Getting started on an important, big project can be difficult for many people, perhaps most people. It requires a focused kind of brain power, the ability to stay grounded despite feelings like anxiety, fear and overwhelm, and the courage to leap into the unknown. Given the pace of life these days and the many demands vying for our attention, that type of brain power can be hard to achieve even under the best of circumstances.
I’ve learned from personal experience that it’s important to create the conditions that make engaging in difficult, sometimes scary and overwhelming tasks possible. I recently watched myself prepare to create a new PowerPoint program. In order to get to a place where I could start, I systematically made myself complete a majority of the many small tasks that were littering my brain, my to do list, and my desk in the form of reminder notes. Those tasks included routine maintenance tasks, optional tasks, tasks that usually aren’t urgent and not particularly interesting to do, tasks that won’t take long to do.
I had intuitively begun clearing small task litter. At some level I was aware that each little task had a noisy energy and was distracting me from being able to start the bigger, more important project. Once those tasks were done, starting on the daunting important task was much easier. I had cleared space in my car, my home office and my mind so my brain could engage in productive action.
By the way, I was able to complete those tasks and not get lost down a rabbit hole of avoidance because I never let my bigger goal slip from my mental field of vision. People with ADD/ADHD might have some difficulty using my strategy because executive function challenges in the frontal lobes of their brains make staying aware of the big goal difficult, and make it difficult to keep track of time and weigh the best use of their time in any given endeavor, especially if some of those small tasks are more fun and interesting and less scary than the big project.
What I notice when I help clients clear clutter is that their backlog of small tasks is often enormous, especially for those people who are idea generators. Because their lists of small tasks to do are so big, they can’t see beyond them to identify and take action on important tasks that are in alignment with their life purpose, could result in better quality of life and more bring them more personal satisfaction. The small tasks not only block seeing important tasks, their noisy energy blocks completion of important tasks that have been started. The energetic chatter of those small task keeps the brain distracted and unable to get it together to followthrough to completion.
Also, as small tasks begin to accumulate, the quantity of small tasks takes on an energy of its own! Their energy changes from a waiting, not urgent energy into a more urgent energy. Those tasks floating around in your head and on your desk are rarely urgent. However, en masse they seem urgent and stir up an internal “do it now!” energy that could make accurately prioritizing tasks very difficult.
Rather than let small tasks accumulate and result in an effective block to initiating and completing important tasks, I recommend the following:
- Be very selective about small tasks that you decide to do. There are many tasks that could be done, but are they worth your precious time, energy and focus?
- Do small tasks as quickly as you can so they don’t accumulate. The longer small tasks fester, the more difficult it will be to make yourself engage in and complete tasks. Inertia seems to build the longer any tasks sits, requiring more and more energy to initiate action. If something can be done in less than a minute, do it immediately.
- Have weekly 30-60 minute small task clearing sessions. I do this on Sunday afternoons when I am regrouping and getting organized for the next week. Just knocking off a few of those tasks every week keeps the small task energy block at bay.
If you commit to managing the small tasks every day and clearing some of them every week, you’ll have the space, energy and focus you need when an important task needs to be done.