How to Build and Gain Momentum When Pushing Through a Long-Term Project

How to Build and Gain Momentum When Pushing Through a Long-Term Project – by Rachelle Fordyce
… [Photo by Matheus Bandoch]

As I’ve previously mentioned in some of my posts from earlier this year, I’ve been working on a giant editing project for the past several months. And I gotta say, at times it’s seemed overwhelming. It’s such a huge mountain of work, and I’ve encountered a number of setbacks and delays along the way.

Mind you, I haven’t been working it on it consistently. I’ve paused it for travel, or to work on and attend to other shorter-term projects that were more time sensitive. And sometimes, I’ve also paused working on the project for a much needed break. But each time I step away from the project for any notable length of time (and sometimes even not-so-notable lengths of time, like a weekend), I lose a lot of momentum, and then it may take me quite a while to get back into the swing of working on this Everest of an editing project again.

I want to push through and complete my involvement in this project within the next three weeks. That should be a completely reasonable and doable goal, as long as I can keep up a reasonable work pace over these next three weeks. And, you’d think with the end in sight, I should be naturally motivated to push through. But for some reason, I think I’ve been feeling the opposite.

Instead of feeling motivated to press on, I feel like it’s taking even more effort than usual to continue, as if I’m pushing through some thick sludge and exerting a lot of effort just to get myself to make a nominal amount of progress. Ugh. (Remember that Swamp of Sadness scene from The Neverending Story? Not that I’ve been sad, it’s just that trudging through this last quarter of the project has felt like trudging through some thick and heavy swamp – and the longer you stand still, the harder it is to rebuild and gain momentum.)

So I’ve been thinking: I need some little trick or mental hack to help myself push through the final quarter of this project. And, I think I’ve some across something that will do the trick!

Gaining Momentum from Quick and Small Wins

Since I want to push through and complete this project ASAP so that I’ll be done it once and for all, I’ve had the tendency to sometimes put off other tasks or commitments so that they won’t drain energy that I could otherwise be putting towards the project. This approach seems to make sense logically, but in my case, it also seems to have the opposite effect: It’ll make it seem even harder to push through. But why?

I wasn’t sure at first, but then I think I figured it out: Without faster and readily-evident wins, it’s harder to maintain energy and forward momentum; and as time progresses without those wins, the energy and forward momentum will continue to dwindle more and more. Therefore, if I want to build and regain momentum, I need to find a way to create a real (i.e. readily evident) sense of accomplishment (i.e. a win) in a short period of time.

So I’ve come up with a list of some tasks and activities that I can do to quickly build and renew my sense of accomplishment, building moment and creating a ‘win’ effect:

  • Make the bed as soon as you get up. (I’ve been in this habit for a while.)
  • Take a shower and/or get ready as if I’ll be going out even if I’m actually just staying in.
  • Cook a meal – and be sure to completely clean up afterwards.
  • Load and run the dishwasher.
  • Empty the dishwasher and put away all the dishes.
  • Wash any extra items (large pots, etc) by hand and put them away.
  • Keep the kitchen in a clean state.
  • Wipe and polish a kitchen countertop.
  • Tidy bathroom countertops and keep them clutter-free.
  • Clean a toilet.
  • Clean a bathroom sink.
  • Keep my closet orderly.
  • Stay on top of laundry.
  • Fold laundry and put it away in a timely manner.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Practice yoga.
  • Do some cardio, even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes.
  • Hold a 2-minute plank or do some push-ups.
  • Read a chapter of a book.
  • Write and publish a blog post.

All of the actions above aren’t particularly laborious or time consuming – they can be done rather quickly – and the completion of these small tasks will likely provide me with a small burst of energy that can then be directed towards moving that big project forward. Woot!

Another way to gain a sense of accomplishment from a quick and small win is to break up a larger task into much smaller segments. Make a list of these smaller segments, and as as you complete each small step, cross it out or check it off. Often, that feeling you get from simply crossing out or checking off something from your to-do list will build momentum propel you forward to keep making progress and taking successive actions.

Creating Positive Momentum and Work Flow

Sometimes I’ve found that I don’t need to resort to non-project-oriented quick and small wins to help me build and gain momentum. Sometimes, the project-work in and of itself will create this kind of flow. When this happens, I know I’m in a place of positive momentum and work flow. What does that look like?

A positive momentum and work flow isn’t draining. In fact, it’s almost energizing – or at the very least, you’ll maintain your energy throughout. It’s self-perpetuating: As you make progress, that progress in and of itself fuels you to keep going and keeping making progress.

One way to help get your mind in this mode is to create that ‘quick-and-small-wins’ effect – not from the actual completion of a task, but from the completion of a time-block. This can be particularly helpful if the task in and of itself is somewhat large, lengthy, and overwhelming.

A common approach to the time-block method is called the Pomodoro Technique, which involves 25-minute increments or time-blocks of focused work. Completing each time-block would equate to a small win. However, you can use any length of time-block that works best for you. Maybe that’s only 5 or 10 minutes, or maybe it’s 45 minutes or 60 minutes. It could change day to day or week to week.

Be flexible in your approach, and don’t be afraid to experiment to find which approaches and tactics work best for you. And remember, depending on your energy levels and what’s going on in your life, what works best for you might change from day to day. Be adventurous and try different approaches.

“Whatever beginning goals you set for yourself, following through on them will build momentum and a sense of achievement and those small successes will point the way to bigger ones.” 

— Pamela Glass Kelly

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”

— Conrad Hilton

“When you find yourself in the thickness of pursuing a goal or dream, stop only to rest. Momentum builds success.”

— Suzy Kassem

* * *

I’m going to consider the completion of this blog post as a timely small win. I already feel so much lighter after writing it! In fact, while writing this, I took a break to load up the dishwasher. Ha! It looks like taking my own advice is proving to be quite helpful after all. 😉

In the upcoming weeks as I focus on pushing through and completing that mega long-term editing project, I’m definitely going to be keeping these tactics in mind. And you can be certain that I’ll implement them, too! I’m already feeling so much more positively motivated to crush this project.

What types of long-term projects have you had to push through before? Have you used these tactics to help you through? If not, keep this article in mind for the future. I’m certain these tactics will also help me when I eventually tackle that screenplay project, too. 🙂


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