Chunking

Posted by in Productivity

run photo

Overwhelm happens to the best of us. In this hyper-connected world these days, there’s so much going on. There’s so much information coming in and we know, to the second, what every single person we know is doing, what they’re buying and where they are going. It’s hard not to get competitive with all these perfect “Facebook Lives” we see and push to attain all those things ourselves. That leads to one conclusion: overwhelm.

We try to do everything. We try to please everyone. We try to be perfect like those “Facebook Lives” and wonder why it’s not the same. Every way I look at it, it just leads to trying to do too much and getting frustrated.

Many times, it’s how we’re thinking that needs to change so we can get a handle on doing too much and feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes those feelings will only go away when all of the work is done. If you’ve already committed to the work then it just needs to get done. So what do you do when you are feeling overwhelmed but still have work to do?

Chunk it.

Huh? What is chunking?

Chunking is just breaking things down into smaller tasks. When you’ve got a large task ahead of you you can always break it down into smaller parts or milestones that you can do in a shorter amount of time. If you are doing a project with 10 sections, then it’s easy to split that up into 10 chunks. You do one, take a break, and then move on to the next.

You can chunk your email. Next time you’re overwhelmed by your email, chunk it down by date or person. Search for a specific date, complete all the email from that date and then move on to the next date. Gmail is great for this, you can filter your inbox for specific dates using filters like “in:inbox before:14/01/01 after: 13/01/01″. This would search only your inbox for any email before January 1st 2014 and after January 1st 2013. Only show email from 2013. You can put in any dates there if you want. Chunk down small enough so it’s doable or until you have 5 or 6 emails there, then attack. Finish those 5 and then widen the filter and let in a few more. Complete those and repeat.

You can chunk running too. If you’re trying to finish a big run it might be hard to imagine what each of those kilometres will feel like so don’t think about them until you get there. Focus on doing each kilometre, then move on to the next. I ran the 47 km Juan de Fuca trail a few years ago and all I could think about the next kilometre. Thinking 20 kilometres ahead was too much to handle.

Why use it?

Reduce the overwhelm. When you’re working on a part of a project or run or task, you don’t need to think about the whole thing. You need to think about a small part of it to work on, just enough to get you moving and working. That’s rarely a lot. Running a marathon, take it on kilometre at a time. You don’t need to think about the whole thing when that’s just going to overwhelm and discourage you. Just think about the one next kilometre you’re doing. That’s it.

Minimize the time required. When working on large projects, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need a large amount of time to get anything done. “I’ll need 2 hours to do anything with this.” It makes it hard to fit that task into your day because it’s a solid chunk of 2 hours. If you can break that up into 4 or 6 pieces though, then it’s much more manageable. A 30 minute block of working is far easier to tuck into your day around other tasks than 2 hours is. Or chunk again to 15 minutes. ¬†Everyone has 15 minutes somewhere in there day to work on something.

Chunk your next project

Big projects or tasks can be hard to work on when you’re looking at the whole thing. When getting to work, it’s far easier to start when you have a very small amount to start with and work on. Chunk it down and start on something smaller and far easier.