TO-DO LIST, OR, HOW DO YOU EAT AN ELEPHANT IF YOU CAN’T BOIL THE OCEAN?

The above are two phrases I’d never encountered before, but they mean the same thing.  For when you have a seemingly insurmountable task, or if you’re taking on too much, they seem apposite:

“How do you eat an elephant?”

“One bit at a time”

Your task may be complex, long or overwhelming, but you can break it down into smaller chunks.  And once you start, you’re a tiny bit closer to finishing.  You’re not going to eat that elephant in one go, so you’ll have to budget for at least the next month’s meals.

When I find myself pulled in many directions at once, and not actually making progress at anything:

“You can’t boil the ocean”

No, I can’t. There’s too much of it, not enough resources, and only one of me. In this case, it can’t even be broken down, so I begrudgingly have to admit that the task is too big for me to tackle alone. Delegation is the key here. Letting go of a little bit of responsibility and authority, and trusting others to do the job well. It’s tough, it goes against all my ingrained beliefs, but rationally it’s something I have to do to make any progress at all.

It’s also a good leadership skill, and having been in a “producing” role for most of my working life, it’s one of those skills I can only learn by unravelling some of the other methods I have been taught previously.

It’s weird, our brains are complex and capable of extraordinary things, and yet it takes a snappy message to give my brain the direction it needs to be productive.  At least next time I’m eating an elephant or boiling the ocean, I’ll stop and think about what I’m doing.

1 thought on “TO-DO LIST, OR, HOW DO YOU EAT AN ELEPHANT IF YOU CAN’T BOIL THE OCEAN?

Leave a Comment