How to Eat an Elephant

Tips for Getting Big Things Done



There’s often a collapse in our understanding when it comes to getting things done.

We’re taught that if we were really motivated, we would have started on that work project or organized that closet. We’re told that if we really cared about our family’s health, we’d consistently prepare tasty, nutritious meals. If we aren’t exercising or haven’t finished that online course we started, we assume that a lack of willpower or poor self-image is to blame.

Maybe, but not likely.

Activation, unlike motivation, is an executive function skill. That means it is based in the brain’s frontal lobes, which are largely responsible for things like organization, time management, prioritization … and activation, the ability to get started on something. This area of the brain is easily overwhelmed by too much to do, confusion about how to do things, or the dread that comes when a project seems too big to be easily accomplished.

That’s when the protective amygdala—the part of our brain that helps us manage stress—steps in with the fight, flight or freeze response. So we go into avoidance mode.

OK, this is an oversimplification, but it helps us understand why we find some things so challenging and continually procrastinate, even if we are motivated to get them done.

Fortunately, there are many strategies that can help us overcome overwhelming feelings, reduce the avoidance factor and successfully accomplish our goals.

As a productivity, ADD/ADHD and organization coach, I often speak about the two magic words, clarity and priority. These are critical for minimizing confusion, conflicts and avoidance. That process begins with breaking projects down into doable tasks. (A project is too big to “do” at one sitting, and so the thought of “doing” an entire project is often overwhelming, resulting in avoidance rather than clarity). The next step is prioritizing the tasks to avoid conflicting focus, and scheduling each task on your calendar. Even then, the tendency might be to procrastinate.

Three strategies are especially effective when it comes to activation. We use them in my online action/accountability group, the TUIT Project (as in, “get around to it”):

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

If you tend to avoid certain projects because they’re just too big, scary or unappetizing, begin by breaking them into doable tasks—individual bites that aren’t too painful to swallow.

Make a commitment.

It’s easier to eat an elephant when you find it appetizing, or when you’re really hungry (deadline, anyone?). But that’s a less effective way of ensuring you accomplish your business or personal goals than if you were to commit to taking small, palatable bites of the elephant every day. By making those bites very small, you’ve made it easier to fit them into your busy schedule. And by prioritizing them (allotting time to them in a logical order), you’ve gained clarity. That’s how you triumph over your perfectionistic avoidance tendencies. Consistent, small bites get things done!

Establish accountability.

When someone else knows and cares whether you’ve accomplished a goal, you’re more likely to get it done--especially when they support you and cheer you on as you overcome challenges. Consider the benefits of individual coaching, or join a group like the TUIT Project, which is designed to provide support and accountability. A new online group begins October 4—visit OvercomeOverwhelm.com. Susan Lasky Productivity Solutions provides coaching to help clients move forward and have less stressful, more fulfilling lives.

Susan Lasky is based in Westchester but works virtually anywhere. Contact her at 914.373.4787 or Susan@SusanLasky.com, or schedule a free, no-obligation initial consult at SusanLasky.AcuityScheduling.com.

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