Ever found yourself stuck in a project you’ve worked on for far too long, stalled by a lack of inspiration and energy to move forward?
What can start out as an exciting, challenging project can easily turn into a pile of dreaded tasks parked on your to-do list for far too long. When it comes to breathing life into a musty must-finish, it helps to have strategies on standby to approach that old project with a renewed outlook on its purpose and value.
From taking a break to gaining new insights from outsiders, try one of these eight quick tactics the next time you need a fresh perspective for reaching the finish line with panache.
1. Take A (Substantial) Break
One of the most important ways to get out of a rut is to fully stop the project you’re working on, take some real time away, and come back to it with a fresh mindset. No, we’re not just talking about a 15-minute coffee break.
When you’re working on a big project, taking a real break is important for mental productivity. Say your project has been running for a few months. It’s all you’ve thought about and worked on in that whole time period. Without taking rests, it’s hard to pull your mind out of its one-track zone. Instead, take a full day without working on the project. Or better yet, take a vacation.
No matter how long the break is, the important thing is to not think about your project during your time of rest. Instead, do and think about things that are totally outside of the scope of your project. Try meditation, exercise, or reading books that have nothing to do with your work.
When you do come back to your project, the rest you’ve given your mind will help you come up with new ideas to kickstart the project into a new perspective.
2. Mind Map It
Sometimes the reason you can feel stuck on a project is because there’s too much information to process, causing you to lose clarity on your end goal. When this happens, or when you just feel like you need to come up with new ideas, one great way to get perspective is to mind map.
Mind mapping is a visual note taking style to help you get your ideas out on paper. There’s no one “right” way to mind map, but the basic concept is to start by drawing how your ideas and thoughts relate to each other using lines to connect everything. Essentially, you’re making a map of how all of your ideas relate to one another.
To mind map your project, start with one central idea, like the overall project goal or just a piece of it. From there, think about your project as a hierarchy. What are the major tasks, goals, or ideas behind the projects? Write those down and draw lines to the central goal.
Keep mapping the smaller details and drawlines to the other ideas that are connected. Don’t worry about making it look beautiful or doing it “right.” The goal is to get all of your thoughts down on paper—or copy this sample mind mapping Trello board—and make connections to help you generate new ideas.
3. Try Out A New Scene
Need new ideas? Try a change of scenery. Literally.
A great way to mix things up is to get away from the setting you’ve been working in. Do you work from home? Try a new location like a coffee shop, library, or coworking space. Work in an office? Go offsite with your team.
Sometimes staying in one place can decrease your productivity and drain you of all of your creativity. In fact, recent studies shows that brief diversions can vastly increase our focus and productivity. Getting out of the space you associate with your project can help bring an unexpected shift in your perspective. For group work, offsites are often used to boost creativity by allowing teammates to take a break and do something fun together to motivate better collaboration.
4. Do Something Creative
When you think about the goal of the tactics we’ve covered so far, they all involve getting outside of the box of your mind. Doing something creative like painting, drawing, or anything else creative that strikes your fancy, follows the same train of thought.
Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, argues that doing something fun or creative helps boost productivity: “There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation.”
You don’t even have to get completely outside the lines of your project to make it work. Instead, think of ways to add creativity into the project. Does your project require making visual assets? Stop what you’re doing right now and work on the visual instead. Or, just get out some paints or colored pencils and draw your project ideas visually: like mind mapping except fewer words, and more images!
5. Get An Outsider’s Perspective
When all else fails, add new perspective by asking for it from someone else.
Ask someone who neither works with you, nor knows anything about the specifics of your work, if you can present your project up to its current status to them. Whether it’s a written project or something larger, show the person everything you’ve got. Explain your thought process, your main goals, and the questions you’re trying to answer. Ask them to take notes and to be honest with their feedback.
At the end of the presentation, assuming your buddy did their job right, you’ll have new insights, questions, and ideas to move your project forward with a new viewpoint.
6. Ask New Questions
If you’re having difficulty completing a project you’re working on it may be time to ask yourself, “What is at the root of my inability to smoothly accomplish this project?” Doing so allows you to dig deep and find out what’s causing an issue.
Take a step back and analyze the difficulties you’re having by answering these questions:
- What is the overall goal of this project?
- What am I trying to solve?
- What is the easiest part of this project?
- What is the hardest part of this project?
- What are my team’s strengths on this project?
- What are my team’s weaknesses?
- What are actionable steps I can take in the next day, week, and month, to get this project on the right track?
Journal your answers, and then think about them. Are there other ways you can think about your project outside of the answers you wrote down? Are there new ways you could think about the problem at hand and how you’re going about tackling it? Think of new questions you could be asking that you haven’t already. Write it all down. Sometimes, it takes a little journaling to get to the root of your problem and get a fresh perspective.
7. Add A New Team Member to the Project
We’ve covered the importance of getting an outsider’s perspective through presentation and explanation, but sometimes, projects can get too complicated to explain in a simple presentation. When this happens, and your team is stuck in a rut, consider adding a new team member onto the project or swapping one person out for another.
The best part of hiring new people is that they bring outside perspective and ideas to an otherwise veteran team. The same rule can apply for an individual project, so consider this tactic next time you’re feeling like an island of one.
Don't forget—when you add new team members to a project, make sure to encourage them to speak up with new ideas! You don’t want to negate that initial value they bring to the table by creating a situation where they are a more passive participant.
8. Zoom Out
Mind mapping teaches you how to shift perspective by honing into the details of a project and making connections between it all. But what about the opposite? Instead of diving into the details of a project, sometimes it’s helpful to zone out and look at the bigger picture instead.
In this instance, zoning out means focusing on answering the “why” questions. Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, argues that answering the question of why you’re doing what you’re doing helps you add purpose and fulfillment to whatever you’re working on:
- Why are you doing this project and what does the project solve for your company, organization, team, or other commitment?
- How does it affect the overall bottom line of your organization?
- Why are you working on the project and how is your skillset being used within the project?
- Most importantly: what problem are you trying to solve through this project?
Keeping those big picture questions top-of-mind not only makes you think about new perspectives you can take on a given project, but it also helps give your project purpose, which is important for staying focused. No one wants to do a lot of hard work for nothing.
Where to Go With Your Newfound Perspective
There’s just one last thing to remember: Needing perspective is different from needing motivation because you’re procrastinating. There are, however, science-backed methods to get back on track in that department.
It’s time to get cranking. Equipped with full spectrum of ways to help you get a fresh start on an otherwise old project, use that new inspiration or insight to drive your project home.Next: 5 Common Project Management Mistakes (And Fixes... With Food Analogies)