Have you ever felt overwhelmed or frustrated by the sheer size of a big project?
Do you find yourself stuck and prone to procrastinating whenever to need to start a new task?
Are you unable to achieve success and fulfillment because your projects don’t seem to go anywhere?
Don’t worry, this is totally normal. Getting started or achieving big goals can be hard – That is what makes them worth it!
Sometimes though just thinking about the massive amount of physical or mental work required is exhausting. This can be made even worse when there seems to be about 50 things that you could be doing but don’t know which one is the best use of your time.
Even worse, the longer you know that you need to make a start on something but don’t, the harder it seems.
Below are the details of an approach that will help you with identifying and succeeding with big goals… I call this system the ‘Bite-Size Breakdown’ technique.
The Bite Size Breakdown
Any huge task is really just a series of smaller tasks combined together.
Like the old saying goes “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”.
The best (and often only) way to tackle any big, meaty project is to break it down into bite sized chunks and then get chewing!
The best thing is that this approach will work in absolutely any situation.
Want to design a new kitchen but feel a little overwhelmed with options? Here is how to make sense of it.
Trying to write your university thesis but don’t know where to start? This will give you direction.
Maybe you just want to plan a holiday but are nervous that you could miss something… worry no more.
One of the best things about this system is that it is totally simple. Once you have the hang of it you will be able to apply it without even needing to think about it.
The system is based on a simple 3 step process.
Step 1 – Identify your end goal.
Step 2 – Write down the most logical ways to classify all the parts. Based simply on your view of how things are connected. In most cases the best way to do this is to determine the final outputs that are needed to achieve your final goal.
Step 3 – Keep breaking these down until you have a series of things that are small and basic enough for you to start doing them. The easiest way to establish these is to think of the tasks required to complete the outputs from step 2.
How small do I break the tasks down?
This is a difficult question to answer as it will really depend on the project. The simplest answer to this though is – small enough to make it manageable. Small enough that you know the start, the end and what is required to move between them.
Personally, if I am struggling with making progress on something, I can always find heaps of other things to do. This sort of procrastination is frustrating because even though I know that I need to be working on something, the appeal of tidying my desk or checking Facebook (again) is greater.
Another way to know if the task is small enough is to make it achievable when compared to the many distractions.
How would this work in the real world?
Here is an example of just one way that this approach could be used.
Carl and Joanne are taking a holiday to Europe. They have traveled together before but these were on cruise ships or tropical islands where there were really not many options for to plan. They had a look at taking a bus tour but found that they were either too expensive or didn’t go to places that they were interested in.
They have decided that they will organize their own holiday but are feeling a little overwhelmed with all of the options and decisions they need to consider.
They start with the end goal that sets the direction of their planning. An amazing European vacation.
They have an idea of the countries that they would like to visit so they can break their goal down into these. England, Switzerland (Joanne really likes chocolate), France, Italy and Germany.
They also have an idea of some of the cities and places that they would like to visit so they write these down under each of the relevant country. Paris in France. Berlin and Munich in Germany. Vatican City, the Colosseum and Venice in Italy.
They also know that there are a few things that are going to be relevant to their whole trip to work out. They capture these separately. Things like arranging travel insurance, passports and their general itinerary.
At this point things are starting to take shape but the idea of all the many things to organize for each country is still a little daunting. Because they have started breaking things down though, they realize that they already have a general idea of how they will travel through Europe. They will fly into England, travel to France, then on to Germany, through Switzerland and fly out from Italy.
From here breaking things down even further becomes really simple. They need only think about how they will get into each country, what they want to do and see there, where they will stay and how they will get to the next country.
Planning their time in each city is just as simple. How will they get to the city, what will they do, where will they stay and how will they leave?
At the end of this process they are left with a number of really simple and easy to digest chunks of work. They know that they need to arrange things like a ‘hotel in Rome’ and a ‘train from London to Paris’. The rest of their planning becomes a simple matter to completing each of these tasks.
This is just one of the endless ways that this could be applied. The beauty in the simplicity of this though, is that it can really be used in absolutely any real world situation!
A kitchen renovation would involve final tasks like comparing wall tiles and bench colors. A workplace project to contact 500 potential clients could just be calling the 25 previous customers and then the 30 people that left their email addresses at a trade show.
Why this works
There are a few fairly simple reasons why this approach works. The main one though is that it makes things really easy to understand. You can clearly see the start and end of each individual task. Even though you are still aware that they are part of something greater, they are also achievable.
Our brains like order. They like to understand things. Breaking big things down into smaller bite-sized pieces makes them easier to approach. You understand what is required and how to do them.
What was previously a mammoth activity starts to appear much simpler when we strip away its intimidating size and see what is actually required.
Some of the other really powerful reasons that this simple approach is so effective are:
- Smaller tasks are much, much easier to work with because you can actually schedule them
- Bite-sized pieces are less mentally exhausting and are actually achievable
- It gives you something to focus on and stops procrastination
- It makes things seem less overwhelming as you know exactly what is required
- You have visibility of the one next thing to focus on
- You have the confidence to take the next step to success because you know you are working on the right thing
Once you have an idea of the things that are needed, all you need to do is pick one and take action!
Ok so you have been through the activity of breaking your project down into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks… now what?
The simplest answer to this is to pick a task and start on it. If there is one that stands out as the thing that needs to be done first, that is an obvious place to start. If other tasks are dependent on something needing to be done, start there.
If you are still unsure of which one is the right one though, chances are that it probably won’t matter. In this case it could make sense to pick the one that will be the easiest or fastest to complete. Finishing something, however small, will work wonders for your confidence and motivation.
Once you have some momentum rolling from a few ‘quick wins’, you will be positioned to take on some of the harder ones.
Hopefully the bite sized breakdown technique will help you find the direction and inspiration to take on your next big project. I imagine that there is probably already something that you have been putting off and could apply this to.
Like everything, the most important part of implementing the bite-size breakdown is getting started. Hopefully now that you are armed with this knowledge you can see that your enormous project is really just a series of much more simple things.
What are you waiting for? Go out and start breaking down your next big project.