Eliminate Overwhelm: How to Eat an Elephant (a Personal Productivity Quandry)

There is an old joke about the technique to use when dining on an elephant. If you manage a business, supervise a group or team, you are probably dealing with an overwhelming and overflowing in-box, multiple projects, and a series of last-minute surprises and you’ve asked the question, “How do you eat an elephant?”

Everyone who manages any facet of a business or institution is faced with elephants. Elephants are the massive tasks and challenges we encounter, seemingly every day (or the astonishing number of tasks and details that somehow lands on your desk):

That mountain of paperwork to go through!

The seemingly impossible quotas!

The customers demanding ever higher levels of speed, service, and quality.

Staff that has questions, ideas, due-dates, and requests

Vendors to keep on top of

The endless details of managing our business and personal life!

It’s a whole herd of elephants!

So how do we convert our daily elephants into something of manageable size?

  1. Determine the end results and focus on key points.
  2. Prioritize those key points (most important / easiest to accomplish / highest return-on-investment / etc.)
  3. Delegate as many tasks as possible to people who have the skills and the time to do them correctly and on time (and if they are dealing with elephants themselves, help them by showing them this list). NOTE: create deadlines or you will have even more stuff on your list.
  4. Develop a time-line – blend the time needed and the time allotted with checkpoints to insure adherence to the timetable.
  5. Break the project into digestible, manageable, and tasty chunks.
  6. Get started on task #1 and continue to move forward.
  7. Revise and reprioritize the list as new tasks arrive

If you don’t take this methodical approach then every day is chaos, constantly behind and out of breath with a result that some tasks either don’t get done at all or they get finished in a sloppy, low-quality manner which means that they will show up on your desk again to be done or redone which means you’ve wasted the time and effort the first time which produces more chaos, more angst, more overwhelm. Better to get on with eating the elephant.

When the task is an elephant (and aren’t they all?) break that big guy into manageable parts that are focused towards a timely result. In other words, “One Bite at A Time!”

Soon you will be ready for a delicious dessert.