Eating an Elephant

Dylan | Jul 25, 2019

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Big goals and large projects have a tendency to overwhelm us, often to the point of paralysis. If we don’t know the exact route to your destination, the idea of taking the first steps easily feels daunting.

One of the greatest first steps towards accomplishing any goals or projects is defining SMART goals but there’s something we should keep in mind for large undertakings. Although SMART goals are powerful by themselves, large goals are better broken down into several SMART goals.

How Are Elephants Eaten?

Let’s consider the African proverb that perfectly highlights the idea of breaking down large tasks,

The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Poor elephants. Thankfully we don’t have to eat elephants to take away the important lesson!

We all have our own elephant goals and projects that we have to eat. Whether it’s writing a thesis, studying for an exam, preparing a presentation at work, completing a large work project. Procrastination, detrimental to our health and success, runs rampant in our society largely due to our poor ability to effectively break down large tasks into smaller ones.

So, how can we effectively break down large tasks?

Sectioning the Elephant

Goals, like elephants are comprised of many major parts. Since it’s quite relevant at the moment, let’s break down the task of creating a blog. Wow, making a website and writing several dozen posts seems like a lot of work and even a perfectly constructed SMART goal isn’t likely to make the task feel too much more manageable. Let’s define some steps for breaking down the task starting from the big picture and working our way down to the details.

Step One: Identify the Subprojects


For our blog example, the two major sub-projects will be:
  1. Creating the Website

  2. Writing Blog Posts

If we were serious about building a community around our blog, we would also include the subproject of marketing and sharing our blog but to keep this example elephant palatable, let’s stick with these two.

Step Two: Identify the Key Tasks for Each Subproject


Some example tasks for our subprojects could include:
  1. Creating a Website
    • Choose Hosting

    • Choose/Purchase a Domain

    • Choose a Theme/Style

  2. Writing Blog Posts
    • Choose a Topic/Theme/Niche

    • Brainstorm Blog Post Topics

    • Write the First Post

    • Write the Second Post

Step Three: Check If Key Tasks are Projects


Some of the tasks identified in step two may actually be further mini-projects with their own tasks to complete. For example, the task of "Choose Hosting" could be a project if it were further deconstructed into SMART versions of:
  • Research 5 popular hosting options

  • Check with my friend blogger friend Sally for advice/recommendations

  • Decide on a host

Now these are manageable bites! You can easily spend an hour reading and watching videos about different hosting options and shooting a quick message to Sally will take less than a single Pomodoro! With these simple steps you’ll start your journey in the right direction and be 33% complete with the subproject of making the website!

If there’s ever a roadblock we’re honestly unsure of how to overcome, we can easily make it a goal to research it further and/or ask someone for help/advice.

It’s important to keep in mind that every large project is just a series of smaller steps. Writing that first daunting blog post is just the process of writing roughly two pages, each page is the process of writing a few paragraphs, each paragraph the process of writing a few to several sentences, each sentence the process of writing a handful of words.

The Power of Persistence

I’ve already covered the power of persistence quite in depth but it’s so critical that it’s worth revisiting briefly. No matter how we sectioned the elephant, eating it wouldn’t be possible if we stopped taking bites. Persistence is the most important component in accomplishing challenging goals.

Procrastination

Just like our large goals, eating an entire elephant is bound to be uncomfortable at times. Watching Netflix while scrolling endless through social media is certainly easier in the present but at what cost? The cost of our dreams, fulfilment, mental health? If a project is work or school related, forcing yourself to work nonstop before the deadline will not negatively impact your health but the quality of your work will inevitably suffer.

If we had a day to walk 20 miles, most of us would be able to complete it at a leisurely pace with time to stop and enjoy a meal and admire the beautiful surroundings; however, if we waited until the last few hours to get started, some of us would die trying to make it in time.

Even for those of us in good enough shape to pull it off, our experience would be completely different than those who spent all day walking. Those who walked would have stories about the beautiful mountains they saw, cute dogs they got to pet, and interesting meals they ate. Some would even be eager to do it again soon!

Our present self owes it to our future self to breakdown tasks and get started now.


Do you have any advice about breaking down goals? What large goals do you have that can be broken down? Do you have any procrastination horror stories? Please share with us in the comments below! As always, thanks for reading!

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