Sometimes, when you have a big paper or project due, it can be difficult to know where to even begin.
In grad school, we often had pages that were 30+ pages. At the beginning, I remember thinking, "This is insane. How can I even find a starting place?"
So, when you're faced with a project that's huge and ominous, what can you do?
My best answer is to just do something. It doesn't have to be groundbreaking. It can be as simple as formatting the Word document or scribbling down a quick outline of your ideas.
In fact, this first thing you do doesn't even have to make it to the final product! The point is to just get started!
Here are some reasons it's important to get started:
By simply starting a task, you are more likely to complete it.
I don't know about you, but I absolutely hate being interrupted when I'm trying to complete a task. Have you ever noticed that unfinished tasks kind of stick with you? It's because of the Ziegarnik effect.
You see, once you start a project (even a small one) your mind creates this nagging need to finish it. When things pull you away from your task, you just experience this great need in your mind to go back and accomplish it.
So, by simply starting on your huge project, you'll become invested in it and actually start to care about finishing it!
Do a little bit each day, as early in the day as you can.
Look at that overwhelming paper or project and break it down into sections. For example, I would break down a basic paper into Intro, Point 1, Point 2, Point 3, Conclusion. Then just focus on one section of the paper at a time. No need to overwhelm yourself for no reason!
Then, schedule in some time to just get started on one of the sections. Since I usually write my intro and conclusion last, I would focus on Point 1 first. Work on this for 20-30 minutes a day until it's finished. Then move onto the next section.
Try to schedule these 20-30 minute work times as early in the day as you can. There are less distractions in the morning. Also, the longer the day goes on, the more likely other people are going to give you stuff to do. Then you'll really be feeling the Ziegarnik effect!
Objects in motion stay in motion.
Something that is so cool about teaching is seeing how children (even 5-year-olds) can get "in the zone" and become super focused on what they're doing. The other day, one of my Kindergarteners was at my teacher table and I planned to work with him for 10 minutes.
Once he got started, he kept wanting to just keep going. He ended up working on math for 30 minutes straight because, once he got in motion, he stayed in motion. As long as you break your project down into manageable chunks, once you start, you'll stay in motion, too!
(If you want to read more about the Physics of Productivity, check out this post by James Clear)
Start your task in 2 minutes or less.
"But that's impossible!", you might think.
No. It's not. You can do it! Think about the thing you're dreading the most right now. What is one step you could take that could be done in 2 minutes? Could you open a Word document and create your cover sheet? Or type in your header? Bam. One step accomplished!
Maybe you could just do a quick Google search of your topic and read about it for 2 minutes. I bet once you start, you would find something interesting that would make you want to keep going! If it's math homework, just do the first problem!
Once you start that task and feel that momentum, you'll feel motivated to keep going! Keep working until you lose your momentum. Take a short break, then come back and do more! The nagging feeling of your unfinished product will keep pulling you back in once you start!
Focus on 1 thing at a time.
Don't try to do several parts of the project at once. Create a list and work through it. After you've completed the first section, move on to the next section and give it your undivided attention.
If you have a lot of other things going on (like other classes, work, etc.) remember to focus on each on of them in their own time. Men tend to be better at "compartmentalizing" than women are. However, with practice, you can train your brain to stop trying to multi-task!
I make a really big effort to only focus on one thing at a time. I would rather give 100% of my attention to one thing at a time, then set it aside and give 100% to something else. This is why I don't answer personal texts at work and I don't bring work projects home (anymore)!
You don't have to be able to complete it all at one time! You don't even have to be able to complete one part of it at one time! You just need to break it down and start where you can! Perfectionism can hold you back, too. Remind yourself that "Done is better than perfect!"