Regarding not straightforward.
Thats the fun part, isn't it?
A long chain of challenges where you have to overcome each hurdle to reach victory. First to stake out some land and simply survive, then catch more and more territory while also keeping up, and sometimes toward the end, actively working against some AIs closing in on a victory of their own.
I have been in similar situations to this current one often enough to be comfortable in them so I'm confident that the game is won here, however the path toward that might involve stuff like stangating and building up and teching for 50-70 turns before striking with mass tanks in the far away future...
But thats not elegant, it's also micro intensive and time demanding. So doing something more efficient earlier is certainly preferable.
I still remember a game where I ended up in a endgame slog with Boudica for ages (Last screenshot in this post: https://forums.civfanatics.com/threads/nobles-club-209-kublai-khan.647011/page-4#post-15486234
I love farms and build alot of them. Alot of the farms in the conquered territory is me farming over cottages/hamlets (most pillaged before they are inside my culture).
Farms help you to regrow after whippings, or after you have done some caste-paci push and starved cities down. They also let you get up to maxpop fast.
I think it's much a matter of personal taste. I don't mind having a horrid economy and to slog along with outdated units en masse, and farms help more with keeping production up.
A more cottage heavy approach would be less sensitive to falling behind. In my game I only manage to keep tech up due to manipulating the vassals and brokering techs, and through the bursts in tech in golden ages.
I only quite recently got chemistry, and state property is not in, and I have been in slavery for a long time, so workshops are really not that exciting yet either, but had I managed workers better, most tiles should have been pre-workshopped by now, ready to pivot once those techs are in.
This medieval engineering breakout is an entierly different beast than a cuirstomp breakout too.
Here I needed alot of production early on, and I had no or at least very little need for teching power.
In a cuirstomp thats completely reversed, you need alot of teching power and only need a tiny bit of production to get 30-40 HAs out.