One Ball at a Time
There aren’t too many of us who don’t let one thing or another “pile up”. For me, it’s always been papers. I mean paid bills, solicitations, menus and so on. Nothing pressing. Mostly it’s junk, – but I’d set it aside and say, “I’ll get to it later.” Usually six to twelve months later! Then I’d literally have a grocery bag full of old paper stuff. So, I’d put a ball game on the TV and dump out the entire bag on a table and… I’d get a sickening feeling in my stomach. It was too much. I could tell just by looking at it that it was going to be hours of tedious, “go over each piece carefully to determine whether it should be filed or scrapped” work in front of me. No ball game could ease my pain.
What I used to do was to take a piece, figure out what to do with it, then move on to the next one, which made sense. Unfortunately, since the unsorted pile on the table was so huge, it never seemed like I made any progress, so about a third of the way through, I’d scoop up the remainder of the pile, put it back in the grocery bag and finish watching the game. Not anymore. Why? Because I learned about “chunking” (not to be confused with “Chun King”, the chop-suey-in-a-can company). Chunking is when you take a big task and break it down into smaller parts, so you can track your results every time you finish each part, or chunk. I don’t let the paper pile up as much as before, but when I do get behind, I attack it now by bits and pieces – chunks. It’s a great time management routine.
Rather than dumping the entire bag out on the table, I take out a small pile, maybe a couple inches thick, then work on that. Since it’s just a small pile, I don’t feel sick to my stomach or overwhelmed. I think, “I can get through this.” And I do. Then I grab another pile, repeat the process and move on. It’s important that you keep each portion, or chunk, manageable in size. It’s easy to build momentum and start grabbing bigger chunks. Resist that. You’ll more likely finish faster if you keep your piles small. It won’t be long before you’ve sorted several small piles and are pulling paper clips and pennies from the bottom of the bag!
Another example of chunking is when you take on a task that has several varying parts, such as planning a party. First, write everything down that needs to be done for the party to happen on a list. Then take the similar tasks and chunk them together. Make as many phone calls that need to be made all in one sitting. Sure, you’ll probably have to make calls nearly every day until the party, but in the early stages, you’ll have several to make, mostly for pricing and finding out if a service or entertainment is available the day of your party. Next, while you’re still in “office” mode, compile your invitation list. Remember to cross each task off your list as you finish it to track your progress, This not only saves time and helps keep you organized and focused, but it’s rewarding, too.
Now that you understand what “chunking” is, try it out now. There must be some daunting task you’ve been afraid of starting that could easily be tamed by chunking it down. Once you’ve successfully chunked a couple of projects, you’ll see how valuable it can be in many areas of your life. It’s also fun to take a big project and break it down into several more manageable ones. Remember, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.