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TASK ENORMITY

February 25th, 2020

 

Those big dreams.  Those crowing achievements we fantasize about.  Those enormous goals that spring up in our mind with too much ease.

 

The idea of these things being complete.  Being a source of satisfaction for having done.  They can be a great source for moving forward.

 

But when we finally sit down to take on the task, we are all too likely to feel powerless, even just flustered at the size of the task, the complexity of it.

 

Where to even start?

 

The short prescription here is to just start anywhere, with anything.  Just chip off a small piece and get things going.  Once you’re busy figuring out a few details, you’re zoomed in and you’re no longer paying any mind to the elephant you’re trying to eat.

 

The more thoughtful prescription seeks to have a little more discrimination.

 

Going at that elephant time and again, and dreading it every time, we can begin to wonder about making the process more efficient.

 

It’s familiar enough: working up the courage by procrastinating with another snack, another YouTube video, another Wikipedia rabbit hole spawning countless tabs.  It doesn’t take too much of this to wonder how it can be circumvented.

 

Besides, it’s always so satisfying to finish a long stint of progress on a project.  The day feels won, and anything that comes after feels well deserved.

 

As opposed to tackling any small facet to chip away at, it’s best to categorize a few possible starting points.  Would any be more satisfying to see finished?  Are others just invisible grunt work, necessary but nothing anyone will ever see?  Which one is most likely to get us to ease into the work and just get started?

 

As an example, for many coding projects, there is a lot of invisible grunt work done behind the scenes to make something work.  But then there’s also some fun stuff, generally the user interface, which can be more exciting to work on because the results of the work materialize as you build them.  You quite literally get to see how it’s going and for those who enjoy this, it can be the thin edge of the wedge for getting started on a big project.  Tackling some invisible grunt work after finishing off another chunk is a lot easier:  that sense of fun is now replaced by the satisfaction of achievement, and that emotion can be used to tackle the less exciting things. 

 

Usually we’re prescribed to do things the other way around.  Do the hard unsexy thing first and then do the fun thing.  This makes a lot of sense when it comes to work and play, but when the two things in comparison are both work, the fun piece can be used as a springboard to gather enough emotional inertia to plow into the less sexy grunt work. 

 

The enormity of a task can only be dealt with by picking the smallest viable details to work on.  And what we choose to work on first often determines how quickly we do get to work.

 


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Podcast Ep. 681: Task Enormity

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