How to eat the elephant of your workload

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Everyone knows that saying, and tackling your workload is just the same…By Ondrej Bajgar

And yet I keep meeting friends in the library complaining that their stomach is aching or that they still haven’t even nibbled away the trunk of their assignment, because it’s just too scary a task to start.

Most of us have not one, but a whole herd of assignments to devour. But don’t give up, you can face eating the beasts following these 5 steps:

1. Carefully select your menu

You can’t do or read everything out there. You will need to choose. Think of deadlines as best before dates – sit down, make a prioritised list. Does it look managable on the time scale you’re looking at? No? You’re likely to have eyes too big for your belly at this moment. Let some projects go rather than keep too much on your plate.

2. Divide your meal into portions

“One bite at a time,” people say. So it’s time to chop your assignments into parts.

How long can you fully concentrate without interruption? I mean fully concentrate before your mind starts wondering to how great it would be to wander with elephants through a sunlit savannah instead of being stuck in the library trying to study. For most people it is about 25 – 35 minutes. Divide up your larger assignments and arrange your tasks accordingly.

3. Choose your diet for the day     

Now it’s time to use it to assemble your diet plan for the day. Some bits are definitely easier to ingest than others. Start with the difficult tasks while you have energy.

Keep your diet varied; try alternating between different types of activities. When you’re fed up with something, it’s always more pleasant to pick up with something different.

4. Your meals are ready to be served!

Now it seems pretty straightforward: bite after bite you start eating. Don’t let yourself be interrupted in any way and start nibbling at other things in the middle – multitasking is generally a bad idea.

5. What defines bites? The breaks between them. 

The trick is to strictly separate the time when you’re working and time when you’re not. You need to take real breaks – ideally leave your table in the library. Don’t just start browsing Facebook. That would be like eating crisps in between courses – you need to give your body a rest.

The best break is doing something completely different from what you were doing before. Or just doing nothing. Staring out of the window is great. Dreaming about elephants is perfect. Chatting to your friends is equally fine.

Don’t feel guilty taking a break. You need them!

So what now? 

Merely reading about elephants won’t help you with your workload. Following these steps will. So make sure you understand each of them and get started:

1) Separate the projects you want to concentrate on from the rest.

2) Break the projects down to manageable bites.

3) At the beginning of the day, write down the bits you want to tackle today into a list.

4) With full focus, start ticking these task off your list one by one.

5) Don’t forget the breaks!

And apologies to all the vegetarians out there for rather over-stretching the elephant metaphor!

Image: elephant ears./Brittany H./ CC BY-NC 2.0

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