One of the common reasons people postpone work or procrastinate is because the size or complexity of a project makes it intimidating. Every time they think about working on the project, they are overwhelmed by how much work is going to be required or how many different parts are involved. Or sometimes, they’re overwhelmed because it’s a long-term project and they can’t easily visualize the end result.
When faced with a too-big project, it’s easy to feel you should wait to start until you have a big block of time, or until you are sure you can make significant progress, or until you have all of the information.
Why do anything if you can’t do everything?
It’s called, “all or nothing” thinking.
The Perils of All or Nothing Thinking
Have you ever promised yourself that as soon as you had a free afternoon or a couple of unscheduled hours, or a whole day, you would tackle your project? Congratulations! You have been the victim of all or nothing thinking.
All or nothing thinking happens when people believe that until they can do everything, there is no point in doing anything. All or nothing thinking blocks people from all kinds of projects and goals: beginning a new initiative, looking for a new job, starting or marketing a business, or writing a book.
I see all or nothing thinking quite often in clients, especially when we are talking about a big project with lots of different parts.
One of the problems with all or nothing thinking about a project or task you need to tackle is that it creates a state of paralysis. You can’t get started until you believe you can do it all, and right now you can’t do it all. Therefore, you can’t get started.
Realistically, we rarely have the block of time we think we need to finish a whole project at one time. Especially in today’s digital world.
Instead, slice off a small piece and get it done in a small window of time.
Cut Your Project Down to Size
When you are stuck and just can’t get started on a project or task, use a tool I call Chunking It Up.
When you chunk it up, you break a project into smaller, more manageable pieces.
The pieces may be steps like simply making a list of tasks for the project, organizing your notes or research materials into a folder or notebook, starting an outline, or brainstorming a list of ideas.
When you break your project into smaller pieces and complete them, you give your brain what it is begging for: the satisfaction of closure. That satisfaction, in turn, motivates your brain to want to tackle and complete more.
Let’s say your project is to write a new blog post. Here are some smaller chunks you could start with:
- Brainstorm topic ideas for the blog post.
- Brainstorm keywords for your post.
- Make a list of points you want to include.
- Brainstorm examples you might include.
- Research additional material, such as statistics, quotes, or images you might include.
- Brainstorm titles for the post.
What if even those small chunks feel like too much? Try even smaller chunks:
- Brainstorm one possible topic idea for the blog post.
- Brainstorm one keyword.
- Write down one point you want to make.
- Write down one example you might include.
- Research one statistic, quote, or image you might include.
- Brainstorm one possible title for the post.
Chunking It Up breaks through that all-or-nothing paralysis, and it helps you create the momentum to keep going.
Leverage the Power of Small
Sometimes people are reluctant to use this strategy because they don’t think taking small steps is enough. They underestimate the power of many small steps and overestimate the need for “massive action,” as the gurus like to call it.
Taking many small actions can be even more effective than trying to do it all.
No doubt you’ve heard the business improvement term, Kaizen. The philosophy of Kaizen is that small, continual changes add up to big improvements.
Chunking It Up is similar to the concept of Kaizen: small steps add up to big progress.
Kaizen is the antithesis of all or nothing thinking. All or nothing thinking expects you to eat the entire elephant. Kaizen asks only for a small bite.
What Project Can You Cut Down to Size?
Pick a project from your to-do list and chunk it up. Break it into very small, easy-to-accomplish pieces. To make sure the pieces are small enough to begin with, use a 15-minute execution time (or even less) as your guideline.