Clarity Tool: “Chunking Up” A Big Project

Clarity Tool: “Chunking Up” A Big Project


“Chunking up” a big project: we can see complexity is comprised of simplicity. Image: Takemori39. via Wikimedia Commons.

“Chunking Up” A Big Project

Recently, my child asked me for help studying for their first finals. (We homeschooled before this.)

On the same day, a soul-colleague asked me to help her discern how to move forward with what felt like a zillion big projects all due at the same time.

These were both requests for help “chunking up” a big project.

I am naturally good at this. There are many things I am not even artificially good at. But self-organizing is something I get.

Making Your Big Project Manageable

Here is how to self-organize so your Big Project is manageable and–yes–enjoyable.

Don’t be daunted by the steps! Listing all of them, even the tiny ones, helps me make sure I am giving you the complete instructions.

Some steps are nano-steps.

Each individual step is quick. That means you can move smoothly forward with getting it done enjoyably right away.

Big Project Chunking Steps

  1. Have taken on a Big Project. (See? You’ve already done this one.)
  2. Feel overwhelmed.
  3. Optional (but important if needed): Freak out.
  4. Get out a pencil and paper. (Non-negotiable unless you are really good with graphics programs and disciplined enough to keep yours simple.)
  5. Mark off the days between today and your deadline. Hint: Don’t use your calendar! You need this to be messy, erasable, throw-awayable-and-replaceable. (It doesn’t matter if you mark horizontal lines or vertical lines. Both have their advantages. This is an exercise in learning to trust your gut as well as your rational mind, noticing they can work together to get a job done.)
  6. Cross out any days you must not work on your Big Project. (You will be able to cross out ones you don’t want to work later, trust me.)
  7. Divide your available days into time-chunks of one or more hours. (If you have only 15-minute increments, you can use those as time-chunks but just be extra-compassionate when you get to step 22.)
  8. Cross out time-chunks you do not have available.
  9. Set the piece of paper with your available time-chunks marked on it aside.
  10. Close your eyes.
  11. Breathe til you are (relatively) calm.
  12. Optional: Freak out.
  13. Return to your breath.
  14. “Picture” your Big Project. Picture it whole, from a distance, like in the book Focusing.  If you can’t see the whole thing, move away from it til you have enough distance to see it as a whole. Trust me, we will walk you through seeing the parts. It’s ok to see the whole thing at a distance from yourself. (Why? Ask us if you want to know more about the importance of this.)
  15. Observe what it looks like to you. Make notes if you like. It’s fascinating. Take a snapshot as a mental bookmark so you can return to this observation place as you will do in your Evaluations, explained below.
  16. On a separate piece of paper or now on your computer, list out each component of your Big Project. A “component” in the example above of our soul-colleague’s Big Project is one major piece of writing due as part of a grant proposal package. A component for my daughter is one final out of seven finals to study for. Think big pieces–chapters, if you like, in your book. But not paragraphs, or sentences.
  17. Label each component you’ve identified by giving it a short name, or a letter or symbol. Don’t use a number. (Trust me. You’ll use numbers in Step 20.)
  18. Map each component into your available time-chunks.
  19. You will seldom be able to complete a full component in one time-chunk. This is why you labelled each component. Appreciate yourself for some good self-organizing and self-compassion.
  20. Notice that you already know the order each component needs to happen. Number the components in that order. Trust your gut. If you need to re-number them, you will know to do that during your first Evaluation. (See Step 25 below.)
  21. Map your first component onto your timeline. Guess compassionately how much of it you can actually do during the first time-chunk available to you. Then keep mapping it into subsequent time-chunks until it seems like it should be completed.
  22. Add in another 50% more time-chunks needed to complete the first component. Yes, you can add fewer than 50%. But add in at least one or two per component.(An additional 50% would mean, for example, if you set aside six time-chunks, you would add in another three.)
  23. In this same way (using both Steps 22 and 23), map each component onto the time-chunks you have. (You can add sub-numbers within each component, like this: “‘Component A-1’ goes into a time-chunk today from 1-2pm. The next time I can work on Component A is this evening, so ‘Component A-2’ goes into a time-chunk I have this evening between 6-7:30pm. Then I can’t work on anything to do with my Big Project til tomorrow evening so ‘Component A-3’ goes into a time-chunk I have tomorrow evening from 8-9pm.”)
  24. What if it becomes clear you do not have enough time? There are a few options: 0. (Optional, as often as needed:) Take the time needed to freak out properly. 1. Stop the Big Project. 2. Modify the Big Project. 3. Take longer to complete the Big Project–in good conscience, which means telling everyone who needs to know that you will be taking a longer time and helping them make whatever changes they will need to make, so your word = your deed.  4. Ask for help but know you will need to add time-chunks to supervise the help and delegate intelligently. Deciding which of these to choose is worthy use of an Evaluation.
  25. Somewhere within the first five time-chunks, insert an Evaluation. During an Evaluation, all you do is assess how you are feeling, how much progress on your component you have made, how your Big Project feels like it’s doing, and what it looks like from a distance when you picture it again. Then you let your rational mind and your gut have a civil conversation about any changes in your time-mapping you need to make, including adding in breaks (see next step). And then you make those changes in your time-chunk map.
  26. Insert an Evaluation time-chunk about every ten time-chunks. Watch your process, and learn from it how you like to work. This is what helps make the Big Project enjoyable.
  27. Remember Step 6? Plan your breaks in advance and insert them, using what you have learned from your Evaluations about how often you need them to stay smart and focused.  A “break” is a time-chunk in which you plan to do no work and plan to do something that refreshes and re-sources you. Then take your breaks! You can un-plan them if you need to–or plan more!–during an Evaluation.

For More Help

For more on self-organizing, try the posts in this category. Two posts in particular: click here for tips on organizing your email inbox and here for tips on using your datebook to stay organized.

And if you should want another self to help you organize, ask me!


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