New Year, Old Projects: How to Get Them Done

New Year, Old Projects: How to Get Them Done

by Jane Haskins, Esq., November 2017


We all have them: Those big, but not urgent, projects that never seem to get finished. Decluttering the garage. Organizing the finances for your home business. Turning the spare bedroom into a home gym. Finally doing some estate planning.

These unfinished tasks create what David Allen, author of the bestselling Getting Things Done, calls “open loops." Research has shown that our to-do lists weigh on our minds, causing us anxiety. Finished tasks, on the other hand, are quickly forgotten. That means making progress on big projects can help you feel healthier and happier in the coming months.

Here are seven tips to help you get started:

1. Decide what the project is.

Give it a name, like “Estate Planning," and then write down everything that's been rattling around in your head about that project. One of the core principles of Getting Things Done is that you need to write down your “to-do's" so they can stop taking up valuable energy in your brain.

2. Organize your tasks into groups.

Chances are, your brainstorming has left you with an overwhelming list. Spend some time organizing it into groups of things that go together. For example, if you want to reinvent your spare bedroom as a home gym, your original list might include “sell bed on Craigslist," alongside “shop for flooring" and “make a new workout playlist."

When you organize your list, you can divide the project into phases, seeing what you need to tackle first and what can wait until later.

3. Break multi-step tasks into bite-sized chunks.

It's easier to accomplish something if you know the steps you'll need to take along the way. “Get a will" is vague and easy to put off. But tasks like “Ask Sally if she'll be my kids' guardian if something happens to me" or “Find the password to my 401(k) account" are concrete and manageable.

Make your tasks as specific as possible.

4. Decide where to begin.

Some projects have a logical starting point but, for others, you might have no idea what to do first. Some experts recommend starting with the low-hanging fruit — things that are relatively easy and will give you immediate satisfaction.

For example, in her bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo recommends that you start decluttering by going through your clothes and then your books. This helps build the momentum you'll need to tackle harder tasks, like sorting through mementos that have sentimental value.

5. Set deadlines and reassess.

Deadlines help keep you accountable and make it more likely that you will actually do that project you've been putting off. To-do and calendaring apps can usually be configured to give you electronic reminders, or you may work better with a traditional paper calendar.

It's also important to schedule time periodically to reassess your list and update it as necessary.

6. Start now.

Just getting started can be a powerful motivator to help you keep going. If thinking about how long the entire project will take is a deterrent to getting started, then set a timer and commit to spending just 15 minutes on your first task.

7. Reward yourself.

Some projects take weeks or months to complete, and it's hard to stay motivated without some kind of payoff. Some people keep a “done" list alongside their “to-do" list to remind themselves of how far they've come. Or, you may want to plan special treats for yourself as you reach certain milestones.

Working your way through a big project that's gotten delayed can give you a sense of satisfaction and reduce the stress you may have been carrying around for months.

The key to completing a successful project lies in planning, getting organized, and committing to following through. Make this the year you finally get things done.

Create your estate plan this year and check it off your to-do list. LegalZoom can help with our Estate Plan Bundle. Get a last will or living trust, a power of attorney, a living will, and independent attorney advice all in one.