As an elephant, it sometimes seems like you get a pretty bad deal.
On a day-to-day basis you’re living with the unfeasibly high bar that’s been set for remembering stuff. The next, folk are complaining about those of you that somehow seem to be “in the room”. You’re constantly being called on to fulfil roles as diverse as mobile fire hydrant or outsize ballerina, and of course there’s the expectation of being able to fly on account of generously-sized ears.
But to top it all, if that’s not dispiriting enough, there are frequently discussions about how best to eat you.
For those of you who’ve never heard about eating elephants - a favourite among motivational speakers – it’s a metaphor for tackling a seemingly unmanageable task.
And the correct answer is “one bite at a time”.
Putting aside the rather unappetising prospect, there is definitely truth in it.
It’s easy to be so daunted by a task that you fail to take any action at all, in life never mind business. In other words, you spend all your time staring slack-jawed at the elephant, wondering where to start.
Example: you’ve spent some time inviting customer feedback on your business's visual presence. It’s gold dust. You’re well aware there’s no point having it if you’re not going to do anything with it, and you’re desperate to get going and start making a difference to your business.
But suddenly it dawns on you that you’re standing in front of a mountain of information, and (worse) right alongside every item is a matching to-do or decision waiting to jump out and overwhelm you.
So you just stand staring, or wander away, busy yourself with something else and hope it goes away.
Take. It. One. Step. At. A. Time.
Fail to plan = plan to fail
Before you reach for the metaphorical cutlery, take time to get your plan together. Don’t scurry from one place to another, taking a nibble here and a nibble there - otherwise you’ll take a look at it in a month’s time and it’ll still seem pretty much like a whole elephant.
And all you’ll want to do is give up.
As the cliché goes, even the longest journey starts with a single step.
It’s difficult when you’re faced with a seething mass of tasks, information and actions. It's like being trapped inside a flow chart, with decisions to be made at every turn. To make it worse, you don’t have all the time in the world, because you've to work in the business, as well as having a life outside it (you do have a life, don't you? I’m a strong believer in work-life balance, and making sure to factor in the “life” bit).
Something has to come first. Something has to come last. You need to form a plan showing how you’ll take those bite-size pieces – the order, the timescale and more.
As part of putting together that plan, you need to prioritise.
Arguably the first steps could be the areas you think will make the biggest difference, the most quickly (“the low hanging fruit”). But there are other ways to approach the daunting list of tasks clamouring for your attention.
Former US president, Dwight Eisenhower came up with a really useful tool – it’s called (surprise) the Eisenhower Matrix http://www.eisenhower.me/eisenhower-matrix/ and it’s definitely worth checking out to add clarity to your thinking. As Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in WW2, it’s safe to say planning was pretty high on his list of skills.
Its other name, the “Urgent-Important Matrix”, gives a clue what it’s about – helping you prioritise tasks according to their urgency and importance, and either delegate or dump any tasks that are less urgent or less important.
Parts, planning, priorities
So there we go. It’s about breaking the task down into smaller parts, planning your approach, and identifying priorities.
Take a deep breath.
Look at the pile of feedback you’ve received from customers, potential customers and anyone else you asked.
And get ready to take that first step towards turning it into something that changes your business.
See you next week!