Completion is satisfying. Being able to cross an item off a to-do list, mark a task done, or deliver a finished project is a big part of being fulfilled at work. That’s why projects that stretch into a far-off horizon are challenging for even the most seasoned project manager.
Whether you’re managing a mammoth IT project with a delivery date that is two years out or working on one that’s been delayed due to scope creep and other problems, staying motivated is a natural challenge. Like any long-distance event, you have to pace yourself and find creative ways to stay engaged and perform at a high level—even when you are so over it.
Here are eight ways to stay motivated on that never-ending project.
1. Focus on small, meaningful wins.
Bite-sized accomplishments are the key. Give yourself one meaningful task a day, something you can find satisfaction in at day’s end. To up the ante, make it something the stretches you a bit. It doesn’t have to be around the project either.
Examples include having a conversation with your boss or team member that you’ve been putting off or talking to the customer about how to bring this project out of the sphere of infinity. Take a run or walk at lunch; catch up with a coworker or another team member. Give someone a high five (it only takes ten seconds, and you’ll make their day). Clear out and update your bug queue or fit-and-finish folders.
You might have to redefine your wins, but whatever they are commit to them and revel in them.
2. Make a game out of keeping the project aligned with business goals.
It’s easy for complex, long-term projects to lose connection with the original goals and objectives that were laid down months and months ago. Big projects are like epic stories; it’s easy to forget the beginning of the narrative when you’re a year into it and there’s a lot more to write.
Put on your project manager’s historian hat and do some project archaeology. Study the project schedule to see if the work completed and the tasks left to be done are consistent with the goals and deliverables agreed to on Day 1. Make sure your priorities are up to date, and if not, start communicating, updating, and reworking the project plan.
3. Cross tasks off your list!
If you’re waiting on dependencies, change orders, or decisions to be confirmed on the part of the customer or stakeholder, it can be tempting to rework an existing project task into the ground to keep yourself from being idle. Unless something really needs to be updated or improved upon, however, let it be and mark it done. Keep your eyes on the road ahead of your and make it a goal to find something essential that everyone else has missed. Then, grab it!
4. Reassess your goals.
If you’re facing a project stall, dipping back into your career goals and job commitments are always useful and could be inspiring. You might be able to cross off some goals, update them, or use them to help solve some problems or answer some lingering questions that exist on your current project. This exercise also reminds you of the big picture you’re heading toward as you get mired down in the details (or lack thereof). If you’re struggling through a project, give yourself goals of what you want to get out of the experience. This will bring purpose to your frustrations.
5. Give yourself side assignments.
It’s important to feel like you’re accomplishing something every day, but when your project feels like it’s sprawling into no man’s land, it’s hard to get that satisfaction. Make yourself useful in other ways. See if you can contribute to other projects. Reach out to other teams or team members and see how you can pitch in. Offer yourself up as an objective eye or ear or to be an extra welcome resource. If you’ve ever wanted to be a mentor or volunteer in your professional field, this could be a great time.
6. Keep your team members challenged.
If you’re a manager, pay attention to the mood of your team and see if you can distribute completable work items. Otherwise, keep those live minds engaged by asking questions and delegating work that challenges people in their roles and prepares them for the next level of their career. Some fruitful questions might include “What do you think is holding us back the most?” “How would you speed up the schedule?” and “If you were the customer, what would you want?”
Ask for advice and recommendations; you never know what you might learn.
7. Learn something new.
If your enthusiasm is flagging or you’re feeling burned out, what would get you excited? Make a list and follow through. Ideas could include learning a new skill or training to become a leader or a mentor inside or outside your organization. Ask your manager for ideas. It’s hard to feel bored or restless when you’re learning.
8. Remember that long projects end.
When you’re in the middle of a big project (or any challenging experience), it feels like it will never end. But, it will! Even if it’s the worst disaster of a project you have ever experienced, you will walk away with something. If you look at work as a way to keep learning, growing, and developing, the truth is the difficult experience is the best experience you will ever have. Make it worth your while.
Resist falling into the gaping canyon of your mammoth project and look at the beauty of its big picture. As never-ending as the project might feel, it provides many possibilities to consider everything around you.