Bite-sized chunks

Any big, long-running project, from college applications to a professional’s initiative at work, can feel overwhelming at the start. An as yet undefined but probably long list of to-dos. Difficult choices to be made. A feeling of urgency without a clear triaging of priorities. It can be enough to paralyze you to inaction or to send you scrambling to start something just to enjoy immediate progress.

One approach is to make an exhaustive list of everything that will need to happen and then simply start with the first item. If that’s worked for you in the past, don’t abandon a successful strategy.

But another approach is to ignore the totality of to-dos and instead answer this question:

What would make you happy to accomplish in ____ weeks?

The number of weeks depends on the length of the project. You can’t spend five weeks taking the first steps of a project that’s due in six. And this approach doesn’t work for projects due much sooner than they are later.

But imagine the college applicant who said in early August, “Four weeks from now, I’d be very happy to have finalized my college list to show my counselor, and to have a final draft of my Common App essay.”

Now you’ve bitten off a bite-sized chunk of a much bigger project. But more importantly, you’ve set yourself up to make reasonable progress while simultaneously retaining some sense of control of your time, task and technique.

Every project can be broken into bite-sized chunks. If you’re unsure where to start, decide on how much you can bite off–and finish–in a short period of time.