work partially or fully completed within these windows to get it off your ‘to-do’ list once and for all!

3.) Put a deadline in the diary – even if you don’t necessarily need one! Set yourself an end date for the project, even if it isn’t driven by anything (it could be a random date pulled out of a hat!).  A couple of years ago, I set myself a goal to write a book; it didn’t need to be completed by a specific date, but I felt compelled to set myself a relatively short deadline to complete it so that I didn’t fall victim to the apathy that can so often be associated with never-ending, non-urgent projects.

So if you’ve got a project that keeps being re-scheduled in your calendar, Todoist or Asana, why not sit down today and set a tangible target date for the work? It’s always nice to be able to finally tick something off the list, so why not make 2019 the year when you get those dream projects completed (or at least started!)?