This was originally published on Dumb Little Man.
Is everything taking forever to get done? Does your boss come up to you and ask, “What is taking so long with the project?” Or if you work for yourself, do your business goals never seem to get accomplished.
Are you struggling to finish things? I bet when you start out on a goal or project you have a lot of excitement. It might be the dream project you have always wanted.
Your enthusiasm is probably overflowing and you are convinced you are going to rock whatever you have on your plate. After time passes though, do you slowly lose interest, forget why you started in the first, and finally in a state of just plain exhaustion quit the thing you had so much passion for in the first place? It doesn’t have to be this way. You have probably fallen into the trap of one of the most common personal development, motivational sayings of recent history.
Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time
Yes, we have all heard the saying, “Eat the elephant one bite at a time” when dealing with a large task, goal, or project. Just do a Google search and you will find blog posts, books and videos on it by the scores. It is so ingrained in our culture that we accept it as fact. The trouble is that it doesn’t work very well.
It would be the same if it were a real elephant and you were a villager that had the whole elephant sitting in front of you.
It Starts to Smell
The first problem with eating an elephant one bite at a time is that it goes bad really quickly. Imagine a huge elephant lying outside of the villager’s hut. With the sun and the days, weeks and months it would take to eat the elephant this way, it going to rot pretty quickly and stink up the neighborhood.
You Get Really Sick of Elephant
The other problem of consuming your hypothetical elephant this way is that you get really sick of elephant. Even the most delicious food will get tiring after a time. In fact, one method of aversion therapy which breaks bad habits is to consume something so much until you get physical ill just thinking of it. The thousand pound elephant is going to taste pretty bad after enough bites of it.
Our Brains Don’t Like Methodical
I will drop the elephant analogy for awhile. The real problem with taking it step by step is that most people lose interest and end up quitting. If they can’t quit at let’s say a job related task they get so sick of it, they find every reason to get the project killed by their boss.
Long term goals, tasks or projects have a very low rate of success. A good example of this is Chapter 13 bankruptcies. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows someone in debt to set up a five year payment plan in order to repay some if not all of their debt. Two thirds of these plans fail. The problem is that it simply takes too long. New life events occur; people lose interest and default on their bankruptcies.
Have an Elephant Party
So back to the African village and the villager who has the elephant to eat. How does one eat an elephant so that it doesn’t go bad and you don’t get sick of it?
You hack it up and have a party.It is pretty simple. You cut up the elephant into big parts. Invite the whole village over and pass out the parts. Music, some beverages and before you know it, that elephant is gone. Everyone is happy and you get to move on to the next elephant, water buffalo, or whatever.
What I am talking about here is breaking a big audacious goal, huge project or a simply something that just seems overwhelming into big chunks that can be taken on at the same time. In the information technology world, you call this parallel instead of serial processes. You have several things running at once, instead of one at a time each after the other.In addition to breaking the item into big parts, you find others to help you with it. This might be outsourcing, it might mean finding partners, paying affiliates, or even bartering your skills for assistance. Getting outside help with these big chunks will make it go much quicker and you will get the results you wanted while you still remember why you wanted them.
Getting Your Elephant from Huge to Gone
Let’s take this elephant party approach to a real world scenario. A perfect example is the old fashioned barn raising. Everyone pitches in to form work parties to handle the different aspects of building a barn. Many times they can get a barn up in one day or so.Another more modern example is the way a lot of people are creating books. Instead of trying to write the whole book themselves, they solicit their friends or other people with like interests to write individual chapters. The book gets written in a couple weeks, instead of several months.
Now I am not saying that this is for everyone and for every situation. Some people have a very disciplined mindset and a methodical, linear approach works for them. In my experience though, there aren’t that many people like that around.I suggest the next time you hear someone say, “Just eat the elephant one bite at a time,” you smile and instead have an elephant party.
I am curious, what are your thoughts on eating the elephant one bite at time? Do you think a step by step approach is best or not? Why? Please answer in the comments.