So much to do, So little time!

Monday, March 26th, 2012

We’ve all heard that little question: “How do you eat an elephant?”, and the answer, “One bite at a time!”

Well, no one ever eats an elephant (unless you’re a hungry poacher), so it’s not that relevant to daily life for most of us; yet – it makes logical sense, doesn’t it!

Some years ago, I wrote an article on time management with the title “How do you eat an elephant?”  It was very well received and many of our clients contacted me to say that it had really helped them to focus on priorities.  About three years I posted the article – under that heading – on the web site.

This topic keeps coming up, so I thought I should pen it again for circulation under a different heading – and because we have lot more subscribers to the newsletter than we used to have when it was first written.  For those of you who’ve seen it before, please forgive me (though it may come in useful as a thought-provoker again?) – and for those new subscribers, I trust it will help you deal with what seems to be just too much to cope with at first glance, especially in the midst of very busy and full days.

What I’ve realised is that this question and answer defines the paralysis many of us suffer when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, – be they business or personal in nature.

I have often heard clients express their frustration in not being able to do the all the things they need to do, to take their businesses to the next level, or just to sort their businesses out!  The weight of it all was inevitably keeping them awake at night, bringing on panic attacks and generally de-motivating them.  In most cases, we know what needs to be done, but the thought of all of it is just too much for some.

In most cases, they were trying to eat the elephant in one bite.

The picture we get is ludicrous – a man trying to stuff a 10-ton animal into his ever-widening jaws. (Something out of a Walt Disney cartoon!)  Even if it was possible to get it into his mouth, the weight of it would crush the man, and his digestive system would never cope with all that food. (He would probably need a powerful laxative and a lot of space!!)

Trying to cope with all the problems we take on, at once, is just like that!  They tend to crush us, they wreak havoc with our digestive systems, and we tend to become a bit of pain in the butt to all around us!

About nine months we ago, we moved down to Montagu in the Western Cape, from Pietermaritzburg.  There was so much to do – building a new house, selling the old one, packing up our goods, organising a removal service, trying to get everything organised – and keep my business running at the same time.  At first glance, it was just too much – and to be honest, I don’t cope with this kind of change as well I did thirty years ago. (probably because I know what to expect these days!).  It was overwhelming – at first – and then I remembered my own words in this article.

I had been trying to take on the whole elephant.  Many of us do this, – much of the time.  We tend to create problems that don’t exist and may never even occur.

So, – how do we overcome this habit?  How do we start taking one bite of the elephant at a time?  Let me suggest the following:

  1. Carve up the elephant into cuts that you can handle at a sitting. You will get a fillet, some rump steak, some wing-rib, some pot-roasts etc. (Make a list of all those problems, those tasks that need doing, those plans that need action, –  that have been building up in your mind to be a huge obstacle.  Make sure it’s a written list.)
  2. Decide which cuts of meat you’re going to have first. (Prioritise those problems, goals, into tasks, and determine which require your attention first.)
  3. Decide on which days you’re going eat the fillet, the rump steak etc., and how many people you’re going have around for the meal. (Allocate specific dates to each task, and the names of the people you will require to assist you in accomplishing those tasks.  And, don’t be scared to delegate!)
  4. Forget the rest of the elephant and start with the first cut. (Put the thoughts of the obstacle out of your mind and address the first task.)
  5. When you’ve finished that first meal, clean up and throw the bones away. (Once the task has been accomplished, tick it off on your list and don’t re-visit it.)
  6. When the time comes for the next meal, take the cut from the freezer, prepare it, cook it, and eat it as before. (Move on to the next task, work your way through it, tick it off…and so on.)
  7. Eventually the freezer will be empty, the elephant will have been consumed, – and you will be amazed!! (You’ll get to the end of your list, the tasks will have been accomplished, and you will be able to look back on a job well done.)

Even God addressed the task of creating the heavens and the earth in the same way – in a planned orderly fashion.  And, as we have been created in His image, we are also able to attempt huge tasks and accomplish them – way beyond what we first think is possible.

Far too many of us allow opportunities to pass us by on the basis of “if only I could find the time to..” Well, let me say this: – Time waits for no-one, so if you’re trying to find it, you never will, for it will always elude you.  Don’t put the important things off because you think you’re too busy to find the time.  You have to make the time – and you will be surprised how much you will accomplish when you take it “one bite at a time”!