Prioritizing Tasks

“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” – Desmond Tutu

Have you thought about accomplishing a great and lofty goal, only to quit before even starting? Did you decide to take on a project but soon became overwhelmed and gave up? Did you wake up yesterday morning with a lot of things on your mind that needed to get done, only to find that nothing was accomplished when you went to bed last night? If any of these sounds familiar to you personally, you might be suffering from analysis paralysis.

What is Analysis Paralysis?

Wikipedia defines analysis paralysis as “an individual or group process when overanalyzing or overthinking a situation can cause forward motion or decision-making to become ‘paralyzed,’ meaning that no solution or course of action is decided upon.” In other words, sometimes people can’t take a large or intimidating task and break it up into more manageable parts. Instead, they become overwhelmed and frustrated, then give up and walk away. This overwhelm is a pervasive problem for many people and can interfere with everything from progress at work, raising children, health and fitness routines, financial management, skill-building, and beyond. So is there a way to change this self-defeating mentality? My personal goals and tasks all got a jumpstart when I began asking myself the following question multiple times a day:

 What needs to happen first? 

Posing this as a question gets my mind to find an answer and assign a timeline to it, dissecting a task and mentally breaking it down into smaller pieces, organized by the order they need to go in. I ask myself what needs to happen first, and then I stack up all other elements of the task behind the first answer. Once I finish what needs to happen first, I can ask myself the question again and move onto the new solution waiting behind the task I just completed. I ask myself this question multiple times until the job I’m working on is complete. 

Start Small

Setting goals is one of the most important life skills a person can learn. Goals are vital to keeping a forward-moving trajectory in life, building new successes off of previous achievements. We’ve talked about goal setting in other almanac articles of the past, and they are a great resource on the subject.

If you want to start small, simply start with a to-do list for your day. I keep an open-ended one in the notes section of my phone. When I get into bed at night, I think about what I need to get done tomorrow, and I write out a list of tasks I’d like to accomplish the following day. Once I make a list, I ask myself, “What needs to happen first?” and then put that task at the top. If I can prioritize the rest of the list the night before in the order they need to happen, great! If not, I know I can make my way through the list the following day by simply asking what needs to happen first and getting it out of the way. Anything that doesn’t get accomplished gets moved to tomorrow’s list, and the process begins again.

When you shift your mentality away from the goal itself and into the order of things required to accomplish it, you define the process. Once you determine the process, your mind can see the path laid out to achieve the goal much more clearly, and that is where your power lies. You train your brain to look for the sequence of events that need to occur, which changes your ability to complete small tasks. This affects the speed you require to complete large tasks. In the end, integrating these small integral shifts can serve to change your entire life.

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