Crushed. Squashed. Flattened like a pancake under the weight of it all.

Is that how you feel when you start imagining all the stuff you have to do to finish that project of yours?

When it all feels too much — when you are feeling wobbly and uncertain — there’s a little rule to follow:

Treat your project like a puzzle

Yes, the cardboard-funny-shaped-bits-in-a-box kind.

No, don’t laugh. I’m serious. Stick with me here:

I’m a fully grown adult with a career and many interests and a magical internet device in my pocket, and yet somehow I still enjoy doing puzzles.

Except “enjoy” isn’t reeeeally the word for it. I actually kind of hate doing puzzles. Perhaps the better term would be “grim satisfaction”…

puzzle pieces all over

I get a dirty little thrill out of beating the puzzle.

Because puzzles are fiendish things.

A good puzzle is designed to defeat you. So you’ve got to choose who wins: You, or the inanimate object? And, to be quite honest, when an inanimate object tries to best me, I turn into a vengeful bitch.

Living well may be the best revenge, but slapping in that last knurled piece — seeing it all come together — is a pretty close second.

That’s also how I feel about completing a fiendish creative project.

Because great work is hard work

If great work were easy, everybody would do it. Great work is a challenge. Challenges are hard.

And hard work often doesn’t feel good, at least in the moment. Although it can be immensely satisfying. Just like Winning At Puzzles. Or an icy plate piled high with vengeance.

And if we know that great work is hard, if we expect it to be difficult, then rather than let ourselves sink into overwhelm and self-pity, we can implement strategies to make it easier.

And that brings us back to puzzles. There was a point, you know!

What do you do when you pour the box onto your table and face down a pile of 1,000 random pieces that don’t look like they form any picture, much less the picture of the funny kitty on the puzzle box?

You don’t start just anywhere. That’s madness!

You start with the edges

partially completed puzzle with edges done

You narrow the field from 1,000 choices — which might as well be infinity — to a handful, maybe 30 or 50 pieces you need right now.

You start with the tiny little things you know all about, that you know exist, that you know will work.

When the unknown seems infinite, start with the finite.

Give yourself a little win now, today, and you’ll give yourself a boost of energy you’ll need to tackle the next step.

Give yourself a border. Put a frame around the problem, the work.

Then you can fill it in, piece by piece.

Faster. Easier. More accurately. Did I mention easier? A frame around your project will help you kick overwhelm’s ass.

Take the Ship in Six Challenge