When confronted with an enormous project at work, we used to ask ourselves this question. It reminded us how to tackle any project, regardless of size.
So, how do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
I’ve thought about that a lot lately given the countless hurdles and mountains that have appeared before us in recent weeks. We did the usual feeling sorry for ourselves for a while. I think you have to always give yourself space to do that.
But the reality is that we’ve had some problems that we actually have to deal with. We were already considering some major changes in our routines when some health crises and a long string of bad news struck. We had to decide which of the paths that were still options to us that we would take.
A few we had no choice over. With Mary being on disability for the foreseeable future, she has to take care of her physical needs and fill out endless piles of paperwork, the latter being a full-time job unto itself it seems. It’s not really fair to expect a struggling person to run that gauntlet, but it leaves you with two questions.
What do you do about it? And, how do you eat this elephant of paperwork?
One bite at a time.
Our house needs a lot of work, there’s the daunting challenge of out-of-school summer routines with an autistic child, I’m looking at some new career options, and so much more on top of our most pressing hurdles. I spent several days recently just being overwhelmed by all this.
But then I remembered the elephant.
I don’t have to solve all these problems today. I don’t have to fill out all these forms today or apply for all these things today. I don’t have to fix everything today. I just have to take one bite out of the pile.
When I finish that bite, I can take another. Then another.
It’s not lightning in a bottle. It’s not going to magically make everything better in a day. But that’s the point of it really. It’s a slow, steady, even relentless forward progress. That’s how everything from stacks of paper to entire social movements gets done.
There are never shortcuts. That’s the secret.
There’s a peace in knowing you don’t have to do it all today. If you need a number, pick three bites you’re going to take today. That’s not a big meal or anything. Then go do that. You might finish before the morning is done, and anything else that day is gravy on top.
Just remember not to try to accomplish things by binging. You can’t eat the whole elephant at once without getting sick. Binge working is a recipe for disaster. Take a bite – for example, clean off a surface or do some paperwork over the course of 10 minutes, or however long works for you – then take a little break. Repeat. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you get accomplished.
This can work for things from forms and stacks of bills to enormous life and family changes. Simply ask, what can I do right now? Then just take those bites today.
Just for today, you can do these little tidbits, even under the weight of incredible stresses and burdens. Give yourself permission to not look beyond this. This is key. You don’t have to live all the stresses of tomorrow yet.
Just do today. One bite at a time. And you’ll get there.