How to Actually Complete Your Long-Term Project

How to Actually Complete Your Long-Term Project

Every year I was in college, William & Mary  (Go Tribe!) gave us students a giant desk calendar. “Thanks for all the tuition money. Here is a calendar worth $2.54.”

For most people, it went on their desk and was promptly forgotten. However, I didn’t have room on my desk because of my giant 1990s-era computer monitor. So, I mounted mine on the wall above my bed. And it became my planning weapon.

I’ve mentioned a few times before that I was a bit . . intense in high school and college about academics. (Hermione Granger is my spirit animal.) And part of that intensity was my planning. My giant desk wall calendar helped me in that planning process, especially when it came to long-term projects and papers.

While I had essays and projects in high school, it all got turned up 5 notches in college. The essay was described in the syllabus, but the professor never mentioned it again until 2 classes before it was due. Or the project counted for 50% of your semester grade. Yikes.

The key to surviving and getting an awesome grade on a long-term project is planning. Yep – not sexy at all, but darn effective. Before we dive in, grab the FREE planning sheet I created for you!

long-term project planning guide

How to Actually Complete your Long-Term Project

long term project

Break down the project

Take 10-15 minutes as soon as you find out about the long-term project to break it down. Even if your instructor has already provided due dates for parts of the project, there are actually more tasks to complete. So, you will need to break it down yourself.

Grab something to write with, an index card or piece of paper, and the project description. Or your phone with a sweet to-do app already installed. Let’s say that you have to give a 5-minute oral presentation and slideshow presentation on . . . the changing role of women in the 1920s.  For our theoretical project, the list might look something like this:

long-term project

Decide how much time you need for each step. Some steps, especially in the very beginning and end, take less than 1 day – group those together. Other steps will take multiple days.

long-term project

If you’re not sure how much time to give yourself for each task, you could talk to your teacher or ask a friend. When I was in school, I usually planned to write 1 page per day or 1 slide per day. Somedays I could do more and get ahead. Other days, not so much.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Give yourself at least one day to edit! Don’t work up until the last minute because you will leave mistakes in the paper or project that can cost you.” quote=”Give yourself at least one day to edit! Don’t work up until the last minute because you will leave mistakes in the paper or project that can cost you.”]

Plan Backwards

Taking your task list from the step above, create your OWN due dates for your long-term project. This is especially helpful if the only due date is the final one.

long-term project

Now, grab your planner and a calculator and get ready for some math. Always start with the final due date and work your way backward. Start placing those due dates on the calendar until you reach the current date.

If you’ve run out of days on the calendar, then you need to revise the amount of time you’ve given each step. If you have a bunch of days left over, move all your due dates closer to the present date and give yourself some breathing room before the due date.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Always keep in mind other commitments and plan around them. Big game next week? Don’t expect to get any work on the project that day!” quote=”Always keep in mind other commitments and plan around them. Big game next week? Don’t expect to get any work on the project that day!”]

Schedule work time

Many students get overwhelmed trying to juggle both regular homework and studying with long-term projects. The key is to actually schedule work time in your planner. So, write it down! For help with using a planner, read my post here!

And I recommend scheduling it BEFORE working on homework. Working on it last = not working on it. You may run out of time in the evening or just run out of energy. But putting it first on the list insures that the steps actually get done – that way you won’t be scrambling the night before it’s due.

Keep all your materials together

You will need to keep all your physical or digital materials in one place. You need this so you can go back to find facts, pull out quotations, double-check bibliographic information, and keep yourself sane. There is nothing like hunting for a specific piece of information you MUST have, but you can’t find anymore. Been there, done that.


If working with papers, grab an old folder and put all the materials in there. If you’re working digitally, create a folder in your Google Drive or Dropbox. (For more digital file tips, check out my post here!) Then you can drop in articles, visuals, and bibliographic information along the way. Keep your notes and drafts in here as well.

Build in small rewards

We humans respond really well to rewards. I’m a sucker for food, personally. (I bought a shirt that read “Will exercise for chocolate” as a joke and then realized it was completely true.)

The rewards don’t have to be elaborate or expensive. A positive affirmation, a few (timed) minutes on YouTube, an ice cream cone, time with friends. Remember, the smaller the task, the smaller the reward. Don’t promise yourself a trip to Paris for completing the 2nd slide in your presentation.

long-term project planning guide

Here’s the deal with long-term projects – I can’t do the work for you. It’s up to you to actually do the work. But if you plan backwards AND schedule the tasks in your planner, the chances are high that you will actually complete that dang long-term project . . . on time.

Which is the most helpful tip for you? Let me know in the comments below!

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