How I Stay Passionate and Avoid Fatigue on Long Projects

Being on a multi-year project is a rewarding position to be in. This often means you’re doing something highly impactful and valuable. Working with the same organization for an extended time means you are going deep on the problem(s) they’re trying to solve and likely creating something that could fundamentally change how they operate.

This is exciting! It usually comes with great responsibility and reward. However, it also comes with unique challenges. There are a lot more ups and downs on these than on projects with a shorter timeline and quicker milestones. You may have to play the politics more, which can be both exciting and exhausting in its own way. The team might deprioritize or neglect work you “finished” and are proud of (more so with design than development, but true of any discipline). You might also lose sight of the long-term vision or goals of the project.

Here are a few tricks I’ve found that help me stay passionate and avoid burnout and fatigue.

  • Keep a “personal backlog”  you can work on during slower times or when you need a quick change of pace.
  • Revisit framing documents and the “why” behind your project to remember the intentions of your pursuit.
  • Switch up routines or processes, and check in with your team (or client) to see if anything feels stale.
  • Celebrate both the big milestones and the smaller victories, the latter sometimes being more important.

Keep a “Personal Backlog”

I’ve found it energizing to keep a list of work to do (usually simple tasks) when a project is moving slowly, or if I just need to do something else for a few hours. This has helped me add value to a project when I feel I’m spinning my wheels on something. It often allows me to think differently and gain a new perspective on the work. By leaving something alone for a short period, I can pick up a smaller work item and feel like I’ve accomplished something.

This is particularly helpful when you’ve been working on a complicated, time-intensive part of the project and (inevitably) slow down or get stuck. Maintaining a personal backlog also provides a place to log ideas as they come up – outside of the team’s backlog. You don’t want all your good ideas hogging up brain space, and they don’t need to confuse prioritized work for everyone else, so it’s good to store them somewhere.

More importantly, this is a great way to create additional value for your client and team members. You may not have been asked to do some of these tasks, but you know they will make the project more successful. This can include things like picking up a neglected story, organizing notes or files, or refactoring code. By doing this, you’ll feel more organized, confident, and ready to dive back into the complicated work.

Remember the “Why”

Revisit documents from early in the project that frame the problem you’re solving, the scope of your effort, or why it’s valuable to do in the first place. Sometimes, we lose sight of what we’re doing or, more commonly, why it’s important. This happens all the time, but it can feel particularly discouraging on a large project when you’ve been putting in a solid effort for a long time. In any project, you’ll get lost in some level of detail and not be able to see the forest through the trees. Having to ask, “Why are we doing this again?” might feel clumsy, but it’s incredibly important to revisit this question. Make sure the answer still makes sense to everyone involved.

Try looking back at original framing documents, problem statements, contracts, early research, project briefs, etc. You’ll remember where you’re coming from, where you’re trying to go, and why it’s important to get there. You might be surprised how simple yet valuable this is to practice on projects. What you uncover in revisiting this information and asking these questions again will not only re-instill passion for the work, but it may turn over an inspirational rock you missed the first time.

Switch Things Up

Sometimes, the day-to-day routines get stale on a project that’s 12+ months long. As long as it’s not too disruptive, I feel it’s also worth revisiting routines and processes regularly. Each project will likely have different phases: early scoping and definition, design and iteration, implementation and testing, release to customers, etc. The needs during each phase won’t always be the same, so question why you’re still doing things a certain way from one phase to the next.

You may be spending time in unnecessary meetings each week. Maybe they were critical early on in a project but are no longer beneficial (to you, your team, your client, or some combination of all the above). You may have also needed a thorough, detailed review of the work to make sure the details were spot on. But now, those details are well-defined and documented, so there is no need to painstakingly review them with such rigor. Either way, your processes as a team should evolve with the context of the project and the phase of work you’re actively pursuing.

Celebrate the Small Things

Over a long project, there will likely be several big milestones. You should obviously celebrate them, but they shouldn’t be the only thing to look forward to. It’s important to celebrate little victories along the way, too. Don’t wait three to six months to go out for drinks or have a team lunch that gets everyone excited about what you’re doing again. Refueling team camaraderie shouldn’t wait until the tank is almost empty.

Sometimes, these little victories will be clear and present themself (like completing a complicated story or having a really successful meeting). But other times, you might need to find something to celebrate, especially when the team feels stuck. This is a decent time to revisit the “why” of your project and reflect on what you’ve done thus far. It’s also a valuable point in the project to discuss the future and get folks excited about what’s next. Either way, you shouldn’t need a reason to just celebrate doing good work, so don’t feel like you have to dig too deep.

Avoid Fatigue & Stay Passionate

It’s good to have tricks up your sleeve to avoid fatigue or burnout. This is particularly helpful during a multiyear project, but good to keep in mind for anything you’re working on. Document your ideas, remember why you’re doing the work, switch things up occasionally, and always celebrate the little victories (in addition to the big wins). Staying passionate about the work you do is fundamental to the success of you and your team. That means it’s worth investing some time in keeping the light shining at the end of the tunnel.


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