That REALLY BIG PROJECT… and Where to Start

by Alex Tillard

Hi, my name is Alex and I’m a recovering procrastinator.

When I first started my design career and would get a big project to work on, my first tendency was to put it off because I didn’t quite know where to start. I would see it there and I think, “Oh, I’ll do these four quick things first, and then I’ll get to it.” Or, “I guess I should eat lunch first. Then I’ll be able to think about it better.” Or, “I have other priorities, so I’ll finish those, and then move this to tomorrow.” And the next thing I knew, it was one week later and I hadn’t even started.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that the longer I avoided these projects, the more pressure I was under to get them done on time. And that would lead to the potential for more mistakes, which doesn’t make for a very good experience or end product.

I knew I had to figure this out, so over time, and with some help, I’ve found some effective ways to fight my procrastination dragon. So, if you’re also a bit of a procrastinator (it’s okay, you can admit it), I’d like to share with you some helpful tips I’ve learned for breaking down these big projects into bite-sized pieces.

1. Gather existing content.
Usually I have at least something to work with to start: either some content from a client, content from past materials, or a client’s current website. And usually it’s a large, messy, tangled ball of content. And it’s probably a little dated and very disorganized. But it’s SOMETHING. So gather everything you need and get it all in front of you.

2. Read everything.
This step may seem like too much to do all at once in the beginning. But I’ve found that it gives me a better overall picture of what content exists. You don’t need to cut or edit or add anything yet. Just read it and soak it in. You won’t remember all of it right now, but that’s ok. It will be in your brain somewhere, and it will probably pop back into your head at the right time later in the process.

3. Read through it again, and take notes.
Take your content and highlight, underline, and/or take down notes. Don’t worry about certain pieces being more important than others, or organizing it yet. Just mark up anything that might be important so you can look back at it later. Kind of like a book report! Remember those?

4. Organize your notes.
Now you can take those pieces of content and start outlining. Whether you cut out your notes and make piles or copy and paste on your computer, start grouping similar content together. You will probably find some redundant pieces, which you can get rid of. But groups and themes should start to appear in this stage.

5. Create an outline.
From these content groups, you can assign titles. For a brochure, they might be headings, and for a website, this will probably be your site map (which pages exist, what goes in the navigation, and any sub-pages). Get excited! Your content is starting to take shape.

6. Now write.
Hopefully now that you have an outline and some content to start with, the task of writing doesn’t seem as daunting. It’s still a big deal, but feels more doable this way. You can even break down your writing into smaller chunks to make it more palatable. Like those mini cupcakes. Those are really palatable.

7. Take a break.
Once you’re done, step back from the content for a while. You’re probably sick of it already anyway. I’d take at least a day so you can sleep on it.

8. Add some finesse.
Or pizzaz. Or panache. Whatever you want to call it. Now that you’ve given your brain a time-out, you should be able to look at your project again with fresh eyes. Look it over for organization, any writing inconsistencies or grammar mistakes. (You should probably have someone else proofread it, too.)

And voilá, you’re finished! Now that wasn’t so bad, was it? Well, maybe it was, but hopefully slightly easier to take on then that original tangled mess that was overwhelming.

Now go forth, organize, and create something amazing!