Making Large, Ambitious Projects More Manageable by Breaking Them Down

Cherry pie with a slice removedLet’s say you’ve gotten into a project you’re all excited about, and you’re brimming full of ideas and ambition. Your project gets bigger and bigger, and before you know it, you’re in over your head, completely overwhelmed by it. You know you have something good, but it’s just too big and unwieldy and it’s just become a monster, a nightmare of a project, and you are the one who cooked it up. What to do? It’s a bit like eating an elephant — you do it one bite at a time. Get out your mental Henckels steak knife, and start cutting your work down to make it more manageable.

Remember that Art & GTD series I did a while back when I first launched the site? Well, that started out as one big honkin’ post. I felt good about it, and I knew the content was worth writing. The problem was, it was just too big, and I knew it. I vetted it around to several people, including the guys at Black Belt Productivity and Alyson Stanfield at Art Biz Blog and Art Biz Coach. They liked it, but I think everyone agreed that it was way too long.

So I broke it down into separate posts where the topics changed and where the subheads came up. That one long article became five articles of sufficient length. In addition to these five posts being more easily read, they now formed a series that could last a whole week. Furthermore, they’re more search-engine optimized by default, since people searching the web are probably looking for one specific piece of information, not a lot of other extraneous information. Finally, it made me feel better since I wasn’t so overwhelmed by such a huge post. It was more organized in the end.

So the next time you find yourself in over your head by some really big project, especially if it’s written, try breaking it down into smaller, more contained pieces.

Here are some examples of projects you may need to break down:

  • A really long blog post like mine — break it down into smaller pieces and put them in a series
  • Elaborate story arc for a novel — focus on just one part of the story and make it a trilogy or something. It worked for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Conversely, I’ve heard it said that the Dune movie did too much by trying to put a whole trilogy in one film, and thoroughly confused people who hadn’t read the books. (I haven’t seen it yet, but I probably will this week as I’ve checked it out from the library.)
  • A very ambitious painting — Try doing multiple paintings on the same theme, focusing on different aspects of a concept, scene, or narrative. Or make a triptych.