How do you eat an elephant?

Let’s unpack one of the most over-used terms in management – “how do you eat an elephant?”. One bite at a time.

But what does this really mean in practice?

How often do you have tasks that seem too big to tackle? How often do you feel you have so much on your plate you don’t know where to begin. Being overwhelmed by big projects and big workloads is one of the most common workplace stresses and the effects of this type of stress should not be underestimated. It’s crucial we learn techniques to help manage this type of stress and one of the best ways to combat such overwhelm is to change how you approach and think about tasks.

Do you think too globally or too specifically?

It’s difficult to feel in control when you feel there’s too much on your ‘to do’ list. When you start feeling overwhelmed by what you need to get done, you most likely to fall into one of two distinct categories, depending on how you think about tasks. You will either look at a project and pull it apart into a thousand pieces, or you’ll look at is as one big abstract whole. In other words, you have a tendency to either look at things too specifically (too many parts) or too globally (too few parts so it seems too big and abstract). If you attempt a project and try to do the whole thing all at once, it’s going to be overwhelming. If you break it down into too many small steps, it’s also too overwhelming.

Both perspectives result in you feeling daunted and hesitant and not confident in tackling the task at hand.

The solution

If your thinking is too global, become more specific. Likewise, if your thinking is too specific, become more global.

When you put big projects off, it’s not always because you lack the ability or will power to accomplish your objectives, more often that not, it’s because you haven’t successfully broken the task down into ‘bit size’ chunks .

I like to think of an article that stuck in my mind about the one of the country’s most successful authors, Bryce Courtney. He churned out a lot of books in his time, an accomplishment that makes most of us feel weak at the knees. But his success in doing this, lay in his approach, his perspective on how to tackle each book. He didn’t just start writing a book. He made a commitment to write 1,000 words each day before doing anything else. He applied no pressure, just to write 1,000 words. He then got up and got on with his day and would reflect on what he had written and then he may or may not come back to those words and tweak and edit and fine tune. Some days he got started and just wouldn’t stop, he got into a state of flow. Other days the creative flow didn’t come quite so easy but still, he would be true to his discipline and get his 1,000 words out. He found the perfect recipe to write a book. He broke the task down into bite size chunks that allowed to create a little each day. Until he had a book.

What’s does your 1,000 word commitment look like?

How can you take a similar approach with a big project that you may have been putting off because you have been thinking too globally or too specifically about how to get it done? Try to break it down into bite size chunks that are just the right size for your mind to accept and think “OK, I can do this”. Here’s an example. If you have a big project that is overwhelming, grab a pen and write down how you can start the project by giving yourself a small task each day. Forget about thinking about the final outcome of the project, just focus on getting started. Tomorrow morning, how about you create a file and the appropriate folders you might need for the project. The next day you could break the project down into three phases and prepare a spreadsheet for the first phase with some dates and allocated tasks documenting who’s doing what and when. Simple, manageable steps are much easier to achieve in a day, setting you up to accomplish your mammoth task most effectively, without feeling overwhelmed by focusing on the big picture and the outcomes too much.

What’s a project you can apply the 1000 word a day approach to? Breaking down workload and focusing on one step at a time makes things much more achievable and reduces the stress around overwhelm.

Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.

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