Habit of the month May: Bite sized chunks

By johannatime On May 1, 2015 Under The Habit of the Month

The habit featured this month is my number one recipe for beating procrastination and kickstart whatever difficult project that might be on your plate. Making all of your tasks into bite sized chunks makes you productive and tackles overwhelm instantly.

There will probably be tasks on your list, or if you don’t have a list, on your mind, that have an excellent excuse not to get done: you need a good part of a day, or a week(!) to do them. Trust me, you don’t get those days, let alone those weeks. Taking bite sized chunks will solve that problem.

Wisdom and common sense

They say: the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. This applies to a Mars bar, too.

They also say: you can only do it if you can imagine it.

I say: don’t solve problems until they are due.

And Nelson Mandela said: Most projects seem impossible until they are done.

I think this means: most seemingly impossible projects can be done.

Why you procrastinate on difficult tasks

When you are asked to eat an elephant, your mind suddenly gets overwhelmed by the thought of completing this assignment all at once, simply because your brain thinks: ‘I can’t fit an elephant into my mouth and I don’t like the taste of elephant anyway’. You can’t imagine doing it so you believe you can’t do it.

What your brain thinks about, is an overwhelming and seemingly impossible end result. The habit that will help you overcome the feeling of overwhelm, is breaking down your projects into bite sized chunks. When you take a very close look at your project, you will find that it consists of many small steps. Thousands of them, sometimes. And that’s fine. You will probably not be able to see all of them at once, and you don’t have to, as long as you can see the first one. Because when you know what the first thing is that you need to do to get your desired outcome, something you can imagine yourself doing, and then do it, your perspective has changed, and your brain can come up with an appropriate next step. Another bite sized chunk.

So in the case of the elephant that would be ‘find a tasty recipe for elephant roast’, in order to tease your appetite, and to start finding tools and ingredients to make the project work.

When you get to the ‘I can’t fit an elephant into my mouth’ situation, the chunks are too big. You have then identified a step you cannot imagine yourself doing.

A step by step instruction

Your brain thinks fast and it likes speed, so you should help it a bit by taking these individual steps, rather than skipping them:

  1. Identify your desired outcome. When can you tick this project off your list?
  2. Identify the first thing you need to do, or if you’re not certain, a first thing that you could do, to move this project towards completion.
  3. Check if you can imagine yourself doing this action.
  4. Check if you imagine yourself finishing it, too.
  5. Make sure it takes about 30 minutes, or less to complete.
  6. Then do it, or write it on your to do list.

The trick is to identify something to do and not to worry about, that you can actually look forward to. ‘Yes I can do that’ should be your thought, rather than ‘I don’t like the taste of elephant anyway’.

Why not deal with problems until they are due?

Because many problems are only created by your overwhelmed and stressed brain. They are sorted before you get there, because of all the previous steps you have taken, or because they didn’t appear. So only when a true problem causes trouble, you solve it by taking one bite at a time. And repeat.

Now eating the the Mars bar is an easy job, but this task also has several steps, and if you’d ask an alien to whom the concept of eating a Mars bar is something new, it would feel overwhelmed, too.

Please share your comment and recipes for tasty tasks below:

Johanna Jansen

  • […] a project can look and feel like an untakable hurdle. Your brain is a creative system that can and will come up with the most horrific scenarios when […]

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