8 Ways to Stay Motivated When You’re Working on the Never-Ending Project From Hell
Completion is satisfying. Being able to cross off a to-do list item, 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 of a year or two 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.
You’ve probably heard this one before (stop rolling your eyes!) but bite-sized accomplishments could be your best friends right now. Give yourself one meaningful task a day—something you can find satisfaction in at day’s end. To up the ante, make it something that stretches you a bit. It doesn’t have to be around the project, either.
Examples include: having the 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 co-worker on another team member. Give someone a high-five (it takes ten seconds and you’ll make that person’s 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 (an eon in tech time!). Big projects are like epic stories—it’s easy to forget the beginning narrative when you’re a year into it and there’s a lot more to write.
Put on your project management CSI hat and dive into some project forensics. Study the project schedule to see if the work being done and the tasks being scheduled are consistent with the goals and deliverables everyone agreed to on Day 1. Make sure your priorities are up to date, and if not, start communicating, updating and reworking the plan. That should get your blood circulating!
3. Cross tasks off your list—do it!
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, let it be and mark it done. Keep your eyes on the road ahead of you and make it a goal to find something essential that everyone else has missed and then grab it.
4. Reassess your goals.
If you’re facing a project stall, dipping back into your career goals and job commitments (especially if you haven’t seen them since January) is always useful, and could be inspiring (or re-directing). You might be able to cross some of the goals off; update them or use them to help solve problems or answer lingering questions that exist on your current project. This exercise also reminds you of the big picture you’re headed toward as you get mired down in details—or lack thereof. If you’re struggling through a project from hell, 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 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 complete-able 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 go something like: “What do you think is holding us back the most?” “How would speed up the schedule?” “If you were the customer what would you want?” Ask for advice, recommendations—you never know what golden nuggets you might find!
7. Learn something new.
If your enthusiasm is flagging or you’re feeling burnt out, what would get you excited? Make a list and follow through. Ideas could include learning a new skill, 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: This too shall pass.
When you’re in the middle of a big project, or any challenging experience, it feels like it will never freaking end. It will. It will! And even if it’s the most hellacious disaster of a project known to human kind, you will not have come away with nothing. If you look at work as a way to keep learning, growing and developing, the truth is this: the difficult experience is the best curriculum you’ll ever have. Make it worth your while.
In The Business Romantic, author Tim Leberecht takes a fresh approach to how to turn your office into a university for the heart, mind and soul. Read it for some inspiration.
And remember—keep a wide-angle lens on the world around you. Resist letting your mammoth project eat you whole. As never-ending as your project might feel, there are as many possibilities to consider everywhere around you. Go get ‘em!