Monday, May 6, 2013

Eating the Elephant

I have a terrible habit of focusing on what I haven't done instead of acknowledging what I have done, failing to see progress until it is monstrous in size. But my recent attack on my office counter, combined with preparation for the courses I've been teaching and a little divine intervention at church last weekend reminded me that there are simple strategies I can use to attack big tasks so that I can see the progress I make, even when the going is slow.

If you're struggling to complete a monumental task, try one of these strategies:

Turn a big task into a small one. Remember all those family sitcoms where siblings who had to share a room staked their claim by drawing some sort of line down the middle? Try the same thing with a big task. Depending on what it is, you may not be able to use tape or string to make your mark, but mentally set aside one part of the task to tackle first, then stop when you are finished. Visible progress is hugely satisfying.

Chunk it then check it. Or, go one step further. Break the whole project down into its component parts and list each task. Then attack the project bit by bit, checking off each task as you go. If one chunk is too big, break it down further, but be sure to check off each step as you accomplish it. Large tasks can be daunting, and progress can be difficult to see, but checking a task off the list acknowledges the progress you've made.

Assign it a time. Organizing guru Julie Morgenstern advises that you need to schedule things if you want to them to get done. Once you've decided on your starting point, write it in your calendar as you would a medical appointment or lunch with a friend.

Make it routine. Do you already have some things you do at the same time every day, or even every week? Extend this concept and make the big job a standing appointment until it is finished.

Play Beat the Clock. Maybe it's the educator in me, but I'm a big fan of setting a timer and working till it dings (or plays a jazz riff, in the case of my iPhone timer). Sometimes I stop when the timer goes off, but sometimes I keep going. For me, getting started is the hardest part, so once I get rolling, I sometimes ignore the timer.

Seize the moment. In the mood to tackle a task that wasn't on the list? Go for it! As long as the task you initially planned to do isn't time sensitive, it pays to put that motivation to work, particularly if the project you're tackling instead is one you weren't looking forward to.

Mix and match. Pair two tasks, one desirable and one undesirable. Do the one you don't want to do first, then reward yourself by doing the one you enjoy.

Do it as you go. This is my favorite clutter-busting trick. When I have an area in my house that has accumulated clutter, I play a little game with myself. Each time I go by, I have to pick up one thing and put it away. I can pick up more than one thing if I want to, but everything I pick up, I must put away - where it belongs - not in another temporary holding zone.

Give credit where credit is due. At the end of each day, take a few moments to acknowledge what you've accomplished. If you have trouble replaying your day, make it a point to jot down a couple of words about what you're doing as you do it, then review the list at the end of the day.

It's sometimes hard to see the baby steps we've taken on the road to success, particularly if the road is long, but success breeds success, and the only way to reach the destination is to figure out how to take it step by step....and maybe stop for a Starbucks along the way.

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