21 Ways of Getting Things Done
In this series we’ll take a look at the reasons people procrastinate and tips on overcoming the habit.
Strategy 7: Break it Down
If a task seems overwhelming, break it down into small steps. Don’t stress over everything it will take to finish the project; just focus on only performing “the next step.” You can’t do everything at once, but you can do one thing at once.
Is the task something that has to be completed from start to finish in one stretch? For example, if you’re fixing dinner you can’t make it half way and then finish it the following day. It’s the kind of thing you have to continue until it’s done. If so, “get your motivation on.” Put on your favorite music or audiobook to listen to while doing the dreaded task. Can you recruit someone to help you? Do part of it, take a short break, and go to the next step.
Let’s say you have a written assignment due the next day (a report for work or an essay for school). Break it into chunks: the outline first. Take a short break. Write the first paragraph (a preview where you tell them what you’re going to tell them, and the last paragraph (a summary where you tell them what you told them). Go for a brisk walk or make a cup of tea. Come back to the assignment and fill in the details. Afterward reward yourself with something you look forward to doing (30 minutes of MineCraft, a soak in a hot tub, or FaceTime your best friend).
If the project is something that you can stretch out over a few days, then set a time limit. “I’m going to pull weeds for 15 minutes a day until the flower bed is clear of them.” Or if it’s organizing the house, pick one room at a time or sort through one box a day. It’s like watching sand flow through an hourglass. Those tiny little grains seem to pass through so slowly and there’s hardly any change in the top half of the glass. But when you look 45 minutes later you see that the top is almost emptied.
So maybe you’re looking at a bedroom closet or a garage stacked with boxes. It looks overwhelming and you don’t even know where to begin. Think of the sand in the hourglass. Pick one box a day. Just one. Or one stack of papers. Or one laundry basket full of clothes. Or one yucky pan in the sink. And every day work on just one thing. At first you won’t see a difference. But as time goes by, a month from now you’ll look back and be amazed at all that you accomplished! Even the most overwhelming task can be finished—and finished well—just by taking that all-important first step.