Most of us are familiar with the phrase “eat an elephant one bite at a time”. The phrase highlights how things in our lives that may seem overwhelming, can be accomplished by taking on a little at a time.
I saw this approach used during my years in corporate program and project management. Large projects were broken into smaller tasks with assigned timelines allowing continued forward progress to be achieved.
Yet, how often do we take this same one step at a time approach to our personal vision, goals and projects?
I was speaking with someone recently and mentioned the approach I had used when helping my mom clear out the house she had lived in for over 40 years. The clearing out felt overwhelming to her, with a lifetime of accumulated items to sort through. I suggested she look at clearing out the house like she would a window. Each drawer, file, and closet would be a pane of glass in that window. In using that approach, my mom was able to make consistent progress, one step at a time. The sense of overwhelm disappeared and the “pane of glass” focus allowed the project of preparing the house to go on the market to complete within four months.
If she had continued to look at the project in its entirety, it would have remained a challenge, turning into a way to procrastinate and focus on what she wasn’t getting done. By looking at the house clearing as a daily action of cleaning one pane of glass in a window at a time, it became manageable. The small steps became a continual source of acknowledgement as each item was checked off a long list reflecting the magnitude of the bigger task at hand.
Earlier this year, I signed up for a program called 21 for 21 offered by Jennifer Britton – https://www.standoutvirtually.com/coworking.html. For 21 days in a month, we meet and cover a brief topic, and then spend 21 minutes working on something. The focus differs by individual and has included writing, decluttering, marketing, and a range of other types of projects.
I started using this 21-minute timeframe to get through long-standing items on my to do list. Some were easy to complete in that 21-minutes. Others were projects that needed to be completed over time, including many related to decluttering my space and my life. One project was clearing out old voicemails and another reviewing LinkedIn requests. I broke them down into smaller steps and called the effort “tiny purges”, removing a small number of items each day until the bigger task was complete. Most of the tiny purges are now complete and I have moved onto “tiny projects”. My current tiny project is how to sort and organize big piles of paper while maintaining momentum one day at a time.
Each person has aspects of their life that can feel overwhelming and too big to sort through. The important thing is that you acknowledge the need to take action and break things down in a way that feels useful, that you can commit to, and which creates the opportunity to acknowledge your efforts along the way.
Finding yourself overwhelmed with a project and unable to break it down into manageable steps? Or maybe you are procrastinating because you feel your vision or goal is too big. What if you looked at the vision, project or goal as a window and asked what reflects the first pane of glass? If you’re still unclear, please contact me for a complimentary coaching conversation.
© 2021 Systems of Change, LLC