When I was in the process of my divorce, I realized that a new life lay ahead of me for which I felt unprepared. Though it was the right decision, I was about to turn over a new leaf, and starting over was a heavy task. Then a friend asked, “How do you eat an elephant?” referencing Desmond Tutu. “One bite at a time.” That changed everything for me. The metaphor of chipping away at something so large in scope inspired me to buy an elephant ring and start moving forward. Here’s how you can take on an elephant-sized task:
Validate Your Feelings First
Before enjoying your elephant entree, start with the appetizer of validating your feelings. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed when faced with an enormous task. Embrace the stress and anxiety, and try not to judge yourself over your feelings. Instead be curious and understand them. For example, the reality of having to pay down an enormous college debt is scary, and it’s perfectly normal to be freaked out. Acknowledging this, and telling yourself, “It’s okay” will prepare you for next steps.
Create a List of Sub-Tasks
Once you process your feelings, it’s time to create a plan for tackling the huge task at hand. Remember, the elephant is not going to be eaten on its own. Get started by creating smaller, more manageable tasks. List them out and post them so that they are clearly visible. “Some people find it helpful to break the main goal down into small, measurable objectives,” says Dr. Denise Fournier, Adjunct Professor at Nova Southeastern University. “For example, if your main goal is to start a business, you can break that down into all the progressive steps you’ll take along the way: create a business name, register the business, set up the tax ID, etc. Making your goal measurable is an important way to keep yourself on track.”
Make a Plan
Now it’s time to convert your list of sub-tasks into an actionable plan. I highly recommend scheduling them in your calendar, so that you can stay on track and have a clear idea for when each one will be fulfilled. When I decided to open a new office, I planned in reverse. I circled the date that I wanted the lease to begin and worked backward from there, addressing each sub-task: location; size; office furniture; and so on.
Commit to Your Plan
Scheduling tasks is one thing, but carrying them out is another. Achieving goals is all about the follow-through. As Dr. Fournier notes, “Putting time stamps on your goals is a way of holding yourself accountable and making sure you stay focused and on task. You may need to do some research to find out how long you can reasonably expect to have to work on your goal before you can accomplish it. If you don’t set a deadline, you won’t be nearly as likely to stay committed and keep the wheels in motion.”
A giant task can be daunting. When you consider everything you need to address, it often feels intimidating to the point where you avoid taking that first step. You can’t eat the whole elephant at once, so take one bite at a time. Get in touch with your feelings, break down your elephant-sized task into smaller ones, and commit to a plan to complete them.
What is your approach to accomplishing large tasks?