5 Things You Need to Know When You Have Trouble Working on an Important Project

Sep 29, 2019

You know what to do next. 

You may even be excited about it!

But instead of getting to it, you fill your day with other things.

Sure, some of them are necessary. Feeding your family, for instance. And sleep.

But many of them aren’t. Or at least, not urgently so.

Still, at the end of the day, the box remains unchecked, and you wonder: why can’t I just DO this?!

You beat yourself up a little (or a lot), move the task to the next day’s list, and hope tomorrow will be different.

If this sounds familiar, you need to know these 5 things:

1. You’re not alone

If you spend time on Facebook, it’s easy to assume everyone else is ticking off their life goal lists. Or at least vacuuming their living rooms once in a while.

But I talk to people each day who are having the same difficulty you are. 

Sure, they’re getting some things accomplished. (I know you are, too!) But not the projects they’re most passionate about, or the tasks they think are most important or necessary.

And let’s be clear, it’s not just other people. It’s me, too!

I’ve been “working on” a project for so many weeks, it’s embarrassing. 

I know what I want to do, I have a rough outline, and I’m excited about it — I just can’t seem to DO it. 

During that time, though, I have accomplished the following:

  • Cleaned my writing room top-to-bottom
  • Outlined dozens of other projects to complete “when I finish this one”
  • Played 429 million games of sudoku and scored over 12,000 on the game 2048  (I’m gonna get that blasted 2048 tile one of these days!)

It’s worse than that, though — I started attending a fitness class and cooking from-scratch dinners each night.

In case you missed it, I said: I started exercising. On the regular. After a 6-year hiatus. 

That’s when I knew I had a problem. 

I was choosing to spend an hour in agony — plus the whole not being able to walk for days afterward — in lieu of working on my project.

I wanted to blame my lack of progress on procrastination or laziness, two culprits I’m intimately familiar with. I was even tempted to use my standard “I’m too busy” and “I can’t decide” excuses. 

But I exercised, people! Until I couldn’t walk straight.

Clearly, something else was going on. Something that mere busy-ness or laziness couldn’t account for.

2. You’re not lazy (or indecisive or “too busy”)

It’s easy to beat yourself up for you perceived shortcomings. And, let’s face it, when you spend all afternoon on Facebook instead of completing your project, it’s feels like you’re “just” procrastinating. Or being lazy.

Sure, you may be those things at times. But that’s not the main problem.

When I wasn’t able to move forward on my project, prayer and reflection revealed that I was afraid

Of course I was.

But what to do about it?

  • If the issue is procrastination, the solution is simple: stop procrastinating.
  • Instead of being lazy, we would choose to be productive.
  • Rather than be stymied by indecision, we could decide already.

But fear? What do you do with that?

In my case, I did what I often do with fear:

  • I tried to figure it out — what was I afraid of?
  • I tried to analyze it — why was I afraid of these things?
  • I tried to reason with it — why am I letting such silly fears pile up inside of me?
  • And I tried to preach to it — what Bible verses speak to this issue?

The Bible is filled with verses that speak against fear. 

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9, NIV)

But, let’s face it, in my mind, sometimes those words condemn more than encourage. 

Anyone else hear James Earl Jones’s Darth Vader voice commanding: “Do NOT be afraid! I am your Father.”?

3. Your self-condemnation isn’t helping

Do you see where I went wrong? 

I figured out what I feared about my project. I analyzed why I was afraid of such things. 

But when I tried to reason with my fears, I let self-condemnation sneak in: 

Why am I letting such silly fears pile up inside of me?

As judge, jury, and executioner, I’d already decided my fears were silly. So, of course, when I tried to preach to my fears, the Scriptures rebuked me. I’d already concluded they should.

But here’s the thing: Emotions aren’t silly; they just are. 

And scolding yourself isn’t motivating; it’s demoralizing.

4. You don’t need to have it all figured out

It’s tempting to want a Grand Plan in place before you take action. Or to understand all the ins and outs of what’s holding you back. 

(Ask me how I know.)

In fact, sometimes it’s better not to have the full blueprint in front of you because it can create unrealistic expectations or hamper your creativity.

(Again, ask me how I know.) 

When projects are important to us, we want to do them right. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s particularly useful for projects that require mathematical precision (such as building furniture) or include an element of danger (such as cleaning the roof).

But for the vast majority of projects and tasks, there is no clear right (or wrong!) way to do things — regardless of what your grandmother told you.

Or is mine the only one whose favorite refrain was, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right”?

I love my grandma, but on this point, she was just plain wrong. (I can say that out loud because she’s been gone for several decades. Even if I’d known it when she was alive, I wouldn’t have risked getting my mouth washed out with soap.)

It turns out, anything worth doing is worth doing, whether it’s perfect or not.

  • The thank you note or letter you haven’t written
  • The dinner you want to make for a sick friend
  • The writing project that makes your heart sing

None of these need to be perfect to be worth doing.

  • A letter doesn’t have to contain every detail since you last wrote five years ago; one sentence can express gratitude.
  • Packaged soup, a bagged salad, and a loaf of bread from the grocery store is more helpful to your sick friend than the homemade chicken soup you never get around to making.
  • And that writing project you’re excited about? Start it! Yup, I’m talkin’ to me. But I’m talking to you, too.

Whatever project wakes you up in the early hours because you’re so excited (or keeps you from sleeping at night because you’re so anxious)… you can skip the Grand Plan stage because you don’t need it. Because…

5. Your small steps make a difference

We tend to think of our projects and tasks as Whole Big Things. But small steps matter. In some ways, they’re the only things that do, because without the small steps forward, we can’t make big strides. 

The Bible tells us, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…” (Zechariah 4:10a, NLT)

Although this verse refers to the rebuilding of the Temple around 538-515 BCE, the principle is timeless.

The “small beginnings” the verse warns not to despise include measuring the grounds where the temple would be built. 

Did you catch that? Zechariah wasn’t laying the foundation. He wasn’t even gathering materials yet. He was assessing the land to determine where the temple would be built. Talk about a small beginning!

Yet the angel talking to Zechariah told him not to “despise these small beginnings” because God “rejoices to see the work begin.” 

Do we rejoice to see our small beginnings, to see our projects begin?

I often don’t. In fact, I curse small beginnings and get frustrated when I don’t get as far on a project as I’d planned.

  • I intend to de-clutter my closet but only pull out two shirts for Goodwill before a hungry person asks for a snack.
  • I plan to prepare for a new term of teaching but get side-tracked figuring out the “updated” technology.
  • I try to deal with a health insurance snafu but spend the allotted time looking for the phone number to call.

These sorts of things happen to you, too, right? And they’re the worst. Because now you have to add the task to tomorrow’s list and it feels like you didn’t get anything accomplished today.

But don’t despise the small things.

  • Two unwanted shirts out of your closet is a good thing.
  • New technology that’s necessary to the task at hand can’t be avoided.
  • Now the phone number’s ready for tomorrow when you have a few minutes to devote.

So, take small steps that move you forward. But also, recognize the small steps you’ve already taken — and rejoice in them!

And the next time you have trouble working on an important project, remember:

  1. You’re not alone.
  2. You’re not lazy (or indecisive or “too busy”).
  3. Your self-condemnation isn’t helping.
  4. You don’t need to have it all figured out.
  5. Your small steps make a difference.

Check in next time to learn the most important thing you need to know when you’re paralyzed by fear.

4 Comments

  1. Lori Young

    Awesome article!! Spot on.

    • Kendra Burrows

      Glad you enjoyed it, Lori!

  2. Jennifer

    I loved reading your thought process about procrastinating on projects. It’s so nice to know that I’m not alone in this and I don’t have to condemn myself! Ahhhhhh! We all have good things to do that we put off… I’m glad it’s not just about responsibilities, but the actual fun things we want to get to. Great read, Kendra!

    • Kendra Burrows

      Thanks for the feedback, Jennifer! So glad it helped you feel not alone. And no, don’t condemn my friend! 😉

Hi, I’m Kendra

I help bright, successful over-thinkers change their negative thoughts using Scripture and the science of how God made you.

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