Recently I gave a nerve-wracking speech at a conference. I am a decent speaker, but speaking is not my primary gig, and this event took place on a whole new stage for me: there actually WAS a stage!

We were in a hotel ballroom, with the raised platform stage (with steps up and down—don’t trip!), bright lights shining at us while on the stage, and round tables set up with six or eight audience members at each. But that wasn’t the nerve-wracking part. The nerve-wracking part was the NINE video cameras around the room capturing our every word and movement.

Now, I put myself in this situation, having decided it was time for me to get some speaker demo video. So I knew the game from the start—but that didn’t make it any easier.

On top of the video pressure, my speech was limited to FIVE minutes. Wow. How do you say anything in five minutes? You do it by honing and honing and honing your message until it contains the bare minimum of what you need to say and not a word more.

I probably spent fifty hours writing, rewriting, re-rewriting, practicing, and rehearsing my five-minute speech. For me, this event was a BIG. FREAKING. DEAL.

Afterward, I collapsed.

Routine Projects and BIG Projects

Many of us manage our work as projects. By definition, projects have a goal or deliverable and they have a beginning and an end. (If your projects don’t come to a close, they may not be projects and we need to have a different discussion.)

If I have a ghostwriting job, it has a deliverable (a complete manuscript) and a start date and end date. I develop a project plan to keep myself on track. When I need to do a refresh on my website, I map out the end goal (enhance structure and clarity for users) and the tasks to get there, and I execute those tasks. I know when I am done.

For me, these are routine projects. I do this type of work on a regular enough basis; it is familiar and I know what I’m doing. There’s the normal pressure to do a good job, but no extra pressure from tight timelines or new experiences.

Then there are the BIG projects—like working on a new speech for a high-stakes event. That was a BIG project that caused me to challenge myself to take my performance to a new level. It created excitement—and anxiety. It caused intense focus, especially at the end, to adequately prepare.

Karin finishing a marathon

A marathon is a BIG project and, yes, yes I have run a marathon. Once. Very slowly.

What was your latest BIG project? Maybe it was a speech like mine, or the last push of editing and getting your book into production. Maybe it was a software launch, or defending your dissertation, or putting on a conference.

Whether personal or professional, big intensive projects take a lot out of us. They force us to focus and work hard in the short term to hit a deadline, but the type of pressure they inflict can’t be a way of life. It’s just not sustainable.

Advice: First, be aware when you are in a big project’s push phase, and take steps to mitigate some of the pressure. Second, be aware that you need recovery time afterward.

Tips for During the Big Push

One of the great myths of contemporary society is that we can effectively multitask. This just isn’t true (go check the brain science). We have to use our time on our most important activities.

Backburner Other Projects

Hard as it may be, some important projects have to be put on hold while more important things get done.

One of my next medium-big projects is getting my communication system (email list, autoresponder, newsletter) updated. While I wanted to be done by the end of 2016, this project had to be set aside while my conference speech took my focus.

If I’d tried to develop my communication system while working on my speech, it would have taken me longer to finish because my focus wouldn’t have been there. I would have made mistakes, struggled to understand the technology, and probably settled for something less than I wanted, just to be done.

It’s not that other projects aren’t important. They do deserve your attention—just after your current priority is done.

Note: Of course, follow through on your committed client work, but (if possible) delay taking on any new client projects until time frees up.

Defer Maintenance

Maintenance tasks—filing, organizing, bookkeeping, cleaning, laundry—take more time than we sometimes want to acknowledge, but usually a delay won’t hurt. For my recent big project, putting Christmas decorations away had to wait until January 8!

Note: A lot of maintenance can be deferred, but don’t neglect critical items like paying bills!

Maintain Self-Care

By backburnering other projects and deferring some maintenance tasks, you open up space not only for focusing on your BIG project but also for self-care.

You might need extra sleep, your daily workout to keep energized, or extra meditation time to maintain mental balance and feel centered.

In the midst of a big push, you might not get as much of any of those things as you would like. But if you can be aware of which things are most important and schedule them in, you’ll better be able to maintain focus on your BIG priority.

Tips for After the Big Push

It’s surprising how much a big project can take out of you. While you are in the rush of the moment, adrenalin and deadlines keep you moving. Then all of a sudden—DONE! Whew!

Collapse and Indulge

It’s OK to collapse. Take some downtime. Don’t think. Binge on videos. Eat your favorite comfort food. Whatever you find indulgent and restorative, do it. You deserve it. (More on rest and restoration.)

Celebrate and Appreciate

One of my biggest gaps as an individual and as a leader has been in celebrating success. The older I get, the more important I realize it is.

Take time to appreciate the work you put into your big project. Appreciate the learning you gained from it. Claim your accomplishment. I’ve said to multiple people, “I did the very best job I could do at this point in my skill development, so I am happy!”

And give yourself a pat on the back. Do something to celebrate. My speech was talking about books, so I bought myself a couple of my favorite books in nice, new hardback editions.

Pause and Normalize Before the Next BIG Project

Before jumping into the next big effort, give yourself a slower week or three. Be gentle with yourself. Work shortened hours for a few days. Continue paying attention to self-care. Take some time to catch up on the maintenance items you deferred. Make order in your office—declutterizing has a tremendously calming effect.

After such intense focus on my speech, hitting conference-related deadlines, and deferring so many other tasks, I found one of the things I needed to do was rebuild my routine. I needed to get back to time-blocking my schedule for writing, business development, and off-time. Let me say, having a normal routine again feels great!

Too much downtime? Not likely. Even if the delayed projects don’t tackle you head-on, it’s human nature to want to keep growing and meeting new challenges. Chances are, you will be more than ready to tackle your next BIG project!

For me, it is on to my next speech…but by this point a speech is just a routine project. Right? 🙂