FAQ – How to tackle Daunting Projects

There will always be times when projects come along that are outside our comfort zone. They might be work projects like a massive property exterior to renovate or even personal projects like moving house. Even thinking about them can feel stressful. I know how it feels.

I’ve moved house and even moved country more than a dozen times. I’ve taken on decorating projects that took months of full-time work, and I’m just about to take on our biggest project yet – setting up a creative and craft centre.

So, from my experience and tips from people whose advice I respect, I’ve come up with a few ideas that might help us think about taking on big, daunting projects…

Daunting projects are good
As humans, we love having purpose, and we love having a sense of achievement. There’s nothing like taking on a big project to focus our mind and our energies in a very satisfying way. As long as we’re not fooling ourselves by taking on something that really is totally beyond our skills or resources, taking on daunting projects is a great way to grow as a person and as a business. 

Reframe nervousness
We all feel stress in our lives, but sometimes we can reframe stress as aliveness, focus, and caring. Actor Ian McKellen has admitted that he feels sick with nerves before he goes onto the stage, and he’s one of his generation’s most experienced and skilled actors, but those nerves soon turn into laser-focused energy when he’s on stage. The nerves are just his body and brain preparing to perform at a top level. The nerves are a good thing! It shows he cares, it shows he’s ready. So be like Ian McKellen… Reframe nervousness into focus, caring and energy.

Remember your skills

When I’m faced with a complicated video or photo shoot, I’ll often get a bit nervous. I used to be the same when starting a decorating job for a new customer, especially if it was a very expensive property.

But then, in my head, I just picture myself doing the task, a task I’ve done a hundred thousand times – lifting a paintbrush or taking a photograph. Yes, every job is different and will have new challenges, but you’ve gained a whole bundle of skills and experience in your life, use what you know, build on what you know, and get to it. 

Perspective and disaster
When I feel nervous about a big project, I try to think of two things – perspective and disaster. Firstly, perspective: humans have taken on far bigger projects than me. Secondly, disaster: what’s the worst that could happen? How realistic is that worst thing? And what can we do to reduce the likelihood of the worst thing happening to almost zero?

Plan, then review regularly
Brian Tracy, author of the curiously titled but useful book Eat That Frog once wisely wrote, “Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution.” Planning is worth it. How much time do you need, which materials, equipment, personnel…? 
  Once you start your project, review where you are and determine if there’s anything else you need to consider. A different filler? Better tools? When stopping for a cuppa, spending just a few minutes reviewing is so much more useful than scrolling on your phone.

Visualise the end

When faced with a formidable project, visualising how it will be once done is a great motivator for cracking on with it. This is a technique used often by sportspeople. They visualise running the race, getting the gold medal, scoring the goals, or lifting the trophy.

Break it down

No projects are just a massive blob, they can all be broken down into manageable chunks. While working as a wildlife conservationist in South Africa, I had to repair a breached dam after a flood. It needed tonnes of earth and hundreds of sandbags to fix it. It was daunting. We did it one bag at a time.

Then we had another flood, another breach. We’d done it once, so we did it again. One bag at a time. The same goes for any complex project, just break it down.

Just start
James Clear, the author of the brilliant book Atomic Habits, recently wrote in his weekly email, “It’s rarely doing the work that is hard; it’s starting the work.”
To get a daunting project done, however much planning and research you may need to do – it will never get done if you don’t start it. So get cracking.

Blitz it
Someone I greatly respect recently said to me that the harder you work at the beginning of a project, the greater the benefit further down the line, and the less likely you’ll have to work your arse off if, or when, you fall behind schedule. If you know you’ve given it your all from the beginning of the project, you can’t be disappointed in your own effort.


There’s always something else to do when we run our own businesses. Another project, another quote. Marketing. Accounts…
  But you should always take some time to celebrate your successes, whether it’s a bottle of wine, a nice meal, a weekend break…

You deserve it.